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September 12, 2017

Brexit bill passes Commons

As of now there are more Labour rebels than Tory rebels in respect of the parties' position on Brexit, which is one of the reasons why we think that Theresa May will be able to steer her Brexit strategy through the British parliament without revolt. Yesterday, the Commons voted 326 to 290 in the second reading of the Brexit bill. Seven Labour MPs supported the government. Altogether 18 MPs failed to follow the party's three-line whip to support a No vote.

This is not the end of the legislative procedure of the single most important Brexit bill - which gives the government the right to transform EU laws into UK laws after Brexit. As the Guardian reports, Tory MPs are demanding changes to the bill to safeguard the rights of parliament. This is an important discussion about executive versus legislative powers, but it is not one that will stop, impede, or indeed much affect, Brexit itself. Last night's vote is a good metric for the effective Brexit majority in the House of Commons, which is 36. This is not large, but it is large enough to be sustainable over the course of the next 18 months.

The Tories who have raised doubts about the bill are led by Dominique Grieve, a former attorney general who has co-signed a petition to strengthen the role of parliament in the Brexit process. Since the whole argument in favour of Brexit is about a return of control, it makes no sense for the parliament to cede all powers to the government. He wants two changes to the bill. The first is a joint committee of Commons and Lords to scrutinise the government's use of its new powers. And the second is  to limit ministers' room for manoeuvre. The Guardian writes that Grieve and his collaborators have strong support in the Commons, including among hard Brexiteers, so this will remain a genuinely difficult political issue resulting in what the Guardian calls 

"a series of difficult parliamentary votes for May in the coming months."

The UK government is willing to make some concessions, so we would expect a compromise - but this is clearly one issue to watch.

The pollster Peter Kellner is much less optimistic. He says that under normal circumstances Theresa May would now sack Boris Johnson and David Davis, but cannot afford to do so given her narrow majority. If she did, she could provoke a leadership challenge, which she might well lose. 

"So the good ship United Kingdom seeks to navigate the hazardous, rock-strewn waters of the Brexit negotiations with a nervous captain, two widely criticised helmsmen, and her 317-strong crew on the verge of mutiny. Nobody should be surprised if the vessel runs aground."

We are less pessimistic than Kellner, and disagree with the consensus among the political class in the UK that May will not last. We have argued in the past that this judgement is based primarily on a general lack of experience of minority governments, and of a lack of precedents of an overwhelming single policy issue like Brexit. Under normal circumstances, the Tories might well rebel against their leader but, if they did so now, they would risk a general election which they could lose. And, with it, they would risk Brexit given the shiftiness in the position of the Labour Party. This is why we believe that the Tories will have no choice but to keep May in the job until after Brexit. And, once she has delivered Brexit, we would expect her reputation and political position to strengthen.

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September 12, 2017

Macron to weather another political storm

Today will be the first protests against the labour law reform in France, organised by the CGT trade union. The question everyone is asking is how strong the protest movement will become over the coming weeks, and what could cause it to grow. Emmanuel Macron’s phrase not to give in to the idles, cynics or extremists certainly has the potential to turn into a political storm, stirring up anger and solidarity movements between different factions opposed to his policies. The government was busy in the last few days de-escalating the situation by explaining to editorialists and through twitter that the remarks were targeted at those we were in government before. In vain, so it seems. Macron himself yesterday confirmed that he stands by his words. They were clear and so was the target, the idle ones are those who 15 years ago did not want to move on Europe. Today the result is Brexit and Poland turning its back towards Europe. Unfortunately Macron’s discourse on Europe was interpreted differently in the national context.

The question we have is whether Macron will have what it takes to overcome this political storm. L’Opinion writes about Macron that he likes political action but not politics. He said so himself. Can he be a match for politicians and impose his efficiency methods on them? We will see how he will get through this month of protest movements. Benoît Hamon entered the fray yesterday by strongly condemning Macron’s words and, according to some reports, he may even join the protest movement organised by Jean-Luc Mélenchon later this month. There is certainly political momentum to watch out for.  

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September 12, 2017

Conservative PM re-elected in Norway

Norway had a general election yesterday which looked like a close race between two options, a right-wing alliance supporting the continuity of the current conservative PM Erna Solberg, or a left-wing alliance led by the social-democrat Jonas Gahr Støre. Even though the Labour party was the largest with 55 seats, Solberg was reelected as the right alliance of KrF (Christian Democrat), V (Liberal), FRP (Progress Party) and H (Conservative) won 89 seats of 169, while the left alliance of Ap (Labour), Sp (Socialist) and OR (Red party) won 79. The Green party MDR had 1 seat and is not counted in any of the two major blocks. 

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