UK starts issuing passports sans “European Union” on cover

London: Britain has begun issuing passports with the words “European Union” removed from the front cover – despite Brexit being delayed and uncertainty over when the country will leave the bloc. The interior ministry confirmed that some passports introduced from March 30, the day after Britain was originally due to depart, no longer include references to the EU following a 2017 decision.  However, it said some newly-issued travel documents would still bear the bloc’s name – which has sat atop British passport covers – in a bid to save public money. “In order to use leftover stock and achieve best value for the taxpayer, passports that include the words ‘European Union’ will continue to be issued for a short period,” a spokeswoman said.

“There will be no difference for British citizens whether they are using a passport that includes the words European Union, or a passport that does not,” she added, noting both designs would be “equally valid for travel”.  Britain was set to leave the EU on March 29 but has been forced to delay its exit amid political paralysis in Westminster over the terms of the divorce deal.  Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday was forced to ask the bloc for another extension, until June 30, to prevent the country crashing out next Friday without an accord.

But it is unclear whether the other 27 EU members, which must give unanimous backing, will grant the request or insist on an even longer delay. British passports have become ensnared in the country’s Brexit divisions after the government announced in 2017 it would return to traditional blue passports “to restore national identity”. The travel documents had dark blue covers from 1921, but Britain switched to burgundy from 1988, in common with other passports in what was then the European Community.

Brexit backers are thrilled by the highly symbolic change, while those who support remaining in the bloc have mocked their excitement. Last year it emerged that Franco-Dutch company Gemalto had won the contract to make the new blue passports, prompting fury from Brexit campaigners and more ridicule from Remainers that a British company was not chosen. The new production contract is to begin in October 2019, with the passports currently being issued without reference to the EU on them still in the burgundy colour.

Ultras undergoing compulsory de-radicalisation course triples in UK
The number of terrorists including returning fighters from the ISIS-held territories in Syria and Iraq, who are being made to undertake a compulsory de-radicalisa­tion course set up by the UK government has nearly tripled in the last year. The Desistance and Disengage­ment Programme (DDP) has been running since October 2016 as part of UK’s wider counter-terrorism strategy named Contest and is aimed at all terrorism and terrorism-related offenders released from prison or those returning from war-zones. According to the latest UK Home Office figures, from 30 individuals who undertook the programme during its first year of operation in 2016-17, the number rose to 86 in 2017-18.

“The threat posed by ISIS returnees is forcing the government to take drastic action to keep up desistance and disengagement is both the most restrictive and expensive branch of the government’s de-radicalisation programme,” Alan Mendoza, executive director of counter-terrorism think tank Henry Jackson Society, told ‘The Times’. He said that the number has undergone such a dramatic rise underscores the “unprecedented” nature of the new threat.

‘Government open to Brexit compromise with opposition’
British finance minister Philip Hammond said on Saturday the government had “no red lines” in talks with the main opposition party to break the deadlock in parliament over Brexit. “Our approach to these discussions with Labour is that we have no red lines,” he told reporters at a meeting of European finance ministers in Bucharest. “We are expecting to exchange more texts with the Labour Party today, so this is an ongoing process and I expect we will reach some form of agreement,” Hammond added. Senior ministers are negotiating with Labour leaders in a bid to find a compromise to end months of political crisis and allow Britain to leave the European Union smoothly after 46 years of membership.

But after three days of discussions, Labour said Friday it was “disappointed” by the failure to offer “real change or compromise” to Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit divorce deal. MPs have rejected her agreement finalised with European leaders last November three times, delaying Britain’s original March 29 exit date and throwing the process into chaos. Ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday, May was forced to ask for another extension, until June 30, to prevent the country crashing out the bloc next Friday.  However with European leaders growing increasingly impatient at the paralysis in Westminster, they could offer just a shorter postponement — or a longer period of up to a year.The other 27 EU nations must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension.

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