Tag Archives: Theresa May

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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Text of Theresa May’s statement, Reactions

 

Britain’s Primer Minister Theresa May addresses the country after Britain’s election at Downing Street in London, Britain June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

June 9, 2017

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May made the following statement in Downing Street on Friday after she lost her majority in a national election:

I have just been to see Her Majesty, the Queen and I will now form a government. A government that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country.

This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks that begin in just 10 days and to deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

It will work to keep our nation safe and secure by delivering the change that I set out following the appalling attacks in Manchester and London.

Cracking down on the ideology of Islamist extremism and all those who support it. And giving the police and the authorities the powers they need to keep our country safe.

The government I lead will put fairness and opportunity at the heart of everything we do. So that we will fulfil the promise of Brexit together and over the next five years build a country in which no one, and no community, is left behind.

A country in which prosperity and opportunity are shared right across this United Kingdom.

What the country needs more than ever is certainty. Having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons.

As we do, we will continue to work with our friends and allies in the Democratic Unionist Party in particular. Our two parties have enjoyed a strong relationship over many years and this gives me the confidence to believe that we will be able to work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.

This will allow us to come together as a country and channel our energies towards a successful Brexit deal that works for everyone in this country, securing a new partnership with the EU which guarantees our long term prosperity.

That’s what people voted for last June, that’s what we will deliver, now let’s get to work.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Comments from Conservative party members:

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrives on Number 10 Downing Street on the morning after Britain’s election in London, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority on Friday after a surprisingly poor election performance, throwing her future into doubt.

Below are comments from members of May’s Conservative Party on her position:

JACOB REES-MOGG, EUROSCEPTIC LAWMAKER

“I think Mrs May will have a good deal of support. She’s only been the leader for under a year, she got it without any opposition, an uncontested election with support up and down the country. I don’t think the Conservative Party is so fickle, or such a fair-weather friend as it would not continue to back the prime minister.”

ANNA SOUBRY, PRO-EUROPEAN LAWMAKER

“She’s in a very difficult place, she’s a remarkable and a very talented woman and she doesn’t shy from difficult decisions, but she now has to obviously consider her position.”

“Theresa did put her mark on this campaign, she takes responsibility as she always does, and I know she will, for the running of the campaign. It was tightly knit group, and it was her group that ran this campaign.”

“I’m afraid we ran a pretty dreadful campaign, that’s probably me being generous.”

“The change of heart on social care … it did not make her look the strong and stable prime minister and leader that she had said that she was. That was a very difficult and very serious blow in terms of her own credibility.”

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH, FORMER CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER

“I just want some stability. She is prime minister, she remains prime minister and the country has to come first.”

ED VAIZEY, FORMER CULTURE MINISTER

“I think she can hold on … going into a hung parliament, to lose our prime minister would be disastrous.”

“If she wants to stay on as leader I would support her.”

JOHN REDWOOD, EUROSCEPTIC LAWMAKER

“A very very strong mandate for our prime minister, and of course it should be the leader with the most seats in the House of Commons who can win the necessary votes, and Theresa May is in that position today.”

NICKY MORGAN, FORMER EDUCATION MINISTER

“Theresa May is obviously a competent, more than capable prime minister… but clearly there has been a misjudgement.”

“There are two things: having a government prepared to negotiate Brexit, which I think is what most people in this country now agree needs to happen, and what’s going to happen to the Conservative party, which is for us to deal with.”

(Reporting by William James, Georgina Prodhan and Paul Sandle, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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Trade experts on the election result, Brexit:

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Britain’s new government would be well advised to ask for more time to negotiate Brexit, trade experts said on Friday, as Prime Minister Theresa May’s bid to strengthen her bargaining position through a quick election victory fell flat.

Top trade lawyers at a conference in Geneva struggled to digest the election chaos, but said the vast amount of negotiating and the practical job of implementing a trade deal could not be done by the March, 2019 deadline.

“Listening to all of this, the one thing that I am speculating on as I hear it all is the desperate need, I feel, to buy time,” said Jennifer Hillman, formerly an appeals judge at the World Trade Organization and legal counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative.

May’s parliamentary majority was wiped out in a snap election she had called to strengthen her hand in Brexit talks, throwing Britain into political turmoil.

“It strikes me there’s no way, no way at all, that this can be done in the two-year time frame, even leaving aside the outcome of the elections,” Hillman said, citing Britain’s lack of experienced negotiators and regulators as part of the problem.

Veteran trade litigator Gary Horlick said every question about Brexit generated 10 more, and the need to replace thousands of existing agreements threw up vast practical and logistical issues, some of them relatively trivial.

“Transition is quite possible but someone has to check every single thing,” he told the conference, held by the Geneva Graduate Institute and Georgetown University Law Center.

“It’s really made for the KPMGs and PriceWaterHouses of the world.

“To illustrate the complexity… there is a British-French-Irish agreement on the free transit of race horses. If you have a race horse this is no small item. The race horse cannot be stuck in customs, believe me, these are very valuable animals.”

Holger Hestermeyer, an international dispute resolution expert at King’s College London who has advised a committee of Britain’s House of Lords on Brexit, said May had been wrong to think she needed a big majority in parliament to negotiate with the EU, and now faced a “very, very tough” situation.

“More time is needed,” he said.

“The two years is the transition period. If we would now have a transition period industry could rely on that. But they already have to plan for the worst-case scenario. That time frame is just not enough. I thing prolonging it is possible.

“I just see anyone in the UK having a hard time asking because there seems to be some hesitancy to be regarded as critical of Brexit.”

Isabelle Van Damme, a trade lawyer at Van Bael & Bellis who previously worked in chambers at the European Court of Justice, agreed.

“I think an extension is absolutely needed but it needs to be asked now and I don’t think there is political capital to do that right now in the United Kingdom,” she said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Related stories:

British Election Brings Mayhem, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Analysis

British voters have shown Prime Minister Theresa May the door. The implications of this drubbing for the Conservative government are profound, for May as Prime Minister,  but with much deeper implications for Britain.

UK Election a Debacle, Brexit Looms, by David Milliken and Kate Holton   Report

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would lead a minority government backed by a small Northern Irish party after she lost an election gamble days before the start of talks on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

 

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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.”

Related stories from F&O’s archives:

Jeremy Corbyn and the economics of the real world. By Richard Murphy Expert Witness

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn makes his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

As the creator of what has come to be known as Corbynomics, my ideas on what is now known as People’s Quantitative Easing, progressive taxation, tackling the tax gap and other matters caused quite a stir in Britain’s 2015 Labour leadership race. They are all policies that, in my opinion, are at the core of tackling the austerity narrative.

JEREMY CORBYN: British Labour’s New Leader. By William James and Michael Holden  Profile

Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran left-winger who professes an admiration for Karl Marx, was elected leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party.  “Things can and they will change,” Corbyn, who when he entered the contest was a rank outsider, said in his acceptance speech after taking 59.5 percent of votes cast, winning by a far bigger margin than anyone had envisaged.

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Chatham House/Creative CommonsTHERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister, by Victoria Honeyman Profile

Some newspapers obsessed over Theresa May’s quirky shoe choices, but she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

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

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.

~~~

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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Britain needs election to clear Brexit fog

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
November 4, 2016

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.

At the heart of Britain’s Brexit drama is a fundamental problem of political legitimacy. None of the main players now in leading roles has any mandate to have their voices heard.

This central void loomed large this week as Britain’s High Court ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May does not have the right to start the process of taking the country out of the European Union by government executive action – “the royal prerogative.” She must, said the court, get approval from parliament before triggering Article 50, the section of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that begins two years of negotiations on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

The ruling has created turmoil, not least because a majority of the 650 members of the House of Commons favours Britain staying in the EU. However, it is now unlikely that MPs would overturn the referendum result. For most of them, dumping Brexit would mean going against the will of the majority of their constituents. What they may try to do is insert qualifications into the negotiations to cushion Britain’s departure, and attempt to pave the way for a solid economic relationship with the EU post Brexit.

May’s government hopes to avoid parliament being able to meddle in the Brexit process and says it will appeal the judgement to the Supreme Court. In all likelihood that will throw out the window her planned timetable to begin negotiating Britain’s departure before the end of next March.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

The High Court’s decision gives every imaginable opponent of Brexit and those who just enjoy obstructionism — from the pro-EU regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to recalcitrant bodies like the House of Lords — the opportunity and justification to hobble or stall the process.

The announcement by the Welsh Assembly on Friday that it will seek to intervene in the appeal to the Supreme Court is just an early gust in the wind storm to come.

More than that, the High Court’s decision, and whatever ingredients the Supreme Court may add to the complex political stew, makes it more than ever necessary that May call an election before going much further down the Brexit path. She needs a clear and unassailable mandate from the public to see this process through and wherever it turns out to lead.

At the moment she has nothing, not even a clear mandate from the Conservative Party, whose majority government she leads. May is Prime Minister because after the fratricidal political chaos following the June 23 referendum she was the last person standing.

Former Prime Minister and Tory leader David Cameron resigned in tacit acknowledgement he made a foolish decision to demand the referendum as an attempt to call the bluff of the anti-EU Conservatives among his own backbenchers. Even more stupidly, he didn’t include in the enabling legislation a high threshold for approval of what is a major constitutional change for Britain. And more than that, he ran a feeble “remain” campaign. He deserved the 52 per cent to 48 per cent defeat in the referendum vote.

The two leading Tory supporters of Brexit, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who lusted to succeed Cameron, managed to knife each other in the back. Other candidates, such as Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox, tripped over their own shoe laces and withdrew. May, a tepid supporter of Britain remaining in the EU, got the nod from the party as the only leadership candidate left.

In public and in private, May and her close advisers say they don’t want a snap election, and plan on governing until 2020. No doubt part of the reasoning behind that posture is the commendable desire to present a façade of political stability, especially at a time when the British economy is riven by uncertainty and it is unclear what attitude European negotiators will take to the details of Britain’s withdrawal.

Many of the Tory backbenchers don’t want a snap election either. About half them campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU, only to have their constituents vote for Brexit. An early election puts these Tory seats at risk.

But the High Court’s decision – whether or not it is upheld by the Supreme Court – has seriously dented the aura of competence and Thatcheresque I’m-in-charge that has sustained Theresa May and gone some way to calming market fears.

She has a very good chance of benefiting from a snap election. At the moment the Tories have a majority of only 15 seats in the 650-seat house. Recent polls indicate she could increase that majority to 44 seats. The Conservatives’ popularity among voters is the highest it has been since the Falklands War in 1982.

Part of that popularity is the gift of her opponents’ folly.

The main opposition Labour Party is in such disarray that many British commentators are saying the disease is terminal. The main symptom is the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a man who entered politics on the loony, Trotskyist left wing of the Labour Party in the 1960s and who has seen no reason to change his views since.

Corbyn won the leadership after Labour’s defeat in the 2015 election by dint of a piece of democracy taken to a mad extreme. In 2014, the party replaced the old system by which a leader was selected by weighted ballots giving the parliamentary party, general party membership and affiliated trades unions each a third of the vote. The new system threw leadership selection open to all party members, including those who signed up and voted on-line in return for a small fee. (There are rumours that something called “Tories for Corbyn” invested heavily in on-line memberships, though this is unproven.) The result was that nearly 60 per cent of the over 500,000 “registered” party members voted for Corbyn.

The result appalled the Labour Party caucus. In June, a motion of no confidence in Corbyn was passed by the 212 Labour members of parliament after about two-thirds of the shadow cabinet resigned in disgust. However, what might be called social media democracy again came to Corbyn’s rescue. In another leadership contest at the end of September Corbyn won nearly 62 per cent of the vote.

Despite this, polls and pundits, to say nothing of most of Corbyn’s colleagues in parliament, consider the Labour Party unelectable with him as leader.

The prospects are slightly brighter among Liberal Democrats, who until last year’s election were in coalition with the Tories. The Lib-Dems took a drubbing in that election and were reduced from 57 seats to only eight, mostly to the benefit of the Tories. However, some Conservative MPs in southern Britain are reporting signs of a Lib-Dem revival, but at this point it is more of an irritant than a threat.

It is inevitable that a re-run of Brexit would be the central issue of a snap election. It would be a bitter campaign. There are signs that some people are having buyer’s remorse at having supported Brexit in the referendum, especially as the economic cost of leaving the EU, to say nothing of the end of easy travel to Europe, sinks in. But the core vote remains strong that Britain should regain sovereign powers that have been handed Brussels.

Even though the referendum vote for Brexit was decisive, it was still close enough to portray a country that is sharply divided. Theresa May has tried to avoid exciting that division, largely by playing her cards close to her chest since assuming the leadership. She has uttered a few opaque phrases – such as “Brexit means Brexit” – but given no firm indications on how she will approach negotiations with the other 27 EU members or what her objectives are. Even less apparent is what sort of economic and legal relationship she will seek with the EU when those negotiations begin after Britain’s departure.

In an election campaign she could not avoid being far more open about where she sees Britain going and how.

There is a delightful irony that several of the Brexiteers, who championed leaving the EU on the grounds that it is eroding the sovereignty of the British parliament, are now complaining about the High Court ruling. They argue that as the British voters spoke clearly in the referendum, the government should now launch Brexit through Article 50, and that there is no need for parliament to be involved further.

The contorted logic that parliament has no business getting involved in a matter essential to the sovereignty of parliament is intriguing, to say the least. And it also tends to confirm the more fundamental argument that there are seldom if ever any justifications for referenda in parliamentary democracies.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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

 

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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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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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Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

Reporting

Turkish coup crumbles, crowds answer call to streets, by Nick Tattersall and Ece Toksabay

An attempted Turkish military coup appeared to crumble on Saturday after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets to support him and dozens of rebel soldiers abandoned their tanks in the main city of Istanbul.

How the mafia is causing cancer, by Ian Birrell  Magazine

When doctors in rural Italy began to see a surge in cancer cases, they were baffled. Then they made the link with industrial waste being dumped by local crime syndicates.

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

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

THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister, by Victoria Honeyman  Report

Some newspapers obsessed over Theresa May’s quirky shoe choices, but she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

UK won’t trigger EU divorce until country-wide agreement, by Russell Cheyne  Report

Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would not trigger formal divorce talks with the European Union until a “UK approach” had been agreed, bidding to appease Scots who strongly oppose Brexit.

Oxford dictionary update shows beauty of English, by Annabelle Lukin  Report

By adding the “World Englishes” to the entries on British and American English, the OED has opened a pandora’s box.  Changes to the OED remind us that a language is open and dynamic.

If carbon pricing is so great, why isn’t it working? by Peter Fairley   Analysis

Carbon pricing has yet to deliver on its potential. To date most carbon prices remain low — “virtually valueless.”  That has led even some economists to question whether carbon pricing’s theoretical elegance may be outweighed by practical and political hurdles.

Commentary:

Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that China’s claim over the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful. China must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner, in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council.

Why the NRA makes America so very dangerous, by Tom Regan   Column

Recent events in the U.S. – the shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the subsequent shootings of five police officers in Dallas – show how the National Rifle Association’s toxic message of guns, guns, guns, and fear, fear, fear, affect the way people deal with daily problems, and the way police respond to all kinds of situations.

Recommended elsewhere:

The Great Republican Crackup is an excellent analysis of American discontent, by ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis.  Excerpt:

The disruption that the nomination of Trump represents for the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan has been cast as a freakish anomaly, the equivalent of the earthquakes that hit the other side of Ohio in recent years. But just as those earthquakes had a likely explanation — gas and oil fracking in the Utica Shale — so can the crackup of the Republican Party and rise of Trump be traced back to what the geologists call the local site conditions. … read the story on ProPublica

We’ve seen another week of blood shed by innocents, of countries roiled by war, of loud simpletons jumping to instant conclusions — including some politicians in positions of extreme power. Facts matter; here’s where to find some of them this week:

  • Follow France24 for news of the Nice truck massacre by Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, whose first victim, reported the BBC, was a devout Muslim woman and whose own father described him as mentally ill and not religious.
  • Follow Al Jazeera and Reuters for news of the coup in Turkey.

Findings:

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1346294

FBI sketch of the man dubbed DB Cooper, via Wikipedia.

The man known as America’s air pirate, DB Cooper, is a man of myth, hunted for 45 years by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation after he hijacked a Boeing 727, was paid a ransom, then vanished via parachute somewhere over the Pacific Northwest. In an announcement on Tuesday the FBI officially conceded defeat in perhaps its most storied case. “The FBI exhaustively reviewed all credible leads, coordinated between multiple field offices to conduct searches, collected all available evidence, and interviewed all identified witnesses,” the statement said. ” Unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof.” The hijacker  inspired stories in books, TV series and at least one movie. Shops in Washington and Oregon sell Cooper tourist souvenirs; the town of Ariel, in Washington, holds a “Cooper Day” each fall, notes Wikipedia. Was Cooper his real name? Did he survive the drop? Is he living somewhere in ripe old age? He remains a man of mystery.

American presidential hopeful Donald Trump selected Mike Pence as his VP hopeful. ProPublica compiled some of the best reporting for a profile of the Indiana governor.  Still in America: the climate denial apparatus that has long obstructed American politics needs investigating for fraud, argues U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the Columbia Journalism Review. In a piece about the hyperbolic reaction to his call for such an investigation, he points out, “fraud is not protected speech under the (U.S. constitutional) First Amendment.”

“Face it, Facebook. You’re in the news business,” writes media guru Margaret Sullivan.  Two-thirds of Facebook’s 1.6 billion users get their news there. At  stake, argues Sullivan — former public editor of the New York Times, now the Washington Post media columnist — are no less than civil liberties and free speech.

The close British vote to leave the European Union is already reshaping global security.  Germany Sees Brexit Opening for EU Defense Union With France, write Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs, of Bloomberg. They report on the German defence minister’s plans for an overhaul, and her suggestion that the U.K. ‘paralyzed’ a joint EU security and defense stance.

Still on Brexit, we all know Churchill’s quip about democracy being the least bad form of government (it’s the tag line on F&O’s Publica section). In the wake of the Brexit debacle, scholar Geoffrey Pullum looked up the person Churchill quoted and, in  In Lingua Franca, the blog of the journal Chronicle of Higher Learning, presented his finding of Robert Briffault (1874–1948), a British surgeon, social anthropologist, and novelist.  Briffault’s exact words — considering the dire decline of political discourse internationally — are worth repeating here:

Democracy is the worst form of government. It is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical. … It reduces wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap, and demagogy. … Yet democracy is the only form of social order that is admissible, because it is the only one consistent with justice.  

Of note, the Chronicle also publishes Arts and Letters Daily. Take a look if (and I would be surprised) it’s not already on your must-read menu.

Last but not least: for a pick-me-up read this, from the Oatmeal comic site. Trust me, just do.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

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THERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a terrorism conference at Chatham House in Dec. 2015 as Home Secretary. Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a terrorism conference at Chatham House in Dec. 2015 as Home Secretary. Photo: Chatham House/Creative Commons

By Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds
July 11, 2016

Britain is to have a new prime minister in the form of Theresa May, currently the home secretary. May will take office July 13 after the contest to become Conservative leader was unexpectedly cut short by her rival Andrea Leadsom.

May was always seen as the more likely of the two candidates to prevail but it had been thought that she wouldn’t emerge as the victor until September. Then, after facing a backlash for comments she made implying that being a mother made her the best woman for the job, Leadsom quit the race.

So, who is the new prime minster? Some newspapers obsessed over May’s quirky shoe choices. But she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find more details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

After graduating from Oxford, May spent her early career on a London council and at the Bank of England. She was elected to the House of Commons in 1997 as MP for Maidenhead in Berkshire. Her star rose quickly and she became shadow Secretary of State for Education in June 1999, when the Conservative Party was the party of opposition.

When then leader William Hague departed, his successor Iain Duncan Smith appointed May as shadow Secretary of State for transport. Then in 2002, she became chairman of the Conservative Party.

Her style was calm, collected and, as the “nasty party” reference suggests, not afraid to point out uncomfortable truths in order to help her party win power. Under Duncan Smith’s successor, Michael Howard, May returned to the transport portfolio, before moving to culture, finally becoming shadow leader of the House of Commons in 2005 when David Cameron rose to the leadership.

After a short stint as shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, May took up her more permanent position as HOme Secretary after the Conservative Party came to power as the lead partner in the 2010-2015 coalition government. She held that position right up until now – an exceptionally long stint in one of the government’s toughest jobs.

Traditionally in British politics, it was anticipated that Prime Ministers would occupy two of the three large governmental positions before becoming Prime Minister, those positions being Home Secretary Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, many Prime Ministers have not held more than one of those positions, and some have held none.

Tony Blair had famously never held a government position before becoming Prime Minister, as the Labour Party had been out of power for the entire duration of his career as an MP. Cameron, too, had never held a Cabinet position before becoming Prime Minister, although he had been a special adviser to Norman Lamont while he had been Chancellor. In modern times, only Jim Callaghan (1976-1979) and John Major (1990-1997) had fulfilled the traditional apprenticeship of government.

Waiting for the vision

For May, there will be no “third way” or “Liberal Conservatism”. She is seen as being to the right of Cameron, who represents the more centre-right element of the party.

We can expect May’s leadership to be defined by the Brexit talks. May has cast herself, not just since the referendum vote, but since her arrival in parliament, as a steady pair of hands. She will need to live up to that reputation in a political environment which is unpredictable and tumultuous.

The lack of a longer leadership campaign means that May has not been pressured on any of her policies, nor has she had the opportunity to explain and justify them to the party and the public.

It seems likely that Britain’s new PM will attempt to “steady the ship”, securing Britain’s relationship with the EU. She said as much in a speech outside parliament when her leadership was confirmed. Brexit, she said, means Brexit, and securing a good deal must be the top priority.

But she will also have to heal her party’s nasty wounds. And even if she didn’t say as much, this problem will have to come first – at least chronologically. The Conservatives have been bitterly divided over the European issue for many years and the referendum has only deepened the rift.

So, before starting protracted negotiations with the EU and various other key trading nations, May will need to bring peace to her own team. And while her first cabinet may give us a hint as to her intentions, it may be some time before her vision for Britain becomes clear.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Links:

We can make Britain a country that works for everyone: Theresa May’s speech launching her campaign, on her campaign site: http://www.theresa2016.co.uk/we_can_make_britain_a_country_that_works_for_everyone

Europe looks forward to dealing with pragmatist, by Duncan Robinson & Stefan Wagstyl, Financial Times

Der Spiegel reporting on Theresa May (mostly in German)

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Victoria-HoneymanVictoria Honeyman is a Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Leeds. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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