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July 26, 2016

The limits of May's freedom of manoeuvre

A month after the Brexit vote, the debate has calmed a little as political Britain is descending into its annual holidays - except for the Labour Party, which is holding a leadership election. Our interest remains focused on the dynamics of the Brexit process, and to this effect we have picked on three comments today, each focusing on different aspects.

There is now a suspicion among those who were hard Brexiteers during the campaign that Theresa May could go soft on Brexit. They don't feel that she would undo it, but rather that she'd opt for an EEA agreement, which would not allow Britain to control immigration. Melanie Philips notes in her Times column that May has already shown weakness by her readiness to compromise on the red lines of Brexit. She must stop now.

"If she fails to respect the passionate desire for self-government expressed by more than 17 million citizens, she will not only damage British interests and harm her own reputation. She may also end up destroying the Conservative party she now so unexpectedly leads."

We agree with Philips on this specific point. The real red line for the new prime minister is keeping the party together. It is hard to see that this a permanent EEA agreement could do this - though we think that a time-limited agreement, of say two to five years, leading to an FTA with the EU - would constitute a reasonable compromise that would respect the Brexit vote, and cause minimal economic damage.

William Hague is mapping out a new post-Brexit industrial strategy. He notes that the industrial revolution that is currently under way will have a big impact on lower and middle class jobs, and may drive more and more people into insurrectional opposition to the establishment. Brexit allows the UK to focus much more on investments, including public sector investments, that would give the country a niche in those markets of the future. The only way to keep the army of discontented voters happy is through strong firms, better jobs, and adaptive learning.

And finally, we noted a rather emotional comment by Marie-Noëlle Loewe, who lives in the UK, and who says that Brexit is personal:

"I, as many other mobile European citizens, have felt a bit uncomfortable. The public mood has shifted from being welcome here to being tolerated. It is hard not to take the increasingly negative language used with regards to immigrants personal. Schrodinger’s immigrant, i.e. the one stealing British jobs whilst equally claiming unemployment benefits, does not exist. Ultimately, the rhetoric is aimed at those who are different, those who were not born here, those who are changing the make-up of this country through their mere presence – people like me."

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July 26, 2016

Don't misread the lack of visible panic in Germany

After a string of four terror attacks in Germany over the course of ten days, there has been an eerie silence in the public sphere, which some have interpreted as a mature societal response. We are far from sure that this is so. To us, the Germans are completely shocked that terror has arrived in their country, and they are yet to express their anger. Virtually every news item in the last few days related to one of the three terror attacks over the weekend. The situation reminds us of the autumn of 1977.

There are two revelations that are already beginning to shape the debate to come. The first is that the attackers from Würzburg, Reutlingen, and Ansbach, were refugees. The second is that the attacker from Ansbach had links with ISIS. The Munich attack had a different motivation.

The AfD, which has been remarkably quiet during the last few days, has now come out with a statement that multiculturalism is destroying the country and its internal security. A responsible government does not allow such a development to occur. Frankfurter Allgemeine noted in an article that there were important nuances in the reactions of the federal government in Berlin and the state government of Munich, which has been the most critical of Angela Merkel's refugee policies. The city of Munich is now concerned about the annual Oktoberfest, a potential target for another terrorist attack. The Bavarian state government is talking about more resources for internal security, while the reaction from Berlin is much more muted. Angela Merkel let it be known that she is shocked, but also she is still on holiday at her country house outside Berlin.

Jasper von Altenbockum, the conservative political commentator at Frankfurter Allgemeine, said it did not matter whether terror is related to Isis, or mental illness. It requires a firm response from the state. There can be no repeat of the 2015 wave of immigration Germany, he writes. Terror will require many more measures that will reduce the quality of life - whether it will be bans on wearing backpacks in public, greater police presence, or a ban of the dark internet. He went so far as to ascribe the term "Isis' useful idiots" both to the lone-wolf terrorists as well as to German politicians who obstruct increases in security measures. This a taste of the debate to come. 

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