Tag Archives: European Union

For Britain, friendless desert looms behind Brexit door

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A combination of pictures shows Queen Elizabeth during the State Opening of Parliament in central London June 21, 2017 and a European Union flag. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 24, 2017

 

Thersay May speaks after losing her party majority in the snap UK general election. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

It has taken 100 years for Britain to sink from being the world’s premier super power to the increasingly inconsequential cluster of off-shore European islands it is today.

The slide into irrelevance has been slow and genteel, until the last few months, and especially since the debacle for the governing Conservatives in the June 9 election. The view from the White Cliffs of Dover is now of a vast and unwelcoming no-man’s-land.

Britain’s long road to reality came to a bleak climax on Thursday and Friday this week. Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, her political wounds still fresh and suppurating from her drubbing in the election two weeks ago, attended a summit of the 28 European Union leaders in Brussels.

She wanted to talk about the fate of British subjects living and working in Europe, and European counterparts in Britain, once Brexit is achieved in about two years. Also on her list was what to do about Northern Ireland, which will suddenly have a hard border with the EU at the crossing points into the Irish Republic once the separation is complete. And then there’s the cost of the divorce. How many billions is Brussels going to demand in compensation from Britain for backing out of future obligations?

Theresa May found, however, there is no interest among the 27 other EU leaders in talking to her about these things. For them, Brexit is a done deal. The details are for Eurocrats and whatever woefully inadequate team London manages to field – Whitehall is so bereft of experienced negotiators, the British government has been forced to bring in Canadians and New Zealanders on contract.

The EU leaders have already moved on. That was evident in what the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, told reporters ahead of the summit. Asked about the state of play between the EU and Britain, Tusk said:

“We hear different predictions, coming from different people, about the possible outcome of these negotiations: hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal. Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU.

“I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Tusk’s channelling of John Lennon has been widely interpreted as a sign that there is still an opportunity for the British government to change its mind, and to stay in the EU. That looks like wishful thinking. Tusk looked and sounded as though he was waffling because he had nothing to say.

Indeed, Tusk moved on smoothly but speedily to say that the mood of optimism in the EU is now higher than it has been for a long time and that it is ready for the challenges ahead. The EU has major issues to address, such as the continued pressure of migration from Africa and the Middle East, defence in the age of Donald Trump, and the economy, which is doing well with some notable exceptions like Greece.

Emmanuel Macron at the France 2 television special prime time political show, “15min to Convince” in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool

The EU also has a new and interesting generation of leaders – at least for the moment — who have surfaced since the British voters opted, by a slim margin in a referendum exactly a year ago, to leave the common market. There’s Emmanuel Macron in France and Leo Varadkar, the homosexual son of Indian immigrants, in Ireland. They embody commitment to European cohesion, the virtues of multi-culturalism, and the withering of old partisan establishments in the face of a renaissance in political thought.

For many Europeans, and not just their leaders, Britain was always an unwilling and troublesome partner. There was much anger in Europe when former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum on EU membership last year, and even more when the British voted to leave. There was justifiable fear that Brexit would encourage “Eurosceptic” voters in other member states to demand their own referenda. But, having found in subsequent elections in Holland and France that Brexit is not an infectious disease spreading right-wing demagogy throughout the EU, most of the remaining members are happy to see Britain go.

On the British side, the whole grim saga of Brexit is like an episode of Fawlty Towers, but without the jokes.

It began with a raft of delusional Conservative backbench MPs yearning for a British Golden Age that never existed. They persuaded themselves, and convinced many of their constituents that silly, interfering bureaucrats and unelected EU pooh-bahs in Brussels were destroying the British – or, more precisely, the English – way of life with footling rules and regulations.

Petty gripes took on a large swig of Basil Fawlty racism when the free movement of people and their families within the EU became a perceived problem. Free movement was enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, but at that time the EU was still just a club of western European nations.

The full impact of the phasing out of internal borders wasn’t felt until the rule was extended under the 2004 Schengen agreement. And that coincided with the intake into the EU of 10 new members, most of them from the former Soviet East Europe bloc. The 10 are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

In a perverse way, it was to Britain’s credit that it became the preferred destination for very many Eastern Europeans seeking opportunity. But the arrival of plane, bus, and ferry loads of Manuels willing to work harder, and for less money, than the British sent the country’s Basil Fawltys into paroxysms of rage. Chief among them was Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the very epitome of the pub bore. But pub bores, if they are gloomy enough, have a way of attracting Eeyores. So it was with Farage.

At the same time, globalization was gobbling up jobs and spitting them out in Asia and other low cost manufacturing centres. Farage’s tirades that it was all the fault of the bloody foreigners in Brussels found a ready audience. UKIP made something of a breakthrough in 2013 municipal elections, 2014 European elections and the 2015 general election for the Westminster parliament. In that election UKIP made its best showing ever when it won 12.6 per cent of the vote, but that translated into only one seat in parliament.

Even though UKIP’s standing remained inconsequential, its progression out of the ranks of fringe parties scared a lot of the Conservative backbenchers. Some feared losing significant support to UKIP. Others, no doubt, were scared of UKIP because they agreed with its declaration that Britain’s problems stemmed from its membership of the EU.

In an attempt to silence his rebels, Prime Minister Cameron promised ahead of the 2010 election that if elected he would oversee a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. It was a ploy to try to discipline his Eurosceptic backbenchers for the election campaign. But then he reneged on the promise, in large part because he had not won a majority and was in a formal alliance with the pro-Europe Liberal-Democrats.

As the 2015 election approached, Cameron felt forced to renew his pledge, and said a referendum would be held in 2016 if the Conservatives won a majority, which they did.

History will undoubtedly heap much blame on Cameron for the farce of the last two years. First, he should never have allowed himself to be bullied into calling a referendum. Referenda do not sit easily with the Westminster parliamentary style of government. This is based on the concept of electing MPs, who are expected to understand and reflect in parliament the views and concerns of their constituents. If the MP fails in this mandate, he or she is chucked out in the next election. Referenda, which circumvent the supremacy of parliament and ask voters to decide by a simple yes or no vote on complex and often far-reaching questions, are an alien approach.

Referenda used by governments in the Westminster parliamentary system are usually a way out for political leaders who don’t have the guts or decisiveness to make up their minds about difficult issues.

So it was with the Brexit referendum in June last year. On top of the sin of calling a referendum in the first place, Cameron then ran an appalling campaign, arguing with only tepid enthusiasm that the future for Britain is better inside the EU. Not only was the campaign feeble, Cameron and other political leaders, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn most prominent among them, failed to perceive how deeply anti-EU sentiments had taken hold among committed Tories in rural England and blue collar voters in traditional Labour Party strongholds.

When the referendum results came in after the June 23 vote last year, it was Conservative country folk and abandoned rust belt workers in traditional Labour regions who pushed the results to 51.89 per cent in favour of leaving the EU and 48.11 per cent against.

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Brits vote for Brexit. Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

To his discredit, Cameron immediately left the field. He resigned both as Prime Minister and party leader almost as soon as the last ballot was counted. This helped entrench the view in Britain, which still holds in some quarters, that there had been a conclusive vote for Brexit and that democracy had spoken. That was not true. Voter turn-out was 72 per cent and was especially low among young Britons. Also, it was mainly voters in England that voted for Brexit, and their numbers overwhelmed those in Scotland, Northern Ireland and much of Wales who wanted to stay in the EU.

With the swift departure of Cameron, events in the Conservative Party took on a surreal tone. It was evident to all that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London who had just returned to the Commons in the 2015 election, lusted after the leader’s post. A well-known figure from his frequent appearance on television, his newspaper columns, and his penchant for politically incorrect buffoonery, Johnson had made himself the champion of the Brexit campaign, and now expected the pay-off.

He was well-placed to win under the Tories’ system for choosing a leader. First, the parliamentary caucus, through a system of informal and backroom polls, picks two candidates, who are then put to a nation wide vote among party members to make the final choice. It looked to be a choice between Johnson and the pro-remain Theresa May.

But then, at the last moment, one of Johnson’s most prominent supporters and backers, Michael Gove, decided that he wanted to be a candidate. There were a few hours of confusion before Johnson and Gove did the maths, realised they counted each other out, and both withdrew.

Theresa May became Tory leader and Prime Minister by default.

Despite her support for Britain remaining in the EU, May was seen as a safe pair of hands. Comparisons were made with Margaret Thatcher and cartoonists starting portraying May in a suit of armour, much as they had the Iron Lady 30 years ago. But cartoonists are often the most sensitive of social commentators, who spot trends and moods well ahead of others. It soon became noticeable that May’s suit of armour was not the Thatcherite pristine battlewear of St. George, but more the bashed and battered cast-offs of Don Quixote.

May proclaimed that “Brexit means Brexit,” though what that meant was and continues to be a mystery. It also remained a mystery on what terms she wanted to leave the EU and what she wanted Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe to be. There was much bandying around of the phrases “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit,” though what these inferred about Britain’s departure from and future trade and other ties with Europe is difficult to say.

A rough guide is that “hard Brexit” means Britain will entirely sever relations with the EU, and only then seek a new free trade agreement. “Soft Brexit” means Britain seeking to keep the existing free trade relationship with the other 27 countries, while jettisoning the things it doesn’t like about the EU, such as the ultimate sovereignty of the European Court and the free movement of people.

Theresa May started off by advocating for a hard Brexit. But the calamities that have befallen her in the past year – most of them self-inflicted — have confiscated almost all her political authority. She is now plaintively asking for a soft Brexit, but will have to put up with whatever Brussels gives her.

After taking office, May delayed starting the process of Britain leaving the EU, by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, until the end of March. Part of the delay was undoubtedly because the government came face to face with the difficult realty that Britain no longer had enough experienced trade and constitutional negotiators in its civil service to field a team in Brussels. In February a call went out from Whitehall asking Canada, Australia and New Zealand to please lend Britain some of their negotiators.

Until the triggering of Article 50 there was some hope that May might follow her own preferences, and those of the majority of members of the House of Commons, and somehow reverse what was, after all, far from being an overwhelming vote to leave the EU.

At the same time, public opinion in Britain did an about turn. It was now a slight majority who favoured staying in the EU and a minority still backing Brexit. There are a number of reasons for this, most of them the usual hangover in the cold light of dawn after a night of revelry.

The campaign for Brexit a year ago contained a largely unspoken piece of wishful thinking that saw Britain’s departure from the EU as the moment when there would be a revival of the club of English-speaking nations. This dream envisaged an alliance of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand against the world. It was only after the Brexit win, when the yearned-for alliance did not materialize, that Brexiteers began to see what a cold and unwelcoming world awaited their arrival.

The current Canadian government is a firm believer in multilateral institutions and regional free trade agreements. It has just completed a major free trade agreement with the EU. Australia and New Zealand are similarly inclined and both, after much internal struggle, now self-identify as Asian nations. Former U.S. President Barack Obama was upfront in urging Britons to vote to remain in the EU, but the arrival of Donald Trump changed the equation.

Many Brexiteers were cheered and heartened by Trump’s denigration of the EU and his support for the British, French and anyone else to quit the alliance. But once Trump became President it became obvious to even the most hidebound Brexiteer that Trump has no political philosophy or fixed convictions, and that he is motivated entirely by flim-flammery and whatever he thinks the crowd wants to hear. It was also clear that Trump has nothing but disdain for the UK, and any dreams in Britain of a revival of the trans-Atlantic “special relationship” is worse than fanciful.

With the air heavy with confusion, Theresa May then made another appallingly bad decision. She chose to call a snap election, saying the country needed to demonstrate “strength and stability” by giving her a majority in the House of Commons and clear mandate to negotiate Brexit.

Well, it is true that her political legitimacy was tenuous. She was Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party only because she was the only surviving candidate after Cameron resigned. But her timing was terrible, and she misread the mood of voters just as badly as Cameron had in 2016.

Jeremy Corbyn, then the new leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party greets supporters after speaking in a pub in London, Britain September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

To very many people, May’s calling of the election looked like a crass piece of opportunism. Polls indicated that the Labour Party and its leader Corbyn were unpopular beyond belief, and that May and the Tories could not only dramatically increase their majority, but even perhaps kill off the Labour Party as a political force for a generation.

Voters didn’t like being taken advantage of by the Tories. More than that, many of them objected to May and her advisers trying to dictate the issue as them being given a strong hand with which to confront Brussels. During the course of the campaign the voters decided the issue they preferred was the whole question of austerity cuts in government spending under the Tories, and what this was doing to social services. Jeremy Corbyn during the course of the campaign transformed from a loonie leftie leftover from the 1960s, to a principled swan gliding majestically and calming the ruffled waters of British public life.

Corbyn didn’t win, of course. However, he brought the Labour Party roaring back into contention and drove May and the Tories into minority. In order to continue governing she is now dependent on the support of the 10 members of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland.

These are not savoury or compatible bedfellows. DUP political philosophy, such as it is, is rooted in Protestant triumphalism over Catholics in Ireland in the 17th century. To say that the DUP is not housetrained in the social issues of the 21st century is to be excessively polite. That might be manageable for May and the Conservatives were not Northern Ireland a key issue in the Brexit negotiations.

In 1998, at the end of the 30-year guerrilla and terrorist war launched by the Irish Republican Army in the 1960s to try to unify Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, a central element in the Good Friday Agreement was the opening of the border between the two jurisdictions. This was eased by both Britain and the Irish Republic being members of the EU. But when Britain leaves the European community, customs and immigration barriers should go up again along the border between the two Irelands, with potentially serious consequences for the peace process. That process is already churning through dangerous seas with the collapse of a power sharing agreement between the republicans and unionists in the provincial government.

Moreover, the revived border will be the only land link between Britain and the EU. It will be the place illegal migrants congregate in the hope of getting into Britain, as they do in the French port of Calais now.

That’s assuming, of course, that after Brexit, Britain is still an attractive destination for refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East. In a speech this week, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned Britain is heading for difficult and uncertain times that will see weaker real incomes. He said that monetary policy implemented by the bank can go only so far to alleviate the impact of job losses and inflation that are likely to be part and parcel of the Brexit process.

He mocked the idea that Brexit is launching the UK on a “smooth path to a land of cake and consumption.” This was clearly a jibe at Boris Johnson, now Britain’s foreign minister, who in the course of the Brexit campaign said he was in favour of “having our cake and eating it too.”

No head of the Bank of England in living memory has been the target of so much public criticism as Carney, who headed the Bank of Canada before taking over in London in 2013. So his tilt at Johnson will probably be water off a duck’s back, as most criticisms of Johnson prove to be. The man is not known for his sensitivity.

Johnson probably still wants May’s job and to be Prime Minister, but there is a lot of opposition to him within the party, and there seems to be a consensus among Tories that now is not the time to remove her. A comment by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), George Osborne, that May is a “dead woman walking,” looks to be off target. She has shown contrition for her failure in the election, and fired the advisers who pushed her along that path. This week she produced a legislative agenda for the new parliament that can draw widespread acceptance from both Tories and others in the House of Commons.

Theresa May’s fate will turn on the progress and direction of the negotiations on Brexit. While it is not impossible that a putsch is attempted over the summer, the most likely scenario is that an assessment of her leadership will be made by Tory party members at the annual convention in October. If May survives that, there will probably be an inclination to let her carry on until Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 or thereabouts.

By that point, it looks very much as though the leadership of Britain will be a grim and thankless inheritance.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.” Return to his column page.

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Theresa May’s election victory no longer certain

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Interior Minister Amber Rudd, UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson and moderator Mishal Husain attend the BBC’s live televised general election debate in Cambridge, Britain, May 31, 2017. Jeff Overs/BBC Handout via REUTERS

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 3, 2017

Six weeks ago, when Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election, it seemed a foregone conclusion this was simply a formality to boost her parliamentary majority and strengthen her hand in negotiating Brexit from the European Union.

Not any more. The smell in the air now is that May and her Conservative Party will, at best, lose seats in the June 8 election. They might be pushed into a minority and depend for survival on deals with minor parties. There are even pundits and analysts musing that Jeremy Corbyn, the much-derided leader of the main opposition Labour Party, could end up the Prime Minister leading a minority government.

Pollsters are being properly cautious after a series of dramatic misreadings of electorates in recent years – including Britain’s Brexit referendum last June on leaving the EU, and the eruption of Donald Trump in the United States. But, for what they are worth, the polls in Britain are showing that May’s 20-point lead at the start of the campaign has dwindled to almost nothing.

An Ipsos MORI poll published on Friday shows the Conservatives with 45 per cent support, Labour with 40 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats, the perennial bridesmaid of British politics, with only 7 per cent. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose eating away at Conservative Party support over the EU membership issue pushed former Prime Minister David Cameron to gamble and lose on the referendum last June, has disappeared without trace.

With variations of a point or two here and there, all the other polls paint a similar picture – May is set to lose seats and might be forced into minority.

More compelling than the polls, however, in suggesting a Tory comeuppance is the drama of the campaign itself. Or rather, the astonishing lack of drama.

Given the closeness of the referendum result last year, with only 52 voting in favour of leaving the EU and 48 per cent wanting to remain, this election was widely expected to be a rerun of Brexit, especially as May was not herself in favour of quitting the union.

That hasn’t happened. The principal reason is that May herself has shied away from making the central issue of the campaign a demand for the electorate to give her a clear and strong mandate in the two-year dealing with Brussels over the details of the divorce. She has merely made repeated and increasingly hollow calls for support for “strong and stable leadership.”

May’s reluctance to brandish Brexit is because most Brexit supporters, including the most voluble elements in her Tory party, consider the 2016 referendum the final democratic word on the matter. Also, many who voted to remain have come around to at least acquiesce to Brexit, lulled, perhaps, by the failure of the British economy to immediately implode, as banking and commercial interests predicted.

Corbyn and the Labour Party have been equally hesitant to grasp the Brexit nettle. The party opposed leaving the EU, and is uncomfortably aware that over much of the country it was traditional Labour supporters, feeling themselves, like Donald Trump’s Appalachian coal miners, the victims of immigration and free trade, who assured the Brexit victory.

Corbyn, the unreconstructed 1960s socialist, has thus been free to play the role in which he feels most at home. He has been stomping the country and ranting to increasingly large rallies about the iniquities of Conservative austerity policies, and the bounty that a Labour government would heap on Britain’s struggling social services. Corbyn also performed well in the televised TV debate this week. May did herself no good by boycotting the debate and sending her Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, as a surrogate.

Corbyn comes across less and less like the unelectable loony lefty of his media caricature. This will dismay centrist members of the Labour Party, especially in the parliamentary caucus. They had hoped that a disastrous election result would allow them to get rid of Corbyn, who was foisted on them through the rabid democracy of an on-line ballot of grass roots party members.

However, there is an undertow in the tide that appears to be flowing in Corbyn’s direction. His growing support is primarily among the young. The Economist magazine has reported that Labour’s support among young voters has risen from an average of 43 per cent when the election was called in April to 57 per cent now. The problem for Corbyn is that younger voters are far less likely to actually go to the polls than are their parents’ generation. And among older, dedicated voters Labour’s support has grown by only four points to 19 per cent.

Theresa May is one of those unfortunate politicians whom voters admire and respect from a distance, but who suffers on close inspection. There was a sense of relief that the country was in safe hands when she became Conservative leader and Prime Minister by default last summer. Cameron resigned government and party leadership after his Brexit defeat, and then the candidates to succeed him managed to knife each other in the back. May was the last person standing.

Until her unexpected announcement in April, she had been dead set against calling an election, even though she had no clear mandate either as Tory party leader or Prime Minister. What caused her to change her mind and call the snap election is still a matter of debate. The most widely accepted explanation is that the double-digit Conservative lead in the polls and the apparent unelectability of Corbyn at the head of a widely divided Labour Party offered a strategic opportunity.

She may believe it would be useful to have the clear backing of the British people heading into brutal negotiations with the EU. Brussels is making it abundantly clear that it intends to make Brexit as painful and expensive as possible. Britain will be the first of the EU’s 28 members to quit, and Brussels wants to show other countries that might be thinking of heading for the exit that it would be a nasty and agonising experience.

However, May and her political advisers appear to have deluded themselves into thinking the snap election campaign would be a walk in the park with victory, probably with an even larger parliamentary majority, as the inevitable outcome. Perhaps for that reason they didn’t put much effort into planning a proper campaign or producing a convincing manifesto.

The platform is long on rhetoric and short on specific proposals. And early on in the campaign one specific plan proved disastrous. A proposed program would have made the elderly pay for care in their own homes if they had assets worth more than the equivalent of $174,000. As Britain has experienced the same relentless surge in real estate prices as elsewhere, this raised the prospect that the average elderly Briton would have to sell their homes to pay for their care. The Labour Party pounced, called the move a “dementia tax,” and the Conservatives swiftly withdrew the proposal.

This incident served to arouse the suspicion that always lurks near the surface among many British voters that the Tories are the “nasty party.” It didn’t help that, on closer inspection, May’s managerial competence came bundled with a personality that appears detached, cold and aloof. Like Margaret Thatcher, with whom she is often compared, May’s public persona lacks warmth. But May also lacks passion, and no one could ever accuse Maggie Thatcher of that.

In politics the plot lines of the individual players is always entertaining, but in this case there is the far more important question of what effect an inconclusive election result will have on the Brexit negotiations. Britain had a weak hand from the start, and all the likely outcomes of Thursday’s election will make it worse.

More than that, events elsewhere are compounding London’s feebleness. Immediately after the vote for Brexit there was much confident bluster that the EU couldn’t afford not to sign a post-exit free trade agreement with Britain. That is now off the table. Brussels and EU leaders have been explicit that talks on a new trade deal can’t start until after Britain has left in two years or so, and that London can’t expect to have as open a relationship with Europe as it has now.

Also, post-Brexit there was cheery waving across the Atlantic and enthusiastic predictions of a revived age of Anglo-American partnership. Well, the swift collapse of the Trump regime into dysfunction and the prospects of prolonged political malaise in the U.S. has cooled that ardour.

There is added pungency to the bad smell about U.S. links in reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has chalked up former UKIP leader Nigel Farage as a “person of interest” in the inquiry into the links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Farage has a strong personal relationship with Trump and both men are outspoken admirers of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. What seems to have put Farage in the FBI’s frame is his contacts with Wikileaks boss Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Wikileaks, it will be remembered, was the vehicle for publishing embarrassing emails from the campaign of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, emails apparently pilfered by Russian hackers.

At the same time, there has been a significant change in the whole atmosphere around the EU. When Britons went to the referendum polls a year ago its appeared the EU was stumbling towards collapse. The crisis over the common currency, the euro, continued and there seemed no end in sight for the economic turmoil in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Meanwhile, the anti-globalization demagogy – called “populism” – that produced Trump in the U.S. had similar outbreaks in Holland, France, Poland, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. Those outbreaks have been quelled, at least for the moment, with the defeat of far-right movements in elections in Holland and France. And not only did the French electorate last month defeat Marine Le Pen and her National Front, they produced as President neophyte Emmanuel Macron.

It is early days, but in his first appearances as President, Macron appears vigorous and courageous. This week he publicly called out Putin to his face over Russia’s attempts to manipulate the French elections and its support for chemical weapons attacks on civilians in Syria. Macron has also been up front in his disdain for Trump, and even made televised statements calling on climate scientists and others to come to France, where they will be welcomed, if they find they are unappreciated or sidelined at home in America.

Macron has also planted his flag as a reliable supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in guiding the EU through its problems, and in broader issues like the 2015 Paris accord on combating climate change. For the last few months Merkel has seemed the lonely surviving champion of North Atlantic civic values. No longer.

From seeming to be the Sick Man of the North Atlantic a few months ago, Europe suddenly looks like the future, especially in concert with emerging powers such as China and India.

A few days, leave alone a week, are a long time in politics. So much can happen before British voters go to the polls on Thursday. But at the moment it looks as though the result will be a dispiriting muddle, the very opposite of the bright new dawn the Brexiteers hoped for.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Turkey’s dispute with Europe feeds Erdogan’s power thirst

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 10, 2017, in Moscow. Photo handout from the Kremlin

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 18, 2017

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte this week saw off a serious populist challenge from bleach-blonde Islamaphobe Geert Wilders, but in so doing he has unwittingly given another demagogue the leg-up he needs to achieve supreme power.

The diplomatic face-off between the Netherlands and Turkey in the last days of the campaign undoubtedly had a significant effect on the outcome of the Dutch election. But it also was a gift to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the final weeks of a referendum campaign that, if successful, will give him almost dictatorial powers.

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

 

Until now, Turks have been sharply divided on whether or not to transfer almost all power from parliament to an executive presidency under Erdogan. And Erdogan himself had run out of new ideas about how to entice the two or three per cent of voters he needs to fulfil his lust for power.

Then came resistance to his campaign, first from Germany and then from the Netherlands. Both countries blocked Erdogan’s ministers and campaign organizers from holding rallies among the very large Turkish diasporas in both their countries. Erdogan reacted by going into rhetorical overdrive, accusing both Germany and the Netherlands of nursing Nazi sentiments.

There are about 400,000 Turks in the Netherlands, where the population is 17 million, and around 2 million Turks in Germany, whose population is 80 million.

In both countries the Turkish immigrants are sharply divided over the April 16 referendum. And both the German and Dutch governments had good reason to fear that campaign rallies on behalf of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party could get out of hand.

In Germany, several cities banned planned rallies where members of Erdogan’s government would address the crowds. Some of the excuses sounded slender – lack of parking spaces in one case and fire safety concerns in another – and were easily derided by Erdogan. He accused the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel of “Nazi practices.”

The Dutch had even more reason than the Germans to be wary of allowing Erdogan’s backers to excite the sharp political divisions among Turks in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was in the final days of the parliamentary election held on Wednesday, March 15, and issues around the country’s Muslim immigrants were a central theme of the campaign. Wilders and his Freedom Party led in the polls for much of the campaign with a manifesto of ending Muslim immigration, banning the Koran, closing mosques and taking the Netherlands out of the European Union (EU).

Last Saturday the Dutch government revoked landing rights for a plane carrying Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who planned to speak at a rally. Then Dutch police blocked Family Minister, Beytul Kaya, from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam and forced her to drive back to Germany, from where she had come.

The Rotterdam incident spurred hundreds of Erdogan’s Turkish supporters to take to the streets, and the Dutch police deployed riot squads to restore order.

Erdogan’s government manufactured some fine outrage. The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, pushed out a tweet saying the Dutch action was “a dark day for democracy in Europe. Shame on the Dutch government for succumbing to anti-Islam racists and fascists.”

Erdogan chased this theme down the road on Friday in a speech to his supporters in the western Turkish city of Sakarya.

“My dear brothers, a battle has started between the cross and the half moon. There can be no other explanation,” he said in a crude reference to the symbols of Christianity and Islam that adorned the opposing flags in the Crusades of the Middle Ages.

He was even more explicit when he said a ruling on Tuesday by the European Court of Justice permitting companies to ban employees wearing religious symbols, including the headscarf worn by devout Muslim women, as the beginning of a European “crusade” against Islam.

Erdogan went on to threaten to jettison the year-old agreement with the EU to control the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe.

There are nearly three million refugees from the six-year Syrian civil war in camps in Turkey. In 2015, the Erdogan government turned a blind eye and may even have encouraged about one million of the refugees to leave the camps and make the short sea crossing into Greece, the closest EU member country. The torrent of people seeking sanctuary caused a humanitarian and social crisis across the EU, especially as the Syrians added to tens of thousands of people fleeing other parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa.

Under the terms of the March 2016 deal, Ankara agreed to stop asylum seekers from crossing by sea to the Greek islands in return for the equivalent of $5 billion to finance support for the Syrians in Turkey.

Syrian refugees who had reached the Greek islands were to be returned to Turkey, while qualified Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU.

Erdogan is now saying that Turkey will no longer readmit failed asylum-seekers from the EU, which raises the prospect of the whole deal unravelling. The Turkish leader is clearly prepared to open the tap on another flow of refugees into Europe if it suits his political purposes.

He is playing a risky game, with potentially disastrous effects on Turkey’s long-term relation not only with Europe, but also with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Ankara is a member.

For close to half a century Turkey has been flirting with joining Europe’s economic community. There has been mixed enthusiasm for the match on both sides.

European leaders have looked askance at the very intrusive role the Turkish military has played in politics until very recently. The military regarded itself as the trustee of the secular Turkish state founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, and regularly launched coups – or threatened to do so – when politicians headed off in directions the generals didn’t like.

An over-crowded graveyard is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Erdogan, however, since he came to power first as Prime Minister in 2003 and then as President in 2014, has successfully turned Turkey towards becoming an Islamic state and has nullified the independent power of the military at the same time. An attempted coup by elements of the military last year played into Erdogan’s hands. Since then about 140,000 members of the military, the judiciary, academia and the media have either been imprisoned, detained, or fired from their jobs.

Erdogan’s Islamization policies have made European leaders even more suspicious about welcoming Turkey into the EU than before. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke for many when he said Turkish membership of the EU is “unthinkable.”

Even if the major European leaders were more amenable to Turkey in the EU it would be vetoed by member state Cyprus. The island has been partitioned since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied northern Cyprus to protect the majority Turkish population in that region against Greek annexation. The dispute remains unresolved and EU member Cyprus, the southern portion of the island with its ethnic Greek majority, will block Turkey joining the EU until there is a settlement.

But Erdogan’s spat with Germany and the Netherlands fits into a pattern of actions by the Turkish President over several years, turning his country away from Europe and the West. He is behaving as though his prime objective is to restore Turkey as a major mover and shaker in the Middle East, a position it lost with the end of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

That is most evident in the often duplicitous role Erdogan has played in the Syrian civil war. Early on, he allowed Turkey to be a highway for foreign fighters seeking to join the Islamic State terrorist, fundamentalist group occupying much of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. And when Erdogan did agree to join his NATO allies in military action in Syria, he focussed on attacking Syrian Kurds, who he accuses of being allies and supporters of the independence movement among Turkish Kurds.

Even so, Turkey’s relations with its NATO allies appear to be functional at the moment. Ankara is working with Washington and Moscow in the early stages of talks to fashion a joint plan to bring peace to Syria.

What effects the outcome of the April 16 referendum will have are difficult to gauge. The prospect of Erdogan’s pleasure at a victory and achieving near despotic power is unsavoury. But even more so is the chaos his anger may unleash if he loses.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Thank you to our supporters. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free, and will continue only if readers like you chip in. Please, if you value our work, contribute a minimum of.27 per story/$1 per day pass via PayPal — or find more payment options here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Russian interference threatens European democracy

By Richard Maher, European University Institute
March, 2017

With important national elections scheduled this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, European officials on edge about possible Russian interference are pursuing various measures to counter it. The Conversation

But with a daily onslaught of fake and misleading news, repeated attempts to hack computer systems of “anti-Moscow” politicians and political parties, their task is immense.

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Russian efforts to tilt elections and national referenda to suit its interests are ongoing. According to a report released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Russia’s influence on the 2016 US election, Putin’s government “has sought to influence elections across Europe”.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic security agency, also warned of “growing evidence” of Russian attempts to influence Germany’s federal elections, set for September.

Alex Younger, the head of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, finds “profound” the risk to British sovereignty posed by the kind of state-directed fake news, propaganda, and other acts of subversion the Kremlin routinely engages in.

Russia has denied interference in the US or European elections, and calls such accusations examples of rampant “Russophobia” in the West.

Undermining democracy

Disinformation campaigns, or what are also sometimes called “active measures” in the “information space”, have become an increasingly important feature of Russian military doctrine.

The goal of these campaigns is to weaken and undermine support for the European Union, NATO, and public trust and confidence in democracy itself. And with the rise of anti-establishment, anti-EU politicians across Europe, Russia has found an increasingly receptive audience for such operations.

Russian propaganda campaigns date back to before the Cold War. But the sophistication and volume of these efforts are greater today than in the past. The internet has opened up new modes and opportunities for Russia to influence foreign elections — and new vulnerabilities for democratic societies, for which the free flow of information is a fundamental feature.

There is evidence, for example, that Russia played a role in several key national referenda across Europe last year: in April, when Dutch voters rejected an EU treaty with Ukraine that would have led to closer political and economic ties; in June, when British voters opted to leave the EU; and in December, when Italian voters rejected constitutional reforms championed by then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading to his resignation.

The results of each of these votes served Russia’s broad interest in undermining EU cohesion.

Russian interference in Western elections can take various forms. Its operators may disseminate false or misleading news via blogs, websites, and social media or hack into computer networks and email accounts to steal and then leak compromising information against politicians seen to be anti-Russia (for example, Hillary Clinton). At the extreme, hackers may rig computer systems to manipulate election vote counts.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns also aim to instil doubt, confusion, and cynicism in the democratic process, erode public trust in institutions and in the news media — even to the point of eliminating the very idea of “a shared reality”. This foments populist anger and anxiety.

Thus disinformation campaigns and cyberespionage are for Russia attractive means to undermine Western governments and societies.

They’re also hard to track down and stop, offering Russia plausible deniability. Russian officials can operate covertly and through intermediaries, making it hard to find conclusive evidence directly implicating top Kremlin authorities.

It is often not clear if hackers are working with clear directions from Moscow or if they simply share sympathies with the Russian government and are acting independently.

A clear and present threat

Dutch authorities are so concerned about the possibility that its election could be manipulated that the interior minister announced that ballots will be counted by hand in the upcoming national election. Experts had warned that government computer systems were vulnerable to attack and disruption by state actors.

Likewise, the German government has advised of the possibility of a Russian cyberattack against the country’s federal elections. Russia is already suspected of hacking into the German Parliament’s computer network in 2015. German officials also suspect that Russia was behind a computer hack last November that resulted in 900,000 Germans temporarily losing internet and telephone service.

Putin has a powerful incentive to undermine German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been one of his most outspoken critics in Europe. She is also one of the strongest voices in favour of maintaining EU sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, who is running on a pro-EU platform ahead of French presidential elections in April and May, has accused Russian hackers of targeting him in an attempt to smear his candidacy. Richard Ferrand, the secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche party, has said that the campaign’s website and databases have been subject to “hundreds, if not thousands” of attacks from inside Russia.

An existential threat

Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, argues that Russian election interference and manipulation, if unchecked, could pose an “existential threat” to Western democracies.

European governments are taking various steps in response. They have tried to educate voters on how to identify fake news and have threatened retaliatory measures against Moscow if its subversive activities persist.

The EU has even created a team whose mission is to address “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns” by weeding out false or misleading online news.

Despite the various successes it can plausibly claim, election interference can also backfire on Russia. US intelligence agencies have traced the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer systems back to the highest levels of the Kremlin and before leaving office in January, President Barack Obama imposed a range of sanctions and other retaliatory measures on Russia.

Such public hacking and disinformation campaigns have further damaged its relations with the West. Russia will now be the primary suspect for any electoral problems or irregularities in the future.

With Brexit negotiations, the rise of anti-EU and anti-establishment political parties, and the uncertainty surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump, Europe already faces a precarious moment. But since Russian disinformation campaigns target the very foundations of liberal democracy, they represent something perhaps even more sinister, threatening, and potentially destructive than Europe’s many other troubles.

Creative Commons

Richard Maher is a Research Fellow, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at the European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Renewed Scottish campaign to leave post-Brexit UK

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 4, 2017

 

In happier days, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In happier days, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greeted Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrived at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In these times of seething rage, it is increasingly likely that Britain’s divorce from the European Union will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom itself.

As the parliament in Westminster completes the process of giving Prime Minister, Theresa May, authority to start the process of taking Britain out of the European Union, anger and resentment is intensifying in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Voters in both Scotland and Northern Ireland opted decisively to remain in the EU in last June’s referendum, but have been overruled by the dominant population of England. The unhappiness has been compounded as it has become clear that May is not going to try to fiddle some form of associate status with the EU and is heading for a complete separation, known to headline writers as a “hard Brexit.”

These glimpses of the road ahead have prompted the First Minister of Scotland’s regional government, Nicola Sturgeon, to say it is “highly likely” she will seek another referendum on Scottish independence. In the first referendum in 2014, Scottish voters decided by a narrow margin to remain in the United Kingdom, not least because that seemed at the time the best option for Scotland to stay in the EU. That equation collapsed when the overriding majority of disenchanted blue collar English voters chose Brexit in last June’s referendum.

The situation is particularly fraught in Northern Ireland, where Brexit could wreck the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, aimed at ending over 30 years of sectarian violence between British loyalist Protestants and Irish republican Catholics. An essential element in the confidence-building of the 1998 pact is the open border between Ulster and the Irish republic to the south under the umbrella of the EU.

The re-imposition of a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and Eire will affect progress in demolishing community barriers. Northern Ireland’s economy will also be far more adversely affected by Brexit than other parts of Britain because of its dependence on EU agricultural subsidies. And there will be domestic political pressure on the Dublin government to interfere in Northern Irish affairs, thus likely inflaming the passions of Protestant Ulster loyalists.

The peace agreement is already tottering, with the collapse on January 16 of the province’s power-sharing executive joining the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party and the republican Sinn Fein. New elections were held on Friday, March 3, but early returns suggest there will be no clear result, and London may have to impose direct rule. That will set back the development of devolved self-government in Northern Ireland. Prolonged direct rule by London could well see the province stripped of the moderate political actors who have begun to mature during the two decades of peace.

Unlike in Scotland, however, there is no clear path by which Northern Ireland could maintain its desired relationship with the EU by, for example, opting to leave the UK and join the Irish Republic.

Sturgeon will set out her argument for a new Scottish independence referendum when she addresses her party’s annual meeting later this month. From what she has said and written already, it is evident Sturgeon will make at least three arguments.

One is that her Scottish National Party was elected to the provincial government in May last year (before the Brexit vote) on the understanding that it “should have the right to hold another referendum if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

It is unarguable that the June Brexit referendum result was just such a material change in circumstance.

Another argument is that Sturgeon claims Prime Minister May has not fulfilled her promise to only start the process of taking Britain out of the EU once a common approach had been agreed with the British regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Also, her party’s voter mandate includes a clear responsibility to keep Scotland within the EU, Sturgeon has said. “There are various ways in which Scotland’s place in the European Single Market could be maintained,” she wrote in a recent discussion paper.

“One option – in my view, the best option – is to become a full member of the EU as an independent country.”

It will be difficult for Theresa May to refuse to give the Scottish Parliament permission to hold another independence referendum. But the British Prime Minister is likely to insist that no referendum be held before the UK has left the EU. May doesn’t want to be campaigning in Scotland while she is battling out the future with Brussels.

The negotiations to take Britain out of the EU after 45 years as a member will take at least two years. That means no new referendum on Scottish independence will be held before 2019, and probably later than that.

The European world may well be a different place by that time. With anti-Brussels parties gaining significant influence throughout the EU, and conceivably taking power in Holland, France and Italy this year, the union could be a very different beast, and perhaps even a dead one, by the time the Scots get to vote again on independence.

Even if a new referendum were held now, it is touch-and-go whether Scots would opt to leave the UK. While 60 per cent of Scots opted to stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum, polls suggest they are not as committed to leaving the United Kingdom in order to stick with Europe. Recent public opinion surveys suggest there has been little change in public attitude since 2014, when 55 per cent of Scots decided to stay in the UK.

The economic arguments for Scotland to remain in the UK are compelling. But as we know from the Brexit vote itself, and tribal nationalist convulsions that are consuming the United States, Holland, France and elsewhere, measured economic judgements are not always voters’ main consideration.

The Scottish economy is in the doldrums, largely because of the slump in value of its North Sea oil reserves. And EU membership is not as great a direct economic benefit to Scotland as it is for North Ireland. As Scottish writer Alex Massie pointed out recently: “Membership of the UK single market is worth four times as much to Scotland as membership in the EU single market. In these circumstances only a fool would endorse independence.”

First Minister Sturgeon counters this argument by warning that Scotland faces tough economic times anyway, that the fall-out from Brexit will be as damaging to Scotland as the necessary austerities of the first years of independence.

“The case for full self-government ultimately transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends,” Sturgeon said recently.

And in this age of demagogy and resurgent tribal nationalism who is to say she is wrong?

 

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related from F&O archives:

Scotland Decided: what the experts said in 2014

In its independence referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 versus 45 per cent. An expert panel looks at what happened, and where it leaves the UK and Scotland.

Scotland’s independence referendum: a beginner’s guide, September, 2014

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit, by Jonathan Manthorpe

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Thank you to our supporters. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free, and will continue only if readers like you chip in. Please, if you value our work, contribute a minimum of.27 per story/$1 per day pass via PayPal — or find more payment options here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Europe’s ‘multi-morbidity:’ John Keane in conversation with Claus Offe

JOHN KEANE, University of Sydney 
February 2017

The writer-political thinker Albert Camus once commented that the true source of strength of modern Europe has been its ability to live on its contradictions, flourish amid its differences and, under pressure, to reinvent itself as “a civilisation on which the whole world depends even when rejecting it”.

Claus Offe, courtesy of John Keane

Claus Offe, courtesy of John Keane

The remark was anti-fascist, a sharp knife designed to cut through fantasies of European unification, by ideology or military force. It expressed equal contempt for the violence of European colonialism, which Camus knew well from his native Algeria, and for all forms of nationalism. “I love my country too much to be a nationalist” was his shorthand formula for casting doubt on the nationalist fetish of borders, nation state jurisdictions and pompous talk of the “essence” and “purity” of nations and national identity.

A generation later, this whole democratic way of thinking about a post-nationalist and diverse Europe is besieged by an assortment of menacing trends, Claus Offe explains over lunch during my recent visit to Berlin. A sage septuagenarian with a gift for no-nonsense political analysis, Offe is among Europe’s best-known public intellectuals. He specialises in straight talk. So I begin by asking him to summarise what’s going on in Europe.

“Our times resemble the 1920s”, he replies. “We’re witnessing the accumulation of various crises that are rapidly putting the whole European project under tremendous pressure. Illiberal forces are on the rise. Middle classes are shrinking. There’s populist hatred of ‘the establishment’ and fascination with strong leaders. Europe is suffering multi-morbidity. Our problems, and the promises that are being broken, are now far greater than anything money could possibly buy, even if large sums of EU transfer funds were suddenly made available, and spent wisely, in a spirit of solidarity.”

Economic stagnation

An obvious source of the present European malaise is economic stagnation, which has now lasted nearly a decade. Offe recalls the work of the American economist Robert Gordon, who’s shown that in the history of modern capitalism, the median economic growth is less than 1% per annum, and who calculates that in the face of “headwinds”, such as a rapidly ageing population, soaring inequality and festering social ills, a new round of innovation-driven growth is highly improbable.

“Europe’s economic problems aren’t over”, Offe tells me. “Stagnation is combined with rising household, investor and public sector debt. Italy has an unstable banking system. Income and wealth inequality gaps are still widening. Product and process innovations that favour both labour and capital are in short supply. Unemployment stops millions of people from servicing their debts. And there’s a worrying new statistical category: young Europeans who are classified as NEET because they are ‘not in education, employment or training’.”

It’s said that bad luck comes in big bundles. Europeans are feeling the pinch of the proverb in this unfolding set of crises, he says. The social injustices and destabilising effects of a stagnant economy are one thing.

There’s also the Putin factor. The military assertiveness of the Russian regime is spreading fear and division among the people of Poland and the Baltic states. It’s also undermined the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood Policy.

“The Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine is destabilising the Ukraine state and producing military and international law conflicts that we’ve not seen, apart from the post-Yugoslav wars, since the end of World War Two.”

Russian aggression compounds the swelling uncertainty and failure in other policy areas, Offe continues. It’s as if there’s a conspiracy of trends determined to bring ill fortune to Europe. He gives another example: the unhappy coincidence of sluggish growth and high unemployment with the escalating refugee crisis. The combination is proving to be “a real godsend for the populist right in Europe”.

Refugee crisis and populist trouble

Populist movements and parties, he says, are trying to stir up public trouble by stringing together the problems of stagnation, refugees and threats of terrorism into a single story. He’s adamant that their simple-minded story-telling must be resisted. In this worsening European crisis, in matters of intellect and politics, recognising the complexities of the multiple dynamics really matters.

Offe underscores the point by noting that Europe’s entanglement in the ongoing wars in Libya, Iraq and Syria, in its neighbouring regions, is among these multiple dynamics. Europe is at war. It’s been drawn into the devilish “confrontation between the two regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia” and the military rivalries of Russia, Turkey, and the USA, “each with its own and openly conflicting military agenda”.

The spread of IS-inspired jihadist “suicide missions and random killings of civilians” is another matter. He tells me that some acts of violence, including the December attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, are products of “administrative and police failure”. Contrary to the populists, most acts of violence are “home-grown”, he insists. “This violence has little or nothing directly to do with refugees. The discomforting truth is that the big majority of known attackers are citizens, and often natives, of EU member states, often with family roots in the Middle East and North African region.”

The trouble for Europe is that the in-flow of refugees “is not going to end any time soon”, he emphasises. It’s not just that “human beings are a migratory species” or that “building fences on salt water is for technical reasons impossible”. The policies of the European Union are in disarray. Its governing capacity is weak.

The Dublin agreement, which placed the responsibility of settling refugees on the states where they first arrived in Europe, was defeated by wall builders in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and other states. The European Home Affairs Ministers agreement (in September 2015) to allocate at least 120,000 stateless peoples throughout the EU was stillborn; more than a year later, figures from the European commission show that only 8,162 people have found a permanent home. The Schengen Agreement, an open-border arrangement that enables passport-free movement of citizens across most of the EU bloc, an arrangement that was among the “most effective and popular accomplishments of European integration”, is crumbling.

The EU-Turkey deal, signed in March 2016, is not working either, and probably can’t be made to work. Refugees continue to arrive in large numbers in Greece and Italy, where they face appalling living conditions; the promised funding of several billion euros hasn’t yet been provided to the satisfaction of Turkey, which is hardly a “safe third country”. Yet more refugees from the war zones are surely on their way, Offe says, driven from their homes by uncivil wars, food shortages and climate change. “People aren’t frivolously leaving their home country. They leave because their situations are intolerable, and because Europe is an attractive safe haven. Syria’s just the tip of the iceberg. Waves of Kurdish refugees may be next.”

With more than 1.3 million Syrians now believed to be trapped by the al-Assad government’s “surrender or die” tactics in Idlib and at least 40 other besieged communities across the country, Offe’s assessment hardly seems exaggerated. With an additional 1.1 million Syrians facing the threat of siege, Frauke Petry of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Nigel Farage and other populist xenophobes are rubbing their hands together in glee.

Offe detests their tactics, and their thinking. It’s not just that “Europe’s political elites still haven’t understood that the gates of ‘fortress Europe’ can’t be fully closed”, or that most European governments are callously flouting humanitarian norms. The framing of refugees as foreigners who don’t belong in a Europe that is supposedly “full” simply doesn’t make sense, Offe says. “If all the refugees who’ve so far arrived had been settled fairly in the member states, then the share of refugees in each country would be less than 1% of their total population.” That’s hardly “an unbearable economic burden”.

Offe is quick to point out as well that populists are normally silent about the mounting costs of wall building, border protection and potentially lost trade. He cites a recent European Commission report that notes that lost business, steeper freight and commuter costs, interruptions to supply chains, and government outlays for tighter border policing will probably cost the whole European economy at least 18 billion euros each year.

Populists, he notes, are equally silent about the long-term economic benefits of migration. When refugees are seen in terms of labour markets, a subject he’s studied and written about for nearly half a century, the new arrivals are on balance long-term assets. “I don’t underestimate the challenges of integration. It will take a generation. Many refugees are burdened by bad memories of terrible atrocities. More than half come equipped with only elementary school qualifications. But Syrian medical doctors and many other refugees are unpaid-for human capital. Through time, they’re going to fill the demographic and labour-market gaps of rapidly ageing European societies”.

The German burden

The galling fact is that Germany, home to more than a million refugees, has been forced disproportionately to bear the costs of the catastrophes suffered by people from war-ravaged countries. Data collected and analysed by the Pew Research Centre and Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, show that Germany gave refuge to more than 1.1 million people in 2015, the highest annual number received by a European country during the past 30 years. The year 2016 saw another 300,000 people arrive in Germany.

So our conversation shifts to Angela Merkel, and her impending political fate. For someone whose leftist sympathies run deep, Offe’s empathy with her migration policies is surprising. On this issue, he’s clearly on her side. He’s scathing about Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders (who in response to the Berlin attack tweeted a provocative photo of Angela Merkel, with blood on her hands) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his dismissal of the refugee issue as a “German problem” and Chancellor Merkel’s policy as “moral imperialism”.

Offe makes a prediction that doubles as a warning: the refusal of the majority of European member states to bear their fair share of the burden is going to affect them, too. His warning has a sting in its tail. This time around, he says, pausing, Angela Merkel miscalculated the degree of member state support for burden sharing. But Germany’s leadership in the refugee crisis “unwittingly shows that when Brussels fails to deliver effective policies Berlin and Germany’s leadership can’t substitute for the European Union”.

But what about those loud voices, within Germany’s AfD and elsewhere, who are saying that heavy intakes of mainly Muslim refugees are threatening European civilisation? Offe grows visibly irritated. “That’s the battle cry of the populists: all these ‘foreigners’ make ‘us’ feel like ‘foreigners in our own country’”.

The odd thing, he notes, is that “ethno-nationalist and xenophobic passions” are weakest in the very countries (Italy and Greece) that for geographic reasons are being forced to bear the costs of wave after wave of refugees. The pattern throughout Europe, he says, is that Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry are strongest where there are fewest refugees. He gives the point a sharp twist: “It’s the demagogue populists and their supporters who are most urgently in need of being ‘integrated’ into societies that are ever more diverse.”

Brexit and European disintegration

Our short time together is ending, so I press Claus Offe to say a few words about Brexit, and the dangers posed to the EU by potentially ruinous state rivalries.

Offe admits he’s worried about new fractious fissures that are developing, for instance between Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, “the loser countries of the Euro and debt crisis”, and the rest of the EU. The disagreements over refugee policy between Brussels and the Visegrad (“V4”) countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) are similarly ominous, he agrees. But he reserves his full exasperation for the Brexit drama: the events triggered by the decision of UK voters (actually only 37.5% of them to leave the EU.

The wise public intellectual suddenly reveals his upset about the political damage that’s being done to Europe by the Brexit decision. “Let’s imagine we’re living in a house with others”, he begins, “and a resident proposed a vote on whether or not we should continue staying in the house. We’d naturally expect a discussion of alternative housing arrangements before the vote was taken. We’d need to know where we’re moving. Incredibly, that didn’t happen prior to the UK referendum.”

Offe rounds on the “fear-driven, truth-doesn’t-matter propaganda” of the Brexit campaign. His harshest words are reserved for the motives and miscalculations of David Cameron. The UK referendum “was the political equivalent of what’s known in penal law as ‘criminal negligence’” led by a Prime Minister “trying to stem the tide of nationalist populism”, says Offe. “How could he so recklessly force a whole country to play Russian roulette against itself?”

I remind Offe that Cameron’s been punished politically for his foolishness; after all, he was forced to resign, in disgrace. “Yes,” says Offe, invoking Winston Churchill’s biting quip, “but the trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret it.” Then follows a remark about suicide: “Suicide requires courage, but in this case the decision to hold a referendum was driven by cowardice.” Cowardice, I ask? “The cowardice of a governing elite that shirked its political responsibilities as representatives of the public good”, he replies. “And the cowardice of voters not held accountable for such a momentous and complex decision that will surely inflict massive economic burdens and long-lasting political disadvantages upon the whole British population”.

The whole saga “stinks on ice”, Offe says. Not only does it raise such practical questions as what will be the fate of the two million European citizens currently working in the UK, or who will pay the pensions of British citizens currently employed at the European Commission, Brexit is compounding public anxieties about the future. Flights of capital from the country have begun. And Brexit exposes the deadly dangers of using a referendum to handle complex and consequential matters. “Parliaments use safety procedures, such as several readings of bills, confidence votes and super-majority requirements,” he says. “In this Brexit business, such procedures were entirely absent at Westminster.”

Now that the UK Supreme Court has ruled (by an 8-3 majority) that Theresa May’s government must win the support of both houses of parliament before triggering Article 50, new battles are bound to happen.

The Scottish National Party will undoubtedly seek substantial amendments to the proposed legislation; the Liberal Democrats will likely vote against Article 50 unless there’s a guarantee of another referendum on the final deal reached between the UK and the EU. How the Lords will react is unclear. Populists are of course wetting themselves with excitement. “Now Parliament must deliver will of the people – we will trigger A50 by end of March. Forward we go!”, tweeted Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

A viable alternative

But in which direction? And with what results? Whatever transpires, we agree that the whole messy Brexit process is spreading anxiety throughout the whole of the EU, so I put my farewell question to Offe.

When measured in terms of media coverage and public commentary, paradoxically, European integration is deepening, I say. Not since World War II has the subject of Europe gripped the hearts and minds of so many millions of people. Yet most things otherwise look rather bleak, as in the 1920s; the menace of European disintegration is getting the upper hand, isn’t it? How long will it be before Europe becomes a burden to the rest of the world, I ask? Can Europe, as Camus had hoped, once again prove it’s capable of finding energy in its contradictions and differences and, under pressure, reinvent itself as a place the whole world respects?

Claus Offe surprises me with his ebullience, or what he calls his “cautious realism”. Europe may be on its knees, he says, but it’s not down and out. “Those who draw analogies between the 1930s and our times are mistaken,” he says. “Yes, our present troubles bear some resemblance to the economic disruption and political disaffection of the 1920s. But there are no Führers waiting in the wings. There’s widespread public commitment to democracy. Even fringe neo-fascist parties like Germany’s NPD (National demokratische Partei Deutschlands] are forced to camouflage their doubts about democracy.”

“And the setbacks of the moment are but the flipside of eclipsed hopes”, he says. “Neo-liberal globalisation has momentarily triumphed over a robust welfare state. It’s fashionable to ignore the economic benefits of integration and to think that tightened national borders are a bulwark of security. But I’m convinced none of this can replace the hope for an integrated Europe that provides for the security and prosperity of its citizens in ways that disjointed nation states can’t any longer do.”

I ask him what he has in mind. “There’s only one viable general alternative”, he replies. “The banks and states have been bailed out. Now it’s time to rescue workers, the unemployed, young people, pensioners and other citizens who’ve been most severely hurt by financial crisis and stagnation. Money’s cheaper than ever, austerity has failed.”

He pauses, for effect. “So imagine the founding of a new Ministry for Social Affairs and Social Security in Brussels that pays each member state 50% of the unemployment insurance and retraining costs they currently bear. Then imagine a multi-billion euro infrastructure investment programme in such fields as communications, transportation and energy, backed by a strengthened European Parliament and a Commission-led government of a federal Europe. Such initiatives would undoubtedly increase public support for European integration. They would encourage citizens to feel that Europe mustn’t be lost, that it’s possible to move forwards, towards a system of transnational social security and representative democracy never before tried anywhere else on our planet.”

Creative Commons


Born in Berlin in 1940, Claus Offe has published widely and researched and taught at many institutions throughout the world. He was most recently Professor of Political Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin (2006 – 2012). Among his best-known recent books are Reflections on America: Tocqueville, Weber and Adorno in the United States (2005), Europe Entrapped (2015) and (with Ulrich Preuss) Citizens in Europe (2016).

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.The Conversation

John Keane is a Professor of Politics, at the University of Sydney. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 17, 2016

By Diliff - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35972521

The issues involved in the technical extrication of Britain from the EU break down into four main areas of law, though a myriad of questions must be addressed within each segment, writes Manthorpe. The hemicycle of the European Parliament. Photo: Diliff/Creative Commons/Wikimedia

Day by day it is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union (EU).

It is now beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit, or “clean” break with the EU, as supporters prefer to call it.

Any fudged response to June’s vote by a majority of Britons to quit the EU — such as continued economic and commercial integration, but with London having greater control of immigration – is not on the cards.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, wants a “hard” Brexit. So do most of the leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states and the organization’s ideologues in Brussels, who will control the Brexit negotiations. The EU bureaucrats want to make Britain’s exit as painful as possible so as to deter other potential defectors, and to try to contain the rise of populist political parties in Europe.

This means that it may take as long as 10 years to settle the new political and commercial relationship between Britain and the EU.

In the meantime, many hundreds of thousands of people who have taken advantage of the freedom of movement within the EU to live and work face disruption and uncertainty.

The British economy is showing signs of the slowdown and London’s future as the world’s financial services capital is in doubt.

May took over leadership of the governing Conservative Party in the wake of the political bloodbath – much of it ritual political suicides by ambitious figures like Boris Johnson — following the unexpected vote for Brexit in the June referendum. She wants to focus on her own domestic agenda. But it is inevitable that her administration will be unable to escape the daily grind of the Brexit process.

This is going to be a process of crossing the stream by feeling the riverbed because no country has left the EU before.

The process starts when London invokes Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. May says she will trigger Article 50 by the end of next March.

However, it is not certain she will be able to keep to that timetable, and neither is it entirely clear what will be included in  negotiations when they start.

British Prime Minister Theresa May at a European Council meeting in Brussels in October, with Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel, left. Photo by prime minister's office.

British Prime Minister Theresa May at a European Council meeting in Brussels in October, with Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel, left. Photo by prime minister’s office.

May’s timetable was disrupted by a recent High Court ruling that she could not begin the Brexit process without the backing of parliament. That decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard submissions early this month. The Supreme Court is likely to give its final verdict on the issue in January. There is broad speculation in Britain, based on the past rulings by the 11 judges, that a majority will support the lower court and insist Parliament must have its say.

Now, a majority of British parliamentarians, unlike a majority of their constituents, favour staying in the EU or, at worst, a “soft” Brexit: retaining close economic ties, but with London having greater control over immigration.

At one point after the referendum there was some hope among the “remain” supporters that parliament might countermand the referendum result, which was only advisory and without legal force. However, most parliamentarians appear to have come round to the recognition that their prime responsibility is to represent the views of the people who elected them. There may be a prolonged debate, especially from members of the Scottish National Party, whose supporters voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. But in the end Prime Minister May will get the go ahead to invoke Article 50.

The British negotiators will then face angry and perhaps obstructionist EU officials across the table led by former French foreign minister Michel Barnier. The true believers in the EU project as the only viable future for a united and prosperous Europe were disgusted by the failure of former British Prime Minister David Cameron to mount a decisive campaign in favour of remaining in the organization. They believe Brexit has put the whole EU structure at risk and the cohesion of Europe along with it.

This has become more than a theoretical fear with the election of isolationist Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States. At the same time Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump appears to have unsettling relations of mutual admiration, is on a roll. Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Damascus regime has given him a dominant position in the Middle East. His annexing of Crimea, the carving out of a de facto Russian enclave in eastern Ukraine, and his implicit threat to absorb ethnic Russian regions of NATO-member Baltic states have revived Russian self-esteem and made EU leaders jittery.

Meanwhile, it is becoming apparent that unravelling Britain’s four decades as an EU member is going to be a massive technical task. EU negotiator Barnier says he believes the negotiations on Britain’s departure can be completed by the end of October 2018, and within the two-year period stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty.

Only after Brexit has been accomplished will the negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU begin, Barnier has said. The talk in London is that the recently concluded Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Brussels and Canada will be the model for Britain and the EU. That agreement took eight years to negotiate, which is why the speculation is that it will be 10 years from now before the new relationship between the EU and Britain is settled.

Supporters of a “soft” Brexit and those who remain opposed to Britain leaving the EU hope that after Article 50 is invoked, the talks will include plans for, essentially, a continued but reformed British membership. Much of this hope rests on support from a majority of members of the European Parliament and its designated Brexit representative, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. Verhofstadt will undoubtedly be very vocal in pressing for a “soft” Brexit, but he has no formal role in the negotiations. It will be Barnier and the advocates of a narrow, technical Brexit who will run the show.

The issues involved in the technical extrication of Britain from the EU break down into four main areas of law, though a myriad of questions must be addressed within each segment.

There’s the matter of rights that have been acquired by individuals and institutions during the course of Britain’s membership of the EU. At a personal level, this involves such matters as property rights, contracts and pensions. There are such things as existing contracts between British and EU companies for the provision of goods and services, and the pension rights of Britons who have worked for EU organizations.

There’s the whole quagmire of a transitional legal regime while Britain departs the EU. Legitimate expectations are a legal right, and failure to adequately address such matters as the provision of EU funds pending final authorization will lead to court challenges.

Britain will get a huge bill from the EU once Article 50 is triggered. Estimates range from the equivalent of about $50 billion to as high as about $80 billion – a number the British media is attributing to EU negotiator Barnier. This includes London’s obligations to pay into the EU budget until 2020, outstanding pension payments, and payments associated with loan guarantees.

Finally, there’s the whole field of the transfer of existing responsibilities from the EU to the British government. There’s a host of areas in which, over the years, Brussels has taken over responsibility from Westminster; in a loss of London’s sovereignty that was at the heart of the Brexit vote. The British government must draw up its own regulations governing such things as food quality and pharmaceuticals, competition law, and countless other controls over the details of daily life.

While all this is going on, the leaders of the remaining 27 EU members, now led by the “Big Two,” Germany and France, need to find a new sense of momentum. Brexit is just the latest is a series of crises for the EU, among which the economic turmoil around the euro common currency, and the social and political fallout from the influx of Middle Eastern refugees stand out.

There are anti-EU parties snapping at the gates of power in France and Holland, and populist anti-EU parties are represented in most of the region’s parliaments. Britain and Brexit are the models for these movements, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and are even cited by Trump as the same social impetus that propelled him to victory in the U.S.

Viewed from Brussels, these are more pressing matters than having a polite and civilized divorce with London.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Related stories on F&O:

Britain needs election to clear Brexit fog, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist November 4, 2016

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist July 8th, 2016

‘Explosive shock’ as Britain votes to leave EU, Cameron quits, by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton  Report June, 2016

Brexit Factbox: Who, where, when why – and what next, by Alastair MacDonald, Report June, 2016

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist June, 2016

An American “Brexit” revolt? Not likely, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda columnist June, 2016

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Brexit Factbox: Who, where, when why – and what next

Nigel Farage (front), the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) reacts with supporters, following the result of the EU referendum, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Nigel Farage (front), the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) reacts with supporters, following the result of the EU referendum, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Alastair Macdonald 
June 24, 2016

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britons voted in a referendum on Thursday to leave the European Union. Following are answers to key questions on what will happen next in Britain’s relations with the bloc:

1. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Vote Leave campaign leader Boris Johnson speaks at the group's headquarters in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Vote Leave campaign leader Boris Johnson speaks at the group’s headquarters in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

The EU is in shock and entering uncharted territory. No member state has ever left and Article 50 of the EU treaty, which sets out how a state can exit the bloc, offers little detail. Although it provides a sketchy legal framework for a two-year period of withdrawal (see below), many believe it will take longer to establish a new trading relationship between Britain and the EU and some fear the process will become bitter, disrupting the economy and European affairs across the board.

Cameron has said he will resign by October and leave it to his successor as leader of the Conservative party to notify the Union that Britain is leaving by invoking Article 50. That will set that two-year clock ticking and the EU itself cannot, officials believe, trigger the process itself. Some in the EU want the process to start more quickly, even as soon as Cameron briefs EU leaders at a summit on Tuesday, and are concerned about suggestions from Brexit campaigners that they might prefer to open new negotiations before triggering Article 50. Cameron’s potential successor Boris Johnson said he saw no reason to start the process and that nothing need change in the short term.

A deal Cameron struck with EU leaders in February to curb immigration, protect London finance interests from the euro zone and opt out of “ever closer union” has been killed by the referendum result and EU leaders have ruled out new talks on a different form of British EU membership – “Leave means leave”.

Many want a quick, two-year divorce while negotiating terms for a future, arms-length relationship may take much longer. However, Germany in particular is keen to see as orderly a transition as possible to a new relationship. That might involve Article 50 negotiations, which the treaty says should “take account” of the new EU-UK relationship, being extended beyond two years to allow time for a broader deal. Such an extension requires the consent of all 28 member states, and reaching that unanimity could be problematic. Nonetheless, EU lawyers and politicians are renowned for their ingenuity. One EU official said that a divorce treaty requiring only a majority vote might be agreed within two years but to take effect only once a second treaty establishing a new relationship was finally concluded.

There are a number of options open to Britain, including to maintain its access to EU markets in the manner of Switzerland and Norway — although EU leaders have said the price for that could be allowing free EU migration and accepting other EU rules that British voters have just rejected in the referendum.

If no treaty is agreed, EU law simply ceases to apply to Britain two years after it gives formal notice it is leaving.

Until a departure treaty is signed – which requires assent from Britain and a majority of the remaining 27 states weighted by population – Britain remains, in principle, a full member of the EU but will be excluded from discussions affecting its exit terms. In practice, many expect British ministers and lawmakers to be rapidly frozen out of much of the Union’s affairs.

Some Brexit campaigners have also said Britain should act more quickly, for example to stop funding the EU budget or curb immigration from EU states. That could provoke EU reprisals.

“The Article 50 process is a divorce: who gets the house, who gets the kids, who gets the bank accounts,” a senior EU official said, referring to priorities such as settling the EU budget and the status of Britons living in other EU states and of EU citizens in Britain – several million people in total.

Failing to stick to Article 50 would be “messy divorce territory”, the official told Reuters: “It is spouses, instead of working through lawyers, throwing dishes at each other.”

An array of laws and EU entitlements will cease to apply to British business and citizens, creating what Brexit campaigners say will be opportunities for more growth and more selective immigration but which Cameron has said will do long-term damage to the economy and Britain’s global influence.

New trade barriers would hurt both sides’ economies. But many EU leaders fear that a political “domino effect” of other countries voting to quit the bloc would cost more long-term.

2. WHAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

EU leaders and the heads of EU institutions in Brussels have delivered statements that broadly stress a mantra of Three Rs: Regret – at losing nearly a fifth of the EU economy and more of its military and global clout; Respect – for the will of the British people; and Resolve – to keep the other 27 together. They also reminded Britain that it remains a full member for the time being, with all the rights and obligations that entails.

Foreign ministers are meeting all day in Luxembourg.

Foreign ministers of the bloc’s six founders, Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux trio, meet in Berlin on Saturday. EU “sherpa” advisers to the leaders meet in Brussels at 2:30 p.m. (1230 GMT) on Sunday, when a Spanish general election will also affect EU business. On Monday, EU summit chair Donald Tusk and French President Francois Hollande will meet in Paris and then travel to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who leads the EU’s executive Commission which will negotiate the details of a deal with Britain, plans a meeting of its college of 28 national commissioners for Monday.

Britain’s commissioner, close Cameron ally Jonathan Hill, faces being stripped of his sensitive portfolio overseeing banks and financial services. He may choose to resign. That would allow a new British premier to appoint someone else to the Commission, albeit for a limited period until Britain leaves.

EU leaders meet in Brussels for a 24-hour summit starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. EU officials expect Cameron to report on the vote and what Britain will do next, then go home that evening. Tusk will then chair a meeting of the remaining 27, a format that will become familiar in the coming years of divorce talks.

Leaders may agree to meet again in July.

3. WHAT IS ARTICLE 50?

This 261-word section of the Lisbon Treaty has the following key phrases:

– A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention … The Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.

– It shall be concluded … by the Council, acting by a qualified majority.

– The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification … unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

– The member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions … or in decisions concerning it.

4. WHERE DOES THE EU GO FROM HERE?

The Union needs quickly to fill a 7-billion-euro hole in its 145-billion-euro annual budget, which is currently fixed out to 2020, as it loses Britain’s contributions while saving on what Britons receive from EU accounts.

The EU will also want to clarify as quickly as possible the status of firms and individuals currently using their EU rights to trade, work and live on either side of a new UK-EU frontier.

Britain is expected to give up its six-month presidency of EU ministerial councils, due to start in July next year. Its place may be filled by Estonia or, possibly, Malta or Croatia.

EU leaders may push for a quick show of unity on holding the bloc together in the face of eurosceptics inspired by the result in Britain — including National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who leads polls for next April’s French presidential election. But there is little prospect of major new projects.

Divisions between Berlin and Paris on managing the euro zone probably rule out a big move on that front before both hold elections in 2017. A major EU security and foreign policy review is already on the summit agenda as is a new push to tighten control on irregular immigration from Africa.

Many leaders caution against alienating voters by moving too fast on integration, which they say has alienated voters. Summit chair Tusk wants to launch a formal process of reflection on where the Union has failed to connect with people.

5. SO WHAT CHANGES?

In principle, nothing changes immediately. Britons remain EU citizens and business continues as before. In practice, many believe trade, investment and political decisions will quickly anticipate British departure from the bloc. The EU could also face a Britain breaking apart as europhile Scots plan another push for independence and seek to join the EU on their own.

There is a “Brussels consensus” that Britain must be made an example of for leaving to discourage others and will face a chilly future, cast out to perhaps talk its way back later into some kind of trade access in return for concessions such as free migration from inside the bloc and contributions to the EU budget – things which Brexit voters want to end but which the likes of Norway and Switzerland have accepted in varying forms.

However, cautious diplomats do not rule out surprise turns.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(editing by Mark John, Janet McBride)

Related stories on F&O:

‘Explosive shock’ as Britain votes to leave EU, Cameron quits, by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton  Report

 Britain has voted to leave the European Union, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and dealing the biggest blow since World War Two to the European project of forging greater unity.

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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‘Explosive shock’ as Britain votes to leave EU, Cameron quits

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Dawn breaks behind the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

By Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton 
June 24, 2016

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has voted to leave the European Union, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and dealing the biggest blow since World War Two to the European project of forging greater unity.

Global financial markets plunged on Friday as results from a referendum defied bookmakers’ odds to show a 52-48 percent victory for the campaign to leave a bloc Britain joined more than 40 years ago.

Vote leave supporters stand outside Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

Related, analysis: In England’s Mean and Truculent Land by Jonathan Manthorpe. Above: Vote leave supporters stand outside Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

The pound fell as much as 10 percent against the dollar to touch levels last seen in 1985, on fears the decision could hit investment in the world’s fifth-largest economy, threaten London’s role as a global financial capital and usher in months of political uncertainty. The euro slid 3 percent.

World stocks saw more than $2 trillion (£1.46 trillion) wiped off their value. Big banks took a battering, with Lloyds, Barclays and RBS falling as much as 30 percent.

The FTSE stock index recovered much of its early losses by the end of the day after the world’s main central banks offered financial backstops.

The United Kingdom itself could now break apart, with the leader of Scotland – where nearly two-thirds of voters wanted to stay in the EU – saying a new referendum on independence from the rest of Britain was “highly likely”.

An emotional Cameron, who led the “Remain” campaign to defeat, losing the gamble he took when he promised the referendum in 2013, said he would leave office by October.

“The British people have made the very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction,” he said in a televised address outside his residence.

“I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” he added, choking back tears before walking back through 10 Downing Street’s black door with his arm around his wife Samantha.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron walks out of 10 Downing Street with his wife Samantha as he prepares to speak after Britain voted to leave the European Union, in London, Britain June 24, 2016.    REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron walks out of 10 Downing Street with his wife Samantha as he prepares to speak after Britain voted to leave the European Union, in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

INVENTING ANOTHER EUROPE

Ballots are sorted after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in Islington, London, Britain, June 23, 2016.        REUTERS/Neil Hall

Ballots are sorted after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in Islington, London, Britain, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Quitting the world’s biggest trading bloc could cost Britain access to the trade barrier-free single market and means it must seek new trade accords with countries around the world. A poll of economists by Reuters predicted Britain was likelier than not to fall into recession within a year.

The EU, which rose out of the ashes of two world wars fascist and communist totalitarianism to unite a continent of prosperous democracies, faces economic and political damage without Britain, which has the EU’s biggest financial centre, a U.N. Security Council veto, a powerful army and nuclear weapons.

“It’s an explosive shock. At stake is the break up pure and simple of the union,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. “Now is the time to invent another Europe.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who invited the French and Italian leaders to Berlin to discuss future steps, called it a watershed for European unification.

Her foreign minister, who will with France present other EU founding members with a plan for a flexible EU on Saturday, called it a sad day for Britain and Europe.

The result emboldened eurosceptics in other member states, with French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders demanding their countries also hold referendums. Le Pen changed her Twitter profile picture to a Union Jack and declared “Victory for freedom!”

The vote will trigger at least two years of divorce proceedings with the EU, the first exit by any member state. Cameron, in office since 2010, said it would be up to his successor to formally start the exit process.

His Conservative Party rival Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who became the most recognisable face of the Leave camp, is now widely tipped to seek his job.

“We can find our voice in the world again, a voice that is commensurate with the fifth-biggest economy on Earth,” he told reporters at Leave campaign headquarters.

MPs from the Labour Party also launched a no-confidence motion to topple their leader, leftist Jeremy Corbyn, accused by opponents in the party of campaigning tepidly for its Remain stance.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), reacts at a Leave.eu party after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in London, Britain, June 24, 2016.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), reacts at a Leave.eu party after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in London, Britain, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“INDEPENDENCE DAY”

Vote Leave campaign leader Boris Johnson speaks at the group's headquarters in London, Britain June 24, 2016.       REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Vote Leave campaign leader Boris Johnson speaks at the group’s headquarters in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

There was euphoria among Britain’s eurosceptic forces, claiming a victory over the political establishment, big business and foreign leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama who had urged Britain to stay in.

“Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party, describing the EU as “doomed” and “dying”.

The shock hits a European bloc already reeling from a euro zone debt crisis, unprecedented mass migration and confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. Support for anti-immigrant and anti-EU parties has surged across the continent.

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose own rise has been fuelled by similar anger at the political establishment, called the vote a “great thing”. Britons “took back control of their country”, he said in Scotland where he was opening a golf resort. He criticised Obama for telling Britons how to vote, and drew a comparison with his own campaign.

Obama said he had spoken with Cameron and that the United States’ relationship with Britain would endure.

“While the UK’s relationship with the EU will change, one thing that will not change is the special relationship that exists between our two nations,” he said in a speech.

Britain has always been ambivalent about its relations with the rest of post-war Europe. A firm supporter of free trade, tearing down internal economic barriers and expanding the EU to take in ex-communist eastern states, it opted out of joining the euro single currency and the Schengen border-free zone.

Cameron’s ruling Conservatives in particular have harboured a vocal anti-EU wing for generations, and it was partly to silence such figures that he called the referendum.

The 11th hour decision of Johnson – Cameron’s schoolmate from the same elite Eton private boarding school – to come down on the side of Leave gave the exit campaign a credible voice.

World leaders including Obama, Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping, NATO and Commonwealth governments had all urged a Remain vote, saying Britain would be more influential in the EU.

A woman holds a sign in Westminster, in central London, Britain June 24, 2016.     REUTERS/Phil Noble

A woman holds a sign in Westminster, in central London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Noble

DARKEST HOUR

A taxi driver holds a Union flag, as he celebrates following the result of the EU referendum, in central London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A taxi driver holds a Union flag, as he celebrates following the result of the EU referendum, in central London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The four-month campaign was among the most divisive ever waged in Britain, with accusations of lying and scare-mongering on both sides and rows over immigration which critics said at times unleashed overt racism.

At the darkest hour, a pro-EU member of parliament was stabbed and shot to death in the street. The suspect later told a court his name was “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

The campaign revealed deep splits in British society, with the pro-Brexit side drawing support from voters who felt left behind by globalisation and blamed EU immigration for low wages. Older voters backed Brexit; the young mainly wanted to stay in. London and Scotland supported the EU, but swathes of England that have not shared in the capital’s prosperity voted to leave.

Support for Remain among Scots prompted Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to declare it “democratically unacceptable” for Scotland to be dragged out of the EU, two years after voting to stay part of the United Kingdom. “I think an independence referendum is now highly likely,” she said.

The financial turmoil comes at a time when interest rates around the world are already at or near zero. The shock could prevent the U.S. Federal Reserve from raising interest rates as planned this year or even provoke a new round of emergency policy easing from central banks.

Left unclear is the relationship Britain can negotiate with the EU. EU officials have said UK-based banks and financial firms could lose automatic access to sell services in Europe.

Huge questions also face the millions of British expatriates who live freely elsewhere in the bloc as well as millions of EU citizens who live and work in Britain.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by William James, Kylie MacLellan, Sarah Young, Alistair Smout, Costas Pitas, Andy Bruce and David Milliken in London, and Steve Holland in Turnberry, Scotland; Writing by Mark John and Pravin Char; Editing by Peter Graff and Anna Willard)

Related on F&O:

 

Brexit Factbox: Who, where, when why – and what next, by Alastair MacDonald, Report

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Which Brexit forecast is trustworthy?

By Nauro Campos, Brunel University London 
May 28, 2016

It seems that not a day goes by without another Brexit economic forecast – whether it is one from the Treasury, the OECD or Economists for Brexit. Some say it will cost Britain to leave; others say it will be beneficial to the UK economy.

If a report favours remain, the leave side is quick to criticise it as fear mongering and politically motivated. If it favours Brexit, the remain side is fast to tarnish it as unscientific and politically motivated. So who should we trust? Can we trust any of them at all?

Most of the forecasts estimate what UK income levels would be in 2020 and in 2030. For the sake of comparison, there are three main types of forecasts and we can refer to them by their average headline effects: plus 4%, zero effect and minus 7%.

At one extreme, Economists for Brexit predict that the main economic consequence of Brexit is that UK incomes in 2030 will be about 4% higher.

In the middle, there are various studies that suggest that UK incomes by 2030 will be will be unaffected. In this light, Brexit and/or the UK membership in the EU is pretty much immaterial.

At the other end, various studies (including the Treasury, the LSE, the OECD, and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research reports) indicate substantial losses to the UK economy, of about 7% by 2030.

To be more precise, the Treasury, LSE, OECD and National Institute predict short-term income losses of about 3.6%, 2.6%, 3.3% and 2.3%, respectively, and long-term losses of about 6.2%, 7.5%, 5.1% and 7.8% respectively. The Bank of England and the IMF have spoken about the potential costs of Brexit but have not presented forecasts.

Mind that such apparently small figures can be misleading: as Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman notes in this context “2% is a lot”. Plus, these latter group of estimates are also in line with the net benefits the UK historically enjoyed from its membership in the EU which are estimated to be around 8.6% in its first ten years.

Transparency and grounding

So what is the essential difference between all these forecasts? Clearly, there is only one that predicts a positive effect. In the middle ground there are a number of slightly older studies mostly authored by think tanks. Supporting the view that Brexit would entail substantial economic losses, there are quite a few studies.

These forecasts differ in two fundamental ways. They differ in the transparency of their method and the grounding of their key assumptions.

To trust a forecast, it is necessary to know how it is made. If estimates cannot be replicated and if you do not know how to arrive at a certain figure, you have far less reason to trust it. It can be an imaginary or subjective number that an “expert” or a politician likes to think is a good approximation to the future.

It is abundantly clear that studies in the “minus 7%” group are superior to the others in this regard. They provide extensive details of how their figures are arrived at so that, everything else being the same, one can trust them more.

Reasonable assumptions

The second factor that helps make a forecast more trustworthy is the quality of the assumptions it uses. Are these realistic? Are the numbers being used as inputs into the modelling confirmed by previous research? Do they fall within what most people believe is a reasonable range of values?

The three groups of forecasts vary significantly in this regard and a most illustrative example is how the costs of regulation and EU membership are treated. The “minus 7%” group often assumes these to be very small. The “zero effect” studies tend to set the costs of regulation at about the same size of the benefits from EU integration, such that they cancel each other out. This yields a small range of values and may look balanced and serious, but when you consider that these figures do not often come with methodological details, you better be suspicious.

The “plus 4%” study uses costs of regulation that are absurdly large, of the order of 6% of the UK’s GDP. The problem is, in the real world, these figures are much smaller – less than a sixth of this is a self-professed “conservative” estimate of Economists for Brexit. Clearly, the larger the costs assigned to EU regulation, the better the Brexit option looks. But this is not grounded in the bulk of research and how they arrive at these large costs is unclear. So this lack of transparency impedes proper judgement of the quality of this assumption.

Argument won

Predicting the future of human actions (and interactions and expectations) is not easy. The leave campaign likes to single out the forecasts made at the time the UK was considering joining the euro. What is seldom mentioned is that nobody at the time of the eurozone’s formation expected those within the monetary union to allow large chunks of their currency trade to take place outside of the eurozone. Thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, the UK’s membership of the EU is a key reason why euro clearing houses remain in the UK.

The verdict from forecasts that use reasonable assumptions and are transparent about their methodologies is clear: Brexit will make the UK permanently poorer. They draw on lessons from history – including the benefits brought in 1973 when the UK joined the EU – and use the available information to conclude that the expected economic losses from Brexit will be indeed substantial.

But, though the economic argument has been won, this does not mean it will be heeded. The debate is clearly moving on to issues of sovereignty and migration, and, if the past is any guide, is likely to become rather more unpleasant.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Nauro Campos is a Professor of Economics and Finance, Brunel University LondonThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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