The Future of Brexit

“Brexit Means Brexit” proclaimed Theresa May, shortly after taking over from David Cameron as British Prime Minister, “and there will no be attempts to remain within the EU”. This sounds unambiguous and definitive but what does this circuitous phrase actually mean in reality? More importantly, has the recent High Court ruling that she cannot use the Royal Prerogative Power (the UK’s version of a Presidential Executive Order) to start negotiating an exit without seeking a Parliamentary vote derailed the process?  

The terms of membership of the EU entitles member countries to invoke Article 50 to start a two-year period of negotiation to leave, and initially May had said that this would be done in March 2017 and that she did not need to get parliament involved in the Brexit process as the “people have spoken” (in the now notorious Brexit referendum). This plan was threatened earlier this month, when the three presiding judges of the High Court determined that she was not constitutionally entitled to complete the Brexit process without an approval vote from both Houses of Parliament. An appeal has now been made to the Supreme Court which will decide on the legality of this issue in December. 

The High Court decision caused uproar from Brexit supporters. The right-wing Daily Mail, the most read English publication worldwide, had a front page article declaring the judges “ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE” and Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit movement, tweeted, “I now fear every attempt will be made to block or delay triggering Article 50. They have no idea the level of public anger they will provoke.” 

Although it is highly unlikely that the members of parliament would ultimately vote against Brexit, there could be a number of unforeseen consequences for May and her government team tasked with negotiating the terms of the exit. First, it is possible that if she believes she will not have enough votes in both Houses to support her,  she might have to call a general election to secure the mandate in Parliament. This would be a hazardous tactic though, as there is no certainty that the population would elect politicians who voted for Brexit and her government could be left in disarray. More probable is that with so many different opinions on how the negotiations should be managed, no consensus will be reached, thus delaying the decision on invoking Article 50, creating instability and irritation amongst the UK population and their European partners.

What the High Court decision has done is shine light on exactly how little people know about the Brexit process. A recent House of Commons Library reference emphasizes this: “What do we not know about Brexit? An awful lot. We don't even know when the negotiations can start, let alone what they will be about or when they will end.” 

When the UK population was asked to vote on whether to remain within the EU, the main argument presented by those leading the charge to leave was that the UK would regain control of its borders and prevent free movement of people from all of the 28 member countries. It was argued that this freedom of movement is a financial burden on the UK, that takes away jobs which British citizens could do, as well as being a serious security threat. The arguments presented by those in favor to remain focused on the financial consequences of leaving and the difficulties that could be faced negotiating trade deals with the EU, the UK’s largest trading partner. These arguments did not gain sufficient traction to win the referendum, but now that the dust has settled, the real difficulties are only just beginning to emerge. The EU leaders have been unanimous in pouring cold water on any suggestion that having free trade is possible without accepting free movement of people as well. It has been made clear that one is not an option without the other, contrary to the claims of many of the “leave” protagonists. The lines have been drawn in the sand and the impasse already appears to be very difficult to negotiate.

One could argue that with Trump becoming President, with his vociferous attacks on multi country trade deals, as well as the death of Obama’s proposed TPT trade deal, that the UK would be better positioned outside of the EU to negotiate independent trade deals with the rest of the world, without the pressure to kowtow to EU negotiators. But it will be a tightrope, trying to protect domestic financial interests while the EU will want to set an example to the remaining EU members that leaving has severe negative consequences. The former polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, compared Britain to a club member who complains about the high price of admission and the lowering of standards of the accepting committee for new members, but who would like to stay in the club on individually renegotiated terms. “It will never happen”. 

And so we are left with more questions than answers, including the question of will Brexit ever actually happen? The answer is probably yes, but as of now, no one seems to know what form it will take, how long it will last, or even when it will begin...

- Sophie Hadfield

United By A Common Language of Hate

“Would you accept 12 million people moving into your home? You would not. On top of that, they start to remove the wallpaper. Some of them would steal your wallet and brutalize your wife. You would not accept that. Consequently, we are welcoming, but we decide with whom we are welcoming.” While one might think this is one of Donald Trump’s tirades against Mexicans or Muslims, it is in fact the current front-runner for next year’s French Presidential election, the leader of the far right Front National (FN) party, Marine Le Pen. 

Both Trump and Le Pen use binary language to explain complex issues and offer sound bite solutions to appeal to their followers, designating the cause of the economic and cultural malaise of their respective countries to mass immigration, poor trade treaties, exportation of jobs to China and other low cost countries through globalization and loss of “traditional” values which have been corrupted by the influx of new religions and ethnicities.

However, although much of the rhetoric is the same, their backgrounds and aspirations are quite different. Le Pen was schooled in her far right ideologies by her father, the neo-fascist Jean Marie Le Pen. He founded the FN party in 1972 and took it from from the radical fringe to mainstream politics by his populist appeal to the working class and rural populations, seeking answers to their own demise and turning away from the conservative and social mainstream parties who appeared to offer no solutions. Le Pen has been very active in politics for nearly twenty years, promoting herself as an independent outsider and attacking the “establishment” politicians of both parties as corrupt and obligated to special interests who finance their campaigns.

Whether you agree with her points of view, and there are many in France that do, there is no doubt that she is committed in her beliefs and is seeking a popular mandate to enforce the changes she feels are necessary to “make France great again”. She has never been associated with the conservative party and has always been independent from their influence. The movement that she heads, if not created by her and the party she represents, has led the discourse for over forty years and has gradually built support amongst the population. Win or lose in the 2017 Presidential election, you can see Le Pen continuing to work hard for the party she heads.

By contrast, Trump appears simply to have hijacked a movement that had its foundation within the conservative elements of the Republican party, to which until this Presidential cycle, he has never been particularly associated with or acted passionately on its behalf. Indeed his self publicity as a “brilliant” businessman who works the system for his own benefit appears to be his main justification for being fit to be President and there is very little substance to any of his political solutions or policy statements. His motivation appears to be largely about promoting himself and his brand, a clever salesman working his audience by playing on their fears and one doubts that should he fail, that he would continue to invest any time or effort to promote this agenda of doom, unless of course he could somehow profit from it.

There is no evidence that he previously cared about any of the issues that he now professes to care so much about; no investment of time or money in building political support around the positions he now promotes- building walls to keep out Mexicans out of America and extreme vetting of all Muslims seeking emigration to the USA. Until this current presidential campaign, he has shown very little interest in politics or the plight of the individuals he now claims to represent, those working class families who are struggling to maintain lifestyles and income levels or obtain jobs that provide hope for the future.

The social changes and right wing nationalism that Le Pen has vocally supported for the past twenty years, may not be palatable but they are sincere. Le Pen may lose the next French Presidential election but there is little doubt that win or lose, she will continue to advocate for her political views and invest significant time and effort to support other members of her party, including her niece, who are seeking election in various regional contests throughout France. Should Donald Trump loose, it is very doubtful that he will continue to invest time to help those he now says he cares about. It appears that his aspirations lie in potentially leveraging his increased personal profile for private financial gain, possibly even establishing a new TV network to promote his own agenda and increase his personal wealth. Le Pen, may be wrong but she is genuinely for the people she represents, Trump is simply for himself.

- Sophie Hadfield