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September 28, 2017

The closing of the Catalan polling stations

As we reported yesterday, the Catalan head prosecutor has instructed the regional police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, to seal the designated polling stations for Sunday's independence referendum by Friday. This may not be easy. The radical left separatist party CUP is calling for the seals to be broken, and there will be attempts to organise sit-ins at the polling stations before the police comes to seal them, which would force the police to clear the sit-in. As we noted yesterday they are about 2,700 polling stations in a Catalan election, which stretches the police's ability to cover them all simultaneously.

The Mossos have responded officially that they will act proportionately, and that there is a risk that sealing the polling places may lead to public unrest. In addition, they are demanding a court order - not just an instruction from the prosecutor - to seal the polling stations. The Catalan government says that the police is there to guarantee order so that people can exercise their right to vote, while the Spanish government says the police is there to prevent illegal acts from being carried out. The Catalan premier has convened the region's public safety board, which includes representatives of the Spanish interior minister who will be in attendance. The interior minister had previously set up security coordination meetings for all the Spanish and Catalan police forces, which the Mossos resent as they result in putting them under command of the national police. 

We have also reported that Mariano Rajoy will miss tomorrow's informal EU summit in Tallinn, which starts today with a dinner, ostensibly on account of the Catalan referendum. The referendum is scheduled for Sunday. We wonder whether Mariano Rajoy feels he needs to be in Spain on the Friday just in case unrest breaks out.

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September 28, 2017

Still dreaming of a US-UK trade agreement?

The ruling by the US Commerce Department imposing a 219% tariff, on planes made by the Canadian firm Bombardier in Northern Ireland, has led Theresa May to threaten a trade war with the US according to the Daily Telegraph this morning. She warned that this would threaten future Ministry of Defence contracts for US-made Apache helicopters, which are produced by Boeing, the company that brought the complaint against Bombardier. Boeing argued that state subsidies would lead to price dumping for planes in the US. 

There is a long legal procedure ahead before the tariff is actually imposed, but the episode serves as a reminder that reliance on a US trade agreement as compensation for the loss of access to the EU market might be an illusory hope, as the Trump administration is turning the US into a highly unreliable partner. 

What makes this decision particularly painful for May is the impact on Northern Ireland, where 14,000 jobs are at stake. May is relying on support from the Northern Irish DUP to prop up her minority government. Bombardier is the largest employer in the region, and the loss of production would constitute a macroeconomic shock, on top of the effects from Brexit which could result in a hard border if the UK persists with a hard version of Brexit.

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