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Flash forward a week and my glumness has been replaced by a fresh sense of optimism, tempered by the knowledge that there is still much to do before we get out the exit door.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

 

 

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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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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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.

Brexit White Paper: Government sets out life after EU

David Davis the Secretary of State for Brexit has today unveiled a government white paper on Brexit.

The paper outlines the governments 12 principles required for a successful exit from the European Union.

The move comes just twenty-four hours after the Government’s successful vote to adopt the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill.

Mr Davis said that the UK’s  “best days are still to come”, outside the EU.

Key points from the white paper include:

  • Trade: The government has reasserted its position that the UK UK will withdraw from the single market, with the eventual aim of seeking a new customs arrangement and a free trade agreement with the EU.
  • Immigration: A new system to control EU migration into the UK will be introduced, and could be phased in to give businesses vital time to prepare for the new rules.
  • British citizens living abroad and EU citizens living in the UK: The paper confirms that the government wishes to secure an agreement with the EU to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those Britons living in Europe.
  • Sovereignty: Under the proposed plan, Britain will exit from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but seek to set up its own legal framework to cover things like trade disputes and employment legislation.
  • Border: The government are aiming for “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
  • Devolution: As more powers come back to the UK from the EU in the negotiating process, the government have confirmed that it will look to give more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a move that it hopes will placate the predominantly remainer nations.
  • Security:  The document confirms that the UK will seek to continue working with the EU “to preserve UK and European security and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe”. This will include remaining in Interpol, the European Arrest Warrant and cross border information sharing initiatives.

The white paper says the government aims to deliver “a smooth, mutually beneficial exit” but says this will require “a coherent and coordinated approach on both sides”.

The paper also reasserts the governments commitment that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March.

Labour have criticised the white paper, saying that it “means nothing” and argued that it had been produced too late for meaningful scrutiny.

The criticism of the timing of the paper was echoed by leading Scottish National Party MP Steven Gethins who took to twitter to voice his disapproval.

The white paper will now pass to the committee stage of becoming a law, which allows for amendments to be made before it passes to the House of Lords for an upper chamber vote.

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“Taking control of our own laws”: David Davis, speaking earlier today in Parliament

Theresa May: Government to publish white paper on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has today confirmed that the government will set out its Brexit plans in a formal government policy document- known as a white paper.

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Mrs May said she recognised an “appetite” for a white paper on her “bold” negotiations on exiting the EU

The move comes after pressure from the Labour party for greater clarity on the governments Brexit plans, initially set out in the Prime Ministers speech a week ago and after speculation that many in her own party (including some ex-ministers) wanted a white paper.

“It was a bit of a surprise but I’m incredibly delighted,” said Ben Howlett, the Conservative MP for Bath who had been calling for a white paper. “We haven’t discussed what amendments might or might not be put in. We’d been focusing our attention on getting a white paper.”

Speaking at Prime Ministers questions earlier today Mrs May said “I recognise that there is an appetite in this House to see that plan set out in a White Paper. I can confirm to the House that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published in this House.”

What is a White Paper?

white-paper-2Simply put, a white paper is a document or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s position on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. In this case the government is setting out it’s Brexit position in a way that is clear, concise and can be debated openly in Parliament.

Mrs May was quick to confirm that the white paper would be a completely separate issue to the article 50 debate, an action which will give the government much needed space to focus its efforts on the upcoming parliamentary debate on triggering article 50.

The Prime Minister said that the white paper would be “a bold vision for Britain for the future”.

Labour MP’s have called upon the government to have the white paper document ready in time for the parliamentary debates on the triggering of Article 50, scheduled in Parliament over the next few weeks in the run up to March 31st.

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Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at Prime Ministers Questions earlier today

A Labour spokesman said: “We now want to see the timing and it is clear the white paper needs to come to parliament in time for the debate … MPs have a right to be able to see what the government’s plan of action is. The speech is not adequate. It set out a wish-list of options.

“As we’ve said many times, Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the EU and therefore will not frustrate the will of the British people. But respecting the will of the British people is very different from respecting the will of the British government. We need to see the plan and make sure the process is held to account in parliament at every stage.”

 

Breaking Whispers- Supreme Court to rule on prerogative Brexit

It has been confirmed today that the Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on the long running legal case against the government over Brexit on the 24th of January.

The ruling will confirm whether to reject or allow the government’s appeal against the earlier high court ruling that stopped the government from using prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 without first going to a Parliamentary vote.

The action follows the victory of campaigners Gina Miller and Deir Dos Santos at the high court in November 2016, in which three high court judges ruled against the government.

Reaction As U.K. Government Loses Brexit Lawsuit On Article 50 Legal Challenge

Campaigner Gina Miller, Pictured outside the High Court after the successful ruling in November 2016

In its appeal, the government is asking for all 11 judges in the Supreme court to overturn the high courts earlier decision on the grounds that the use of prerogative powers did not undermine the sovereign authority of Parliament.

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It is confirmed that all 11 Supreme Court justices will rule on the government’s appeal

It is unclear whether the government will choose to use prerogative powers should it win its appeal, especially after the Prime Ministers statement yesterday in which she affirmed the governments desire to give Parliament a vote on any Brexit deal.

While some might consider this an unnecessarily petty legal action by losing remainers, this reporter believes that these sort of actions are necessary to preserve the fundamental truth of Britain: We are a Parliamentary democracy.

 

 

Breaking Whispers- Russia to Leave G8

The Russian Federation has today announced its intention to leave the G8 group of nations, two years after it was suspended by the group over its illegal annexation of Crimea.

The group, created in 1998 comprises the worlds 8 richest nations based on GDP per capita and includes the United States, the UK and Canada.

Kremlin spokesperson Dimitri Peskov confirmed that the Russian president Vladimir Putin was shifting his priorities away from the G8 to greater participation in the G20 group of nations.

Mr Peskov said “We’ve not heard the heads of state that keep gathering for G7 meetings ever say anything that might sound like an intention to invite Russia or some other countries. As far as Russia is concerned, regardless of any eventual proposals and invitations, Russia’s priority is participation in the G20.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev echoed the Kremlins comments “It is clear what this Group of Seven means without other major economies: ‘Nothing’.”

The move further ostracises Russia from the western powers and comes after Wednesdays remarks about Russian hacking by the US President Elect, Donald Trump.

 

 

 

Breaking Whispers- UK Ambassador to EU Resigns

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s Ambassador to the European Union has today resigned from his position, a full ten months before his scheduled departure from the role in November 2017.

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Sir Ivan Rogers, pictured here with the Chancellor Philip Hammond last month at a meeting with the EU

The resignation comes a month after making public comments that he felt a post-brexit trade deal could take as long as ten years to conclude, despite the two year limits imposed in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Downing Street later refuted the comments as not reflecting the view of the British Government.

Mr Rogers was a part of former prime minister David Cameron’s negotiating team when he unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate Britain’s position within the European Union. A failure which ultimately led to the EU referendum and Britain’s subsequent vote to leave.

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Rogers, right pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2016

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who previously worked with Sir Ivan said “If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in government, it counts as a spectacular own goal. The government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.”

While the Government have yet to issue an official statement on Rogers resignation a source in Whitehall today said that it would not affect the governments proposed triggering of article 50 later on this year.

With preparations for this process to be made and significant ground still to be decided upon, the Government will come under significant pressure to appoint a new ambassador as quickly as possible.

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However reports that Nigel Farage had already sent his CV in for the position were described as laughable by one government source.

 

 

 

2016- The Year which changed everything

The last of the christmas presents has been opened, the turkey is now only fit for leftovers and everyone has fallen asleep.

As we approach the end of what has been a year of great change and turmoil, it’s customary to look back at the events which have shaped 2016.

10. The Year of the Reaper.

Carrie Fisher, George Michael, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Robert Vaughan, Anton Yelchin, Victoria Wood, Nancy Reagan, Doris Roberts, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Glenn, Fidel Castro to name but a few. It seems 2016 was the year that took so many famous and prominent individuals.

But as a wise Vulcan once said, how we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life, or what ever that means.  I choose to remember them for their unique contribution to shaping the modern world, however small or large.

9.  The Migrant Crisis Deepens

With the escalation in the Syrian Civil War and brush fire civil wars springing up all over Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring, Europe has never seemed a more attractive and safe place to live.

Massive numbers of migrants made the land crossing from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, with their destination Europe and safety, fleeing death and persecution by Islamic state and the Syrian Government.

They found countries unable or unwilling to cope with a massive influx of vulnerable individuals and families, as Europe seemed to collectively shut its doors. Lack of collective strategy and action at all levels of European government created conditions where the sheer numbers coming in had nowhere to go.

All the while ever increasing numbers made the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, with just the clothes on their backs and on what could at best be described as boats and at worst rafts. Preyed upon by unscrupulous people smugglers, they all too often became casualties of the crossing and the Mediterranean became a sea of tragedy.

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8. Nice Terror Attacks

A man drives a lorry down a crowded beach front. It seems so simple, but it was a tragically effective means of striking terror into the heart of one of France’s top beach destinations.

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87 people lost their lives that night before the police stopped the lorry, which travelled all of 1.7km. The driver was later found to be a supporter of Islamic State.

France mourned, as did the rest of the world.

7. Brussels Terror Attacks

Belgium joined the long list of countries affected by the scourge of terrorism when three separate terrorist attacks rocked Brussels.

The attacks, which later proved to be a coordinated by the same terror cell which struck Paris in 2015 were the deadliest in Belgium’s history.

An airport and underground station were attacked, claiming 35 lives, including the three perpetrators and injuring up to 300 people.

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6. Coup D e’tat in Turkey.

With any sort of insurrection, it is important to achieve your aims as quickly as possible before your enemy has a chance to react and counter your moves.

The speed and organisation by which elements of the Turkish military attempted to seize the reins of government from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was remarkable and clearly showed months of prior planning and forethought.

But in their haste, they counted on one thing that all uprisings count on: popular support.

Support which just as quickly eluded them, as the presidents forces quickly regained control of Turkey and instituted a bloody campaign of reprisals against the plotters.

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In trying to put down a seemingly dictatorial regime, the coup’s plotters ultimately unleashed him on a country in which legitimate opposition is now a dangerous thing to be.

5. Russia takes a front seat in international politics.

Following its suspected involvement in the Ukrainian civil war in 2015, Russia has pursued a more active role in international politics with the eventual aim of recovering its former status as a superpower (lost since the fall of the Soviet Union).

Its support of the Syrian government both militarily and politically have proved decisive in allowing Bashar Al Assad’s forces to regain control of large parts of Syria. While Russian backing has prevented the western powers from acting decisively against Al Assad’s government, for fear of Russian reprisals.

Russian based computer hackers are widely suspected of attempting to hack the email accounts of prominent US politicians to try to influence the recent US election result and interfering in the European Union referendum here in the UK.

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It’s athletes have faced suspicion and scrutiny after allegations of state sponsored doping, prompting the withdrawal of many Russian athletes from their Olympic team in Rio.

While it may be just bluster and hot air, it is becoming more and more difficult for the nations of the world to ignore the spectre of the great bear and its ringmaster, Vladimir Putin.

 4. Theresa May becomes UK Prime Minister

The political turmoil that engulfed the UK after it voted to leave the European Union in the 23rd June Referendum, claimed its most high profile victim when Prime Minister David Cameron tendered his resignation.

Many prominent Conservatives circled the job, all making lofty claims that they could effectively lead the UK into the unknown territory that is Brexit.

The successful Brexiteers, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove turned upon each other in a display of backstabbing not seen since Brutus showed Julius Caesar the proper way to carve a steak. In the case of Michael Gove, this betrayal ended a stellar front bench career condemning him to the backbenches.

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Amidst the loud voices and press coverage, the campaign of Theresa May began. With her good record as a public servant in her time as Home secretary and her position as one of the most prominent remainers aside from messrs Cameron and Osbourne, the quiet and unassuming Ms May became the only realistic choice for the top job.

And so it proved, when her only remaining rival, the engaging but ultimately error prone Andrea Leadsom’s campaign succumbed to the fallout from explosive and costly gaffes.

In the six months since her ascension as Prime Minister, Ms May has led the Conservative party relatively safely through this time of transition and has benefited from a largely infighting Labour party to form a successful and well respected government.

3. Syrian Civil War

I know it may seem a little funny to call this one of the political events of 2016, given that it has been a conflict since 2011, but 2016 has seen some of the Syrian civil wars worst moments as the conflict intensifies.

The war, which seemed locked in a deadly stalemate, has been pushed decisively in the Syrian government’s favour by the support of the Russian federation.

Support on this scale has exacerbated the humanitarian disaster which has pushed hundreds of thousands of people into neighbouring Jordan, Turkey and on into Europe.

We’ve watched as the regime has exacted a deadly toll on its people, most notably in the city of Aleppo where thousands have died and the city itself has been essentially flattened by the conflict.

Defeated Rebel forces in Aleppo have been forced to flee and a seemingly endless tide of refugees have exited the besieged city.

The longer the war continues, the more lives will be lost and that remains the tragedy of the conflict. If 2017 is remembered as anything it should be the year when the Western powers take action to end the violence and bloodshed.

2. The EU referendum- Britain votes to leave

One story dominated the summer political scene in Britain, the European Union referendum. It was a watershed moment in both the politics of the UK and of Europe, still dominating the headlines even today.

From the moment Prime Minister Cameron returned from meeting with the other members of the EU with the compromise deal, a tide of feeling was unleashed upon the British people not seen since we first entered the union in 1973.

The Conservative party split into two factions: one pro leave headed in part by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and in the other camp, the remainers headed by the Prime Minister David Cameron.

The other parties in general chose to remain with the EU, which would cost them dearly when the result was revealed.

A polarising, punishing campaign followed which forced the British public to choose a side, making them fearful of the consequences of either choice.

Leavers were accused of racism, while remainers were accused of being EU cronies and all the while it was the truth which suffered. Vociferous debates pitted politician vs politician and supporter vs supporter, which indirectly resulted in an upsurge of violence and had tragic consequences in the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox.

No one, least of all the leavers could have predicted the result which was staggering to say the least. Britain voted to leave the European Union 51.9% to 48.1%. It was a result which cost David Cameron his job and completely changed UK politics forever.

  1. Donald Trump elected President of the United States of America.

It was a no brainer for Americans, choose a respected public servant from a recognised political dynasty in Hillary Clinton or choose a brash, inexperienced man of indeterminate political views in Donald Trump.

If you thought the EU referendum campaigning was an exercise in mud slinging then the US presidential campaign was a virtual mudslide of epic proportions.

Mr Trump showed very extreme political views, bordering on casual racism and a willingness to throw insults at his opponent. It seemed a strategy doomed to fail, but as the campaigning went on , Mrs Clinton found herself increasingly using similar tactics as she could not deal with the Trump political machine.

The extremist views of Donald Trump provoked a wave of protests across the USA, with violent clashes between Trump supporters and latterly racist violence on both sides.

In the final months of the election, events took a sinister turn when a video capturing off camera derogatory remarks made about women by Mr Trump was made public. It marked a very ugly period in which the election became about the person rather than the politics.

Hillary Clinton didnt get off entirely scot free as allegations of the leaking of state secrets in private emails exploded across the American media.

With both candidates seemingly not winning over the American people decisively, election night came with Clinton holding a slender lead over her New York rival.

Initial counts placed the candidates level on votes, but then Trump won the seemingly certain democratic seat of Ohio and an inexorable tide of wins followed to push Donald Trump over the required 270 seats for an unexpected victory and the Presidency.

With a certain amount of hesitation, we watched Trump give a speech which sounded notes of unity and talked about healing the wounds which the campaign had exacerbated. Mr Trump praised Mrs Clinton as an exceptional individual who fought a very hard campaign.

So, Donald Trump is President of the United States. What he does in that office will shape the destiny of the United States for good or ill. I’ll leave the final word to the President elect.