China's U-turn on market curbs brings back the speculators

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Speculators are staging a forceful comeback in China’s stock market, bidding up shares in loss-making companies as regulators ease rules around trading, fundraising and backdoor listings to prop up struggling bourses.

In a bid to stop the kind of market meltdown China saw in 2015-16, authorities are urging funds to invest in cash-strapped companies and encouraging others to do mergers and acquisitions (M&As).

The measures mark a reversal of the more restrictive curbs introduced two to three years ago, which were designed to prevent a repeat of the boom-and-bust cycle that triggered the last major rout.

The relaxations, however, have resulted in an immediate surge in speculative bets on possible acquisition targets and trading in small-cap shares.

(Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2PtbYoh)

For some, the moves simply clear unnecessary regulatory interference that inhibits robust and open capital markets. But for others, the new policies are a dangerous “Faustian Bargain” that delivers short-term stability at the expense of sustainable valuations.

“Currently, all the emergency measures are deals with the devil,” said Yuan Yuwei, partner at Water Wisdom Asset Management. Imploring speculators to rescue the market could set the stage for trouble, he added.

Over the past year, speculators have largely laid low due to a relentless crackdown on market manipulation and insider trading.

However, a pledge by China’s top securities regulator on Oct. 19 to boost market confidence through a series of measures has prompted a rapid return of the punters.

An index tracking so-called “Special Treatment”, or ST, stocks – loss-making companies that involve high risks or are candidates for possible delisting – has surged over 30 percent since Oct 19.

That compares with a mere 3 percent rise in the CSI300 index .CSI300, whose blue-chip constituents were market darlings last year.

Money is also pouring into companies that speculators think might become acquisition targets for backdoor listings, dubbed “shell companies”.

One company that appears to have benefited is Hengli Industrial Development Group Co (000622.SZ), whose share price tripled over the past three weeks as investors bet on a possible acquisition.

Speculators have ignored repeated warnings by the automotive air conditioner maker, who said the price surge defied fundamentals.

Based on current profitability and valuation, investors buying the stock would need to wait 2,800 years to recoup investment through dividend payments. An investor relations official at Hengli declined to comment, saying the company had no undisclosed information.

Speculators have also piled into Changsheng Bio-technology (002680.SZ), the company at the center of a nationwide vaccine safety scandal that faces the risk of delisting.

A “special treatment” stock, Changsheng rose the maximum 5 percent on Thursday for the sixth consecutive session, despite the Shenzhen Stock Exchange flagging risks to investors. Changsheng could not be reached for a comment.

MARKET LUBRICATION?

Between 2013 and 2015, lax regulation contributed to a boom in M&As and private share placements, which led to reckless expansion, overpriced deals, bubbly stock prices and mountains of inflated goodwill sitting on companies’ books.

Following the crash of 2015-16, the China Securities Regulatory Commission tightened scrutiny of share sales and M&As to prevent the rapid buildup of speculative positions.

The regulator’s moves in recent weeks, however, reverse these curbs. On Oct. 19, the CSRC said it had initiated fast-track approvals for M&A deals. The next day, it said it would support backdoor listings by companies whose applications for initial public offerings (IPO) are rejected.

And last week, the CSRC revised regulations to allow listed firms to issue additional shares more frequently, and for broader use.

Easier fundraising enables indebted firms to pay debts and expedite M&As. Also fuelling investment flows are expectations the central bank will loosen the monetary spigot by cutting interest rates.

However, Yuan, of Water Wisdom, said that relaxing rules to prop up companies that might otherwise fail is a concession to interest groups and a sign the government has been “kidnapped by populism”.

Shen Weizhen, a fund manager at LC Securities, said the moves skewed market behavior.

“If buying garbage companies can make a lot of money … who would be interested in blue-chips any more?”

The CSRC did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment for this story.

For now, market authorities appear more worried about falling share prices than a new speculative bubble.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange said on Nov. 2 that it would seek to avoid interfering with trading, and vowed to largely refrain from restrictive measures such as suspending trading accounts. CSRC said on Oct. 30 it would reduce “unnecessary intervention” in the market.Retail investor Wu Beicheng said he welcomed what he saw as “corrective” measures by the government.

“Speculation is the lubricant of the market,” he said. “Without speculation, the market would be lifeless.”

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'A cruel paedophile': Officer guilty of raping 13-year-old girl

Ian Naude was a student officer at Cheshire Police when he assaulted the teenager in October 2017, raping her in his car and filming it on his phone.

He started working for the police in April 2017 even though he had been named as a suspect in a child grooming case in a neighbouring force in the months leading up to his appointment.

During a two-week trial, Naude was described as someone who was obsessed with taking the virginity of teenage girls – and the court heard that he had joined the police with the intention of meeting vulnerable victims.

A jury at Liverpool Crown Court found the 30-year-old guilty of rape, sexual assault, and four charges of attempting to arrange the commission of a child sex offence. He was also found guilty of arranging a child sex offence, relating to five complainants aged between 12 and 15.

Police believe there may be more victims who are yet to come forward.

Judge Clement Goldstone, who presided over the trial, warned he faces a “very significant sentence indeed”.

Naude admitted having sex with the 13-year-old girl, who he had met while on duty, but said she had consented.

He met his victim in October 2017 after being called to a domestic incident at her home. He contacted her on Facebook days later.

He exchanged sexual messages and images over social media before taking her out in his car and raping her.

The court heard Naude would gain the trust of young girls by posing as a 15-year-old called Jake Green on social media.

The father-of-one also had an account under the name Bruce Ian Wayne, a Batman reference, and a Snapchat account named King of the North.

Naude would persuade his victims to undress and sometimes perform sexual acts on camera, before sending them pictures and video of himself masturbating, the court heard.

In some cases, Naude threatened to send the photos to other people on the victims’ Facebook friends list and on one occasion told a victim he would harass her friends unless she sent him pictures.

He admitted two counts of engaging in sexual communication with a child, 14 counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and one count of taking indecent photos of a child.

He also admitted four counts of making indecent photos of a child, six counts of causing a child to watch a sexual act, two counts of misconduct in a public office and one count of possessing indecent photos of a child.

However, he denied attempts to arrange to commit child sex offences – and claimed messages sent to girls asking them to meet were just fantasy.

Naude was accidentally copied into a police email which revealed the plan to arrest him after the victim came forward to report the rape.

When his phone was seized, officers found 756 images had been deleted from it. A laptop and another phone were found in a field in Market Drayton, after he gave a hand-drawn map of their location to his cellmate.

Martin McRobb, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Ian Naude claimed his victim had consented to sex. But the disturbing video of the incident on his phone did not show the face of a consenting woman. It showed the face of a sad, scared and abused 13-year-old girl.

“She had been groomed by a police officer who had a history of manipulating, pressurising and blackmailing young girls into performing sexual acts for his perverted pleasure.

“Ian Naude thought he could get away with it but, thankfully, his victim found the courage to tell her family what had happened.”

Naude was arrested the day after the teenager came forward, and was suspended, disciplined and removed by Cheshire Police.

Acting chief constable Janette McCormick personally apologised to the victim’s family and said the force had changed its recruitment and screening process.

But an investigation by the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) found there was no case to answer for misconduct from any individual officer linked to his recruitment.

The teenage victim had been receiving specialist support from Cheshire Police.

He will be sentenced on 13 December.

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A gift from Stalin and a row with Trump

Former US Senator Joseph Tydings, who died last month, worked closely with former presidents Lyndon Johnson and JFK. And, representing a bridge to the present White House, he fell out with President Donald Trump over his family’s coat of arms, he told the BBC’s Naomi Grimley earlier this summer.

At his apartment in Washington DC, Senator Joe Tydings is showing me a picture hanging on the wall.

It’s an oil painting of Russian infantry fighting in snow. But it is the little brass plaque attached to the picture which catches my eye. It states that the piece of art was a gift from Joseph Stalin to Joseph E Davies, Joe’s grandfather and a celebrated diplomat.

It’s the first sign that this former senator belongs to an extraordinary family.

Joe himself was a Democratic senator for Maryland in the mid 1960s but although he only served one term, he had the good fortune to know many of the big names in American politics.

Also dotted around the apartment are photographs of the good looking Kennedy brothers.

Tydings was a good friend to both JFK and Bobby Kennedy in the late 1950s having met them via the Young Democrats. When JFK first decided to run for president he enlisted Tydings as his campaign manager in Maryland.

He recalls one incident at the end of a long day canvassing when they stopped in a diner. It was a Friday but the fish options for observant Catholics were not good, so JFK ordered steak.

“No sooner had he ordered than a large Catholic family entered the diner and when they saw Jack they went wild. They were jumping up and down they were so excited. JFK acknowledged their enthusiasm but quickly turned to an aide and murmured ‘For God’s sake, get into the kitchen and don’t let them bring out those steaks until this family has gone!'”

After Kennedy’s big win in the autumn of 1960, Tydings found himself as a marshal in the inaugural parade. Even the January weather did not dampen the spirits of those who had supported the youthful president.

“They had the biggest snow storm in DC history and it was bitterly cold. The army had to come in with flame-throwers overnight to clear Constitution Avenue. My God, it was so exciting! We stopped at the Presidential Box and watched the parade with JFK. For me it was huge because I was Kennedy’s man in Maryland and yet I was really only a kid.”

Perhaps the crowning glory for Joe Tydings and his family was a balmy summer’s evening in August 1963 when the president dined at his country home of Oakington on Maryland’s coastline.

More on JFK

Special phone lines had to be installed for the occasion so that the White House could stay in touch.

“We rushed out to where the helicopter landed to meet him. We were all young and attractive back then. JFK greeted everybody and came up to the big house with its view across the Chesapeake Bay.

“My God, the president of the United States – the most popular young leader in the world – was coming to have a private dinner with us! I mean, that’s a pretty big deal!”

It was on this perfect evening, as a jazz band played, that JFK suggested Tydings should run for the Senate.

The fact that Joe Tydings was such good friends with the Kennedy brothers meant that he had to go through the shock of not one but two assassinations.

Tydings had been at the White House for a drinks party the night before President Kennedy took his fateful trip to Texas.

Two days later he was in Baltimore at a lunch marking the start of his run for the Senate when someone ran into the restaurant and declared the president had been shot.

“It was very abrupt. It’s still tough for me to talk about it. It was hard to believe.”

It wasn’t until two years later that the full impact hit him. Tydings was standing with Bobby and Teddy Kennedy watching LBJ get sworn in at his second inauguration. “We were sitting on the far barricade and all three of us were crying because it shouldn’t have been LBJ standing there. It should have been JFK.”

The death of Bobby Kennedy in June 1968 hit Tydings even harder. As freshmen senators, they had been inseparable and they even attended Martin Luther King’s funeral together earlier that year.

“It was horrible, so horrible” he says, recalling the moment he learnt of Bobby’s assassination in a late night phone call.

“In some ways it was more crushing than JFK’s death. JFK was more of a father figure, but Bobby was like a twin brother.”

Joe’s grandfather, Joseph E Davies, used to be US ambassador to the Soviet Union in the mid 1930s.

He was married to the cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post who built Mar a Lago, the Florida mansion now owned by President Trump.

As a young child, Joe Tydings went there by sleeper train for his holidays.

So how does it feel to watch Donald Trump’s helicopter land on the famous golf course?

He laughs: “It’s not a happy thought.”

Tydings never forgave Trump for an incident involving the family coat of arms.

The crest – belonging to Tydings’ grandfather – had originally adorned the gates of Mar a Lago. But Trump removed the latin motto “Integritas” (meaning honour or uprightness) and replaced it with the letters “TRUMP”.

Then he started using the family coat-of-arms in promotional material for his golf club.

“It’s typical Trump” says Joe as he shakes his head in disbelief. “For him to even use the damn crest is despicable.”

I ask him why he didn’t sue President Trump, whom he used to know.

“I had one guy offer to pay any and all attorney’s fees if I took Trump to court. But I used to spend my summer holidays working on a farm and if there’s one thing that teaches you it’s this – do not get in a pissing duel with a skunk.”

Senator Joe Tydings died on October 8th at the age of 90.

From Truman to Trump airs on BBC World Service on 13 November or you can listen again here

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Would a legal market deter poachers?

It’s now legal to trade rhino horn in South Africa after the highest court in the land lifted an eight year ban on a technicality.

The domestic sale of rhino horn will be allowed to resume, but only with a permit and only within the country’s borders.

There’s not traditionally been much demand for rhino horn in South Africa, so there a question mark over just how much of an impact the ruling will have.

The biggest market for rhino horn is Asia, and an international treaty still prevents its export and sale to many countries.

But some big conservation organisations, such as the WWF, believe it will encourage the illegal trade, which causes the poaching of more than a thousand South African rhinos a year.

To trade or not to trade?

The Private Rhino Owners’ Association, which backed the court challenge against the 2009 moratorium on the rhino horn trade, is delighted and believes it will help conserve the protected species.

To trade or not to trade? – be it rhino horn or ivory – is one of the big questions which divides the world’s conservationists and wildlife protection groups.

And it’s complicated.

“We as the private sector bought and own a third of the national rhino herd – more than 6,500 black and white rhinos,” said Pelham Jones from the Private Rhino Owners’ Association.

“We have a huge vested interest in their conservation and have spent billions of rand protecting and managing our herd – ‘sustainable utilisation’ is in the constitution,” he said.

And what he means is private owners want to remove and sell rhino horn to fund their conservation – and also to make profit.

Painless process

The world’s largest owner of rhinos is John Hume, who regularly ‘harvests’ rhino horn – cutting them off and storing them.

It’s a painless process and the horns do grow back.

He has around 1,400 rhinos on his ranch in South Africa and a stockpile of perhaps five tonnes of horn.

At a market price of $90-100,000 a kilogramme he is sitting on a fortune – if he can get his produce to market – to Asia, where it is used as a medicine and to make cups and jewellery.

But even with the lifting of a ban on domestic trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) prevents its sale abroad.

“We will set up our own central selling organisation,” said Pelham Jones, who believes commodities speculators will buy rhino horn in South Africa, and that so-called ‘blood horns’ – illegally poached horns – won’t enter the market.

“There are a lot of unknowns here, but everything else that has been tried to prevent poaching has failed.”

‘Blood horns’

But those opposing the trade say it will muddy the waters when trying to stop the illegal trafficking of rhino horn.

“We are concerned by the court’s decision,” said Dr Jo Shaw, manager of WWF South Africa’s rhino programme.

“Law enforcement officials simply do not have the capacity to manage parallel legal domestic trade on top of current levels of illegal poaching and trafficking,” she said.

“We worry about the resultant impacts of the laundering of so-called ‘blood horns’ upon our wild rhino populations.”

Dr Shaw accepted the value to conservation of captive breeding, and that new sources of income were needed to protect the species, but said opening up trade was too great a risk to their dwindling numbers.

The South African government placed a moratorium on rhino horn trade in 2009 after evidence showed the legal domestic trade was leaking into the illegal international market.

But by not consulting widely enough on the issue with interested parties, it left itself open to the legal challenge which the Constitutional Court has just upheld.

The Minister for Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, said trade would not be allowed without government approval.

‘It’s going to be heading for Asia’

Those selling rhino horn – and those buying – will both require permits which can be audited at a later stage to ensure the horns have not been sold on.

Draft legislation from the South African government suggested some limited export of rhino horn might be allowed for “personal use” – two horns per person, per year.

But Esmond Bradley-Martin who has researched the price of ivory and rhino horn for decades, said he feared the lifting of the ban could increase corruption and the power of the cartels.

“I can’t see this working in the future without improved law enforcement – there is almost no demand in South Africa, so it is going to be heading to Asia,” he said.

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How big a problem is fake news in Africa?

People’s emotions trump reason when it comes to sharing news, the BBC’s in-depth research project Beyond Fake News has found. The spread of fake news can also undermine legitimate news because it erodes trust.

By analysing fake news messages on private networks like WhatsApp and Facebook, and surveying people in Nigeria, Kenya and India, researchers have pinpointed the motivations, anxieties and aspirations that drive it.

The study also help us understand the relationship between fake news and mainstream politics on digital networks.

Why does fake news matter?

Why are people fooled by fake news?

Many overestimate their ability to spot fake news, the BBC found when speaking to social media users in Nigeria and Kenya.

Although many people understand the consequences of sharing fake news, that is often only on a conceptual level. Researchers found that the link between disinformation and things like electoral manipulation and democracy is too abstract for users to grasp.

Emotions trump reason when it comes to sharing news, the team found. “After watching the news I was touched, so I had to post it,” said one interviewee in Nigeria.

Nigeria and Kenya have lower levels of digital literacy say researchers, especially in rural areas, where Facebook may be seen as synonymous with the internet and there all things on it may be seen as “true”.

But Nigerians and Kenyans do better than Indians when it comes to checking for themselves if a dubious story is true, which they do through search engines like Google or verifying with others in their network, among other things.

Some fake news is harder to identify than other kinds.

While users show a fair amount of scrutiny on political updates especially in Nigeria, they are less stringent if a news story positively affirms an aspect of their identity. That could be a story on ethic identity in Kenya for example, or an issue relating to geopolitics such as Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta.

But young people are less focused on ethnic and religious allegiances than the generations before them, and so are less likely to be driven by these identities when sharing fake news.

Why else do people share fake news?

Often they care more about who the sender is than the source. They might trust that a story is true because the sender is someone they trust to share worthy news, as opposed to a “pointless spammer”.

Sharing news is socially validating too. Being the first to share a story in your group of friends, showing others you are in the know and provoking discussion make social media users feel good. Sometimes people will rush to share information not knowing if it is true.

Reading is hard, but sharing is easy. Researchers found most people do not consume their online news in-depth or critically, and many users will share stories based on a headline or image without having digested it in detail themselves.

For some, it is a civic duty. They will share information, regardless of its veracity, because they want to warn and update others. “Maybe there is a person who didn’t know about it, and [I share the story] to avoid something like this happening to my friend, ” one of dozens of people surveyed in Kenya told the BBC.

This story is part of a series by the BBC on disinformation and fake news – a global problem challenging the way we share information and perceive the world around us.

To see more stories and learn more about the series visit www.bbc.co.uk/fakenews

These users often strongly believe that access to information is stifled or unequal, and want to do their part to democratise it.

Other people choose to read known fake news sources simply because they find it entertaining. “[Even] though it ain’t real, I just like the gossip,” explained one of the Kenyan readers surveyed, Florence.

How can I spot fake news?

If you are unsure if a story is true, fact-checking website Africa Check is a good place to start.

Africa Check and others are working on creating data banks for people to source accurate data. But timeliness and speed in checking fake news or misinformation can be a challenge.

Remember that comments sections on mainstream media and Facebook cannot always be trusted, because it is a place where fake news is debated and amplified. Money and jobs scams are commonly found there, say researchers who analysed posts in African users’ networks.

As things stand, many users say they end up relying on their instinct as to whether a story “feels” true, and whether they can find it reported by other sources.

“I look at the headlines. If it’s too flashy then it’s probably fake,” a woman in Kenya called Mary told the BBC.

“Whenever I read something on the blog I double-check it, whichever blog I am reading something on I Google search it, I want to read two articles,” said Chijioke in Nigeria.

But these two methods are far from foolproof.

The researchers used two examples to illustrate the origin and spread of fake news:

Verifying information can be difficult, which African fact-checkers say is because of the lack of reliable, accurate and independent data across a lot of sectors – which means manipulation of information is easier.

What fake news did the investigation find?

National anxieties and aspirations are often reflected in fake news messages.

In Nigeria where almost 19% of people are jobless, employment scams make up 6.2% of fake news stories shared in WhatsApp.

Roughly 3% of fake news circulated on WhatsApp concerns terrorism and the army, mirroring Nigerians’ anxieties about instability and uncertainty caused by Islamist militants among other things.

Scams related to money and technology contribute to about a third of the fake news stories shared in Kenyans’ WhatsApp conversations. Religion accounts for roughly 8%, researchers found.

Facebook users frequently fail to distinguish between fake news content and legitimate news on their feeds, the BBC team found by analysing Facebook advertising data by users’ interests.

How organised is the spread of misinformation on private and public networks?

Finding the answer to this question is the ultimate aim of BBC’s Beyond Fake News project.

So far it has used big data to analyse 8,000 news articles in Kenya and Nigeria, analysed 3,000 Facebook pages and interests, conducted in-depth interviews with 40 individuals in both countries, and analysed a sample of more than 2,000 messages.

Kenyan and Nigerian social media users told the BBC they believe sensationalist and fake stories are being written on digital platforms purely to make money.

Sensationalist headlines used by parts of the mainstream journalistic sources, and the rush to publish without verification, are further blurring the lines between legitimate journalism and out-and-out misinformation.

Television news, however, is seen as harder to fake because it is not “faceless” and involves sophisticated production methods.

This story is part of a series by the BBC on disinformation and fake news – a global problem challenging the way we share information and perceive the world around us.

To see more stories and learn more about the series visit www.bbc.co.uk/fakenews

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Private equity firm Vista to buy software company Apptio for $1.9 billion: WSJ

(Reuters) – Private equity firm Vista Equity Partners is close to a deal to buy software company Apptio Inc (APTI.O) for $1.9 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Shareholders of Apptio would receive $38 per share in the deal that could be announced as soon as Monday, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Vista and Apptio did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment late on Sunday.

Shares of Bellevue, Washington-based Apptio closed at $24.85 on Friday, and the reported offer price would represent a premium of about 53 percent.

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Burned to death because of a rumour on WhatsApp

Rumours of child abductors spread through WhatsApp in a small town in Mexico. The rumours were fake, but a mob burned two men to death before anyone checked.

On August 29, a little after midday, Maura Cordero, the owner of an arts and crafts shop in the small town of Acatlán in the central Mexican state of Puebla, noticed an unusual number of people gathering outside the municipal police station next to her shop.

Cordero, 75, moved closer to the door and peered out. Dozens of people were outside the police station on Reforma Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, and the crowd was swelling. Soon there would be more than a hundred people. Cordero could not remember seeing such a crowd in Acatlán outside of a holiday celebration.

As she watched a police car passed her shop bearing two men into the small jail house. The car was followed by more people and cries went up from the crowd accusing the two men who were taken into the jail house of being child abductors. From behind a narrow metal gate at the entrance to the station, police replied that the men were not child abductors but minor offenders. They were minor offenders, the officers said again and again, as the crowd grew in size.

Inside the station sat 21-year-old Ricardo Flores, who had grown up just outside Acatlán but moved to Xalapa, 250km to the north east, to study law, and his uncle Alberto Flores, a 43-year-old farmer who had lived for decades in a small community just outside Acatlán. Ricardo had recently returned to Acatlán to visit relatives, who said the two men went to the centre of town that day to buy construction supplies to finish work on a concrete block water well. Police said there was no evidence the men had committed any crime, and that they had been taken into the station for “disturbing the peace” after they were accosted by local residents.

But the mob outside the station on Reforma Street was in the grip of a different version of events, a story stirred up somewhere unknown and spread through the private messaging app WhatsApp.

“Please everyone be alert because a plague of child kidnappers has entered the country,” said the message that pinged from phone to phone.

“It appears that these criminals are involved in organ trafficking…In the past few days, children aged four, eight and 14 have disappeared and some of these kids have been found dead with signs that their organs were removed. Their abdomens had been cut open and were empty.”

Sighted near an elementary school in a nearby community called San Vicente Boqueron, Ricardo and Alberto became the child abductors conjured up by collective fear, and news of their arrest spread just as the rumours of the child abductors had.

The crowd that descended on the police station was whipped up in part by Francisco Martinez, a long-time resident of Acatlán known as “El Tecuanito”. According to police, Martinez was among those who spread messages on Facebook and Whatsapp accusing Ricardo and Alberto. Outside the police station, he began to livestream events on Facebook via his phone.

“People of Acatlán de Osorio, Puebla, please come give your support, give your support,” he said into the camera. “Believe me, the kidnappers are now here.”

As Martinez attempted to rally the town, another man, identified by the police only as Manuel, climbed up onto the roof of the colonial-style town hall building next to the police station, and rang the bells of the government office to alert locals that the police were planning to release Ricardo and Alberto.

A third man, Petronilo Castelan — “El Paisa” — used a loudspeaker to call on the citizens to contribute money to buy petrol to set the two men on fire, and he walked through the crowd to collect it.

In her shop, Maura Cordero watched with fright, until she heard from a someone outside that they should run because the crowd would set the men on fire. Dear God, she thought, this is not possible.

Moments later, the crowd coalesced into a mob with one goal. The narrow gate at the entrance to the police station was wrenched open and Ricardo and Alberto Flores were dragged out. As people held their phones aloft to film, the men were pushed to the floor at the base of four stone steps and savagely beaten. Then the petrol that was brought earlier was poured on them.

Eyewitnesses believe Ricardo was already dead from the beating, but his uncle Alberto was still alive when they set the two men on fire. Video footage shows his limbs moving slowly as the flames licked around them.

The blackened bodies remained on the ground for two hours after they were burned, while state prosecutors made their way from Puebla City to Acatlán, and the reek of the petrol remained in the air. Petra Elia Garcia, Ricardo’s grandmother, was called to the scene to identify the men, and she said tears were still on Alberto’s cheeks when she arrived. “Look what you did to them!” she shouted at the remnants of the mob, which had begun to disperse.

“It was one of the most horrific things that ever happened in Acatlán,” said Carlos Fuentes, a driver who works from a taxi stand near the police station. “The columns of smoke could be seen from every point in the town.”

The road that runs into Acatlán is lined on either side by maize and marigold fields. Mango, fig and walnut trees grow from vast plots of land owned by local farmers. The town is nestled in the heart of the Mixteca highlands and is known as the “Pearl of the Mixteca region” — a reference to the Mixtecs Mesoamerican indigenous groups that first settled in the region centuries ago.

Most families in Acatlán depend on remittances sent to them by relatives who have migrated to the United States. Like many other towns in Mexico, it has seen thousands of its citizens leave to head north in search of better opportunities.

Among those migrants in the early 2000s were Maria del Rosario Rodriguez and Jose Guadalupe Flores, who moved north in the hope of providing better living conditions for their two young sons left behind, Jose Guadalupe Jr and his younger brother Ricardo.

The two boys, aged seven and three, stayed behind with their grandmother, Petra Elia Garcia, in Xalapa in the state of Veracruz. Their parents, Maria and Jose Guadalupe, moved from city to city in the US before making their home in the east coast city of Baltimore. Maria became a domestic worker and Jose Guadalupe a construction worker, and they had a third child and called her Kimberley. Via Facebook and Facetime, they kept in constant communication with their two sons at home.

Then on 29 August, Maria received a string of Facebook messages which seemed at first like a bad dream. A close friend in Acatlán was telling her that her son Ricardo had been arrested and was suspected of child abductions. It was a mistake, she thought. Ricardo would never be involved with such a thing. But the messages kept coming. Then came a link to a livestream on Facebook, and when she clicked on it she saw a mob, then she saw her son and his brother in law being beaten by the mob.

In vain, she posted a comment on the livestream. “Please don’t hurt them, don’t kill them, they’re not child kidnappers,” she recalled writing. But her message had no effect and she watched in horror as the men were doused in petrol, and the same technology that allowed a man in Acatlán to summon a mob to kill her son allowed her to watch him die.

Later that day, Maria, Jose Guadalupe, and Kimberley returned to Acatlán for the first time in more than a decade. There they met Jazmin Sanchez, Alberto’s widow, who had also watched the events unfold on Facebook. For decades Jazmin and Alberto had lived just 14km outside Acatlán, in Xayacatlan de Bravo. Every day, Alberto went to work in the Maize fields he had planted on the land he owned in nearby Tianguistengo. When he died he left behind a small, half-built house in Tianguistengo, as well as the wife and three daughters he was building it for.

“He was a good man, he didn’t deserve to die the way he did,” said Jazmin, clutching a cap, a belt, and a wallet that had belonged to her late husband.

Maria and Jose Guadalupe returned to another small house in Tianguistengo which they had left for their sons when they set out for the US. Standing at the back of the house, Maria recalled her son. He liked butterflies and running through the maize fields around the house. He left to study law because he wanted to defend people from injustices. “They took him from us and he didn’t even leave a child behind for us to take care of,” she said.

In Acatlán, the family was met with a wall of silence. With the exception of Maura Cordero, the shop owners on Reforma Street said they were out of town when the violence happened, or that they shut their shops and fled, or that they never opened in the first place that day, which was not a holiday.

“No one wants to talk about it,” said Fuentes, the taxi driver. “And the people who were directly involved are already gone.”

According to state authorities, five people have now been charged with instigating the crime and four more with carrying out the murder. Martinez, who broadcast the livestream, Castelan, who called for petrol, and the man identified as Manuel, who rang the bells, were among the five. But the remaining two alleged instigators, and the four suspects charged with the murder were on the run, police said.

The day after Ricardo and Alberto died, a funeral service was held in Acatlán. Maria believed there were eyewitnesses to the crime among the crowd who gathered at the service.

“Look how you killed them! You all have children! And I want justice for my loved ones!” she shouted as tears rolled down her cheeks and the cameras from the local and national TV stations filmed.

Now the family lives in fear in Acatlán, Maria said. They are afraid to go to the market. “I lost my grandson who was like my son,” said Ricardo’s grandmother. “They accused them of being criminals, with no proof.”

Maria still cannot understand why the mob was swept up in the lie. “Why didn’t they check? No children were kidnapped, no one filed a formal complaint. It was fake news,” she said.

Ricardo and Alberto Flores’s deaths in small-town Mexico were not isolated. Rumours and fake news stories on Facebook and WhatsApp have fomented fatal violence in India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, to name just three. In India, as in Mexico, the technology — WhatsApp is an encrypted private messaging app that lets people send messages to large groups — has upgraded time-old rumours about child abductors for the 21st Century, allowing them to spread faster and farther with less accountability.

WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook for $19bn in 2014, has been linked to a wave of lynchings across India, often fuelled by fake stories of child abductors. In the state of Assam in June, in an incident frighteningly similar to that in Acatlán, Abhijit Nath and Nilotpal Das were beaten to death by a mob of 200.

Both WhatsApp and Facebook are widely used for news consumption in Mexico, according to a 2018 report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. According to the same report, 63% of internet users in Mexico say they are either very concerned or extremely concerned about the spread of fake news.

“The digital platforms serve as instantaneous vehicles to channel the best and the worst of us, including our fears and prejudices,” said Manuel Guerrero, the director of the School of Communication at Mexico’s Universidad Iberoamericana. “And that becomes more evident in the absence of effective authorities that can guarantee our safety,” he said.

On 30 August, the day after Ricardo and Alberto died in Acatlán, residents of the town of San Martin Tilcajete in the southern state of Oaxaca attempted to lynch a group of seven men, a group of housepainters, who were falsely accused of being child kidnappers. That day, police officers were able to rescue the men.

The day after that, the grisly scene from Acatlán repeated itself in Tula in central Hidalgo state, where two innocent men were accused of being child abductors, beaten, and burned to death.

Beyond Mexico, in Ecuador, on 16 October, two men and a woman arrested for allegedly stealing 200 US dollars were killed by a mob after a message circulated on WhatsApp falsely accusing them of being child snatchers. And on 26 October, a mob in Colombia’s capital Bogota killed a man who was falsely accused in WhatsApp messages of being linked to the kidnapping of a child.

Because of WhatsApp’s ironclad end-to-end encryption, the origin of anything shared on the app is impossible to trace. The company resisted calls in July from the Indian government to break its encryption and allow authorities to track messages.

WhatsApp has taken steps to try and stem the tide, adding a label to messages that have been forwarded and limiting the number of groups messages can be forwarded to 20 worldwide and to five in India. “We believe the challenge of mob violence requires action from technology companies, civil society, and governments,” the company told the BBC. “We’ve stepped up user education about misinformation and provided training for law enforcement on how to use WhatsApp as a resource in their community.”

A spokesman for Facebook told the BBC the platform “did not want our services to be used to incite violence”.

“Earlier this year we identified and removed videos showing mob violence in the Mexican state of Puebla, and we have updated our policies to remove content that could lead to real-world harm,” the spokesman said. “We will continue to work with tech companies, civil society, and governments to fight the spread of content that has the potential to cause harm.”

At least 10 state governments in Mexico, including Puebla’s, have now launched information campaigns alerting citizens to the wave of fake social media messages about child abductions, and Mexico City’s cyber police have created chat groups on Whatsapp to allow direct communication with residents of at least 300 neighbourhoods across the capital.

Citizens ask the police via the groups to verify stories and police use the groups in turn to gather evidence against those who spread fake news. Also on the team’s remit: identity theft, extortion attempts, and human trafficking.

“We believe that of every 10 crimes, technology is used in nine,” said Jose Gil the deputy minister for Information and Cyber Intelligence in Mexico City.

“Social media can really alter a community through the spread of false information that many of us perceive as truthful, because it’s being sent by people we trust,” he said. “Society really needs to evaluate what is true and what is false, and decide what is trustworthy and what is not.”

A lack of effective law enforcement and culture of impunity in Mexico made rumours inciting violence “pure dynamite”, said Tatiana Clouthier, a member of parliament in the country’s Chamber of Deputies. The lynchings in Acatlán had weighed privacy and freedom of expression against a terrible cost, she said.

“But to what do we give priority? We have to give priority to freedom of expression, but where is the limit? And that’s a topic that none of us want to get into because nobody wants to curtail freedom of expression, but we cannot allow disinformation. The situation we are facing is very dangerous.”

On 24 October in the afternoon, a group of around 30 relatives of Ricardo and Alberto gathered under the sun at the Church of the Calvary in Acatlán for a memorial service. The priest prayed for both families and blessed two metallic crosses that they had brought. The service lasted for an hour, and then the families walked half a kilometre carrying the crosses to the place they had avoided for the past two months.

Ricardo’s father, Jose Guadalupe, placed the crosses by the stone steps where Ricardo and Alberto died, and the group stood for a while in silence on a quiet afternoon on the main street in town.

“It was very painful to be in the same place that the bodies were left charred,” Ricardo’s mother Maria said later. “All of this happened because of rumours and because people were carried away by those rumours.”

Those rumours still exist on Maria’s phone – and perhaps on other phones all across the town and beyond — but she cannot bear to look at them now or show them to anyone else.

The day of the memorial, she made a pledge with Alberto’s widow Jazmin to visit the site of the lynching once a week and replenish the votive candles they had left by the crosses.

“The crosses should remain there forever,” she said, “so the people of Acatlán may see and remember what they did.”

This story is part of a series by the BBC on disinformation and fake news – a global problem challenging the way we share information and perceive the world around us.

To see more stories and learn more about the series visit bbc.com/fakenews

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A year in fake news in Africa

The spread of fake news in Africa has been blamed for igniting ethnic violence, sowing confusion among voters and even causing currency fluctuations. As the BBC launches major new research into fake news in Africa, we break down five false stories that made a big impact on the continent in the past 12 months.

1. Nigerian presidential candidate ‘endorsed by gay rights groups’

What was the story?

When Atiku Abubakar was confirmed as a presidential candidate for the Nigerian elections in 2019, a fake Twitter account in the name of the opposition leader posted a message thanking the “Association of Nigerian Gay Men (ANGAM)” for its support.

In the post, “Mr Abubakar” writes that the first thing he would do if he were to become president would be to scrap the country’s controversial anti-gay legislation, signed into law by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

Homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Nigeria, while gay marriage and displays of same-sex affection are also banned.

What impact did it have?

After originally being shared on Twitter on 14 October, the story was picked up by two Nigerian blogs. Then 12 days later, two prominent Nigerian newspapers, The Nation and the Vanguard, both published stories with a very similar theme.

They reported that an LGBT organisation called “Diverse” was also backing Mr Abubakar for president, considering him a truly “liberal candidate”.

A fake news story about a presidential candidate advocating for gay rights could be used to undermine them. Highly influential Muslim and Christian leaders in Nigeria, who were united in their support for the anti-gay legislation, could tell their followers not to vote for such a candidate.

How do we know the story was fake?

The Twitter account which was the source of the original story is not an official account for the politician Atiku Abubakar. This is his real account, verified with a blue tick by Twitter.

There is also no evidence that the LGBT rights organisations quoted in the initial tweet, or the subsequent blogposts and newspaper articles, even exist. There are no official records of the organisations themselves, which would be illegal under Nigerian law anyway.

And neither they nor their purported spokesperson (Spinky Victor Lee) existed online before the emergence of the first tweet in October, as detailed in this fact-check by the Agence France Press (AFP) news agency.

2. Top Kenya media personality shares fake praise

What was the story?

CNN business presenter Richard Quest was in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in October filming for his TV show.

Former news anchor and media personality Julie Gichuru posted on her Twitter account on 25 October to discuss how much Mr Quest was apparently enjoying his time in Kenya.

She posted the following quote, attributing it to Mr Quest.

“Nothing beats the service industry in Kenya… Here I am surrounded by giraffes while having breakfast! In a country declared by the World Bank as the Preferred Investment Destination in Africa, what else can I ask for? KENYA IS MAGICAL!”

What impact did it have?

Julie has over a million followers on her verified Twitter account and 600,000 on Instagram, so within minutes thousands of people had seen what she had posted and believed it to be true.

Many poked fun at her for falling for a hoax given her high profile and her long career in the media industry.

How do we know the story was fake?

The CNN journalist came across Julie’s tweet and was quick to point out that he hadn’t made any such statement. He replied to her original post.

Ms Gichuru then had to go on Twitter to set the record straight to her followers, issuing a retraction and deleting her initial tweet.

3. Somalis ‘pushed into shallow grave’ in Ethiopia

What was the story?

In July, the US-based Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) station broadcast a video which it said showed ethnic Oromos in Ethiopia pushing the bodies of ethnic Somalis into a shallow grave.

It claimed that the footage was taken in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, where there has been deadly violence between the two groups this year.

What impact did it have?

The BBC’s Afaan Oromo language service reported that the broadcast and subsequent widespread circulation of the video on social media in Ethiopia resulted in deadly attacks on ethnic Oromo people living in neighbouring Djibouti and Somalia.

Oromo refugees in neigbouring Djibouti told the BBC that they had been beaten and their shops looted after the video was aired there.

How do we know it was fake?

After an uproar on social media with many questioning its authenticity, ESAT admitted that the video was not real and described it as “deliberately misleading” in an official apology on its YouTube channel.

The same unverified video had been widely shared in June on social media in relation to the current conflict between Anglophone separatists and the government in Cameroon, some 3,000km (1,800 miles) west of Ethiopia.

The video aired on ESAT TV had apparently also been doctored, with audio of what were supposedly Oromo youths chanting inserted on top of the video’s original sound.

4. South African President Jacob Zuma’s “resignation”

What was the story?

On 12 February, a correspondent for South Africa’s national broadcaster SABC reported that then-President Jacob Zuma had agreed to resign.

Citing “authoritative sources”, Tshepo Ikaneng broke the story during a live report outside a high-level meeting of members from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), who were discussing his future.

Another South African journalist uploaded the announcement on Twitter.

Mr Zuma had been under immense pressure over multiple corruption scandals and had faced repeated calls from his party to step down.

The country was waiting on news of his possible resignation.

What impact did it have?

The South African rand, which had gained about 1% on the expectation that Mr Zuma would resign on 12 February, gave up some of its gains after the spokesman dismissed the SABC report.

Do we know it was fake?

Mr Zuma’s spokesperson came out to deny the reports, saying they were “fake news”.

But three days later, Mr Zuma resigned – this time for real.

5. Tanzanian leader ‘backs polygamy to end prostitution’

What was the story?

An article claiming Tanzanian President John Magufuli had told men to marry more than one wife as a way to end prostitution went viral.

It said that the president had addressed a “conference of about 14,000 men” telling them that “out of approximately 70 million Tanzanians, 40 million are women and only 30 million are men.”

This scarcity of men was leading to an increase in prostitution and adultery among women, the article claimed the president had said.

What impact did it have?

The initial story published in the English language Zambia Observer website in February 2018 didn’t create much of a stir.

But it was only when it was published in Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, on a website called nipasheonline.com that the story really started to gain momentum.

From there it was posted on the popular JamiiForums website, where it became a hot topic of discussion and spread to other news websites in Kenya, Zambia, South Africa and Ghana.

How do we know it was fake?

Tanzania’s official government spokesperson condemned the story on Twitter in Swahili, saying the president never uttered such remarks and people should ignore them.

A fact-check by BBC Swahili exposed further reasons we know the article was untrue.

In the fake article, “Mr Magufuli” refers to a population of 70 million, with 10 million more women than men.

But the latest UN estimates put the total population of Tanzania at just under 60 million, with no substantial gender disparity.

The website where the fake article was posted may also have sounded familiar to readers of the prominent Tanzanian newspaper Nipashe.

But it has no connection to the real website for that newspaper, whose official home on the web is https://www.ippmedia.com/sw/nipashe.

This story is part of a series by the BBC on disinformation and fake news – a global problem challenging the way we share information and perceive the world around us.

To see more stories and learn more about the series visit www.bbc.co.uk/fakenews

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Ministers gave Theresa May a plan for no deal Brexit

The plan emerged after Jo Johnson, a transport minister, resigned from the Government over Brexit and vowed to vote against Mrs May’s deal in the House of Commons.

A group of senior ministers briefed the Prime Minister on the secret plan earlier this month.

It could be deployed in a bid to avoid a chaotic exit if no agreement can be reached or if a deal is voted down.

The scheme would see the UK pay £18bn and continue to follow EU rules for a further 18-24 months after leaving in March with no deal, effectively as a third-party nation.

It would only be triggered if politicians fail to agree to the terms of a deal struck by the Prime Minister and Brussels, expected to be announced later this month.

The Cabinet ministers believe the plan – which has not been seen in Brussels – would allow the UK to sign international trade deals, negotiate a new trading relationship with the EU without having to sign up to a Northern Ireland backstop and ensure a fixed end date.

They also believe it would be easier to negotiate a new relationship with Europe and could cut the cost of leaving by slicing £20bn off the so-called divorce bill by only paying EU membership fees up until 2021.

It is designed to ease fears that leaving the union without a deal would mean ports would be shut, planes would be grounded and the British economy would face a shock. And to ease the UK’s exit having been unable to agree a formal withdrawal agreement.

Mrs May is said to have told Brexiteers the plan was “not needed yet” but it received a “surprisingly warm” response from Chancellor Philip Hammond, a senior source told Sky News.

A Cabinet minister said leader of the pro-Brexit European Reform Group Jacob Rees-Mogg also supports the plan, while other Brexiteers said it could be worth exploring in more detail.

It has gathered support in recent weeks amid increasingly strained relations between Number 10 and the Democratic Unionist Party, who fear Mrs May could agree to a backstop demanded by the EU which could cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK in the event of no deal.

If the Prime Minister agreed to such a plan DUP MPs would vote against the deal in Parliament, senior members of the party have warned, making it almost impossible for Mrs May to win enough support for it to pass.

Mrs May has also come under fire from her own MPs and Cabinet ministers, who have demanded legal advice on the final terms of the UK’s exit to ensure the EU cannot keep Britain inside the customs union indefinitely.

A Cabinet minister said the plan has been developed to ensure the worst elements of a no-deal Brexit could be eased, but they also pointed out it could be beneficial to the UK in the long run.

Downing Street said last night it would not agree to a second referendum vote under any circumstances and reiterated a promise not to sign the UK up to any deal which could return a hard border to Northern Ireland.

But a Cabinet source said: “No deal is looking more and more likely every day, so this is no deal but a managed deal.”

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Jo Johnson quits UK government over 'delusional' Brexit deal

LONDON (Reuters) – British junior transport minister Jo Johnson said on Friday he was quitting the government over its proposed Brexit deal, calling for a second referendum and saying Britain stood on the brink of the greatest crisis since World War Two.

Here is the text of the resignation statement of Johnson, brother of former foreign minister Boris Johnson.

“Brexit has divided the country. It has divided political parties. And it has divided families too. Although I voted Remain, I have desperately wanted the Government, in which I have been proud to serve, to make a success of Brexit: to reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too. At times, I believed this was possible. That’s why I voted to start the Article 50 process and for two years have backed the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure the best deal for the country. But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.

“Indeed, the choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all. The first option is the one the Government is proposing: an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business. The second option is a “no deal” Brexit that I know as a Transport Minister will inflict untold damage on our nation. To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis. My constituents in Orpington deserve better than this from their Government.

“What is now being proposed won’t be anything like what was promised two years ago.

“Hopes for ‘the easiest trade deal in history’ have proved to be delusions. Contrary to promises, there is in fact no deal at all on our future trading relationship with the EU which the government can present to the country. Still less anything that offers the ‘exact same benefits’ as the Single Market, as David Davis promised, or the ‘precise guarantees of frictionless trade’ that the Prime Minister assured us would be available. All that is now being finalised is the agreement to pay the EU tens of billions of pounds. All that may be on offer on trade is the potential for an agreement to stay in a temporary customs arrangement while we discuss the possibility of an EU trade deal that all experience shows will take many years to negotiate.

“Even if we eventually secure a customs arrangement for trade in goods, it will be bad news for the service sector — for firms in finance, in IT, in communications and digital technology. Maintaining access to EU markets for goods is important, but we are fundamentally a services economy. Many in Orpington, for example, are among the two million Britons employed in financial services, commuting into the center of London to jobs of all kinds in the City. Countries across the world go to great lengths to attract financial and professional services jobs from our shores. An agreement that sharply reduces access to EU markets for financial services — or leaves us vulnerable to regulatory change over which we will have no influence — will hurt my constituents and damage one of our most successful sectors.

“While we wait to negotiate trading terms, the rules of the game will be set solely by the EU. Britain will lose its seat at the table and its ability to amend or vote down rules it opposes. Instead of Britain ‘taking back control’, we will cede control to other European countries. This democratic deficit inherent in the Prime Minister’s proposal is a travesty of Brexit. When we were told Brexit meant taking back powers for Parliament, no one told my constituents this meant the French parliament and the German parliament, not our own. In these circumstances, we must ask what we are achieving. William Hague once described the goal of Conservative policy as being ‘in Europe, but not run by Europe’. The government’s proposals will see us out of Europe, yet run by Europe, bound by rules which we will have lost a hand in shaping.

“Worse still, there is no real clarity about how this situation will ever end. The proposed Withdrawal Agreement parks many of the biggest issues about our future relationship with Europe into a boundless transitionary period. This is a con on the British people: there is no evidence that the kind of Brexit that we’ve failed to negotiate while we are still members can be magically agreed once the UK has lost its seat at the table. The leverage we have as a full member of the EU will have gone. We will be in a far worse negotiating position than we are today. And we will have still failed to resolve the fundamental questions that are ramping up uncertainties for businesses and stopping them investing for the future.

“My brother Boris, who led the leave campaign, is as unhappy with the Government’s proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were ‘substantially worse than staying in the EU’. On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.

“The argument that the government will present for the Withdrawal Agreement ‘deal’ is not that it is better for Britain than our current membership. The Prime Minister knows that she cannot honestly make the claim that the deal is an improvement on Britain’s current arrangements with the EU and, to her credit, refuses to do so. The only case she can try to make is that it is better than the alternative of leaving the EU with no deal at all.

“Certainly, I know from my own work at the Department of Transport the potential chaos that will follow a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It will cause disruption, delay and deep damage to our economy. There are real questions about how we will be able to guarantee access to fresh food and medicine if the crucial Dover-Calais trade route is clogged up. The government may have to take control of prioritizing which lorries and which goods are allowed in and out of the country, an extraordinary and surely unworkable intervention for a government in an advanced capitalist economy. The prospect of Kent becoming the Lorry Park of England is very real in a no deal scenario. Orpington residents bordering Kent face disruption from plans to use the nearby M26, connecting the M25 to the M20, as an additional queuing area for heavy goods vehicles backed up all the way from the channel ports. This prospect alone would be a resigning matter for me as a constituency MP, but it is just a facet of a far greater problem facing the nation.

“Yet for all its challenges and for all the real pain it would cause us as we adapt to new barriers to trade with our biggest market, we can ultimately survive these difficulties. I believe it would be a grave mistake for the government to ram through this deal by once again unleashing Project Fear. A ‘no deal’ outcome of this sort may well be better than the never ending purgatory the Prime Minister is offering the country. But my message to my brother and to all Leave campaigners is that inflicting such serious economic and political harm on the country will leave an indelible impression of incompetence in the minds of the public. It cannot be what you wanted nor did the 2016 referendum provide any mandate for it.

“Given that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be so far from what was once promised, the democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say. This would not be about re-running the 2016 referendum, but about asking people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union.

“To those who say that is an affront to democracy given the 2016 result, I ask this. Is it more democratic to rely on a three year old vote based on what an idealized Brexit might offer, or to have a vote based on what we know it does actually entail?

“A majority of Orpington voters chose to leave the EU in 2016 and many of the close friends I have there, among them hard-working local Conservative Party members, are passionately pro-Brexit. I respect their position. But I know from meetings I have had with local members that many are as dismayed as me by the course of negotiations and about the actual choice now on offer. Two and a half years on, the practical Brexit options are now clear and the public should be asked to choose between the different paths facing our country: we will all have different positions on that choice, but I think many in my local party, in the Orpington constituency and around the country would welcome having the last word on the Government’s Brexit proposals.

“Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War. My loyalty to my party is undimmed. I have never rebelled on any issue before now. But my duty to my constituents and our great nation has forced me to act. I have today written to the Prime Minister asking her to accept my resignation from the Government. It is now my intention to vote against this Withdrawal Agreement. I reject this false choice between the PM’s deal and ‘no deal’ chaos. On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it.

“To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy.”

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