Italy’s Conte returns as premier in coalition that cuts out Salvini 




The 55-year-old law professor, who remained in office in a caretaker role, was given a mandate by President Sergio Mattarella after being proposed for the post by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Conte said that he would report back to the president “in a few days” to present a draft list of government ministers. Then, if all goes well, he will take part in a swearing-in ceremony, to be followed by parliamentary votes of confidence for the new executive.

It will be “a government of change,” he said in a statement to reporters.

“This is time for a new season, a great new season of reforms, of relaunch, of hope, to give the country some answers and also some certainties,” he added.

Until last week, Conte led an administration backed by a litigious majority comprising the far-right League and the M5S. The government collapsed after League leader Matteo Salvini pulled the plug.

According to the centre-left La Repubblica newspaper, Conte is “unprecedented in the history of Italy, the first head of a right-wing government who seamlessly becomes the head of a left-wing government.”

The premier admitted to having “more than a few doubts” about switching political sides. “I overcame these doubts in the belief that I have always tried to work in the interest of all citizens, nobody excluded,” he said.

Conte has no official party affiliation but is seen as close to M5S. His new government is expected to be less eurosceptic and more moderate on migration than the outgoing one, over which Salvini wielded significant influence.

The executive also faces significant financial challenges: Italy needs to draft a 2020 budget to keep its huge public debt in check and avoid a sharp rise in value-added tax that will kick in automatically in January if no alternative measures are approved.

As EU institutions are renewed following May’s European elections, “we need to make up for the time lost until now to allow Italy, a founding member of Europe, to play a leading role (in Europe), a role it deserves,” the Italian premier said.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said via a spokeswoman that he wished Conte well.

“Italy plays a central role in our European family, and we count on its active contribution to the European project,” said the spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, also urging Italy to nominate its representative in the next EU commission as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the market rejoiced at the looming resolution of the government crisis.

The Milan stock market was up Thursday by as much as 2 per cent, while yields on Italian 10-year bonds fell under 1 per cent, a historic low.

Salvini precipitated the government crisis, calculating that it would lead to snap elections, which he was strongly positioned to win given favourable opinion polls. But he did not anticipate the M5S and PD working together, overcoming old enmities, to thwart his plans.

The M5S and PD have until now been bitter rivals, but both parties had an interest in avoiding an election in which they stood to fare badly.


(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)


Johnson wins ‘huge’ mandate for swift Brexit in UK election



Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a resounding election victory on Friday that will allow him to end three years of political paralysis and take Britain out of the EU within weeks.

The Brexit divorce represents Britain’s biggest political and economic gamble since World War Two, cutting the world’s fifth-largest economy adrift from the vast trading bloc and testing the integrity of the United Kingdom.

For Johnson, who had faced gridlock in parliament and focused his campaign on a vow to “Get Brexit Done”, victory was a vindication.

“The people of this country have given us tonight a huge great stonking mandate,’’ he told activists at Conservative Party headquarters, according to a recording published by Buzzfeed.

“They’ve given us this mandate of course because they want us to do one thing, which you all know, they want us to get Brexit done.’’

Nearly half a century after Britain joined the EU, Johnson faces the challenge of striking new international trade deals, preserving London’s position as a top global financial capital and keeping the United Kingdom together.

That last goal was looking more challenging as the election results rolled in, with Scotland voting for a nationalist party that wants an independence referendum, and Irish nationalists performing strongly in Northern Ireland.

In a political earthquake in England, the Conservatives won large numbers of seats in the opposition Labour Party’s so-called Red Wall, traditional working-class heartlands once hostile to Johnson’s party.

Brexit, which has shattered old party loyalties and divided Britain along new fault lines, was the cause of the shift.

In the Red Wall, a majority of voters favoured leaving the EU and rejected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ambiguous stance on the issue.

In a symbol of the change, the Conservatives took Sedgefield, once held by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader.

U.S. President Donald Trump was quick to congratulate Johnson.

“Britain and the U.S. will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after Brexit.

“This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U.,’’ Trump wrote on Twitter “Celebrate Boris!”

Educated at the country’s most elite school and known for his bombastic rhetoric, the 55-year-old Johnson should now be able to lead Britain out of the EU by Jan. 31.

Jan. 31, the current deadline, but Johnson will face the complex task of negotiating his country’s future relationship with the bloc.

With results in from almost all 650 parliamentary seats, the Conservatives had won 361, their biggest election win since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph.

Labour, led since 2015 by the veteran socialist Corbyn, had won just 203 seats, the party’s worst result since 1935.

Corbyn’s offer of a radical agenda failed to win over voters, while his equivocal position on Brexit left many angry and confused, especially in Red Wall areas where large majorities had voted for Brexit in 2016.

Corbyn said he would quit as Labour leader after a period of reflection.

After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period during, which it will negotiate a new relationship with the EU.

This can run until the end of December 2022 under current rules, but the Conservatives have pledged not to extend the transition beyond the end of 2020.

A big majority may allow Johnson to extend the trade talks beyond 2020 because he could overrule the Brexit hardline European Research Group (ERG) faction in the party.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Abdulfatah Babatunde


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Leader of anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats stands down after losing seat



 Jo Swinson, who led the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats’ election campaign, is stepping down as leader after losing her seat in Britain’s general election, a party statement says.

“The Liberal Democrats have this morning confirmed that Ed Davey MP and Baroness Sal Brinton will become the joint acting leaders of the Liberal Democrats,” the statement, carried by the PA news agency and other media, said.

“A leadership election will take place in the new year.”

Brinton praised Swinson, who lost out to an SNP candidate in the Scottish constituency of East Dunbartonshire by 149 votes, for her “honest and fearless leadership.”

Britain’s anti-Brexit Liberal Democrat party named lawmaker Jo Swinson as its new leader in July, as the party looked to translate a surge in voter support for its pro-European Union agenda into influence in a deadlocked parliament.

Her nomination came a day before Britain’s governing Conservatives were expected to name Boris Johnson as leader and prime minister – a man who had pledged to take the country out of the EU on Oct. 31 “do or die”.

But, the future of Brexit hung in the balance, without a clear majority in parliament behind Johnson and deep division over how, when, and even if, Britain should follow through on its 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU.

Swinson, the party’s first female leader, had built her campaign around cementing the Liberal Democrats as the rallying point for those from across the traditional political spectrum who are opposed to Brexit.

“We believe the UK’s best future is as members of the European Union, and that’s why, as your leader, I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit,” she said. 


Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim


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Snap election delivers strong majority for Johnson’s Conservatives



The Conservatives have won a landslide majority in the British parliament in a snap election called by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who campaigned on the promise to “get Brexit done.”

Johnson’s party has taken 362 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, up by 47 on the 2017 election, with just four constituencies left to declare early Friday.

The main opposition Labour party has 203 seats after losing several dozen to the Conservatives in their traditional strongholds in northern and central England, where many voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

Preliminary vote shares released by the BBC placed the Conservatives at 43.6 per cent, in what would be the strongest result for any British party in decades.

Labour is thought to have garnered 32.3 per cent of Thursday’s vote.

The party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned on a socialist platform and vowed to hold a second Brexit referendum, said he does not plan to lead Labour into another general election.

Jeremy Corbyn

The Scottish National Party (SNP) boosted its presence in the national parliament with 48 winning candidates declared so far, a 13-seat gain.

It was a disappointing night for the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, who failed to boost their seat share following a number of defections from the Conservative party.

The Liberal Democrats currently have 11 seats declared.

Their leader, Jo Swinson, lost in the Scottish constituency of East Dunbartonshire by just 149 votes to an SNP candidate, blaming the outcome on a “wave of nationalism” in Scotland and England.

A party statement carried by the PA news agency and other media later announced that she would step down as party leader.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence, after a majority voted against it in 2014.

“I accept that Boris Johnson after this election has a mandate to take England out of the European Union, but he does not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the European Union,” she told the BBC.

“And I have a mandate, a renewed, refreshed, strengthened mandate to offer people in Scotland the choice of a different future,” Sturgeon said, adding that by Christmas she would formally request the power to hold a second vote.

This puts her on a collision course with Johnson, who has ruled out any fresh independence referendum in Scotland.

“This one-nation Conservative government has been given a powerful mandate to get Brexit done,” he said after winning re-election to his parliamentary seat in west London.

The “historic” election will allow the government to “respect the democratic will of the people,” he said, referring to the 52 per cent who voted for Brexit in 2016.

Turnout was down slightly on the previous general election in 2017 at 67.2 per cent, according to the BBC.

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson on his “great WIN” in a tweet.

“Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU.”

Johnson, who has promised that Britain will leave the EU on January 31, plans to negotiate liberal post-Brexit trade deals with the United States and other non-EU nations.


Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim


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UAE to partner Nigeria in strengthening wild life preservation efforts



The United Arab Emirates (UAE) says it is ready to partner Nigeria in strengthening wild preservation efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Dr Fahad AL-Taffaq, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ambassador to Nigeria, made this known in his address on sideline of his official visit to the National Park headquarters in Abuja.

The visit focused on the rehabilitation of endangered “Scimitar Oryx” breed of Antelope and discussions on ways the UAE could work in close collaboration with the National Park Service on zoo and wild life development programmes.

According to him, the event is a base that the his country will build upon for the benefit of the National Parks and the Ministry of Environment here in Nigeria.

AL-Taffaq said, “To understand the species that we would focus on and identify areas in the National Park or National Game Reserves where these species could be introduced, through discussions we can arrive at fruitful conclusions that will add value to the environment in Nigeria and that is what we hope for.

“I think climate change is a major dimension that we should focus on in Nigeria, especially around the Lake Chad Basin, where a big number of people call home.

“Through initiatives and mutual understanding of situations in the Lake Chad Basin, I believe climate change is something we can work on.

“Along with other economic and humanitarian support efforts, this could be initiated along this line.”

Speaking, Dr Ibrahim Goni, Conservator-General of National Park Services said that the discussions were the right step being taken toward tackling issues with climate change and endangered species in Nigeria.

He said that the discussions would go a long way toward mitigating the effects of climate change “because we have to meet the Nile areas of international conventional treaties on endangered species of flora and fauna that are involved.

“Once Nigeria is cleared, we can bring in certain animals in ways that we need, particularly in the Chad Basin National Park.

“Inventory shows that endangered species were once in Chad Basin National Park, it was because of human activities their populations decimate.

“So reintroducing them is a good idea, just alike we have started with UAE; they have given us launching pad which we intend to build up,” Ibrahim said.

He promised to brief the Minister of Environment on outcome of their discussion for furtherance of the goals.

He, however, appealed to the Federal Government to strengthen capacity in the area of wild life conservation services.

Nigeria News Agency reports that the event featured the presentation of a film “Back to the Wild” and the planting of trees both aimed at sensitising the public to the need to fight climate change.

Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim


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Israel/Nigeria knowledge-sharing on agric-technology will promote economic growth – Envoy



Mr Shimon Ben-Shoshan, Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria said in Buja that bilateral relations between the two countries through knowledge sharing on agricultural technology and entrepreneurship would promote economic growth.

Ben-Shoshan said this in his address at the closing ceremony of the three-day Israel-Nigeria Agrinnovation seminar 2019 which held in Abuja.

The event, organised by the embassy in collaboration with the Office of the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo began on Dec. 10 and is expected to end on Dec. 13.

Theme of the seminar is “No room for small dreams”.

Ben-Shoshan said, “I am very happy we succeeded to share knowledge on agricultural technology and entrepreneurship within three days via experience of experts, who came all the way from Israel.

“The participants were all happy at the end of the seminar and they are really eager for the next edition of Agrinnovation.

“We hope to take it to a higher level.

“Luckily we chose two best start-ups that made presentations.

“They will go to Israel to participate in the forthcoming March-challenge edition at international level.

“The two start-up winners will be flown to Israel in March 2020 to participate in the second stage of the Agrinnovation globally.”

The two winners, Ms Shiaye Mesharon-Dom, who represented Crept Cash organisation and Mr Temitayo Bamidele, Blum Global Fellow told the Nigeria News Agency that the event  impacted their lives.

“It is very exciting, most especially because we have been admiring agric-technology in Israel for a while.

“We are very excited to have been selected, for this is an opportunity for us to get hands-on training on best practices so we can come and replicate such in Nigeria,” she said.

Bamidele, a co-winner, said that the event witnessed keen contest among agricultural experts.

He said he did not think he was going to win due to the serious nature of the contest in which participants came up with great ideas.

“So I am really happy to have emerged winner and for the opportunity to move on with my research.

“I will come back to Nigeria with a mindset to market products as well as to improve profit and income for small holder farmers,” Bamidele added.

Edited by: Chidinma Agu/Emmanuel Yashim


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