Brexit: Britain uncut?

“Breaking up is hard to do” EU president Donald Tusk said in a press conference on Friday morning and he couldn’t have been more right. Only last week I was commenting on how Theresa May faced so complex a Gordian knot that even she couldn’t potentially get out of in negotiating the Brexit deal.

Flash forward a week and my glumness has been replaced by a fresh sense of optimism, tempered by the knowledge that there is still much to do before we get out the exit door.

So lets use what I said last week as a guide to illustrate our progress so far…..

Strand One: The Divorce bill

£50 billion. That is how much the UK has potentially agreed to pay and while many people will be keen to point out that it is a shedload of money, my question is: What did you expect?

This is a multi-national organisation with many strands that the UK has been involved in for the better part of 40 years and potentially would have been involved in for another 40 if we hadn’t voted to leave in 2016. No one expected we’d do what we did, so all of the agreements were made in advance.

article-0-0EC931AE00000578-938_634x388The total amount encompasses the cost of exiting pre-existing legal arrangements, European union pensions (the pensions of those people from Britain working within the EU legislative machine), existing financial liabilities (.i.e. things we’ve already agreed to pay) and those financial liabilities which are contingent on us leaving the EU (which is the de facto exit bill).

We were always going to have to pay. If we didn’t pay then the UK would become a pariah in international circles, we would always be known as ‘the country which doesn’t pay’, a reputation which would jeopardise any future trade deals with countries throughout the world. The most surprising thing is the difference in figures between those being quoted in the media and the agreed deal. Wild speculation may sell newspapers but in today’s hare trigger opinion society, the media seems to have forgotten the value of facts.

Strand Two: Soft Border, Hard Border

So the status quo will be maintained in Northern Ireland, with a soft border between it and the Republic of Ireland, thus maintaining the 20 year old Good Friday agreement. While I don’t agree with maintaining a soft border, I can appreciate the sentiments behind it in that no one wants a return to the Troubles.

Going back to what I was saying about not agreeing with the soft border, I feel I need to qualify what I said: A soft border allows goods, services and people to flow backward and forward between the Republic Of Ireland, which remains a member of the EU and Northern Ireland, which ceases to be a member of the EU in March 2019. My concern is that Northern Ireland will become a ghettoised market in which companies will exploit softer regulations in order to benefit their bottom line.

If the UK’s regulations need to be stringent in order to encourage competition, trade agreements, safeguard the UK’s business interests and the allow for the entry of new business, then businesses might just move to Northern Ireland to take advantage of the perceptibly laxer regulations.

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A key part of this is that the UK will ensure “full alignment” with the existing rules of the EU’s customs union and single market that uphold the Good Friday agreement, so in a sense we are hamstrung into keeping the EU’s economic foothold in Northern Ireland.

However, the important condition which was secured by the DUP (and caused the delay in getting the Brexit agreement) is that no new regulatory barriers will be allowed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK without the permission of Stormont in the interest of upholding the Good Friday agreement. So hopefully this ghettoised market won’t happen.

Strand three: Everyone is right. Yay!

This agreement is a vital stepping stone in paving the way for future trade talks yes, but in other ways it represents a first step: A first step in establishing mechanisms by which a member state may leave the EU and still maintain retain a good relationship with the body which it leaves.

In this way we maintain our right to leave the organisation and it reinforces its status as a functioning organisation by providing us the mechanism to do so, thus maintaining its right.

Other countries looking to leave the EU will now know a little more about how that process will be implemented and have some guidance on the potential cost implications. It sets a precedent that can be followed in other instances.

Strand Four: Party Politics

An agreement like this, what ever its shortcomings represents a vital victory for Theresa May at a time when her popularity seems to shift week to week. Ever since she perceptibly ‘lost’ the election (even though she didn’t) the Conservative party has been in a state of damage control, which in some ways parallels the Labour parties implosion after the Brexit vote.

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All smiles at the EU: Has Theresa May begun the long road back to restoring her credibility?

Using this victory as a springboard is essential, if she lets that victory grow stagnant then all the credibility she has gained in what was the most exhausting set of negotiations of her premiership will dissolve. As any good football manager will tell you, a number of victories in succession can define a season, in the same way as a number of defeats can.

Any positive legislation, or results can be added to this initial victory to create a base of credibility that can undo the damage done following the general election. It also serves to cement her place as the undisputed leader of the Conservative party. All Labour can do at this point is nothing but support the prime minister, for fear of being labelled anti-Brexit and thus not acting in the interests of the British people.

What is essential though is that the role of the DUP in facilitating the passage of this deal is kept in the background, otherwise the repeated questions about how much power the DUP holds could resurface.

Strand Five: Home Advantage

A settlement opens up the next phase of negotiation, letting the Prime Minister and the government focus on commencing trade negotiations with other countries. But it also serves to allow the Prime Minister to return to the politics of the UK and leave the next phase to the ministers and officials appointed to Brexit positions.

Chief among these individuals will be David Davies, who will be tasked with building on the good relations achieved in the past weeks and months. The Prime Minister can now tackle the infighting in her own party and galvanise them against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

 

 

Brexit: Theresa May’s Gordian knot?

The Gordian Knot is a myth surrounding that great conqueror of early history, Alexander of Macedon who when faced with a rope so knotted that it could not be unwound by the most skilful of champions took out his sword and cut the knot into pieces: thus solving the problem and providing the first demonstration in lateral thinking.

Flash forward three thousand years, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself faced with her own Gordian knot in negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. In each turn of the knot, she finds herself further and further entangled within its shackles. Each knot has its own strand each with its own objectives and impact on the UK and indeed the EU at large.

Strand one: The divorce bill

£27bn, £40bn, £57bn. The price of Britain’s exit seems to increase week to week, certainly in the newspaper headlines anyway. Things are often spun in such a way as to make the EU’s demands overtly punitive, and yes to some degree they are in terms of actual cost. The problem is this: We signed up to these agreements which placed a cost on our membership and now we have to honour those agreements.

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What will the final cost of Brexit be and will the UK pay it?

The issue now is that this bill is being used in a game of brinkmanship by the EU. To get the trade deal we must first pay the piper, and the EU is calling the tune. The problem is, if we refuse to pay we can’t legally leave and we risk engendering the bad feeling of future trading partners. However if we pay an overtly large settlement in order to achieve the next step in the process, the Prime Minister loses all credibility in the British parliament and media.

Strand two: What is a soft border anyway?

Historically, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has always been a ‘soft’ border than a ‘hard’ one going back to the founding of the Irish free state in 1919.  However with Ireland being a member of the EU and the UK in the future not being a member, the question becomes what to do with Northern Ireland.

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Is this the future for the Northern Irish border?

If we leave the border as a soft one, then we open a backdoor into the UK which could be exploited by thousands of economic migrants both legally and illegally as they would be able to become citizens of Northern Ireland and vicariously the UK.

The problem is if we have a hard border, we risk endangering over 30 years of improved relations between Northern and Southern Ireland, going all the way back to the Good Friday agreement, which ended the Irish troubles. The EU knows this and have given the Irish a veto on any border negotiations between ourselves and the EU.

A border needs to be maintained, there needs to be a clear distinction between what is now EU territory and what is UK territory, with the channel it is easy, with Ireland it will be harder.

Strand three: Proving the EU to be right

The European Union was designed to be an organisation of equal rights where everyone would be happy and everyone’s concerns would be listened to. No one is supposed to want to leave political paradise. Now that we have thrown that dream out of the window in asking to leave, the EU is entering damage control.

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Should Mrs May ignore her fellow European leaders as they look to preserve the EU?

Part of that damage control is enforcing an exit that is punitive so as to discourage others from seeking the same exit that we are seeking. Another part is that an exit was never envisioned by the people writing the EU so this is new territory, both politically and sociologically and in any new territory there are going to be bumps in the road.

By pursuing a hard Brexit we achieve our aims but we engender an undercurrent of hostility over our exit from the EU. Other nations, emboldened by our exit may seek to renegotiate their deals and if these negotiations fail, then more and more nations will leave.

Strand Four: Party politics

No party can be seen to go against the will of the British people, especially where the EU referendum is concerned, however the Labour party has been largely indifferent in its Brexit stance, not deciding between a hard Brexit (which would appease the Brexiteers) and a so called soft Brexit (which would appease the remainers, who don’t want to leave the EU).

The more concessions Theresa May makes, the more she loses the support of her own party and now following the disastrous general election in May, Mrs May now has to balance the support of her own party with her new coalition partners: The Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP is a party which has a profoundly religious background of somewhat radical ideas.

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The power behind the throne? With ten hugely important seats in parliament, the DUP is in a position to exert enormous influence on the British political system

Their brand of unionism and their proximity to the Irish question makes them a key player in the EU negotiations add to that their ability to collapse the May government by withdrawing their support and the difficulty that the Conservative government under Theresa May faces is self-evident.

Strand Five: Home problems

When faced with a choice, 52% of voters in this country voted to leave the EU. Regardless of the politics involved we said we wanted to leave and now the government is charged with making that happen.

But politics in this country didn’t suddenly stop, the problems in this country didn’t suddenly cease functioning and they will continue to do so even when we leave the EU. The problem is, finding the right time to address these long standing problems when we have more immediate concerns.

We have two years to leave the EU, as mandated by our treaty with them and we have to make it work within that time. The problem is that parts of the negotiation there affect problems here.

If we pull out of the single market without an effective substitute then our economy suffers, if we lose the European court of human rights without an effective judiciary authority to replace it then the legal system suffers and so on and so forth. So we can’t ignore the negotiations and we can’t address our own long standing problems without addressing short term concerns.

Cutting the knot

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Is there a lateral solution to the Brexit problem?

Alexander demonstrated lateral thinking in cutting the knot with his sword. Theresa May can do the same, but she needs to display the same confidence in her thinking to do so.

Brexit is going to happen and no second referendum is going to change that, however what may be needed is the ability to act definitively: to pay the bill, to sort out the border, to change the language and bring the EU back to positivity in these negotiations, to build a political consensus and to support our own country.

Can she do so? Potentially yes. Will she do so and remain in charge? No. Decisiveness and democracy don’t always get along and I think the first casualty of Brexit will be Mrs May.

The Oxford Circus incident: Social media gone mad?

Two guys have a disagreement on a crowded tube platform, this disagreement turns into a fight, the fight gets the tube platform evacuated and in the ensuing evacuation the station itself is evacuated.

One person thinks its terrorism and says so to another, rumours sweep through the evacuated passengers who do as any normal individuals would when faced with the onset of death: they run.

Tweets begin to surface, an online article incorrectly references past events as current, an army of social media junkies not in full possession of the facts begin to comment spreading the incorrect information online.

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The mail’s report would be later found to be out of date

The police are called to deal with an emerging situation and respond with armed officers. Scattered reports of gunfire begin to surface as a result, with the police seemingly dumbfounded about the real facts of the situation.

It sounds like a comedy of errors, punctuated by disinformation, but this was Friday night and this was Oxford Circus tube. Two men eventually handed themselves into police after a public appeal for witnesses to the incident, but by then the damage had already been illustrated. As any tube commuter will tell you, Oxford Circus station is a nightmare at the best of times, but on Friday it became a scene not out of place in an action movie.

A couple of people, in concert with a few poorly judged social media entries had caused a supposed terrorist incident.

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An example of an innacurate tweet

We live in a time where what people do and say online has more ramifications than ever. A misplaced social media post can cause an international controversy, stop a person from getting a job even topple a president if incorrectly tweeted.

So what do we do to stop this sort of incident from happening again? Well the simple answer is: nothing. We can’t be seen to do anything that impinges on the rights of individuals to express their opinions & observations, no matter how misguided or inaccurate those opinions or observations may be.

There is one thing we can do that will capitalise on this incident that will stop it from occurring again. Talk about it. Raise awareness and a build a consensus of opinion that a) people should be more responsible when they post something on social media and b) that the government should do more to prevent terrorism related hysteria through the use of technology.

Irresponsibility on social media is nothing new, people regularly say and do things online that they later go on to regret (usually the result of alcohol) or delete. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but in todays social media orientated age, the hindsight window has become smaller and smaller. Think to your own social media usage and chances are you will find something you’ve posted that you regret.

I’m not saying be completely responsible but think before you tweet, as Olly Murs has found out when he was called out by Piers Morgan over tweets posted at the time of the incident.

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Murs was forced to defend his tweets, which pointed to a terrorist incident

If the authorities and tube users in London were in possession of the full facts from the outset then the likelihood of this sort of incident occurring would decrease dramatically. It could have been as simple as a speaker system in Oxford street reassuring commuters that there was no danger.

As the amount of information we can access has grown, so has the amount of disinformation that can potentially be made available to us with one click.

I know what you’ll say to me: People are smart, they know what is real and what is fake. Yes a person is smart and can think for themselves, but a group of people are dumb animals that move in herds. You see it on the trains when a platform is announced: people immediately flock to the platform even though it might not be their train. If a person runs away from an incident, people run, thoughts are misplaced and before you know it you have mass hysteria.

How do we respond to this? Simple, we use information in the right way. Instead of proliferating it as we have done with the internet and social media, we encourage a climate which favours focussed information gathering rather than click bait.

It could be as simple as an advertising campaign by the social media and search engine companies, something which encourages social responsibility in the same way that gambling adverts now have to carry the responsible gambling message, internet websites and social media could do the same.

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GambleAwares campaign has been shown to reduce instances of problem gambling: could something similar be done on social media?

Regulation of social media is and can be easily spun as censorship, contravening the aforementioned freedom of speech. However if the social media and internet industry voluntarily signs up to a commitment to place responsibility messages at the heart of their offering, then social media can grow up and be seen as the responsible arm of a free and independent people.

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Should we encourage social responsibility on social media?

It’s a win-win for the social media and internet industries, which are increasingly being seen as harbingers of disinformation and stupidity that disseminate information when ever they want and with no checking system. This sort of charter could end that perception and negate the need for increased regulation of social media.

One thing is for sure, without an effective deterrent social media will become the archetypal ‘boy who cried wolf’ and there is a high chance that if such an attack were real, people would ignore it entirely.

More casualties would be the likely result and any subsequent investigation would be hampered by the amount of disinformation online. We must not allow that to happen, we need to act now while the incident is fresh in people’s minds.

As with anything it begins and ends with you. You are the catalyst that can cause this change, simply by being more socially aware.

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Phone Zombies: A new stage in human evolution?

We’ve all seen them, at some point in our environment we may have even been one of them: Phone Zombies. People so engrossed in their phones that they walk along the street with their heads bowed ignorant of any outside stimulus.

They aren’t just on the street, they are on trains, in pubs, in coffee shops and restaurants, people who are so drawn in by their smartphones that they see and hear nothing else. They could cause accidents, be the victims of muggings even die and nothing would stop them from staying with their mobile phones.

I was recently in my local weatherspoons meeting with friends before going out for an evening meal and one of my friends looked at another table and there were three guys sitting there not talking to each other, just staring down at their respective mobile phones. Now if I had done that with my friends for any length of time it would have been seen as rude, but what is normal for one group isn’t always normal for another.

We all considered this strange dichotomy, with one of my friends going so far as to ditch social media and his phone for the better part of a week. Examining this further, it seemed to be a generational thing: the day-to-day usage of smartphones seemed to increase with each generation, millennials would use mobile phones more than their generation y or x counterparts.

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An all too common site in the world today or a symptom of something larger?

However this seems to be too easy an explanation dismissing the fact that many people in these opposing generations use their phones just as much as the main smartphone using groups.

The use of smartphones is the first inclusive social phenomenon in so much as it doesn’t vary from social class to social class, working class people use their phones just as much as the people perceived to be the social elite. People have become so dependent on their smartphones, that they retain an almost drug like addiction to them.

So we have to take a wider view, applying this logic to us as a species and the mediums used to communicate: after all a phone is just a tool which we use to access this stream of consciousness, it is the stream that shapes the debate.

In the times before the internet (seems strange to think that it’s only been around for 30 years), people communicated with the methods at their disposal: landline telephones, letters, spoken word debates, newspapers and television.  We didn’t have the sort of broad reaching far ranging access to the world that we have today.

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might have gone a little too far back in the way back machine

One might argue that this was a better time, but we still had ignorance, prejudice and things that were not documented. Now we have the ability to access the latest news, social interactions and the ability to air our views in a way that we have never had before. This should be the greatest time to be a human being, where we can truly change our world and know what it truly is to be human.

But it isn’t. In shaping our online world we have pulled away from the community aspect of humanity, we have become introverted individuals with everything to say online, but with nothing to say in the real world.

One of the greatest strengths of humanity is that humans build communities, we come together with a common cause to shape our surroundings and grow as a collective. That is how evolution occurs. Communities now seem to be moving online and as a species we are losing that aspect of coming together.

I can hear the voices saying: We come together online? Yes we do, but how much of that is definitive, how much is a person actively saying yes: I want to be a part of this community and shape its future and how much of it is just a click without conviction or an opinion without grounding.

We have the clarity of the written word, but the word is only as good as the writer and can easily be interpreted incorrectly or manipulated to suit a specific set of facts or guidelines. We have political leaders using twitter when they should be using their mouths and in some cases causing international incidents in the process.

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The twitter president: Donald Trump

So now we move onto the next part of the debate: human beings are doing more things online and through their smartphones than at any point in previous history. We talk online, we date online, we play games online, we contribute to debates online, we organise social interactions online.

As the technology evolves will we eventually become non talking apes who are incapable of articulating ourselves unless a wi-fi connection is present?

I would argue, yes we are. Technology is our friend, yes in so much as it has enabled us to enrich our lives, growing beyond the normal confines of our species to a point where we can become something different.

However, technological evolution has supplanted physical evolution as the main catalyst for change in the human species. Its like Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park :people were so preoccupied with whether or not they could do a thing, we never stopped to if we should.

I have no issue with the people that say, why not? Its not as if physical evolution has done us any favours, but it has: we have evolved from a bunch of monkeys to the dominant species on this planet.

As our technology has grown and evolved, we have created an environment that is unsustainable, contributing to our increasing isolation as individuals and making us lazier as a species. Phone zombies are just the latest symptom of this problem.

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Is this the future for humanity if technology runs riot?

Should we go door to door and burn our wifi routers and mobile phones?  No, as a society currently going cold turkey would ultimately cause more harm than good, but at some point there will be a movement away from this technology, a technological or physical backlash against the invasion of technology into our lives.

We will lose our drive forward and technology will grow stagnant, at this point the only real change will come from our old friend evolution. We will have to evolve beyond the technology that has brought us to this point, whether that evolution occurs in 1,000 or 10,000 years is anyone’s guess but it will happen, of this I am certain.

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Will there be a backlash against technology?

The Triggering of Article 50: A European Perspective

Over the past few weeks and months, the preparations being made by the UK to exit the European Union have dominated the countries news and media outlets. It has bred an environment where high profile court cases, large scale protests, parliamentary headaches and a seemingly divided nation have become the norm.

The debate will take a new dimension on Wednesday when Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and starts the Brexit process.

She will send a letter to the EU in Brussels informing them of the UK’s desire to leave the European Union as defined in the treaty signed by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 and begin a round of intense diplomatic negotiations.

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Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty itself provides for a two-year timetable for the perspective member state to leave the EU but many believe that negotiating Britain’s exit will take a lot longer than two years.

While much of the focus of the debate has been on what the UK will do, the European Union has been preparing its negotiating position and determining what is required to ensure an exit which keeps both parties happy.

The EU’s Three Musketeers

Key to the success of the negotiations will be the EU’s negotiating team, made up of the following individuals, representing the different parts of the EU legislative body:

VerhofstadtGuy Verhofstadt, European Parliament chief negotiator on Brexit

An ardent federalist whose appointment made headlines around the EU, Mr Verhofstadt will lead the negotiations on behalf of the European Parliament and can be a very charismatic and good orator.

However, he’s not the most popular figure amongst the Brexit camp, with UKIP’s former leader MEP Nigel Farage once claiming that “Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for, which should mean a much shorter renegotiation.”

The European Parliament are keen to set up a special taskforce on Brexit, which Mr Verhofstadt is hotly tipped to lead and with his reputation for being a strong personality both politically and personally, the EU are making an aggressive statement by appointing him.

BarnierMichel Barnier, European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator

Former French Minister and Commission Vice-President Michel Barnier will lead the European Commission’s Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK.

Mr Barnier previously served as Single Market Commissioner (2010-2014), during which time he brought forward several legislative initiatives for the financial sector, such as the establishment of the new banking union as a response to the financial crisis.

A man of significant political connections in both the EU itself and the remaining 27 member states, Mr Barnier was appointed by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and will be under intense pressure to keep a tough line in the negotiations.

SeeuwsDidier Seeuws, European Council Special Taskforce Chief Negotiator

The final member of the EU’s three musketeers, Mr Seeuws is a diplomat who served as Chief of Staff to former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2011-2014) and his appointment to this post has been seen by many as a power grab by the European Council as it looks to take a leading role in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Seeuws serves as the Director of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.

Each of these individuals works for a specific arm of the EU machine, each with its own agenda and objectives in the negotiating process. However, there will be significant pressure from both inside the EU and out to maintain a collective voice during negotiations, as this will ensure an efficient and timely Brexit.

Turning 27 into 1

Differing voices, aims and objectives across the 27 remaining states make it harder to maintain this collective voice especially as the UK has many political and economic allies amongst the less influential member states.

Additionally, general elections in many of the member states occurring over the two-year period will make it difficult to maintain a consistent consensus with potentially adversarial politicians coming into the fray.

While the EU will be keen to keep these voices together, the UK will undoubtedly improve its chances of getting what it wants by keeping the voices separate and thereby increasing the political pressure on the EU to acquiesce to their demands.

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Public relations vs popular perception

The Brexit vote was a watershed moment in European politics, as it is the first instance of a member state choosing to leave the perceptually safe and stable EU.

Let’s think about that for a moment from a public relations standpoint: an organisation which is itself designed to engender cooperation and union is now being left by one of its most important member states.

PR wise it’s a disaster, because of two things: the British voice still carries a lot of weight in Europe and more importantly the EU has failed in its objective of keeping a member state happy.

Press coverage of the negotiations over the next two years will vary from positive to negative and a perceptually tough or overly harsh negotiation process can make the EU seem like a petulant parent disciplining its wayward child.

Negativity in negotiation will be seen by European member states and will colour public opinion of the EU in those countries still within the Union.

Often in PR, it’s a case of turning a negative into a positive and the same is true in this case. The EU will be keen to turn the adversity of Brexit into an opportunity to bring the remaining nations of the EU together.

Most likely there will be a period of sustained EU glad-handing and summits designed to keep member states onside and ensure that the British exit remains an isolated incident. Brexit may force the EU to be more accommodating to the remaining 27 states.

Separation Anxiety?

Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world and despite many attempts by the press to belittle it, still a major player in global politics.  A British exit from the European Union is a big event in global politics and casts a significant shadow on the EU.

World powers not in the EU such as China, the U.S and Russia could see the failure of the EU to retain Britain as a signal that it is no longer an effective political entity and can be ignored.

The current American administration seems to prove this point, with President Trump seemingly keener to engage with Theresa May than with Angela Merkel and her European compatriots.

Retaining relevance and importance in global affairs will need to be a by-product of the negotiating position adopted by the EU in its dealings with Britain as it leaves.

Creating a new identity for the EU post Brexit will be key to this, with the reinvention of the EU putting the failure of the EU to retain Britain behind it.

First to leave: Not the last to go?

Many European nations, particularly in the southern European states which have been so severely affected by the migrant crisis and the economic crash may be keen to follow Britain’s lead.

The rising tide of populism that has pervaded Europe over the last year has placed many so called populist politicians in positions of power where they can legislate for a similar sort of exit for their own country.

While these exits may be popular in their respective countries they are catastrophic for the EU.

Public opinion has never been more volatile towards the European Union and more exits would likely signal the end of the European Union as an effective political entity.

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Financial Market Turmoil?

As we saw in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s referendum result, political developments can have a significant effect on the course and stability of financial markets.

Even though UK financial markets have gained ground in the months following the Brexit vote, the financial damage was evident and the UK has yet to regain the strong financial position that it had prior to the voting result.

An argument can be made that the Euro is more volatile than the Pound and could suffer significant economic and financial damage as a result of a protracted negotiation with Britain.

With the damage from the financial crisis still fresh in the minds of many European politicians, the EU will be keen to ensure that no significant damage is done to European economies by Brexit.

This mitigation could colour the EU’s negotiating position towards a non-punitive and speedy Brexit.

There has been significant speculation that the EU will exert a punishment levy on Britain, with figures bandied about in the press of anything up to 50 billion pounds.

With access to the single market being a key concern for Britain, there is scope in the negotiations for specialised access to be granted after financial reparations are made.

However, there is a need to keep British pounds flowing into the EU, a need which could reduce this potential figure to ensure that British money still flows into the EU and vice versa. Any punitive financial measure taken by the EU against Britain could jeopardise this precarious economic balance.

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Seeds of the future

Britain will leave the EU, whether it be in two years or ten- that much is not in doubt. What the EU does in its dealings with the newly independent Britain will sow the seeds of any future relationship between the two entities.

A strong relationship between the two, which seems the most likely will greatly benefit both and if at some point in the future Britain chooses to reapply to join the EU then they will probably be welcomed back with open arms.

A punitive and unfriendly exit for Britain could result in a soured relationship between the two, leading to unrest and enmity between the two entities. In this case a country scorned could be extremely detrimental to the EU’s political, economic and social success as an entity.

Brexit could be the start of the end of the EU or it could signal the beginning of a reformed and reorganised EU, which was the overall objective of the Cameron administration when it sought to renegotiate Britain’s role within the Union itself.  Reform of this sort could ensure longer term stability and prevent more countries going through the exit door.

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View from the Green Seats- Brexit Bill debate begins in House of Lords

Prime Minister Theresa May sits behind the Speaker (back row) as Baroness Smith of Basildon speaks in the House of Lords, London, during a debate on the Brexit Bill.

Peers from all political parties have begun their first day of debating the Government’s Brexit Bill in the House of Lords.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May was even in attendance, sitting on the benches just in front of the Queens chair. She had previously urged the Lords not to frustrate the political process of Brexit and to obey the will of the people.

These sentiments were echoed by Conservative peer Lady Evans who said that: “This bill is not about revisiting the debate.”before adding “Noble Lords respect the primacy of the elected House and the decision of the British people on 23 June last year.”

Opposition Labour peer Baroness Smith of Basildon said that the government would not be given a ‘blank cheque’ for Brexit and promised to make ministers consider “reasonable changes.” to the proposed bill.

Baroness Smith said that this was not “delaying the process” but part of the process of Brexit.

Lord Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, said the bill could be changed and sent back to the House of Commons for reconsideration, arguing there was a “world of difference between blocking… and seeking to amend it”.

He said that the government’s approach was “little short of disastrous” and “to sit on our hands in these circumstances is unthinkable and unconscionable.”

There will be two days of debating the bill in the House of Lords this week, before it moves to committee stage and a potential vote on the final makeup of the legislation.

Although the Lords have said that they will not allow the bill to pass unopposed and unchanged in the same way that it did in the commons, they would be very reluctant to risk open warfare with the commons over the Brexit bill so the bill should pass reasonably quickly.

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Trump National Security Adviser resigns after Russian talks cover-up

Retired general Michael Flynn, who had served as national security adviser to U.S President Donald Trump resigned on Monday after allegations of secret discussions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Mr Flynn claimed he had mistakenly misled the vice-president, Mike Pence, and other Trump officials about the nature of phone calls in December to the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kisilyak.

It was revealed that these discussions were regarding the lifting of U.S Sanctions against Russia, in place since the last days of the Obama administration and due to alleged state sponsored hacking by Russia.

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Flynn admitted to lying to the Vice President, Mike Pence

In his resignation letter, Mr Flynn said “In the course of my duties as the incoming national security adviser, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisers and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.”

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologised to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

The resignation comes after it was revealed that the Department of Justice had warned the White House that Mr Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

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Retired  General Joseph Kellogg

President Trump has named retired general Joseph Kellogg, as acting national security adviser, pending the appointment of a permanent successor. It has been widely reported that former CIA director David Petraeus may be appointed to the post but these reports have yet to be confirmed.

Mr Trump, who is currently playing host to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to directly comment on the resignation which is the latest in what has been a chaotic start to his life in the Oval Office. He instead took to twitter bemoaning the number of information leaks which have occurred over the last few weeks.

Adam Schiff, Democrat senator and member of the House Intelligence Committee has called on the Trump administration to confirm when contact with Russian officials began and who was ultimately responsible for allowing them to take place.

Schiff said: “The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”

Suspicions regarding Russian involvement in the U.S Election still remain and this latest resignation will do nothing to allay fears that Russia may be interfering in American politics at the highest level.

International Whispers-Kim Jong-Un’s brother ‘assassinated’ in Malaysia

The older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has died in Malaysia under suspicious circumstances.

South Korean news station TV Chosun is reporting that Kim Jong-nam was attacked by two unidentified women with “poisoned needles” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Reports that these women were agents of North Korea have yet to be confirmed.

Nam was rushed to hospital by ambulance but died on route. The cause of his death has yet to be confirmed by Malaysian police.

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Kim Jong-Nam was an outspoken critic of North Korea

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, holds no official title and has played no part in running North Korea.

However weeks after his younger half-brother took power, he described the regime as “a joke to the outside world” and said he opposed the hereditary transfer of power in the country.

If it is confirmed that North Korean operatives were responsible, his death would be the highest-profile killing connected directly with North Korea since Kim Jong-un ordered the arrest and execution of his uncle and close adviser, Jang Song-thaek, in December 2013.

The notoriously secretive regime has often reacted severely to criticism from both internal and external sources, with purges and assassinations being the weapons of choice for Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea.

Kim Jong-nam’s death comes just days after the regime came under renewed international pressure following the test-launch of a medium-to-long-range ballistic missile to coincide with Donald Trump’s summit with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

 

View from the Green Seats-Trump to speak in Parliament plans dropped

British officials have confirmed that a plan to allow Donald Trump to speak in Parliament as part of a state visit to the UK have been shelved.

It is expected that the Presidents state visit will be moved to late summer or early autumn, when Parliament is in recess for the summer.

Parliament will be in recess from June until the 5th September, with a months recess commencing on the 15th September to make time for party conferences to take place.

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Not In My House: Speaker Bercow railed against Mr Trump

The move by the government is aimed at averting the prospect of a parliamentary snub for Mr Trump and follows earlier comments made by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.

Speaker Bercow had come under pressure to resign from the speakership following his unguarded comments about the President in which he accused him of being racist and sexist.

Conservative MP James Duddridge yesterday tabled a motion of no confidence against the speaker in the House of Commons, but this was widely expected to be dismissed.

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James Duddridge MP for Rochford and Southend East

Mr Duddridge said  “I’ve done this because Speaker Bercow for a long time has been overstepping the mark and with his comments on the state visit of President Trump he has clearly expressed views.”

“That is not the role of the Speaker, and it is impossible for him to chair debates as Speaker adjudicating on things he has expressed a view on.”

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke echoed Mr Duddridge’s sentiments saying : “John Bercow has politicised the office of Speaker and his position is untenable.”

This view was not shared by his colleague Claire Perry MP, who said “I think for us to try and remove a speaker over something that he said would be really rather drastic. He’s entitled to his opinions, perhaps he just shouldn’t have addressed them on this particular issue.”

No formal dates for President Trump’s state visit to the UK have been announced, but don’t expect this to be the last potential opposition action against this most controversial of U.S Presidents.

Breaking Whispers: Article 50 Bill passed for final commons reading

Within the last hour MP’s have voted overwhelmingly in favour of passing the governments European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill to the final stage of debate in the House of Commons.

The final stage, comprising a third reading of the bill was approved by a commons vote of 494 votes for to 122 votes against- a majority of  372.

What happens at a third reading?

  • Debate on the Bill is usually short, and limited to what is actually in the Bill, rather than, as at second reading, what might have been included.
  • Amendments (proposals for change) cannot be made to a Bill at third reading in the Commons.
  • At the end of the debate, the House decides (votes on) whether to approve the third reading of the Bill.

After that if the bill is approved, it passes to the House of Lords for its first reading and debate. Once the bill passes in the House of Lords it moves forward for Royal Assent and will eventually become law.

Why is this significant?

The passage of the bill into the third stage of reading stops opposition parties from tabling amendments which could derail the governments Brexit agenda.

Many amendments to the bill have been tabled as part of the second reading and have been successfully defeated in subsequent parliamentary votes.

Its a crucial victory in the governments timetable of a 31st March triggering of Article 50 and the commencement of the UK leaving the EU.

Commons Reaction

david-davis-boris-johnson-e1476175519793David Davis, Secretary of State for Brexit released the following statement after the vote:

“We’ve seen a historic vote tonight – a big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the EU and a strong, new partnership with its member states.

It has been a serious debate, a healthy debate, with contributions from MP’s representing all parts of the UK, and I respect the strong views on all sides.

The decision on EU membership has been made by the people we serve. It is now time for everyone, whichever way they voted in the Referendum, to unite to make a success of the important task at hand for our country.”

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage immediately took to Twitter to express his delight at the positive vote:

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Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP who chaired the Vote Leave campaign said: “This bill has passed with significant majorities unamended which is a clear signal to the House of Lords that they should do the same.”

The vote was not without some controversy however, as Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis resigned his post in order to defy the Labour parties three line whip and vote against passing the bill.

Newly elected Labour MPs

Mr Lewis, a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement via the party saying: “When I became the MP for Norwich South, I promised my constituents I would be ‘Norwich’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Norwich’. I therefore cannot, in all good conscience, vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home.”

4c71bc1669a2e0dbf91fe4f69ebeef74Mr Corbyn said he understood the difficult position of some of his MP’s but said they had been ordered to back the Article 50 because the party would not “block Brexit”.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who was widely derided after she missed last week’s initial vote on the bill due to a migraine, backed it this time, saying: “I’m a loyal member of the shadow cabinet and I’m loyal to Jeremy Corbyn.”