Attending her first European Union summit since Britain's vote to leave the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May tried to reassure EU leaders over Brexit but was told by French President Francois Hollande to prepare for tough negotiations. At a gathering in Brussels where EU leaders had robust debates on Russia, migration and trade issues, May was allotted a short time slot at the end of dinner on Thursday to lay out her plans for taking Britain out of the EU after more than four decades as a member. May has said she will formally notify the EU of Britain's plan to leave by the end of March, but she and her ministers have sent conflicting signals about what kind of relationship they envision once the divorce talks end. Moreover, Britain is facing fresh challenges in many aspects. Here are some fresh challenges Britain are facing:
A draft bill on a second independence referendum has been published by the Scottish government after the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pledged to hold a new poll in the event of a hard Brexit in a direct challenge to Theresa May. The draft legislation, which was formally unveiled by the constitution secretary, Derek Mackay, despite the Scottish parliament being in recess until next week, sets out proposals for the rules governing the campaign, the conduct of the poll and how votes are counted. Questions about the future of the 309-year union between England, where a majority voted to leave the EU, and Scotland, where a majority voted to stay in it, have multiplied since the June 23 referendum put the entire United Kingdom on the path to an exit. British Prime Minister Theresa May last week set out the exit timetable by promising to launch the two-year legal process by the end of March, and later triggered a fall in the value of the pound to a 31-year low by appearing to prioritise immigration controls over Britain's current preferential access to the EU single market, which could hurt trade and investment. "If you think for one single second that I'm not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland's interests, then think again," Sturgeon said in a warning to May. She accused May's Conservative government of "constitutional vandalism" by what she said was its disregard of Scotland's views on Brexit, arguing that it had no mandate to take Britain out of the EU single market for goods and services. In response, a spokeswoman for May said the prime minister was "absolutely committed to engaging with the people of Scotland, with understanding their interests and making sure that as we go through the process of negotiating the UK exit we do what is in the interests of the United Kingdom". May said last week she would be "ambitious" in talks with the other 27 EU members to get what she called the best deal. Sturgeon said she would seek to ensure that Scotland gets increased powers in any negotiation Britain undertakes to leave, challenging May on her stance that any Brexit deal must be negotiated by her government for the whole of Britain. But Sturgeon also said she wanted a bill in place to give her the possibility of calling another referendum before Britain formally leaves the EU - now expected by the end of March 2019. "I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence - and to do so before the UK leaves the EU - if that is necessary to protect our country's interests," she added.
The battle over Brexit reached the High Court on Thursday in a legal challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May's right to start negotiations for Britain to leave the EU without a vote in parliament. The move could delay Brexit if successful and set up an unprecedented constitutional face-off between the courts and the government. It was launched after Britain's June 23 referendum, which saw 52% of Britons vote to leave the European Union in a shock result that plunged the value of the pound and raised global economic fears. The case seeks to challenge May's assertion that she has the right to trigger notification of Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which would spark two years of negotiations on Britain's departure from the bloc. The government says it has "royal prerogative" -- a type of executive privilege -- to negotiate Brexit without needing a legally-binding parliamentary vote. The issue in this case is not whether this country should remain a member of the EU, or leave the EU," argued lawyer David Pannick, acting for several different individuals who brought the challenge. "The question is whether the government may take action unilaterally to notify, or whether it needs parliamentary approval to do so." He said deploying the royal prerogative was unlawful because under the European Communities Act 1972, it was for parliament to decide whether or not to maintain the rights contained within it. "Notification has the consequence of depriving individuals of rights which they currently enjoy under the 1972 act," he said. A few protesters for and against the legal action rallied outside the court in London as lawyers and claimants arrived for the first hearing. A man holding an EU flag shouted "Parliament must vote!", while another distributed leaflets urging people to "Uphold the Brexit vote". But those behind the legal challenge -- including an investment fund manager, a hairdresser and an expatriate living in France -- argue such a process cannot begin without a law passed by parliament. Gina Miller, co-founder of investment fund SCM Private, wants parliament to legislate on the terms of Brexit before May can trigger Article 50. The fund manager is being represented by Mishcon de Reya, a prestigious law firm whose offices were picketed by pro-Brexit campaigners in July for taking on the case shortly after the referendum.
There was a sharp increase in the number of racially or religiously aggravated crimes recorded by police in England and Wales following the EU referendum. In July 2016, police recorded a 41% increase compared to the same month the year before, according to a Home Office report. These official figures appear to correlate with previous reports of a rise in post-Brexit hate crime. Data from 31 police forces showed that 1,546 racially or religiously aggravated offences were recorded in the two weeks up to and including the day of the referendum on June 23. But in the fortnight immediately after the poll, the number climbed by almost half to 2,241. In September, the National Police Chiefs’ Council released figures which showed the number of incidents rose by 58% in the week following the vote to leave the EU. The Home Office report confirmed that while 3,886 hate crimes were recorded by the police in July 2015, this jumped to 5,468 in July this year. The peak daily total between May and August was seen on 1 July, when 207 alleged race or religious hate crimes were recorded. The Home Office report showed there had been an increase of 19% in hate crimes in the year between April 2015 and March 2016, and included a section dedicated to violence seen after the EU referendum. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said a hate crime action plan published in July “sets out how we are further reducing hate crime, increasing reporting and improving support for victims”. The violence seen after the Brexit vote was not restricted to racial or religious hostility, according to an LGBT charity. Galop, which supports victims of homophobic violence, said homophobic attacks rose by 147% in the three months following the Brexit vote.
Sources: Reuters, The Independent, AFP, Euronews