May’s UK play in disarray

Developments with Theresa May and Brexit suggest a growing degree  of disarray in the UK.

RNZ: British PM Theresa May pulls vote on Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May has postponed a crucial parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal because she said it “would be rejected by a significant margin”.

She said MPs backed much of the deal she has struck with the EU but there was concern over the Northern Ireland backstop plan.

Mrs May said she believed she could still get the deal through if she addressed MPs’ concerns and that what she intended to do in the next few days.

However, Speaker John Bercow – who chairs debates in the House of Commons – called on the government to give MPs a vote on whether Tuesday’s vote should be cancelled, saying it was the “right and obvious” thing to do given how angry some MPs were about the cancellation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government was in “complete chaos” and urged Mrs May to stand down.

The pound fell sharply in response to the reports earlier of a likely delay.

The deputy leader of the DUP – the Northern Ireland party whose backing Theresa May needs to win key votes – Nigel Dodds, said the situation was “quite frankly a bit of a shambles” and the PM was paying the price for crossing her “red lines” when it came to Northern Ireland.

And it appears to be affecting more than the UK:  Dow slides 500 points on Brexit drama, bank selloff

Brexit chaos and sinking bank stocks are combining to deal the stock market another blow.

The Dow fell 500 points, or 1.9%, on Monday. The index tumbled below the 24,000 level. The S&P 500 retreated 1.7%, while the Nasdaq lost 1%.

US stocks hit session lows after Prime Minister Theresa May said she would delay a crucial vote on her Brexit deal. The British pound extended its losses, plunging 1.6% against the US dollar. Sterling is on track for its worst close since April 2017.

“We seem to have taken a turn for the worse because of the Brexit news,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Capital. “Any news that isn’t good is immediately treated as terrible.”

The Brexit chaos reinforces one of Wall Street’s biggest fears: slowing global growth. Germany and Japan are already in economic contraction, while China’s economy has suffered from a wave of tariffs.

 

 

Ardern ranked 29th ‘most powerful woman’ in 2018

Forbes have ranked New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the 29th most powerful woman in the world for 2018. While Ardern obviously has significant power in New Zealand her world-wide power is not obvious to me.

And ‘power’ is not necessarily a positive – Theresa May is ranked second. She seems to have the power to make a mess of things in the UK, and this has major implications for Europe in particular.

Forbes: Power Women 2018

Change is rippling through the business, tech, entertainment, philanthropical and political spheres alike. The 2018 World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list celebrates the icons, innovators and instigators who are using their voice to change power structures and create a lasting impact.

This year, the 15th annual list welcomes 20 newcomers, but what’s notable is who’s moved out, up and down, making way for emerging leaders who are redefining the chief seat and bringing others along with them. We see more change ahead.

It isn’t surprising to see Angela Merkel ranked number 1 – but she recently indicated she won’t stand again for leadership in Germany.

I haven’t heard of most women on the list. Here are some:

  1. Angela Merkel (Germany)
  2. Theresa May (UK)
  3. Christine Lagarde (France)
  4. Mary Barra (USA)
  5. Abigail Johnson (USA)
  6. Melinda Gates (USA)
  7. Susan Wojcicki (USA)
  8. Ana Patricia Botín (Spain)
  9. Marillyn Hewson (USA)
  10. Ginni Rometty (USA)

A few further down:

2. Oprah Winfrey (USA)

23 Queen Elizabeth II (UK)

24. Ivanka Trump (USA)

29. Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand)

30. Gina Rinehart(Australia)

The blurb on Ardern:

“New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to be a fresh voice, advocating for families and normalising working parenthood by bringing her daughter and stay-at-home partner to the UN General Assembly”

  • Ardern set new norms as a government leader when she gave birth, took six weeks maternity leave and shared that her partner will be a stay-at-home dad.
  • She said she is using her platform to “create a path for other women” to follow in her footsteps.
  • Rising to power on a tide of “Jacindamania,” at 38, she is the youngest female leader in the world and New Zealand’s youngest PM in 150 years.
  • As leader of the Labour Party, she promises an “empathetic” government, with ambitious plans to tackle climate change and child poverty.
  • In July she announced welfare reforms including a weekly stipend for new parents and an increase in paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks.

However Ardern is being criticised in New Zealand for her actions not coming close to living up to her rhetoric.

Helen Clark has been ranked on the list over the years…

  • 2004 – 43rd
  • 2016 – 22nd (most powerful woman in the United Nations)

…but dropped right off it in 2017.

NZ Herald: Jacinda Ardern named among world’s most powerful women

Ardern is one spot higher than Australia’s richest citizen Gina Rinehart, and above some big names such as Beyonce, at number 50, and Taylor Swift, at number 68. Queen Elizabeth is just spots above her at number 23.

Funny that NZH should compare Ardern to celebrities.

Also featured on the list at number 91 is Ana Brnabic, the first female and first openly gay Prime Minister of Serbia, and Zewde Sahle-Work at number 97, the first female president of Ethiopia.

But Serbia (population 7 million) and Ethiopia (population 105 million) are in parts of the world that aren’t so important to a US magazine.

 

Britain and EU agree on post-Brexit relationship

Reuters:  EU, Britain agree draft deal on future relations

Britain and the European Union have agreed a draft text setting out a close post-Brexit relationship, though wrangling with Spain over control of Gibraltar must still be settled before EU leaders meet on Sunday in order to rubber-stamp the pact.

“The British people want Brexit to be settled. They want a good deal that sets us on a course for a brighter future,” British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament.

“The deal that will enable us to do this is now within our grasp. In these crucial 72 hours ahead, I will do everything possible to deliver it for the British people.”

Her spokesman said she believed she could win a critical vote in parliament on the deal, expected next month, but many of those she needs to persuade appeared unconvinced.

Guardian: May defends under-fire Brexit plan: ‘a deal is within our grasp’

Painting the agreement as a bespoke and carefully negotiated plan, May told MPs it disproved the idea that the only relationships on offer would be Norway or Canada. “The text we have now agreed would create a new free trade area with the EU, with no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions. This will be the first such agreement from the EU with any advanced economy in the world – and will be good for jobs,” she said.

“Crucially the text we have agreed has an explicit reference to the development of an independent trade policy by the UK beyond this partnership with the EU, so we would have the abilities to sign new trade deals and capitalise on new trade deals with the fastest-growing economies around the world. We will be able to get on with this negotiating deals during the transition period.”

May said there was “an explicit commitment to consider facilitative arrangement and technologies to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland”, and thanked Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson for their input on that, which was jeered by some Tory MPs. Paterson and Duncan Smith saw the prime minister in Downing Street last week.

May also reiterated that she had held talks about Gibraltar with Spain, saying: “I was absolutely clear that Gibraltar’s British sovereignty will be protected.”

She ended: “The British people want Brexit to be settled. They want a good deal that sets us on course for a brighter future. And they want us to come together as a country and to move on and focus on the big issues at home. The deal that will enable us to do this, is now within our grasp. In these crucial 72 hours, I will do everything in my power to deliver this to the British people.”

Guardian: Brexit political declaration fails to offer frictionless trade

A joint document on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU fails to offer any hope of frictionless trade, said to be vital to the British economy, but provides Theresa May with arguments to bolster her hopes of selling the deal to Brexiters in parliament.

leaked 26-page political declaration, to be approved by EU leaders at a Brexit summit on Sunday, paints a picture of the future relationship that differs substantially from the proposals made by the prime minister at Chequers in the summer.

According to the declaration the two sides “envisage having a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible”, but the EU and the UK would be separate markets with inevitable barriers to trade, and there is no reference to a common rulebook.

The document does reassert the plan for both sides to “build and improve on the single customs territory” already negotiated in the withdrawal agreement.

 

France, Germany look to strengthen Euro zone (without Britain)

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Sunday for Germany and France to dig deeper as allies in their bid to spearhead a more united Europe, including by overcoming lingering scepticism on issues such as a euro zone budget.

In a speech to the German lower house of parliament on Sunday at an event honoring war victims, Macron said the onus was on France and Germany to pursue those efforts.

“This new phase can be scary as we will have to share, pool together our decision-making, our policies on foreign affairs, migration and development, an increasing part of our budgets and even fiscal resources, build a common defense strategy,” Macron said at the Bundestag.

“We have to overcome our taboos and overcome our habits.”

Macron, who later met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin for talks, evoked a world “at a crossroad” in his speech, pitting nationalist movements “with no memory” against more modern, progressive ones.

“Europe, and within it, the Franco-German alliance, has the obligation not to let the world slip into chaos,” he said.

Meanwhile: Theresa May to visit Brussels this week as she defends Brexit deal

 

May struggling with Brexit

It is being described as a botched deal or a no deal.

Russian nationals charged over Skripal novichok attempted murder

British police have charged two Russian nationals in absentia over alleged attempts to kill former spy Sergei Skripal with the nerve agent Novichok.

BBC – Salisbury Novichok poisoning: Russian nationals named as suspects

Two Russian nationals have been named as suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The men, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are thought to be officers from Russia’s military intelligence service, the PM said.

Scotland Yard and the CPS say there is enough evidence to charge the men.

Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in March.

Det Sgt Nick Bailey also fell ill after responding to the incident in Salisbury.

Police are linking the attack to a separate Novichok poisoning on 30 June, when Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley became unwell at a house in Amesbury, about eight miles from Salisbury.

Ms Sturgess died in hospital on 9 July. Mr Rowley was discharged from hospital on 20 July.

Speaking in the Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded, from intelligence provided by UK agencies, that the men were part of the GRU intelligence service.

The poisoning was “not a rogue operation” and was “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian state, she said.

“We must now step up our collective efforts specifically against the GRU,” Mrs May added.

She condemned the “despicable attack” and promised “the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus” would be used to “counter the threat” caused by Russia.

Responding in a statement, Russia’s London embassy called on the British government to “give up politicised public accusations”.

This will further raise tension between the United Kingdom and Russia.

The CPS is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as Russia does not extradite its own nationals.

But a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case they travel to the EU.

So it seems it will be unlikely the named suspects will ever go to trial, but this is a very strong statement of condemnation based on claimed evidence of senior Russian involvement.

Dysfunctional democracies

There seems to be growing dysfunction in democracies with important associations with New Zealand.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom continues to struggle with it’s exit from the European Union after a controversial referendum in 2016 chose Brexit by a fairly close margin. It is claimed that the referendum was unduly affected by social media manipulation similar to what happened in the US election, also in 2016.

Prime Minister Theresa May made a disastrous decision to have a snap election and seems to have gone downhill from there. Her Conservative Party has been in a close contest with the opposing Labour Party in the polls for some time, largely because of the arguably equally unpopular leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Not only does UK politics look in dire straits, their future as a country, especially as a trading nation, looks precarious. They are struggling to sort out an exit of the European Union, and that is delaying attempts to negotiate with alternate trade partners.

The Telegraph: Theresa May is showing how thorny a ‘clean Brexit’ could be so voters reconsider her plan

The Telegraph: Who do you think should be the next leader of the Conservative Party?

Over the past few months notable Conservative politicians and outside voices have questioned Theresa May’s ability to lead the party through Brexit and beyond. This in turn has cast doubt over the stability and longevity of the Prime Minister’s position in the top job.

 

United States

Who is in the most disarray, the Republicans or the Democrats? Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton deserved to lose the 2016 presidential election, and it’s arguable that the worst person won.

Trump has had some short term wins with some policies, especially with huge tax cuts, but the effects of resulting huger debts may case major problems in the future, especially if the record length bull run in the markets hiccups, as it inevitably will at some stage. the odds are that that will be soonish.

Trump has had a shambolic approach to trade ‘negotiations’, and a high risk approach to international relations. He often seems to work (or tweet) at odds with his top officials, and has questionable inclinations towards appeasement with Russia (while his country increases sanctions for interference in their democracy).

National Security Adviser John Bolton: U.S. sanctions to stay until Russia changes its behavior

Trump’s claims of great success in his meeting with Kim Yong Un seem to have been premature: Trump says Pompeo won’t go to North Korea, criticizes denuclearization progress

And his potential legal problems grow. Graham: Trump Will “Very Likely” Fire Sessions After Midterms – sacking everyone who won’t support his attempts at interference is unlikely to save him in the long run.

Much of the world watches in wonder at what the most powerful democracy in the world has become.

While many stupid and troubling things are by Trump there’s hope that his big mouth and little fingers won’t work there way towards the big button – however there are risks that Trump might escalate attempts to divert from all his problems by choosing a military sideshow, a common ploy of tyrants who can make their people revere them.

But the Democrats look in disarray after the disastrous Clinton presidential campaign. Hillary may be considering another shot at the presidency, which would likely dismay many, and there is no clear alternative (although in US politics it’s a long time until the next presidential election (2020). Trump was just an unlikely contender in a crowd of wannabe candidates two years before he won.

Australia

Our relatively) close neighbours the Aussies have a new Prime Minister that most Kiwis are unlikely to have heard of (Scott Morrison, after two leadership votes in a week. The deposing of Malcolm Turnbull adds to the procession of Australian Prime Ministers who have failed to see out a term in office.

See Out with the not very old Aussie PM, in with the new.

The change of leadership looks like a bit of a move right, but looks likely to be tested at an election soon, if Turnbull resigns and the Government loses it’s one seat majority.

Labour’s left has been riven by ructions in the not very distant past.

Depressing

This could be quite depressing for those who yearn for healthy democracies and competent politicians and parties. Is democracy self imploding, or can it recover?

Meanwhile, New Zealand

Here we have a three party government that has it’s challenges, and it’s critics, but the big local political stories of the week have been about the leak of expenses details several days before they were due to be released, and the semi-demotion of a Minister who didn’t properly record or advise having a meeting with someone who could potentially be a big benefit to the country.

Brexit, government disarray in UK – Davis, Johnson resign

Theresa May’s leadership in Britian is said to be on very shaky ground, aas is their Brexit plans,  after Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned from the government.

BBC:  Brexit Secretary David Davis resigns

Brexit Secretary David Davis, who has been leading negotiations to leave the EU, has resigned from the government.

In his resignation letter, Mr Davis criticised the PM’s Brexit plan – agreed by the cabinet on Friday – saying it would leave Parliament with “at best a weak negotiating position”.

In his letter, Mr Davis told Mrs May that “the current trend of policy and tactics” was making it “look less and less likely” that the UK would leave the customs union and single market.

He said he was “unpersuaded” that the government’s negotiating approach “will not just lead to further demands for concessions” from Brussels.

Mr Davis, who was appointed Brexit Secretary in 2016, said: “The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”

In her reply, Mrs May said: “I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at cabinet on Friday.”

Junior minister Steve Baker quit shortly after Mr Davis – as Mrs May prepares to face MPs and peers later.

Sounds very messy.

The Conservatives have struggled since May took over as Prime Minister and led them into a disastrous snap election. And it looks worse now.

UPDATES: Missy has been updating in comments as things unfold in the UK on Monday (their time). Here is the big new news:

  • Boris Johnson resigns as foreign secretary amid growing crisis over UK’s Brexit strategy

Johnson could ‘not champion proposals’

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson wrote:

“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently… That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self doubt.”

Mr Johnson said “we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit” and had concluded he “must go” since he “cannot in all conscience champion” the proposals agreed by Cabinet on Friday.

“As I said then, the government now has a song to sing,” he wrote. “The trouble is that I have practised the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat.”

  • His resignation came hours after David Davis quit as Brexit secretary, followed by a junior minister
  • Days ago the cabinet had agreed to the PM’s Brexit plan at Chequers
  • But Mr Davis said he did not “believe” in the Chequers plan and was not the best person to deliver it
  • Prominent Leave campaigner Dominic Raab has been appointed new Brexit secretary

https://www.bbc.com/news/live/uk-politics-44762836

 

US launch missile attack on Syria

As threatened by Donald Trump earlier this week he has ordered a US missile strike against targets in Syria.

The UK and France  have also taken part in the attack.

Theresa May has announced the UK involvement.

It has been described as a one off limited attack, but there must be some risk of escalation.

Probably the key thing now will be Russia’s response, having warned against any punishment of Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Statement on Syria

Jacinda Ardern

RT HON JACINDA ARDERN

This morning the Government was advised that targeted military action would be taken in response to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case.

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.

“It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Theresa May calls for long term response to Russia

The spat between the United Kingdom and Russia over the alleged nerve gas poisoning continues to escalate with UK Prime Minister Theresa May calling for a long term response, after a growing number of countries (New Zealand excluded) expelling Russian diplomats.

Reuters: Britain’s May calls for ‘long-term response’ to Russia after spy poisoning

British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for a “long-term response” by the West to the security threat from Russia as NATO followed member states in expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a double agent in England.

In the most sweeping such action against Moscow since the height of the Cold War, the United States and European Union members plan to expel scores of Russian diplomats in action against the Kremlin for the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter which they have blamed on Russia.

Russia, which denies any part in the March 4 attack on the Skripals, says the West’s action is a “provocative gesture” and has said it will respond.

The coordinated action among Western allies is seen as a huge diplomatic coup for May whose country is preparing to exit the EU bloc and may have had doubts about how much support she could count on.

Speaking to senior cabinet members in London on Tuesday, May said countries had acted against Russia not just out of solidarity but because they recognized the threat it posed.

Other diplomat/spy expulsions:

  • NATO 7 (plus 3 others pending)
  • Australia 2
  • USA 60 (their largest expulsion since 1986)
  • New Zealand 0

Russia has threatened symmetrical expulsions.

Bloomberg: Trump’s Russian Expulsions Leave Moscow Stunned

The MOEX Russia index of stocks closed down more than 2 percent, its steepest slide in almost a year, led by Gazprom PJSC and Sberbank PJSC. The ruble erased gains, trading little-changed at 57.3075 per dollar as of 7:12 p.m. in Moscow. The government’s 10-year ruble bonds dropped, lifting the yield five basis points to 7.06 percent. Russian credit-default swaps climbed to the highest since Jan. 1.

While the nerve gas poisoning has precipitated this it may be just a final straw.

Reuters: Before expulsions, a brick-by-brick hardening of U.S. stance toward Russia

America’s most sweeping expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War may have seemed like a dramatic escalation in Washington’s response to Moscow, but the groundwork for a more confrontational U.S. posture had been taking shape for months — in plain sight.

While President Donald Trump’s conciliatory rhetoric toward Moscow has dominated headlines, officials at the U.S. State Department, Pentagon and White House made a series of lower-profile decisions over the past year to counter Russia around the world – from Afghanistan to North Korea to Syria.

The State Department earlier in March announced plans to provide anti-tank missiles to Ukraine to defend against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Trump’s predecessor as president, Barack Obama, had declined to do so over fears of provoking Moscow.

In Syria last month, the U.S. military killed or injured as many as 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked private military firm after they attacked U.S. and U.S.-backed forces. The White House, meanwhile, firmly tied Russia to deadly strikes on civilians in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region.

In particular Europe is joining in taking a stand. NY Times: How an Outraged Europe Agreed to a Hard Line on Putin

The European Union is not usually a model of decisiveness, but the expulsion of Russian diplomats across the Continent on Monday was a dramatic and pointed gesture. It came in concert with a similar, larger move by the United States, which expelled 60 Russians, and signaled a new, tougher effort to punish bad behavior by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“I can’t think of any previous occasion when so many countries have coordinated on expulsions,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat in Moscow, adding that for many of the smaller countries, “it’s the first time since the Cold War that they’ve even expelled one Russian diplomat.”

Russia is always a tricky issue for the European Union, given its critical role as an energy supplier to the Continent, as well as the divided opinion among leaders on how confrontational, or not, the bloc should be with Mr. Putin.

But the March 4 poisoning in Salisbury, England, of the former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, crossed a line. The British authorities say they were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, representing the first use of a chemical agent on European soil since before the Second World War.

The brazen nature of the act was too much for European officials to ignore.

“This is an intelligence operation carried out with intelligence capacity with weaponized, weapons-grade chemical agents,” one senior European official said. “It has taken matters to an entirely different level.”

Alluding to Russia’s earlier aggressions in Ukraine, the senior official added, “Russia keeps violating international law in Crimea and Ukraine and unwritten rules on nonintervention, and now there is the use of nerve agents in Britain.”

Mr. Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany were prominent supporters of Mrs. May’s call for action, having planned tactics with Britain before the dinner. The French had provided the British with technical assistance on analyzing the poisoning case and come to the same conclusion. And when the Franco-German couple agree, others tend to fall into line, even if grumpily.

The decision was finalized Monday morning, as European Union ambassadors met in Brussels to describe what each country was prepared to do.

tensions are likely to continue and will probably increase as Russia retaliates.