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Brexit Endgame: The 2019 UK Election


After nearly four years of wailing and gnashing of teeth, Britain has made up its mind. We’re leaving the EU. At 22.00 on Wednesday 12th December 2019, the BBC/Sky/ITV exit poll opened the final chapter in Britain’s Brexit saga. A crushing majority for Boris Johnson’s Conservative and Unionist Party has redrawn the political map. Constituencies which have been Labour for decades have turned Conservative. The Brexit Party failed to gain a single seat but upset the voting balance. In my home city of Sunderland, had the Brexit Party not stood then a constituency which has been Labour since the First World War would have turned Tory. The Liberal Democrats not only failed to rally the remains of Remain, they actually lost a seat – awkwardly, the seat of their leader Jo Swinson. Following John Bercow to the House of Commons exit are high-profile Remainers Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, and Dennis Skinner – who lost his Labour constituency of 49 years to a Tory. Despite climate concerns being a big campaign issue the Greens have failed to achieve anything resembling a breakthrough. Meanwhile in Scotland, a huge surge for the SNP means that 2020 will be dominated by an existential struggle not over the future of Britain in the European Union, but the future of the 350-year old British union itself. British politics used to be boring. Not any more.

The immediate question is, “why?” There isn’t a single answer, and at the headquarters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and even the Conservatives, heated debates on this question are now taking place. But one answer is that this wasn’t so much a vote of confidence in Boris Johnson, it was a vote of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn.

The signs have long been there. In 2015 Corbyn faced a vote of no confidence by his own party, and lost. His response was to do nothing. In 2017 Corbyn entered a general election, and lost to the robotic Theresa May. His response was to do nothing. In 2019 Corbyn faced a national vote in the European elections, and lost (even losing his own constituency’s seat in the European Parliament, and on his birthday as well). He responded by doing nothing. Two by-elections showed a collapse of support for the Labour Party, and his response was to do nothing. Now, Jeremy Corbyn has led the Labour Party to its worst defeat since 1935. His response, for now, is to do nothing. Not even resign. This, coupled with Brexit, explains last night’s election result.

Much has been said about the December 2019 election being a Brexit election. And undeniably, Brexit was a major factor. But despite a great deal of discussion and tentative polls about Remainers now having a bigger majority than Leavers (and the former head of YouGov’s disturbing rhetoric in January 2019 about “Crossover Day”, whereupon enough Leave voters had died that a second referendum should be held to return a Remain result), there was not a surge in support for Remain options. The answer to this is Brexhaustion and the clarity (or lack thereof) of party leaders’ positions on the biggest peacetime political issue the British have faced since the stirrings of revolution in 1832.

Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives advocated an “Oven-Ready Brexit”; not so much a gourmet a la carte Brexit option but a lukewarm, reheated version of what Theresa May had offered four times before. This was not a Remain option, but neither was it a crash-out Hard Brexit option. Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats evolved from calling for a second referendum to simply offering to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. Nigel Farage’s position of immediately leaving the EU under WTO rules was, at best, vaguely phrased. Jeremy Corbyn’s position has long confused people, until entering the election campaign with a promise of negotiating a magical, perfect deal with an irritated and impatient European Union in record time, holding a Leave/Remain second referendum, but not actually taking a side himself and leaving open the bizarre possibility of him negotiating a deal and then campaigning against his own deal. Anna Soubry’s Independent Group for Change, which was stillborn to begin with, has become as politically relevant as UKIP or the novelty candidates Lord Buckethead, Count Binface, or Mr Fish Finger. Nigel Farage, now turning into the British equivalent of one of the USA’s “perennial candidates” who won’t go away, became an irrelevance as Boris took the limelight as the lead figure for Leave, gifting the Brexit Party a net total of zero seats in Parliament despite their success in the European Parliament earlier this year.

Forced to choose between the Conservative, LibDem, Brexit Party, and Labour options (the SNP’s proposal being irrelevant for most British voters incapable of voting SNP), Johnson’s seems to have been the least unpleasant option on the menu. Swinson’s proposal to ignore more than half of the electorate and cancel the whole process has failed spectacularly, reflecting widespread concern in Britain over the last few months that this Liberal Democrat proposal was neither liberal, nor democratic. The Lib Dems failed to rally the remains of Remain, possibly because the British people are simply exhausted by Brexit and want it to end – one way or the other. And Corbyn’s plan to be an “honest broker” favouring neither Remain nor Leave has backfired worse than anyone anticipated.

The nation has been glued to opinion polls throughout the campaign, anxiously and excitedly watching as the Lib Dem and Brexit Party vote share collapsed, while the Conservatives and Labour raced upwards. But hopes or fears of Corbyn achieving the same as in 2017 – of eating into the Conservative majority just enough to cause a hung parliament – failed to materialise. 2019 is not 2017. The Conservatives are no longer led by a reluctant Remainer and mediocre politician, but by an admittedly charismatic leader and enthusiastic Leaver. The Brexit Party became irrelevant once their far bigger rival came under Leave leadership. The Lib Dems’ policy was clearly unpopular with many Remainers uncomfortable at the idea of just cancelling the biggest democratic decision in British history, regardless of their own views. But while the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Brexit Party all clearly stated their Brexit positions and evolved them, Labour did not. The Brexit option offered by Jeremy Corbyn remained more or less the same as his position during the 2016 EU Membership Referendum campaign itself – vague and unclear to everyone.

Labour’s mistake was to frame the December 2019 election around domestic issues. Twelve years after the Global Financial Crisis and ten years after the start of state austerity, Britain is in a shockingly poor condition. Unemployment, growing child poverty, the spread of zero-hours contracts, public services from hospitals to bus routes to police stations being financially eviscerated, intense housing pressure, skyrocketing levels of personal debt – all of these are real, and urgent, and Labour was right to draw attention to them. But Labour was wrong to believe that these were more important to the British people than Brexit.

For the last three (now, nearly four) years, Brexit has colonised British consciousness to the point of complete saturation. Since the beginning of David Cameron’s referendum campaign in 2016, “Brexit” has been a word which the British people have been unable to avoid on a daily basis. Love them or loathe them, Swinson, Farage, Johnson, and Sturgeon at least had a clear position on an issue which has not simply dominated British politics, but has been the entirety of British politics, since 2016. Corbyn’s attempt to focus on domestic issues while treating Brexit as a footnote, was misguided. He wasn’t helped by the poisonous atmosphere of British politics and the polarisation of the British population into warring camps who see the other as not merely different, but evil. He wasn’t helped by his unclear promises on a second Scottish independence referendum, nor by his commitment to scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent, nor by his past associations with groups whose commitment to peace and cooperation is, to say the least, highly questionable. He wasn’t helped by a manifesto which promised too much and which was offered by a man whose complete inability to deal with the foul anti-Semitism scandal in Labour gave a widespread impression that if Corbyn can’t manage his own party, he can’t manage an entire country. And he certainly wasn’t helped by a broad perception that the Labour Party (even before he took control) has come to represent the London middle class, rather than the British working class. But as 2017 demonstrated, Corbyn at least had the ability to muddle through these issues, and in the 2019 campaign his past associations with terrorist groups, or his position on Trident nuclear submarines, was barely mentioned compared to 2017. What felled him in December 2019 was a public lack of trust in him and his Brexit position, and a public desperation for Brexit to end, one way or the other.

Britain is now approaching the Brexit endgame. Corbyn will linger on for a while longer, until he steps down in favour of another radical socialist who will lead a remnant of the Labour Party in opposition against a huge Conservative government more preoccupied with the SNP than the Labour MPs sitting across from them. The leaderless Liberal Democrats will wander in the wilderness until reforming as a party dedicated to rejoining the European Union. Nigel Farage will follow Tony Blair into the lucrative job of an after-dinner speaker. In the meantime, Boris Johnson will deliver Brexit. But potentially, a Brexit which is not as harsh as many Remainers feared.

With such a huge majority, and with his rivals and opponents trounced, Boris is not in the same position as Theresa May – trapped by hardline Eurosceptics in the ERG and held to ransom by Arlene Foster’s DUP. 2020 will be dominated by a race against the clock to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels, and the looming war of words between a significantly strengthened case for Scottish independence versus a significantly strengthened case for One Nation Conservatism. But Boris can now comfortably ignore demands for a Hard Brexit and deliver a softer version which will disappoint everyone. But perhaps everyone being disappointed is preferable to half the country being furious. In his speech on the morning of Friday 13th December, Boris acknowledged that much of his vote, like the 2016 Brexit vote, came from the vast and mysterious land beyond London, called “Britain”, whose people are tired of being ignored, tired of being left behind, and eager for remedies to a broken economy and a broken political system. Brexit is coming, and nothing can stop it now. But maybe, just maybe, a majority government aware of the need to placate four angry nations, and aware of the need to strike a good deal with the EU to prevent the further polarisation of the country after January 31st 2020, can do what the British do best, and half-heartedly muddle through.





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Boris Johnson sees ‘wonderful adventure’ after Brexit. But Scotland and Northern Ireland brace for a bumpier ride.



The constituency was once held by a former Labour prime minister, the centrist and close Bill Clinton ally, Tony Blair. It swung behind the Conservatives big time in Thursday’s general election — whose outcome handed Johnson a clear path to steer Britain out of the European Union.

Yet even as Johnson leaned forward with promises of good times to come, many are wondering which of the United Kingdom’s four parts — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — Johnson was appealing to.

Scotland on Thursday overwhelmingly voted for a nationalist party that wants its own breakaway plan: secede from the United Kingdom and stay in the European Union.

In Northern Ireland, for the first time in its history, the region elected more nationalist lawmakers, who support unification with the Republic of Ireland, than unionists, who emphatically demand to remain a part of Britain.

Ever since England and Wales voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, while Scotland and Northern Ireland did the exact opposite, the sides have worried or wondered when the union might crack up over Brexit.

The next few years may tell us.

In England, Johnson’s Conservatives won new seats across the opposition Labour Party’s former working-class heartlands, giving his party its largest parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

Johnson acknowledged that the former Labour supporters who backed him were tentative, still skeptical crossovers. Yes, they swiped Tory-curious — but they were not true believers ready to back the traditional Conservative doctrine of lower taxes, less government, fewer services, and more free-market capitalism.

Instead, these former Labour-leaners were driven to vote for Johnson over their frustration that the Brexit they had voted for in June 2016 was not delivered.

“I can imagine people’s pencils hovering over the ballot paper and wavering, before coming down for us and the Conservatives,” Johnson said in Sedgefield.

“And I know that people may have been breaking the voting habits of generations to vote for us, and I want the people of the northeast to know that we in the Conservative Party, and I, will repay your trust,” the prime minister said.

In Scotland, the task of healing is arguably greater. The first time Johnson was there as prime minister in July, he was booed.

On Friday, Johnson spoke to Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, and rejected her calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence, which she says she now has a mandate for, following her own party’s triumph this past week. (In 2014, Scottish voters solidly turned down an independence question.)

The Scottish National Party, which wants Scotland to break free, nearly swept the board in Scotland, winning more than 80 percent of the seats, higher than even optimistic predictions.

But the Scottish government can’t unilaterally call an independence referendum — they need the support of Parliament. And Westminster, now controlled by Johnson’s Conservatives, does not appear in the mood for another divisive referendum.

Next week, Sturgeon said, she will publish her case to transfer powers from Westminster, so that Scotland can hold a referendum. Johnson has made it clear he will reject the request, setting up a battle to come. Given the Conservative landslide, the battle could rage for many years to come.

“It would take massive and sustained protests — think Hong Kong — to be able to get Westminster government to change its position on this,” said Thomas Lundberg, a lecturer in politics at the University of Glasgow.

Johnson’s cunning, clever campaign that successfully united the pro-Brexit vote in Wales and England — and created an existential crisis for the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats — swept him into office with a mandate to “get Brexit done.”

For the past three years, British politics has been dominated by Brexit, which Britons voted in favor of 52 percent to 48 percent in June 2016.

Johnson is keen to push the Brexit process to the next phase. Starting Monday, Johnson is expected to announce his new leadership team, and then Queen Elizabeth II will formally open Parliament on Thursday.

Johnson wants to hold a vote on his Brexit withdrawal agreement before Christmas. If it passes and then is ratified by the European Parliament, Britain will leave the European Union in January, entering a year-long transition period.

When he was asked whether the dreams of those who want to remain in the European Union were over, Michael Heseltine, a former Conservative deputy prime minister and a prominent pro-European, said that the debate was over.

“We have lost. Let’s not muck about with the language,” he told the BBC on Saturday. “Brexit is going to happen and we have to live with it.”

Heseltine said that it could be 20 years or more before the issue of rejoining the European Union is raised again, but he added: “You can’t escape the devastating results on Scotland and Northern Ireland, so the agenda is not going away.”

The divisions that existed last week have not disappeared overnight. Hundreds of protesters descended on the prime minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street on Friday night, some waving E.U. flags and others carrying placards that read “Defy Tory Rule” and “No to Racism.”

Johnson’s Conservative Party won 44 percent of the vote share. In Britain’s first-past-the-post system, that is enough for a thumping victory. But an autopsy of the results also suggests challenges that lie ahead.

“Boris has won his gamble in England definitely and also in Wales, but the price is that you exacerbate divisions and you create a state crisis. The whole future, the territorial integrity of the state, is clearly in question in Scotland in Northern Ireland,” said Richard Wyn Jones, a politics expert at Cardiff University.

Johnson is fond of calling the four territories of the union the “awesome foursome.” But unionists in Northern Ireland say that Johnson’s “oven ready” Brexit deal will leave Northern Ireland in the E.U.’s economic space, which they say changes the terms of the union for Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, meanwhile, Johnson’s elite, old Etonian schoolboy persona goes down poorly. Sturgeon’s SNP has called him a “recruiting tool” for their cause. Polls in Scotland show that an uptick in support for independence over the past year have come largely from those wanting to remain in the European Union.

Sturgeon on Friday acknowledged that the election results do not mean that all those who voted for the party “necessarily support independence, but there has been a strong endorsement in this election over Scotland having a choice over our future.”



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#Brexit – ‘We are ready to start the next phase, to defend and promote Europe’s interests’ #EUCO


 

The decisive victory by the British Conservatives in yesterday’s general election was widely and enthusiastically welcomed by European leaders attending today’s (13 December) European Council.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said that they welcomed the certainty that the election provided and said that it had been difficult when things had been agreed in Brussels, then rejected by the House of Commons. Bettel added that it is also time for Boris to deliver.

The President of the European Council Charles Michel said that the EU is ready to start the next phase: “We are ready also to defend and to promote the European interest the level-playing field is a very important goal for us.”

The President of the European Commission underlined that the timeframe to reach an agreement in the second phase was going to be very challenging, she said that the EU will be ready to get the most out of the short period available. Von der Leyen was keen emphasise that while the UK would become a third country, she hoped that the UK would enjoy an unprecedented partnership with the EU. She also said that she hoped for a deal that was: “no tariffs, no quotas, no dumping.” The reference to ‘dumping’ refers to the guaranteeing of minimum standards in several fields including state aid, environmental and consumer standards, social rights and other fields. She also added that we should “care” for the 3.5 million European citizens living in the UK.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulates Prime Minister Johnson on and “an enormous victory for him […] and for his party.” Varadkar also welcomed the clear majority the PM enjoys and hopes that it will help in swiftly ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement. Varadkar reminded us that the agreement would guarantee no hard border between North and South, the protection of the common travel area, and the protection of British and Irish citizen’s rights.

Varadkar said it was also important to work with Prime Minister Johnson on getting the Northern Ireland executive and assembly up and running again and that this will have to be a key priority for the next couple of weeks.

All leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron were optimistic about an ambitious trade deal, but all made it clear that the deal would be conditional. However, it is already clear that many countries will have very specific red lines. On her way into the European Council, Danish Prime Minister said that she would insist on access to British waters for fishing.

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Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, EU, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, UK





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Ursula von der Leyen outlines how Brexit will now move forward | World | News


The President of the European Commission said the EU want their relationship with Britain to be “as close as possible” and said they were aiming for a “zero tariff, zero quota, zero dumping” arrangement”. She revealed that the European Council has again tasked the European Commission to be the European Union’s negotiator with Britain. Ursula von der Leyen also declared the European Union will be prepared from February 1 to “go to work” regarding the Brexit process. 

She said: “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his victory.

“Now we expect the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement to be ended by January.

“We are ready to move to the next phase of our relationship.

“We want our future relationship to be as close as possible.

READ MORE: Sturgeon in DIRECT warning to Boris: ‘ENOUGH is enough’

“The European Council today has tasked us the European Commission to remain the Unions negotiator for the next phase of the talks.

“The time frame is going to be very challenging, we are going to have to work as soon as possible.

“We will be ready to get the most out of the short period available but for me it is important to say that in this moment yes will become a third country.

“At the very end we will have an unprecedented partnership.”

Mrs Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert this morning tweeted: “Congratulations, Boris Johnson, on your resounding victory.

“I look forward to our further cooperation for the friendship and close partnership of our countries.”

The backing from Mrs Merkel echoed an almost complete backing for Mr Johnson across the EU.

Both EU President Charles Michel and Luxembourg leader Xavier Bettel congratulated the Prime Minister on his re-election.



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Resounding win by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in U.K. election brings end to Brexit deadlock


LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a resounding election victory on Friday that will allow him to take Britain out of the European Union in matter of weeks.

For Johnson, whose 20-week tenure in power has been marked by chaotic scenes in parliament and stark division on the streets over Britain’s tortuous departure from the European Union, victory in Thursday’s contest was vindication.

Educated at the country’s most elite school and recognizable by his bombastic style, the 55-year-old must not only deliver Brexit but also convince Britons that the contentious divorce, which would lead to lengthy trade talks, is worth it.

A landslide Conservative win marks the ultimate failure of opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union who plotted to thwart a 2016 referendum vote through legislative combat in parliament and prompted some of the biggest protests in recent British history.


Conservative party leader Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks after winning his seat in Britain’s general election, Dec. 13, 2019.

Toby Melville/Reuters

Johnson won an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament after an exit poll showed the Conservatives on course to win a landslide 368 seats, the biggest Conservative national election win since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph.

“I think this will turn out to be a historic election that gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people,” Johnson said after winning his seat of Uxbridge.

He said the Conservatives appeared to have won “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.”

U.S President Donald Trump said it was “looking like a big win for Boris.”

Labour were forecast to win 203 seats, the worst result for the party since 1935, after offering voters a second referendum and the most radical socialist government in generations. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would step down.

With results from across Britain indicating the exit poll was accurate, Johnson’s bet on a snap election has paid off, meaning he will swiftly ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the EU so that the United Kingdom can leave on Jan. 31 – 10 months later than initially planned.


Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves the party’s headquarters following the general election on Dec. 13, 2019.

Henry Nicholls/Reuters

But nearly half a century after joining what has become the world’s largest trading bloc, Johnson faces the daunting challenge of striking new international trade deals, preserving London’s position as a top global financial capital and keeping the United Kingdom together.

Sterling soared and was on course for one of its biggest one-day gains in the past two decades. The pound hit a 19-month high of $1.3516 versus the dollar and its strongest levels against the euro since shortly after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

As of 0510 GMT, Johnson’s Conservatives had made a net gain of 41 seats.

After nearly four years of Brexit debate that has riven the United Kingdom, deadlocked parliament and shocked allies, a majority will allow Johnson to lead the United Kingdom out of the club it first joined in 1973.

But Brexit is far from over.

He faces the daunting task of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU, possibly in just 11 months, while also negotiating another trade deal with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain’s economy. After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states.

This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

A big majority may give him the political security to extend the trade talks beyond 2020 because he could overrule the Brexit hardliner European Research Group (ERG) faction in the party.

“The bigger the Tory majority of course the less influence over this the ERG and Eurosceptics will have,” said Brexit party leader Nigel Farage. “It will be called Brexit but it won’t really be.”

Johnson called the first Christmas election since 1923 to break what he said was the paralysis of Britain’s political system after more than three years of crisis over Brexit.

I think this will turn out to be a historic election

The face of the victorious “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, Johnson fought the election under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done,” promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.

He was helped early in the election by Farage’s Brexit Party which stood down hundreds of candidates to prevent the pro-Brexit vote from being split. Early results showed the Brexit Party had poached a significant number of voters from Labour.

While Brexit framed the election, the slow-motion exit from the EU has variously fatigued, enthused and enraged voters while eroding loyalties to the two major parties.

Results showed Johnson’s strategy had successfully breached Labour’s so-called “Red Wall” of seats across the Brexit-supporting areas of the Midlands and northern England where he cast his political foes as the out-of-touch enemies of Brexit.

The Conservatives took Sedgefield, once held by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader.


Conservative leader Boris Johnson stands with Independent candidates Bobby “Elmo” Smith, Independent candidate Count Binface, Green Party candidate Mark Keir and Independent candidate William Tobin after winning his seat for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in Britain’s general election, Dec. 13, 2019.

Toby Melville/Reuters

A defeated Labour now faces a civil war between the socialists who control it and more moderate factions which will demand power.

“This is obviously a very disappointing night for the Labour Party with the result that we’ve got,” Corbyn said after being re-elected in his own north London electoral seat. He said he would not lead the party in any future elections.

Weary Labour candidates said his leadership had played a major role in the defeat.

Ruth Smeeth, who said she also expected to lose her seat in Stoke-on-Trent, laid the blame firmly at Corbyn’s door.

“He should have gone many, many, many months ago,” she said.

The Liberal Democrats were forecast to win 13 seats, the exit poll said. Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat party leader, lost her seat to the Scottish National Party.

The Brexit Party were not predicted to win any.

The Scottish National Party, which strongly opposes Brexit, would win 55 of the 59 seats in Scotland, the poll said, setting the scene for it to demand a second independence vote, after secession was rejected by 55% to 45% in 2014.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said Johnson did not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the EU.

“We don’t want Brexit,” Sturgeon said. “Boris Johnson may have a mandate to take England out of the European Union, he emphatically does not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the European Union.”

Here is what to expect from a majority Conservative government:

BREXIT BY JAN. 31

Johnson has promised to bring back to parliament before Christmas the legislation required to ratify his exit deal with Brussels and ensure it is passed by the end of January.

All Conservative candidates have signed up to the deal, so it is expected to have a relatively smooth journey through parliament as opposition parties will not have the numbers to defeat it or make changes to it.

NO EXTENSION OF TRANSITION

After Jan. 31 Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the EU27.

This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

If they fail to hammer out a new trade deal by the end of 2020, a deadline trade experts say is unrealistic, Britain could effectively be facing a disorderly no-deal Brexit again.

BUDGET IN FEBRUARY

The party has promised to hold a post-Brexit budget in February, boosting spending on domestic issues such as the health service, education and police.

IMMIGRATION

The Conservatives plan to introduce an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system. They have promised to reduce overall immigration numbers. In particular there will be fewer low-skilled migrants.

Under the new system, which will treat EU and non-EU citizens the same, most immigrants will need a job offer to come to Britain. There will be special visa schemes for migrants who will fill shortages in public services, or who are leaders in fields such as science and technology.

GOVERNMENT BORROWING

Finance minister Sajid Javid has said he will rewrite the country’s fiscal rules so he can spend an extra 20 billion pounds per year over the next five years, raising borrowing for infrastructure to 3% of economic output from its current 1.8%.

TRADE

Johnson’s party has said it wants to have 80 percent of UK trade covered by free trade agreements within three years. It plans to prioritize agreeing deals with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

— Kylie MacLellan. Reuters





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‘The risk of #Brexit happening without a ratified deal still exists’ Phil Hogan 


European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan

Speaking at his first event in Ireland as the European Commissioner for Trade (6 December), Phil Hogan addressed what he described as the ‘seemingly endless’ question of Brexit, as well as other pressing trade issues.  

Hogan is hoping that next week’s UK general election will provide clarity and unblock paralysis. He told Irish business leaders that ‘we are not out of the woods yet’ and that the risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit still exist. He advised the audience of Irish businesses to continue with their work on preparedness given the lack of certainty. The Commissioner appeared to unwittingly acknowledge that a new government, of any hue, will not deliver clarity on what the UK’s situation will be at the end of 2021. 

EU still in the dark about what the UK wants 

Hogan accused the British media of quoting him out of context when he said that he thought that a deal was achievable before the end of 2020. He said the truth was that there was no accurate way to predict how long it would take to negotiate a deal with the UK as there was no precedent. He said that the UK needs to focus on content, the ‘nuts and bolts’ not timing. 

Hogan said he was still in the dark about what type of Free Trade Agreement the UK ultimately want. He said that the UK must outline preferences, define its offensive and defensive interests for each stage of the negotiations, consider the necessary trade-offs and compromises. He urged UK negotiators to involve also stakeholders in defining each stage of negotiations and to have a frank discussion about pros and cons. He said that there was little point negotiating a deal without knowing whether it will gain domestic approval. 

Hogan said the new agreement will secure that there was no hard border on the island of Ireland, but did not address the checks and controls that would apply across the Irish Sea. Today, the Labour Party revealed the contacts of a report on future arrangements written by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying about his deal when he has made repeated claims that it would mean no customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.  

Hogan told his audience that he warmly welcomed the deal’s commitment to maintaining EU state aid and VAT rules in Northern Ireland, enforceable in the European Court of Justice.  

Making a point that has been made by the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, he made it clear that given the EU’s geographical proximity and economic interdependence the EU would expect solid guarantees in relation to state aid, labour, environmental protection and tax arrangements. He said that the EU has made it abundantly clear that an ‘ambitious’ deal will be contingent on these guarantees.  

It is the UK’s desire to diverge from these EU level-playing-field standards that will be highly problematic. During the campaign Johnson has promised that he will introduce new state aid rules, that will allow the government to intervene more in the economy.  

Hogan lamented that many in the UK had not yet ‘woken up’ to the fact that anything other than EU membership would be greatly inferior to the status quo. 

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An ‘Expert’ Perspective on Brexit… Means Brexit


I have a confession to make: in the more than two years that we are now running this blog, Russell and I have actually never met in person! Russell has links with the Netherlands; and, even worse, I was in London twice during the last 5 months alone. But the closest that we came to meeting was during a recent episode of TRT World’s ‘Roundtable’ on Brexit, in which we both appeared – but in my case only via Skype. While Russell and I clearly need to work on our relationship, both of us appearing in the same programme also made me think about the role of experts in contemporary society. According to the Oxford online dictionary an expert is “A person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area.” Experts have gained an important role in society. They, for instance, are a key source of information for EU institutions and other administrative and political bodies. And although Michael Gove (in)famously claimed that people “have had enough of experts”, those same experts are continuously asked to comment on contemporary developments – both Russell and I have regularly been asked to comment on Brexit in media at local, regional, national and international level.

Discussing the same topic during the same television programme creates an acute sense of awareness of your role as an expert. People expect us to say and write knowledgeable stuff, but maybe when it comes to Brexit we are also slowly running out of ammunition. Brexit is, of course, an unprecedented development. States and territories have left the EU and its predecessors before, or have left member-states and thus became non-members by default (Algeria became independent from France in 1962; Greenland, in 1985, and Saint Barthélemy, in 2012, withdrew to become so-called overseas countries and territories of the EU). And, let’s not forget, other countries decided to refrain from membership or withdrew their applications, such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Yet, his is the first time ever that a prominent member state is leaving the EU. Perhaps Brexit is not that much of a surprise given that Britain has always been an ‘awkward partner’, but it is difficult to predict what Brexit really means. Brexit means Brexit, right?

But what will Brexit actually look like and what will be its consequences? Even we ‘experts’ don’t know anymore. Consider the many options that are now on the table, some which many people had not expected at all. There’s the EU-UK deal with the (in)famous ‘backstop’, which currently doesn’t receive enough support from either parliament nor the people on the street. Theresa May’s Plan B seems to be Plan A turned on its back, with the EU not willing to budge. And then there’s the no-deal Brexit scenario, which all but a few hard Brexiteers – those are among the Brexiteers with a “special place in hell” – seem to want to avoid. Even a no-Brexit scenario, although not very likely, is not completely of the table, certainly since calls for a second referendum or a general election are still out there.

And then there’s the post-Brexit world. Even in a scenario where the EU and the UK agree to a deal after all, this is only the first step in setting up their future relationship. What will that relationship look like? And will the EU27 remain as unified as they currently are when having to negotiate a trade deal with the UK? We are charting new territory here. Experts answering these questions should perhaps say that we do not always know either. Mind you, I am not bored of Brexit and can surely speculate about it based on what I do know. But we should also not be afraid to admit that we don’t know everything.





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Swinson’s shameless Brexit plot EXPOSED: Neil brutally tears apart Lib Dem ‘folly’ | UK | News


Jo Swinson shocked viewers when she was finally forced to admit that her party’s plan to revoke Article 50 and overturn Brexit had been dropped. The Liberal Democrat leader revealed the shocking u-turn in her tense interview with BBC’s Andrew Neil. Ms Swinson had originally launched her election campaign with a vow to become the UK’s next Prime Minister, but things quickly spiralled when her popularity plummeted.

The Lib Dem told Mr Neil that her party will now campaign for a “final say on the specific Brexit deal”.

The BBC host said: “The central pitch that you launched this campaign on that you would reverse Brexit without a second referendum, that falls away because that needed a Lib Dem majority government.”

Ms Swinson replied: “We’ve set out very clearly that we want to stop Brexit, and every scenario, how we’ll try to do that.

“Obviously we will keep campaigning for a People’s Vote. There’s eight days to go but it looks like that’s the more likely scenario.”

READ MORE: BBC Kuenssberg grills Jo Swinson for ‘seeking to overturn’ Brexit

She added: “We’ve always said we wanted to do it through a democratic means, whether through an election or a People’s Vote on a specific Brexit deal. The Liberal Democrats have led that campaign, we came out immediately after the 2016 referendum and said we thought a specific Brexit deal should be put to the public for a final say.”

Mr Neil suggested Ms Swinson’s campaign strategy was the “height of folly” and questioned why “the more voters get to know you the less they like you?”

She replied: “Well, I don’t know the answer to that question.”

More to follow…



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Brexit Never Rains, But It Pours


Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been defeated in the House of Commons again. This time, by only 58 votes. Compared to the crushing defeats of 230 votes on January 15th, and 149 votes on March 12th, a mere 58 is not too bad. Perhaps even an improvement. But a defeat is a defeat, and defeats are even more devastating for a minority government which has repeatedly, and consistently, shown that it does not command the support of the House. The only thing keeping Theresa May in power is a widespread dislike of her Conservative rivals – the backstabbing Michael Gove and the incompetent Boris Johnson – and a national contempt for Jeremy Corbyn, whose Brexit flipflopping and appalling mismanagement of the antisemitism crisis leaves the Leader of her Majesty’s Opposition even less popular than the most reviled government since the Duke of Wellington’s ultra-Tories in 1832. But with the third defeat of the Government’s Brexit bill in as many months, a general election is all but inevitable.

Mrs May, and the country she ostensibly leads, faces some deeply unpleasant choices. She could of course bring the bill back for a fourth vote, hoping that the pattern of increasing support will eventually spill over into the narrowest of victories. This is unlikely but not impossible. Before March 2019, no British government had brought the same bill to vote thrice, after two defeats, since Lord North’s administration during the American War of Independence. If Mrs May brings her vote back for a fourth vote, it will likely be the first time that a British government has pursued the same policy four times since the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the late 1600s – early 1700s. And like America, the Dutch wars didn’t work out too well for the British. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

An equally fringe possibility is that Mrs May resigns, and hands over the reins to Michael Gove or Boris Johnson. But given the contempt in which both are widely held, and given the fact that Theresa may has repeatedly refused to step down until Brexit is resolved, one way or another, this is unlikely.

A second referendum remains a possibility, despite the agonising arguments over how many options will be on the ballot paper, whether holding a second referendum is in-keeping with the spirit of democracy, and whether a second referendum sets a precedent for a third. Or a fourth. But given that a referendum will take a year to arrange, this possibility is long-term.

A third option is that Mrs May simply revokes Article 50, which the European Court of Justice has confirmed is entirely legal. She could easily cite the recent London march and the five million signatures calling for revocation, tell Brussels she’s withdrawing it, then scuttle away into retirement like David Cameron and leave someone else to clean up the mess. But this is not in her character, and unilaterally cancelling Brexit without a popular vote would pave the way for the extreme right to march into Downing Street. The British population’s faith in democracy is at rock-bottom, and cancelling the most democratic vote in British history would not do much to remedy mass contempt for the House of Commons, the British state, and democracy itself. And while cancelling Article 50 might be met with sighs of relief in Europe, millions of eurosceptic voters, who are possibly soon to be given a boost by a coming recession, would seize upon it as proof of their belief that the EU is at best uncaring, at worst a totalitarian bully.

This leaves the most likely option – a general election. After the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the general election of 2015, Brexit in 2016, another general election in 2017, and endless votes in parliament which have completely taken over the day-to-day business of the British state, the population is exhausted by elections. And there is very little evidence to suggest that an election would resolve anything. Corbyn, whose popularity is plunging once more, is haemorrhaging voters who are tired of his inability to formulate any sort of Brexit plan besides meaningless claims that a veteran Eurosceptic who cannot even manage his own party, can magically negotiate a perfect exit deal. The Conservatives, now in their ninth year of government and suffering from the political entropy which any long-term government endures, would be led into battle by a candidate who would admittedly be more charismatic than May, but who would command little respect. With the Liberal Democrats relegated once more to the fringes and being elbowed out of the centre by the newly-named Change UK Party, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party snapping at the Tories’ heels, and the Scottish Nationalists openly invoking the spectre of IndyRef2, the coming general election will be a chaotic, poorly-planned mess in which all factions will lose, returning another hung parliament or minority government forced to either try and resuscitate May’s deal, or go begging for a new one from an EU which has far bigger problems on the horizon than the British. And given the febrile atmosphere of toxicity, poison, exhaustion, and disillusionment which now characterises British politics, the coming 2019 General Election will be the nastiest to date.

For three years the British have squabbled, screamed, and denounced neighbours and loved ones as traitors or heretics. For three years, British government has been at a standstill while the EU has grown more and more weary, frustrated, and fractious. So, after three exhausting and poisonous years we are not approaching the end – we have barely finished the beginning.





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What Happens to Brexit Now?


In May 1832, a political and ideological struggle between Reformers and Reactionaries brought Britain the closest it has been to revolution. In the “Days of May” of 1832, Britain abandoned its stagnant, century-old politics that had barely changed since the Acts of Union in 1707, and entered a new phase in which politics became formalised. The old ways were gone, and a painful transition dragged the British into a new era. Something similar is happening now. For the last three years it has been impossible to go an entire day Great Britain without saying, reading, or hearing, the word “Brexit”. It’s unlikely that the next three years will be any different. Earlier this year the cumulative fatigue led to Brexhaustion, a national and parliamentary paralysis, as Leavers and Remainers were united in how tired they are of the whole process and how Brexit seems to be a state of permanent impermanence, a limbo in which we can’t go forward, can’t go back, and just exist in a political no-man’s-land. But now the country has a second wind, and both sides are bringing up debates old and new, in response to two major plot changes. The Days of May are back.

After nearly three years as the Prime Minister who said she would not resign until Brexit has been delivered, Theresa May has resigned without Brexit being delivered. This was motivated by multiple reasons. In a desperate attempt to bring her Withdrawal Agreement before the House of Commons a fourth time (the first time in British history that a government has brought a failed bill to vote, four times), May offered MPs the option of voting on a second referendum – if they passed her bill. She promised that if they voted for her on a fourth vote, they could maybe vote on whether to have a second vote. Unsurprisingly, this destroyed the last shreds of her credibility. To make things much worse for Mrs May, polls for the European Parliament elections showed a total collapse of public support for the Conservative Party. Although results were not released until the 26th May, the British vote on 23rd May was enough to force Mrs May to resign on the 24th, pushed by her terrified colleagues in the remnants of the world’s oldest political party. This has opened a new phase in the Brexit process.

Choosing the next Prime Minister will be a small, elite affair. Candidates will be whittled down to two in votes by the shrinking Conservative Party membership and MPs, until a successor is chosen. Out of the many candidates, a front runner is obvious. Boris Johnson is deeply unpopular with his fellow Conservative MPs, but a panicking party may well back him as the only candidate with the charisma to fend off Nigel Farage. And as a hard Leaver, this would work in Boris’ favour. He will be able to claw back supporters by arguing that while Farage is a single-issue politician, the Conservatives can deliver hard Brexit alongside a portfolio of other policies. This would reflect the splitting of British society back into two camps – Leave and Remain. Soft Brexit is dead, and the country is now back to the binary choice offered in 2016. To try and rescue the party in the aftermath of its worst defeat since 1834, the Conservatives will likely back Boris and hard Brexit.

The Conservatives are not the only ones facing extinction. Labour performed slightly better than the Tories, but still achieved a pathetic result – particularly pathetic against a government which has been incumbent for nine years, and whose leaders have spent the last three years fighting a vicious civil war. Still dogged by the anti-Semitism scandal, Labour are now also fighting a vicious civil war. Before the elections Jeremy Corbyn, frightened of alienating Leave voters in Labour’s post-industrial heartlands and alienating Remain voters in London and the big cities, chose to sit on the fence and not to mention Brexit. Proclaiming, bizarrely, that Brexit was not an issue for British voters in the 2019 European elections, he failed to put forward anything that even vaguely resembled a coherent position. Where Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, and the Liberal Democrats and Greens, clearly backed either Leave or Remain, Corbyn was exceedingly vague. His position was to not have a position, effectively telling potential supporters that Labour neither supported Leave nor Remain, but wanted a general election, but if one didn’t happen then Labour might or might not support the idea of a second referendum. This vague, confusing, and deeply dissatisfying non-position has resulted in Labour’s support plummeting as badly as the Conservatives’, with labour being abandoned by its working-class heartlands and its middle-class Remainer strongholds. The first result announced on the 26th, Sunderland, showed a massive majority for the Brexit Party – in a constituency that Labour have held unchallenged for a hundred years. In his own north London constituency of Islington, Corbyn lost to the Liberal Democrats – and on his birthday, too. Like the Conservatives, Labour is collapsing as Leavers flock to Nigel Farage and Remainers switch to the Liberal Democrats or Greens. The two main parties which, between them, have controlled British politics since the First World War, are facing extinction. But where the Conservatives are aware of the scale of the disaster, to the point of throwing out their Prime Minister and publicly acknowledging the party’s crisis, Corbyn refuses to believe that anything is wrong.

The victors of the European Parliament elections, in Britain at least, are surprising. The LibDems and Greens have made impressive gains (even if the Remain vote is split between them). But by far the most surprising result is Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party. British politics and the first-past-the-post system are punishingly cruel to small and newcomer parties, as Change UK have discovered. Farage himself realised this in the 2015 General Election, when four million UKIP votes translated into just one seat at Westminster. But the Brexit Party is not UKIP. Formed only six weeks ago, the newborn party has not only survived, it has crushed the ancient titans of Labour and the Conservatives. Nothing better illustrates the new face of British politics than the successes of the Brexit Party and the LibDems – old allegiances are dead, party policies on anything but Brexit are irrelevant, and the country is split into two completely opposed halves, each of which wants something that the other considers an abomination. The British people have known this for three years. Perhaps if Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May had acknowledged this, the EP results might have been different.

What does this mean for Brexit? Clearly, Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement has failed. The two options left are the two extremes of Hard Brexit or No Brexit. To try and snuff out Nigel Farage a second time, the Conservatives will almost certainly place Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street, and he will push for a No Deal exit on October 31st. Labour will continue to vacillate, with Jeremy Corbyn continuing his daily ritual of demanding a general election. And with the new European Parliament facing deadlock and the exhausting task of building coalitions, Europe will be in no mood for more nonsense from the British. A further extension of Article 50 is out of the question. A second referendum in Britain would take far too long. And while a general election might be tempting to Boris Johnson as a way of wiping out an exhausted and abandoned Labour Party, his own Conservative Party is too weak to risk it. The net result of the new “Days of May” is that No-Deal Brexit is all but assured. And with the traditionally dominant parties of the European Parliament having lost their majorities to similar nationalist and Green surges, neither the UK nor the EU will be particularly able to manage Brexit.

For Remainers, there is at least one glimmer of hope. When Britain crashes out, 29 Brexit Party MEPs will exit the European Parliament. And diminish the influence of the eurosceptic right. But this will still leave a European Parliament scrambling to form and keep coalitions together; coalitions which may find it much more difficult to deal with the fallout from Britain’s looming exit.





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