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November 03, 2016

The UK's High Court rules today

Today will be an important, but not decisive, day for the Brexit process. The UK High Court will decide whether to force the government to submit the Article 50 Brexit procedure to parliament, or whether the government can decide the issue on its own through the use of the Royal Prerogative. No matter what the ruling will be, the case will go to the Supreme Court, which has no tradition of going against the government on such important issues. But, even if it did, we see very little chance that Brexit could be held up, let alone overturned. If the British parliament had a say on whether or not to trigger Article 50 our guess is that the parliament would vote yes. A 'No' vote would almost certainly trigger new elections, which Theresa May would win with a large majority. Our most likely scenario is that the government will either be able to invoke Article 50 without recourse to parliament, or that it would win a parliamentary vote.

The real threat to the Article 50 process is not that it will be foiled, but that it will turn nasty. This is the view of Enda Kenny, Irish prime minister, who gave a somewhat confused message at a public debate in Dublin yesterday. We can follow his logic that the process could turn "quite vicious", as he put it. The target of his concerns was not the UK government, but the European Council.

“There are those around the European table who take a very poor view of the fact that Britain has decided to leave...Europe has got to decide for itself in these [UK exit] negotiations where it wants to be in the next 50 years. If it becomes obsessed with what the UK might or not get, then Europe itself loses the plot.”

To be honest, we are not quite sure what this means. Perhaps he wants the European Council to offer the UK an explicit soft Brexit option - one that would work politically for the UK government. To us it sounds more like a cry for help than a coherent analysis of the situation. Ireland is clearly concerned about the implications of any of the hard variants of Brexit for the intra-Irish border, which would turn into a customs border for the EU if the UK decides to leave both the single market and the customs union.

In the UK, meanwhile, the Labour Party has made no efforts to formulate its own position on Brexit before the government does, as Adam Bienkov points out. He writes that the long and bitter leadership election is partly to blame. Labour's own Brexit team has only been operational for two weeks. The deeper reason is that the Labour Party itself is split over Brexit. There are some who want to remain in the EU; while others with slim parliamentary majorities are under pressure from their mostly eurosceptic constituents to support, not only Brexit, but in particular a crackdown on immigration which would obviously mean a hard Brexit. The article says that Labour will not push for an EEA-type agreement, as this would not respect the result of the referendum. The party was looking for a bespoke deal instead - which is just a way of saying that they are dreaming, since a bespoke deal with immigration controls and single-market access will not be on offer.

And finally, the Japanese have increased their pressure on May's government to opt for single-market membership. Japan's ambassador to the UK, Koji Tsuruoka, said Japan's industry had a large stake in the UK economy and expected to have its say. Japanese companies were committed to staying in the UK, but this was on the assumption that the government would choose a Brexit version that would allow them to operate in the EU from the UK.

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November 03, 2016

Merkel's Turkey nightmare

The sheer disaster of Angela Merkel's diplomacy vis-a-vis Turkey is becoming ever more apparent. German newspapers are now commenting on the chancellor's silence in response to the latest outrages in Turkey, and her somewhat lacklustre attempt yesterday to correct the impression that she does not care about press freedom in Turkey did not really help. 

Michael Hanfield has caustic commentary in Frankfurter Allgemeine, in which he noted that Merkel does not know what she is talking about when she bemoans the continued restrictions of press freedoms. There aren't any left after the imprisonment of the 12 most senior editors of the opposition paper Cumhuriyet, the last non-conformist of the large newspapers in the country. He also cast doubt on Merkel's pretensions of solidarity. Whether they are genuine or not, he writes, they are coming too late. Turkey has become a totalitarian regime, governed by a president through emergency powers. The next act will be the vote in favour of the death penalty. And that will be followed by the first death sentences. 

In a separate article the paper quotes the previous editor of Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, who criticised the German government's ultra-diplomatic stance towards Erdogan, but also warns against a sudden end to EU membership negotiations. Isolation would not be a problem for Erdogan, but would be a punishment for the Turkish people.

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