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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 30 Aug 2019

posted by eucentresg

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Latest Twist in the Brexit Saga
In a surprise (but perhaps not so surprising) move, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson request to suspend the Parliament until 14 October was approved by the Queen. According to a source from No 10 Downing Street, this is to allow the government and the new PM the time to “set out a plan for the country after we leave the EU”. The request to pro-rouge (suspend) the Parliament was made a day after a coalition of opposition MPs banded together in an attempt to stop Johnson from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal.

The pound slid on the surprise news on Wed (28 Aug) and Johnson’s move sparked fury among many MPs, including those from his own Conservative Party. The first one to break the Conservative ranks in parliament is the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who believed that the suspension was linked to the Brexit debate, called it a “constitutional outrage”. Former Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond said the suspension is “profoundly undemocratic”. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, and the face of political opposition to Scottish independence, also announced her resignation from the party. Her resignation raises serious questions about the future of the Conservative Party in Scotland and has implications for the agitation for independence by Scottish nationals.

Former Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve told Politico that Johnson’s decision is “a reckless one, unconstitutional”, and added that he did not believe that Johnson will succeed in his aim to marginalise the Commons at a time of national crisis.

Johnson’s gambit has significantly raised the political temperature in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn, labour party leader and Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat leader wrote to the Queen herself to protest the move and seek their own meeting. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who is pursuing a second referendum on independence from the UK, called Johnson a “tin-pot dictator”. And a group of MPs has asked Edinburgh’s Court of Session to hold a hearing on the legality of the suspension. Jeremy Corbyn also reiterated that he may call a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s government, which commands a majority of just one seat.

Outside of Parliament, protestors have taken to the street to protest against the suspension of the Parliament. An online petition calling to stop the UK Parliament being suspended until Brexit has been delayed or cancelled has garnered more than 1 million signatures.

Johnson’s move was met with a mixture of surprise and derision in Europe. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator accused the British PM of “suppressing debate on profound choices”. Parliamentarian and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Parliament, Norbert Rottgen, and former French Minister, Nathalie Loiseau, wondered what has become of British democracy when parliament has to be suspended because “it fears debate before making one of the most important decisions in history”.

US President Donald Trump weighed into the Brexit row between Johnson and Corbyn by praising Johnson as “great” and casting doubts on Jerremy Corbyn’s ability to win the no-confidence vote. Trump had on several occasions also voiced his intention to sign an ambitious free trade agreement with the UK as soon as the UK leaves the EU. However, the Speaker of the US House of Representative Nancy Pelosi has also made it clear that any UK-US trade deal that undermine the territorial status quo in Northern Ireland would not be ratified.

In the meantime, the Brexit blame game has begun. UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay warned at a business conference in Paris that the EU would be blamed for its lack of flexibility on the Irish border question in the event of a no-deal Brexit. His statement was quickly rebutted by Ireland’s foreign minister who warned Europeans against investing too much energy on Brexit discussions. His call not to let Brexit distract the EU from preparing for its future was echoed by French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, on the necessity to think about the future of Europe.

To show that UK is preparing for Brexit, the UK government announces funding of up to £3 million to help UK nationals living in the EU complete residency applications before Brexit. It is estimated that more than 1 million (many of them pensioners) British nationals live in the EU and European Free Trade Association countries such as Norway, Switzerland.


Stability returns to Italy?
A last minute deal struck between the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to form a ruling coalition would likely see Giuseppe Conte continue as Prime Minister of Italy.

However, both parties are not yet fully in agreement on the way forward. While they agreed on Conte continuing as prime minister, they have yet to agree on the two parties’ picks for other top government jobs and the government programme.

Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega (The League) who triggered the crisis by pulling out of the original ruling coalition (that between M5S and Lega) was eyeing a snap election that pundits believed would result in a significant win for his party. However, his gamble might have backfired, as M5S and PD cobbled a last minute deal to stave off a snap election. Italian President Sergio Mattarella had officially given Conte the mandate to form a new government with PD.

Conte is now meeting with delegations from all political groups, and whether he can succeed remains to be seen. M5S together will PD still don’t have the majority in the Senate and will need the backing of other parties. Far left group, Free and Equal (Liberi e Uguali) and some non-affiliated lawmakers are expected to join forces with the new alliance.

Besides trying to get support of other parties, the main coalition, M5S and PD are still arguing over top government posts and there are also differences over the full government programme.

Meanwhile, Salvini (who triggered the crisis) announced a rally against the planned new government in Rome on 19 October. He told his supporters on Facebook that “we have to take to the streets to protest against this theft of democracy”. It is also certain that Salvini’s Lega, supported by two other parties – the Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia would continue to agitate for snap elections.

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