Theresa May: ‘Brexit means Brexit’

Following Boris Johnson’s decision to exit the contest to become Britain’s next prime minister, the front-runner is Home Secretary Theresa May.

May’s chief opponent, Michael Gove, when asked last month whether he was interested in being prime minister, said: “No, I’m not. There… I don’t want to do it and there are people who are far better equipped than me to do it.” In 2012, he said: “I could not be prime minister. I’m not equipped to be prime minister. I don’t want to be prime minister.”

Here are some clips from the launch of May’s Conservative leadership bid:

 

The principal role of whoever becomes Britain’s next prime minister will be negotiating with the EU.

The Guardian notes about May:

After 10 years she is now the most experienced interior minister in Europe and has proved highly influential in justice and home affairs policies. She has recently secured agreement for a new Europe-wide database logging passenger information for all flights in and out of Europe. Although a professed Eurosceptic it was little surprise when she announced she was backing the remain in Europe campaign. In an earlier life she was a Brussels lobbyist for the Association for Payment Clearing Services for six years and is very much at home trying to secure what she wants in Europe.

While argument among legal experts persists on whether Brexit must indeed move forward, May, although having campaigned against withdrawal, now insists there is no alternative.

In line with positioning herself as the candidate of stability, she has made it clear that it is the UK, not Brussels, which will determine the time to invoke Article 50 and that if she is prime minister, this will not happen before the end of the year.

Oxford University’s Professor Richard Ekins writes:

Parliament having decided to hold the referendum, and the public having participated fully in it, the result should be respected and not undone.

Political fairness and democratic principle require one to respect the outcome of the referendum even if one is persuaded that Brexit would be a very bad idea. One might think it wrong to hold the referendum, but it was held – and Parliament invited the people to decide this question. There was a lengthy, wide-ranging, high-powered campaign that culminated in high public turnout and a clear outcome. The remain camp had a fair hearing: it was led by the PM and most of cabinet, with the support of most MPs with much business and international support. In short, the important constitutional question of whether Britain should remain in the EU was fairly settled by public vote.

The proposal to ignore or undo the vote is unjust. It bears noting that the relatively powerless in our polity – the poor – overwhelmingly supported exit. Ignoring the referendum would be particularly unfair to them. It would not be consistent with treating them as free and equal persons entitled by the law and constitution of their land to a share in self-government, not least since the rationale for ignoring the process in which they participated has so often been framed in terms of outright contempt for them. Any failure to act on the decision made in the referendum that the UK should leave the EU would be a profound betrayal. It would be no mere failure to recognize the perspective of the dispossessed, but would be the betrayal of holding out to them, as to others, a question for decision and then ignoring their decision because one does not like it.

The fact that May sees no reason for there to be a general election until 2020, could provide the Labour Party with an opportunity to reconstruct itself rather than continue digging its own grave.

John Harris writes:

Labour is in the midst of a longstanding and possibly terminal malaise, and now finds itself facing two equally unviable options.

On one side is the current leader and a small band of leftist diehards, backed by an energetic, well-drilled movement but devoid of any coherent project and out of touch with the voters who have just defied the party in their droves. On the other is a counter-revolution led by MPs who mostly failed to see this crisis coming, have very few worthwhile ideas themselves, and are a big part of the reason the Brexit revolt happened in the first place. As the activist Neal Lawson says, the choice is essentially between different captains of the Titanic, and therefore is no choice at all.

As with the centre-left parties across Europe in the same predicament, Labour is a 20th-century party adrift in a new reality. Its social foundations – the unions, heavy industry, the nonconformist church, a deference to the big state that has long evaporated – are either in deep retreat or have vanished completely. Its name embodies an attachment to the supposed glories of work that no longer chimes with insecure employment and insurgent automation.

Its culture is still far too macho, and didactic; it has a lifelong aversion to analysis and ideas that has hobbled it throughout its existence, and now leaves it lacking any real sense of what is happening. I am a lifelong party member who was raised in a Labour family – my grandfather was a south Wales coal miner, my father a Labour activist – for whom the party was a kind of secular church. But if we do not confront the crisis now, then when? Look at any number of what we still laughably call “core” Labour areas, and you will find the same things: a vote share that has been steadily declining since 2001, an MP more often parachuted in from a different world, and voters who either vote for the party thanks to fading familial loyalties (“I vote Labour because my granddad did”) or have no idea what the party stands for.

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit: The disaster decades in the making

Gary Younge writes: On polling day the Leave campaign reminded us that we were the fifth-largest economy in the world and could look after ourselves. By the following afternoon our currency was sufficiently decimated that we had fallen to sixth, behind France.

In the ensuing panic, some politicians argued that we could simply ignore the referendum result: David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, suggested it was “advisory and non-binding”, and urged parliament to call another referendum, in order to avert economic catastrophe. A huge number of people petitioned the government to do the same – while the eminent barrister Geoffrey Robertson insisted a second referendum was not necessary to overturn the result: parliament could just vote it down. “Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum,” he wrote. “Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob.”

It was argued that we could not leave the final word on such momentous decisions to ordinary voters: they didn’t know what they really wanted, or they had been tricked into wanting something that would hurt them, or they were too ignorant to make informed choices, or maybe they quite simply wanted the wrong thing. A significant portion of the country was in the mood for one big do-over – a mood enhanced by considerable class contempt and the unmistakable urge to cancel the universal franchise for “stupid people” incapable of making the right decisions.

Everything had changed – we had decided to end a more than 40-year relationship with our continental partners and the consequences were far-reaching. In Scotland independence was once again in play; in Westminster, resignations from the shadow cabinet came by the hour; in the City, billions were wiped off by the day. Indeed, one of the few things that didn’t budge was the very issue that had prompted it all: our membership of the European Union. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how and when we will actually leave it. We are simultaneously in freefall and at a standstill, in a moment of intense and collective disorientation. We don’t know what is happening and it is happening very fast.

But the only thing worse than the result and its consequences is the poisonous atmosphere that made it possible. The standard of our political discourse has fallen more precipitously than the pound and cannot be revived as easily. This did not happen overnight, and the sorry conduct of the referendum campaign was only the latest indication of the decrepit state of our politics: dominated by shameless appeals to fear, as though hope were a currency barely worth trading in, the British public had no such thing as a better nature, and a brighter future held no appeal. Xenophobia – no longer closeted, parsed or packaged, but naked, bold and brazen – was given free rein. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit is a disaster, but we can build on the ruins

George Monbiot writes: Let’s sack the electorate and appoint a new one: this is the demand made by MPs, lawyers and the 4 million people who have signed the petition calling for a second referendum. It’s a cry of pain, and therefore understandable, but it’s also bad politics and bad democracy. Reduced to its essence, it amounts to graduates telling nongraduates: “We reject your democratic choice.”

Were this vote to be annulled (it won’t be), the result would be a full-scale class and culture war, riots and perhaps worse, pitching middle-class progressives against those on whose behalf they have claimed to speak, and permanently alienating people who have spent their lives feeling voiceless and powerless.

Yes, the Brexit vote has empowered the most gruesome collection of schemers, misfits, liars, extremists and puppets that British politics has produced in the modern era. It threatens to invoke a new age of demagoguery, a threat sharpened by the thought that if this can happen, so can Donald Trump.

It has provoked a resurgence of racism and an economic crisis whose dimensions remain unknown. It jeopardises the living world, the NHS, peace in Ireland and the rest of the European Union. It promotes what the billionaire Peter Hargreaves gleefully anticipated as “fantastic insecurity”.

But we’re stuck with it. There isn’t another option, unless you favour the years of limbo and chaos that would ensue from a continued failure to trigger article 50. It’s not just that we have no choice but to accept the result; we should embrace it and make of it what we can.

It’s not as if the system that’s now crashing around us was functioning. The vote could be seen as a self-inflicted wound, or it could be seen as the eruption of an internal wound inflicted over many years by an economic oligarchy on the poor and the forgotten. The bogus theories on which our politics and economics are founded were going to collide with reality one day. The only questions were how and when.

Yes, the Brexit campaign was led by a political elite, funded by an economic elite and fuelled by a media elite. Yes, popular anger was channelled towards undeserving targets – migrants.

But the vote was also a howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority. That is why the slogan “take back control” resonated. If the left can’t work with this, what are we for? [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

In the shock of Brexit, a new EU-friendly Britain is born

Natalie Nougayrède writes: if there is one bright side to an otherwise very dismal situation: it is that a sense of pro-European purpose and energy may now be appearing in a country where the EU had only ever been described in prosaic, if not hostile, terms. Britain is now discovering what it really meant to be part of a collective European endeavour.

Whatever lies ahead, its young people won’t forget this moment, and they will one day work towards correcting the failures of their elders. “Brexit not in my name” is trending on Twitter.

A new popular mood may be born, one in which the EU becomes a cause for engagement, for values and solidarity – not a scapegoat or a caricatured technocratic entity. If something good can be drawn from this referendum wreckage, it may be the beginning of a permanent, positive culture about Europe in Britain. That’s something that has never existed before. If only it had happened earlier. [Continue reading…]

 

Facebooktwittermail

Helmut Kohl calls on EU leaders to take ‘one step back’ after Brexit vote

The Guardian reports: The former German chancellor Helmut Kohl has warned European leaders against applying too much pressure on Britain following the vote to leave the European Union.

In an account of an interview for the tabloid newspaper Bild by its editor-in-chief, Kai Diekmann, Kohl, 86, is indirectly quoted as warning against “unnecessary severity and haste” in the post-referendum negotiations.

The man who was one of the driving forces behind European integration in the 1990s believes that slamming the door on Britain would be an “enormous mistake” and that the country needs time to decide what it wants to do next, Diekmann writes.

Kohl, who oversaw the reunification of Germany and the introduction of the euro, is calling for Europe to “take a breather” and take “one step back before taking two steps forward”, at a pace that is manageable for all member states, the article says. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Obama proposes new military partnership with Russia in Syria

Josh Rogin writes: The Obama administration has proposed a new agreement on Syria to the Russian government that would deepen military cooperation between the two countries against some terrorists in exchange for Russia getting the Assad regime to stop bombing U.S.-supported rebels.

The United States transmitted the text of the proposed agreement to the Russian government on Monday after weeks of negotiations and internal Obama administration deliberations, an administration official told me. The crux of the deal is a U.S. promise to join forces with the Russian air force to share targeting and coordinate an expanded bombing campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, which is primarily fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Under the proposal, which was personally approved by President Obama and heavily supported by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the American and Russian militaries would cooperate at an unprecedented level, something the Russians have sought for a long time.

In exchange, the Russians would agree to pressure the Assad regime to stop bombing certain Syrian rebel groups the United States does not consider terrorists. The United States would not give Russia the exact locations of these groups, under the proposal, but would specify geographic zones that would be safe from the Assad regime’s aerial assaults.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was opposed to this plan, officials said, but was ultimately compelled to go along with the president’s decision. For many inside and outside the administration who are frustrated with the White House’s decision-making on Syria, the new plan is fatally flawed for several reasons. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Russia will countenance an Assad exit in Syria, but not yet

Reuters reports: Russia will countenance Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaving office, but only when it is confident a change of leader will not trigger a collapse of the Syrian government, sources familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking say.

Getting to that point could take years, and in the meantime Russia is prepared to keep backing Assad, regardless of international pressure to jettison him, those sources said.

Such steadfast support is likely to further complicate already stalled peace talks with Assad’s opponents and sour relations with Washington which wants the Syrian leader gone.

“Russia is not going to part company with Assad until two things happen,” Sir Tony Brenton, Britain’s former ambassador to Russia, told Reuters.

“Firstly, until they are confident he won’t be replaced with some sort of Islamist takeover, and secondly until it can be guaranteed that their own position in Syria, their alliance and their military base, are sustainable going forward.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Iranians use Afghans as human shields’ in Syria

The Guardian reports: Iran is covertly recruiting hundreds of Afghan Shias in Afghanistan to fight for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, drawing them out of their own conflict-ridden country and into another war in which Afghanistan plays no official part.

The Afghan fighters are often impoverished, religiously devout or ostracised from society, looking for money, social acceptance and a sense of purpose that they are unable to find at home.

Iran’s recruitment of Afghan migrants and refugees within its own borders has been documented. But similar Iranian activities inside Afghanistan had previously gone unreported.

Iran denies using “any kind of allurement or coercion”, or to otherwise recruiting Afghans to fight in Syria, according to an embassy spokesman in Kabul. But a Guardian investigation can reveal both how Iran coaxes Afghan men into war, and the motives that prompt these men to travel thousands of miles to join a battle they might not return from.

Central in this recruitment are men such as Jawad. A police officer by day and self-declared “travel agent” when off-duty, Jawad said he acted for a year as middleman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) when in 2014 it formed an Afghan Shia militia, the Fatemiyoun Division, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.

From his “travel agency” on the second floor of a non-descript office building, Jawad connected combat willing men with Iran’s embassy in Kabul. The embassy assisted with visas and travel, and paid Jawad a commission for his troubles.

In return for fighting, Afghans are offered a residence permit in Iran and about $500 monthly salary. “Most go to Syria for the money,” said Jawad, wearing stonewashed jeans and replica Ray-Bans. “Others go to defend the shrine.”

Syria is home to several holy Shia sites, above all the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque in Damascus, which honours the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, and which has been a rallying point for Shias who want to defend it from Sunni militants such as Islamic State.

The first time the Guardian met Jawad, he was preparing to travel to Syria himself. Isis had abducted 12 Afghan fighters in a suburb of Damascus. It was Jawad who had recruited them, and their families now demanded that he help secure their release, he said.

When he returned from Syria a month later, he was clearly shaken. Showing photos from Damascus, he said he had negotiated the hostages’ freedom, but also seen first hand how “the Iranians use Afghans as human shields”. He said he would stop working as go-between for the Iranians. “I’m ashamed because I sent these people,” he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Fallujah’s importance to ISIS helped Iraqi forces retake it

The Wall Street Journal reports: For Islamic State, this city was unlike any other: the birthplace of its movement and the first urban center it seized in a blitz that began the occupation of a third of Iraq.

But it took Iraqi forces less than five weeks to defeat the extremist group here, much faster than Iraqi and American officials had expected. One reason, these officials and Iraqi commanders say, was how invested Islamic State militants were in Fallujah, which made them loath to blow it up.

“Fallujah was a command-and-control center,” said a senior Iraqi counterterrorism officer. “They were comfortable there. Their leadership lived there and so did their families. They could not destroy the city in the process of defending it.”

Commanders said the militants had bet on repelling Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Fallujah, but struggled to adapt to the overwhelming force. The center of the city was still inhabited—one reason it wasn’t booby-trapped, as Islamic State had done in other, largely deserted urban areas they lost.

Iraqi officials said the Fallujah campaign exposed weaknesses that raised hopes for retaking the much-larger city of Mosul, Islamic State’s last significant base in Iraq. Both have become administrative centers for the group, heavily populated with its own fighters and civilians. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

What comes after the Istanbul airport attack?

Mustafa Akyol writes: On Tuesday night, just as millions of Muslims here were breaking their Ramadan fasts, three terrorists attacked the city’s busy airport. They fired randomly at passengers with automatic weapons before blowing themselves up. They killed 41 innocent people, most of them Muslims, supposedly in the name of Islam.

The assault on the airport is the latest in a series of horrible traumas in Turkey. In the past year, the country has endured almost a dozen major terrorist attacks. Some were the work of the Islamic State, which kills in the name of God; others were the work of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which kills in the name of the people.

This country was much more peaceful a year ago. It was only last summer that a two-year-old peace process between the government and the P.K.K. fell apart. Meanwhile, the Islamic State, which initially benefited from Turkey’s lax control of the Syrian border, began to carry its violence inside Turkey. Islamic State suicide bombers first aimed at secular Kurds, then Western tourists and finally random people at the airport.

Since last summer, the Islamic State has been condemning Ankara as the capital of an “apostate regime” that allies itself with “Crusaders.” The group’s Turkish-language magazine proclaimed: “O Istanbul, you have allowed disbelief in your avenues. You have filled your streets with sins, but surely you will be conquered.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit crisis contributing to ‘daunting’ U.S. security challenges, CIA director says

The Guardian reports: The US is facing its most daunting national security challenge in a generation after the European Union was plunged into “crisis” by Britain’s vote to leave, the head of the CIA warned on Wednesday.

John Brennan insisted that Brexit would not undermine cooperation with MI6 in the fight against terrorism, but suggested that the EU, a bulwark of peace and stability since the fall of the Berlin wall, would now be preoccupied with the UK’s departure.

“In the 36 years since I first entered government, I have never been witnessing a time with such a daunting array of challenges to our nation’s security,” Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “Notable among those challenges is that some of the institutions and relationships that have been pillars of the post-cold war international system are under serious stress.

“Of all the crises the EU has faced in recent years, the UK vote to leave the EU may well be its greatest challenge. Brexit is pushing the EU into a period of introspection that will pervade virtually everything the EU does in the coming weeks, months and even years ahead,” he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit pushes U.S. closer to Germany

Benjamin Oreskes writes: When it became clear that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, President Barack Obama called David Cameron to offer his sympathy. Then he dialed Angela Merkel, the leader he actually leans on in times of crisis.

It’s no secret why. For years now, Germany, not the U.K., has been Obama’s main line into European politics. And that’s why Washington’s influence in Europe will survive a Brexit.

The longstanding “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain gave Washington a key confidant at the table in Brussels, as Obama stressed in his April referendum intervention in London. But a Europe without a United Kingdom doesn’t exactly leave Britain’s former colony out in the cold.

“On the big issues, we’ve seen the transition for years now where the first call has not been to London, where it used to be, but to Berlin,” said Damon Wilson, a former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council under George W. Bush and who is currently executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. “That transition has already happened and the great recession really accelerated that with the magnification of German economic and political power.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Leading Brexiter fears outcome in which ‘we will be worse off than when we were in the EU’

The Guardian reports: The British public have voted to leave the EU in an advisory referendum – but there have been voices in business, diplomacy, politics and European polities desperately asking if the issue can be revisited. Is that feasible?

The short answer is yes, just about, but many forces would have to align.

The referendum, for instance, has thrown up big constitutional questions for Britain.

Oliver Letwin, who was appointed by David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, to oversee the process of withdrawal, is now at the helm of an expanded European secretariat at the Cabinet Office. But it is clear that very little preparatory work has been done. One of the first questions he will face is the future role of the British parliament in Brexit.

The British government has not yet said how parliament should implement the decision to leave. It is not clear, for instance, if and what laws would have to be passed to put the referendum decision to leave the EU into effect. [Continue reading…]

Echoing this discussion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there are a number of ways Thursday’s vote could be “walked back.”

But in the eyes of many — on both sides of the issue — the fact that this conversation is even taking place is widely viewed as an expression of contempt for democracy. It is seen as a cynical effort to accomplish by questionable means what couldn’t be achieved through a free and fair vote. The argument for rejecting these kinds of political machinations is that the will of the people must be respected.

Setting aside the question of whether there is such a thing as the will of the British people — sacrosanct as that notion is — if we simply accept the fact that the Leave campaign won (a result that no one disputes), then respecting the will of the people in that sense would surely have to mean delivering the outcome Leave voters supported. That is to say: respecting the popular expectations built around the meaning of withdrawal — a return of sovereignty, control over immigration, and so forth.

If leaving the EU leaves the UK in a position where it retains full access to the single European market — the so-called Norway option — on condition of maintaining the “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people) then in the words of Richard North, a leading proponent of Brexit, “we will be worse off than when we were in the EU.”

Let’s repeat that: We will be worse off than when we were in the EU!

Wasn’t that the central argument for voting Remain? That Britain would be worse off outside the EU than it is inside? And now Brexiters are warning about the danger of that very outcome!

Today, North writes:

We’ve been fighting the “war” for so many decades, with so little expectation of winning, that we’ve not devoted anything like enough time to winning the “peace”.
[…]
Yesterday, I was in London at a Leave Alliance meeting and there it dawned on me how ill-prepared we are to fight the coming battle. It is absolutely true that Whitehall didn’t have a plan, and Vote Leave certainly doesn’t have one. And, of course, neither does Farage. We are, therefore, at risk of losing the battle before many of us even realise what is at stake.

So here’s the irony for Brexit voters who naively imagine they just “got their country back”:

On one side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to stop it in its tracks, and on the other side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to minimize its effects. In between, the champions of Brexit haven’t a clue what to do next.

This is what happens when you passionately advocate for a goal, but expend very little effort figuring out how it can be accomplished.

Facebooktwittermail

Brexit and the future of Europe

George Soros writes: Britain, I believe, had the best of all possible deals with the European Union, being a member of the common market without belonging to the euro and having secured a number of other opt-outs from EU rules. And yet that was not enough to stop the United Kingdom’s electorate from voting to leave. Why?

The answer could be seen in opinion polls in the months leading up to the “Brexit” referendum. The European migration crisis and the Brexit debate fed on each other. The “Leave” campaign exploited the deteriorating refugee situation – symbolized by frightening images of thousands of asylum-seekers concentrating in Calais, desperate to enter Britain by any means necessary – to stoke fear of “uncontrolled” immigration from other EU member states. And the European authorities delayed important decisions on refugee policy in order to avoid a negative effect on the British referendum vote, thereby perpetuating scenes of chaos like the one in Calais.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open her country’s doors wide to refugees was an inspiring gesture, but it was not properly thought out, because it ignored the pull factor. A sudden influx of asylum-seekers disrupted people in their everyday lives across the EU.

The lack of adequate controls, moreover, created panic, affecting everyone: the local population, the authorities in charge of public safety, and the refugees themselves. It has also paved the way for the rapid rise of xenophobic anti-European parties – such as the UK Independence Party, which spearheaded the Leave campaign – as national governments and European institutions seem incapable of handling the crisis.

Now the catastrophic scenario that many feared has materialized, making the disintegration of the EU practically irreversible. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The revolt of the fragments

Kenan Malik writes: Over the past few decades, trade unions have weakened, social justice campaigns eroded, the left crumbled.

One consequence of this shift has been to lead many on the left to look to bureaucratic or managerial means of creating a more progressive society. This is one reason that the EU has become so important for many as an institution for protecting social needs and equal rights. It may also be one of the reasons for the generational division over the EU – many young people who have grown up from the 1990s onwards view the EU both as a vital component of their lives and identities and as a crucial institution for the enabling of social change.

A second consequence of the erosion of broader social movements is the creation of more fragmented, parochial, even sectarian, forms that popular disaffection increasingly takes. In an age in which there are few collective mechanisms to bind together the experiences and grievances of different groups and communities and to channel them into a common goal of social transformation, people often express their different experiences of discontent in very different ways.

It is against this background that much of the Brexit debate became polarized between, on the one hand, a liberal Europeanism that celebrated the managerial over the democratic, and ignored, or underplayed, the undemocratic character of EU institutions, and, on the other, a Euroscepticism that played on hostility to migrants, and that, in conflating democracy and national sovereignty, advanced a narrow, divisive notion of democracy. What was missing was the argument for a pan-European solidarity built from the bottom up, and which sought to break down national barriers through the extension of democratic institutions, not their emasculation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail