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February 09, 2017

The Lords have a choice - risk abolition or vote for Brexit

After yesterday's final Article 50 Brexit vote in the House of House, which went 494 against 122, the bill now goes to the House of Lords where we expect it will be passed in time for Theresa May to trigger the process on schedule before the end of March. As we have argued before, this is it. The scenario under which this process can still be derailed, even under a string of very negative assumptions, is looking increasingly remote.

We thought the following tweet by Nicola Strugeon (@NicolaSturgeon) sums up the exasperation of an intelligent pro-Remain politician about the illogical and duplicitous position taken by the Labour Party, whose leader decided - for tactical reasons - to support the bill and to impose a three-line whip on his MPs.

She is right. The real fight does not start now. The real fight has been lost. In our view this is due to the inability of the Remain team to unify around a common position post-Brexit, for example, to seek an EEA-type membership. When asked by a Scottish MP whether she would risk a break-up of the UK, May answered in the parliament:

"He constantly refers to the interests of Scotland inside the European Union - an independent Scotland would not be in the European Union."

We fear, sadly, that this is true. Spain has already said that it would veto such a move for domestic political reasons, and several other countries, such as Belgium, would happily hide behind a Spanish veto. The latest opinion polls, in the Glasgow Herald, shows increasing support for Scottish independence, from 45.5% to 49%, but still short of a majority. More importantly, most people do not want another referendum. 

The House of Lords could theoretically delay - but not stop - the Brexit bill. It could propose amendments that would need to be voted on by the House of Commons. The bill would then go to-and-fro between the two houses, with the Commons ultimately prevailing. Importantly, the government is now putting not-so-subtle pressure on the Lords according to the BBC, which quotes one government source as saying that the Lords would risk abolition if they opposed the will of the people. The Lords are overwhelmingly pro-EU but they also realise that it is not their job to mount an opposition.

One of the more interesting developments is the future turn of the British Labour Party. The party has suffered badly under Corbyn's leadership, and over his unprincipled flip-flopping on Brexit. But the party has also given up any expectations that they could oust him in a leadership election. There is a scenario, however, where he may step down voluntarily. As this article suggests, the hard left of the Labour Party seeks a rule change that would make it virtually impossible for the party to elect a moderate leader. The shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, resigned yesterday after he decided to oppose the Brexit bill. He is seen as a potential successor to Corbyn because he is on the left of the party, while pro-European at the same time. In any case, once the parliamentary process is over, it is hard to imagine a single scenario in which Brexit could be undone - which requires the parliament to instruct the government to abandon the Article 50 process, and for this to be accepted by both the British government and every member of the European Council.

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February 09, 2017

French secret service fears Russian support for FN

Le Canard Enchaîné is having a good election campaign. After leading the charge against François Fillon with a consistent stream of revelations, the satirical paper now has another scoop - the French secret service fears Russian meddling in the forthcoming election campaign in favour of Marine Le Pen. This follows the discovery of a USB stick containing a Russian hacking manual. The alert has reached such a level that the next president's security council will be devoted to the subject. The intent of the alert - and the counter-measures to be taken - is to prevent a situation like in the US, where a Russian-inspired campaign of disinformation is alleged to have influenced the outcome of the election. The article quotes a French cryptographer as saying that the authorities in France massively overestimate the extent of their intelligence, and the degree to which they can influence the outcome of a Russian hacking attack. During the primary campaigns, the extent of Russian-sourced bots issuing pro-Le Pen propaganda on social networks has been significant. The only saving grace for France, according to this article, is that the country is not as advanced as the US in terms of its digital reliance.

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February 09, 2017

A whiff of revolution

Revolution is in the air. The French want something radically different, the discontent is palpable. And the politicians know just how to respond to this, writes Cécile Cornudet. Macron titled his book Revolution, Bayrou’s is called French Resolution, Mélenchon sees himself as the speaker for the un-submissive France, Marine Le Pen speaks in the name of the people. Even François Fillon is calling to bring down the house. They all present themselves as anti-system candidates: Le Pen targets the political right and left influenced by money; Macron targets the political parties; Fillon dismisses the four lefts including the Front National in this count; Mélenchon wants to restore power to the people; and Hamon re-invents the image of the candidate next door. By designing a political enemy they all want to outsmart each other. But what is behind all this staging? Another trompe-d’oeil?

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February 09, 2017

Rajoy and Trump, best buddies

Other European leaders such as Angela Merkel and François Hollande have vigorously objected to Donald Trump's travel ban as well as to his intention to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Not Mariano Rajoy. The Spanish PM boasted Spain's stable government and strong economic growth, and offered Spain as an interlocutor for the US in Latin America Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. This has been met with consternation in Spain. El Pais' editorial calls it a serious mistake and an offence to Spain's partners in Latin America and the EU. Spain can't afford to approach the EU's external diplomacy as a distant third country but should aim to reinforce and not undermine the common foreign policy. For El País, Rajoy comes off as frivolously making offers he doesn't have the capacity to deliver, in a transparent attempt to please Trump at little cost.

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February 09, 2017

Violent fantasies around Catalonia

In a comment in El Español last week, Carles Enric López writes that the Catalan separatists - most notably the radical left party CUP, but also the parties of the regional government - appear to wish for a violent incident to justify Catalan independence. López cites as a historical parallel "an incident in a wooded area" in the former Yugoslavia - a muted reference to the so-called Log Revolution which was an eight-month long prelude to war in Croatia. In the case of Catalonia, he imagines "an incident between Guardia Civil [Spanish paramilitary police] and Mossos d'Esquadra [Catalan regional police], maybe a violent act by some subversive element seeking notoriety". It is true that among the most widespread narratives among Catalan separatists is the idea that a repressive action on the part of the Spanish government would discredit Spain's unionism in the eyes of the international community, and legitimise separatism. They are trying to frame the ongoing trial of former regional premier Artur Mas in this way, with little success outside media with a separatist editorial line.

El Mundo ran an op-ed in which Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, a former MP for the PP and a protégée of former PM José María Aznar, fantasises about violent repression of a Catalan insurrection in 24 hours. She accuses Mariano Rajoy of being soft and believing that his inaction guarantees the separatists won't act either, and compares the "operation dialogue" of deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría to the mad queen Joanna of Castille parading the corpse of her husband around the country. She imagines a scenario in which the government applies Art 155 of the constitution - suspending the regional government:

"Hooded people cause public disturbances in the centre of Barcelona. They break windows, burn buses and assault law-abiding officials. The director of the Mossos d'Esquadra dithers. Some officers conspire. The government places the [regional police] force under the orders of the ministry of the interior. Riots intensify. The government, with the support of the parliament, applies article 116 of the constitution and declares the state of emergency in Barcelona. The violent are arrested and brought before justice. Twenty-four hours later, calm returns. Demonstrators dissolve. Tourists are grateful and the bourgeoisie initiates a process of introspection. Catalanism must be rebuilt. We must abandon political frivolity and correct the course."

We have written before that the Spanish right-wing is aching for an excuse to suspend the regional government. The more extreme actually toy with the idea of a violent crackdown. And the Catalan separatists are aching to give them an excuse because they believe it would help their image abroad.

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