Zimbabwe must release political prisoners and return to the path of democratic change, Conservative Security and Defence spokesman Geoffrey Van Orden told the European Parliament today.

 Mr Van Orden contrasted the current crisis with the feelings of optimism and change when Robert Mugabe was ousted in November 2017.

 However, the clampdown and suppression of free speech following protests in January have seen that hope quashed. MEPs today condemned the brutality by the security forces and urged the government to get back on the road to democracy.

 In a personal plea to President Emmerson Mnangagwa from the floor of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Van Orden, who chairs the friends of Zimbabwe group in the European Parliament, said: “Many of us have campaigned for Zimbabwe over the past 20 years to deliver the freedom and prosperity that your people of your bounteous country have cried out for, for so long.

“Fifteen months ago there was a moment of hope when Mugabe was overthrown you assumed power.

“But very rapidly the system was allowed to lapse into its old ways with shootings, mass arrests and terrible brutality against protestors.

“Six months ago, when you formally took office, you promised change with a bright, shared future for all Zimbabweans, with a government unwavering in its commitment to democracy and the rule of law, with policies that would project harmony and stability and attract foreign investment.

“I urge you to get back on the right road, to break clean from the evil forces lurking in your shadow; to dismiss those responsible for the recent brutalities; to release the political prisoners; and work with the opposition forces and civil society in  a great national dialogue that will lead to the genuine and sustainable democratic change that your people so desperately want.

“Do this, and I feel sure the international community - the United Kingdom, the EU, the Commonwealth, the United States - stands ready to give you every assistance.

 “Do the right thing and your people and history will judge you well.”

 

 

Stronger measures to enforce legislation to protect live animals being transported across the European Union have been backed today by Conservative MEPs.

The report calls for implementation of existing rules will be stepped up with more on the spot inspections and the confiscation of transportation lorries for repeat offenders. The report also recommends a reduction in journey times where possible and advocates alternatives to live animal transport, such as expanding the trade in frozen meat and carcasses.

Conservative Agriculture spokesman Anthea McIntyre MEP stressed that the UK already strictly enforced welfare standards and inspected millions of animals before travel. But some other member states carried out no inspections at all.

She said: "UK farmers employ the highest standards and are invested in the welfare of their animals, including during transport. Sadly these standards are not always replicated across the EU and this report suggests some sensible safeguards, including the greater use of technology to track animal journeys and engagement with third countries about their welfare standards.

"Animal welfare is a top priority. Where unacceptable practices exist, they must be detected and stamped out."

Jacqueline Foster MEP, Conservative Transport spokesman and Vice President of the European Parliament's Animal Welfare Intergroup, said the aim was to reduce live animal transport of animals to a minimum.

"Slaughtering should take place as close to the source as possible and we must continue the shift towards the transport of meat. Where live transport is unavoidable, such as for breeding or for further rearing, lorries should be equipped with watering, feeding and cooling systems and the highest standards of stockmanship demanded."

The report was authored by Danish MEP Jorn Dohrmann, a colleague of Conservative MEPs in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. It was approved today by a large majority in the European Parliament.

The Irish backstop, far from preventing a hard border post-Brexit, will create one if not amended, Conservative MEPs' leader Ashley Fox warned the European Parliament this afternoon.

Speaking in a set piece debate to discuss last night's votes in Westminster, Mr Fox urged the European Union to engage constructively with the Prime Minister to amend the Withdrawal Agreement and secure the approval of MPs.

He said: "There is now a clearer road ahead – if we choose to take it.

"My government and the House of Commons want to leave the EU in an orderly manner and with a deal. And to achieve that we need to amend how the Protocol on Northern Ireland operates.

"We must do all we can to support the Good Friday Agreement. But it is a paradox that the backstop, whose purpose is to avoid a hard border, may – in just 58 days time – be the cause of creating such a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"It is simply not good enough to repeat ad nauseam that the deal cannot be amended. That leads to no deal. And that leads, as the Commission confirmed last week, to a hard border."

Mr Fox pointed out that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that in the event of a no deal the bloc would find an alternative "operational way to carry out checks and controls without putting back in place a border."

He added: "Let us look at that now. Let us consider whether time limits and exit mechanisms offer a solution. Let us proceed with goodwill, remembering that flexibility and generosity are not signs of weakness but of strength.

"At stake is the future partnership between the EU and the UK. Let us ensure that we can construct a long term relationship to promote our common values and our shared interests in an uncertain world.

"Let us find a way to move forward together."

 

The Irish backstop, far from preventing a hard border post-Brexit, will create one if not amended, Conservative MEPs' leader Ashley Fox warned the European Parliament this afternoon.

Speaking in a set piece debate to discuss last night's votes in Westminster, Mr Fox urged the European Union to engage constructively with the Prime Minister to amend the Withdrawal Agreement and secure the approval of MPs.

He said: "There is now a clearer road ahead – if we choose to take it.

"My government and the House of Commons want to leave the EU in an orderly manner and with a deal. And to achieve that we need to amend how the Protocol on Northern Ireland operates.

"We must do all we can to support the Good Friday Agreement. But it is a paradox that the backstop, whose purpose is to avoid a hard border, may – in just 58 days time – be the cause of creating such a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"It is simply not good enough to repeat ad nauseam that the deal cannot be amended. That leads to no deal. And that leads, as the Commission confirmed last week, to a hard border."

Mr Fox pointed out that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that in the event of a no deal the bloc would find an alternative "operational way to carry out checks and controls without putting back in place a border."

He added: "Let us look at that now. Let us consider whether time limits and exit mechanisms offer a solution. Let us proceed with goodwill, remembering that flexibility and generosity are not signs of weakness but of strength.

"At stake is the future partnership between the EU and the UK. Let us ensure that we can construct a long term relationship to promote our common values and our shared interests in an uncertain world.

"Let us find a way to move forward together."

Politically motivated recommendations to overhaul the way pesticides are authorised for use in the European Union were opposed by Conservative MEPs today.

The European Parliament's special committee on pesticides is proposing that many powers to licence products are removed from member states and centralised in Brussels, despite hearing from experts that the present system works well.

It is also calling for the decision to re-licence the world's most popular weed killer Glyphosate to be re-assessed, just 12 months after the substance was declared as safe for use and approved for the European market.

Conservative Agriculture Spokesman Anthea McIntyre said the report included discredited assertions simply "to provide a platform for campaigning MEPs ahead of the European elections in May."

She told the Parliament in Strasbourg: "The EU approval process for plant protection products is one of the most stringent systems in the world, yet to read the committee's report you really wouldn't think so. It has been prepared in a very selective manner with many expert contributions being intentionally disregarded.

"The report is very disappointing and reflects poorly on our institution. We   should be supporting a fact-based approach to policy making."

Miss McIntyre believes the current system could be improved by increasing transparency, supporting new farming techniques to reduce pesticide use and encouraging the development of novel substances which would make older, more persistent chemicals obsolete.

She added: "The Commission, EU regulatory agencies, Member State authorities and Greenpeace all gave evidence to the committee and said it was not flaws in the legislation that needed to be addressed. Instead they argued that improvements were required in its implementation.

"The committee has a duty to reflect the expert testimony, even when this may be inconvenient for some political groups and campaigners. But it has singularly failed to do so."

The report was approved today by Parliament. It has no legal authority but is likely to inform future decision making on the approval and authorisation process for pesticides.