Tricky time for Ardern for trade talks in Europe

In the UK Brexit is in disarray, and this mess will cause difficulties working out future trade alliances there and in Europe. But all this up in the air Jacinda Ardern is going to try.

RNZ: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heading to Europe with a focus on trade

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heads to London this weekend where she’s expected to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the wake of her surviving a no-confidence vote.

While there Ms Ardern will push for certainty that New Zealand will be left no worse off in respect of trade following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU).

I doubt that trade with New Zealand will be much of a priority for May or for the UK right now. They don’t know what they are doing for themselves let alone what they might be able to do with countries on the other side of the world.

She will then head to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, along with the Finance Minister Grant Robertson, where the focus will be progressing a free trade agreement with Europe.

The prime minister will then head to Brussels for high-level meetings.

“My visit to the UK is an opportunity to underline New Zealand’s position as a natural and long-standing partner for the country as it redefines its global role post-Brexit,” Ms Ardern said.

What ‘post-Brexit’ will look like is anyone’s guess right now.

“I will be using my engagements to enhance New Zealand’s profile as a likeminded partner to the EU across a wide range of issues, including climate change, social policy, trade and our commitment to the rules-based system,” she said.

“There is still much progress to make in trade talks with our European partners, so a key focus of this whole trip is to speak to European Commission and individual country leaders to shore up support for our ongoing negotiations and ensure New Zealand exporters achieve a great deal.”

Ardern is probably on the mark saying “There is still much progress to make in trade talks with our European partners”.

She has too make the most of her trip to London and Europe, but it is going to be difficult making much progress on trade deals.

Unless Ardern can sort out Brexit for May and the EU while she is there.

May loses Brexit vote badly, now faces no confidence vote

As expected the Withdrawal Vote (Brexit plan) was defeated in the UK parliament, the only surprise being how badly the loss was:

  • Ayes 202
  • Noes 432

That’s the worst defeat by a Government in Britain in 95 years. In normal times that degree of humiliation would result in a rapid resignation by the Prime Minister, but these are not normal times. Theresa May is hanging on defiantly.

Soon after the loss Jeremy Corbyn and party leaders tabled a vote of no confidence:

This will be debated and probably voted Wednesday in the UK (Thursday NZ time). It is predicted that May may survive this, but her Government and the Brexit plan (or lack of) are both in tatters.

Telegraph:

Theresa May’s future rests in the balance after Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no-confidence motion on Tuesday night, just minutes after the Government suffered an unprecedented defeat over its Brexit deal.

With MPs voting by 432 to 202 to reject the draft withdrawal agreement, Mr Corbyn raised a point of order requesting that a vote be held on Wednesday,  after Prime Minister’s Questions.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Corbyn highlighted that the defeat was the largest inflicted on any Government since the 1920s, adding that Mrs May had “lost the confidence of this House and this country.”

We may find out by morning, NZ time.

Morning update from BBC:

  • Government faces vote of no confidence after PM’s huge parliamentary defeat on Tuesday
  • The Commons rejected Mrs May’s EU withdrawal agreement by 432 votes to 202
  • MPs now debating Labour’s no confidence motion ahead of vote at 19:00 GMT
  • Government expected to survive, with DUP and Tory Brexiteers backing PM
  • Labour says further no-confidence votes could follow if this one fails
  • European leaders have reacted with dismay at the voting down of the deal

Guardian – Brexit: MPs debate no-confidence motion after May’s deal defeat

MPs should be given indicative votes on what happens next, says Brexit committee

Next move ‘has to come from London,’ says EU

It isn’t just the Conservatives who are divided.

John Woodcock, who was an elected as a Labour MP but who now sits as an independent after leaving the party because of his opposition to Jeremy Corbyn, has told the Commons that he will not be voting for the motion of no confidence in the government this evening. He said he thought Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, were not fit to hold high office.

Here is the full transcript of what Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told the European parliament this morning about the Commons Brexit vote. He said “the risk of a no deal has never been so high.”

Withdrawal Vote expected in UK today

The vote in the UK parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement, which is crucial for Brexit, is expected this morning New Zealand time (after 7 pm Tuesday evening UK time).

Missy reports:


The vote on the Withdrawal Agreement will take place sometime after 7.00pm local time.

Yesterday the PM presented to Parliament letters from Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker stating that the intent is that the Irish Backstop is not meant to be permanent. This has not appeased those against the agreement as it is not a legal document but rather a political assurance, meaning that if there is a dispute the letters will not hold up in court.

Some of the MPs that will be voting against the agreement believe that the EU will come back to the UK with last minute concessions to the agreement. They point to precedents set by the EU where they have agreed to concessions in international agreements at the last minute making way for the agreements to be passed. The most recent example being the Canadian FTA where they agreed the day before Canada was due to walk away.

The EU do respond to brinksmanship, that the UK Government and Remain MPs are not willing to do that is cowardice. They have been brainwashed by the fear mongering, most of which has been debunked.

It will be interesting to note Ireland’s reaction to a vote against the deal, so far they have played the brinksmanship game the best. Ireland have told the EU they will need millions in bailouts and aid in the event of a no deal Brexit, that Ireland have been the most stubborn on the backstop has meant they have garnered very little sympathy in Britain. However, it is possible that if the deal is voted down and a no deal looks more likely then Varadkar would be more inclined to compromise. The next election for Ireland is in 2021, so two years after Brexit, if Varadkar is any sort of politician he will be looking to that as any downturn in the wake of a no deal Brexit may harm him if he is seen as the cause of it.

One of the biggest mistakes that May made was postponing the vote on the deal. If she had held the vote last December and it had failed by a very large margin then she could have used that as leverage to try and get the EU to agree to concessions.

By postponing the debate she has led to the problems of MPs trying to usurp her – and the Government’s – authority on Brexit.

 

Divisions in Europe and the rise of the extreme right and left

From Missy in the UK:


The political discourse in Europe is getting more intense as divisions are pushing people more and more to the extremes of left and right.

In the UK the Brexit debate has led to the divisions coming to the fore, however, this isn’t new in politics here, as many who were around in Thatcher’s time will remind you. Social Media has given a wider audience to it though, and the anonymity for some on social media has given the opportunity for language to become more and more abusive, something that is now spilling over into real life.

Those on the far left are happily calling political opponents fascists, far right, nazis, meanwhile some anti Brexit supporters are talking about killing all Leave voters, whilst others are calling Leave voters racists, xenophobes, nazis, fascist (that word again).

Some far left activists and activist groups have publicly called for Conservative politicians to be harassed wherever they go, they have sent death threats, and wished their children dead, whilst some on the far right (not as organised in groups as the far left extremists) have threatened rape and violence to those that they disagree with. This is not sudden either, several years ago when a back bench MP, the now Shadow Chancellor called for direct action against Conservative MPs calling them social criminals, he has also been filmed repeating a dubious ‘joke’ calling for violence against a female Conservative MP using the phrase ‘lynch the bitch’. When MPs are using language like this against their colleagues in the House of Commons who can blame their followers for thinking it is acceptable?

Anna Soubry, a pro Remain conservative MP has reportedly used extreme language to describe leave voters, (I have not seen any video evidence of her reported comments as I have of McDonnell’s), she also referred to her own Conservative colleagues that support Brexit as extremists and called for them to be slung out of the party. There is also a report that about 3 or 4 years ago she referred to her constituents as racists.

Yesterday during an interview on College Green Anna Soubry was shouted down by Brexit supporters and called a nazi. This has gained a lot of media coverage, which is prompting much condemnation, but also a bit of bemusement as to why the media have not covered as extensively pro Brexit MPs being shouted down and abused, or why the term nazi is suddenly so distasteful to pro Remain supporters when many of them have been using it for the last 3 years to denigrate Leave supporters. The bemusement and the whataboutery isn’t good for discourse, but it shows up the hypocrisy of many on the extremes of politics, where the language they use against those they disagree with is not okay when it is used against them.

Many on the left of politics in the UK tend to take the moral high ground on abuse against politicians, pointing to the murder of Jo Cox as evidence the left don’t do violence, only the right do. This is a dangerous position to take as we see in the violence of groups like Momentum and Antifa.

Today a story came out from Germany. Yesterday a German politician was badly beaten by three masked men in Bremen, he was saved by a construction worker who came to his aid, it was reported he was left half dead. The politician? Frank Magnitz, the leader of the AfD in Bremen.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46792556

It is not healthy for our democracy to descend into this level of abuse, words are used to shut down debate or invalidate someone’s opinion and it becomes the loudest that are heard and considered the voice of the majority, even though they are most likely the minority on the extremes. When words like racist, xenophobe, nazi, fascist are used to describe people who want to have legitimate discussions on topics like immigration the meaning of these words are diluted, and then they are no longer listened to or taken as credible descriptors of someone’s beliefs.

Britain trying to go global after Brexit

The British Secretary of Defence has said that Britain needs to ‘recast themselves in a different way’, turning from European to global influence – something they retreated from when turning way from their prior colonies to embrace Europe starting in the 1970s.

The Telegraph:  Britain to become ‘true global player’ post-Brexit with military bases in South East Asia and Caribbean, says Defence Secretary 

Britain will open two new military bases in the Caribbean and South East Asia as the country looks to step up its military presence overseas after Brexit, Gavin Williamson has revealed.

The Defence secretary urges Britons to stop downplaying the country’s influence internationally and recognise that the UK will stand tall on the world stage after leaving the European Union.

In an interview with The Telegraph in his Ministry of Defence office, Mr Williamson says: “We have got to be so much more optimistic about our future as we exit the European Union.

“This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War, when we can recast ourselves in a different way.”

New Zealand relied heavily on Britain for export and import trade as a colony and later as a semi-independent country, but were dumped when Britain united with Europe.

We may see some advantages in improving trade with Britain now, but that will only be as one of a number of trading regions and partners, if it gets anywhere.

I don’t know how a greater British military presence will be seen in South East Asia, but that shouldn’t cause us any problems here.

EU leaders agree to UK Brexit proposal

RNZ: UK’s Brexit deal agreed by EU leaders

EU leaders have approved an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and future relations – insisting it is the “best and only deal possible”.

After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour’s discussion.

hey said the deal – which needs to be approved by the UK Parliament – paved the way for an “orderly withdrawal”.

Theresa May said the deal “delivered for the British people” and set the UK “on course for a prosperous future”.

Speaking in Brussels, she urged both Leave and Remain voters to unite behind the agreement, insisting the British public “do not want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit”.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

The EU officially endorsed the terms of the UK’s withdrawal during a short meeting, bringing to an end negotiations which began in March 2017.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said anyone in Britain who thought the bloc might offer improved terms if MPs rejected the deal would be “disappointed.

The UK Parliament is expected to vote on the deal on 12 December, but its approval is far from guaranteed.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the DUP and many Conservatives MPs are set to vote against.

Mrs May has appealed to the British public to get behind the agreement – saying that although it involved compromises, it was a “good deal that unlocks a bright future for the UK”.

At a news conference in Brussels, she said the agreement would:

  • end freedom of movement “in full and once and for all”
  • protect the constitutional integrity of the UK, and
  • ensure a return to “laws being made in our country by democratically elected politicians interpreted and enforced by British courts”.

The agreement, she added, would not remove Gibraltar from the “UK family” – a reference to a last-minute wrangle with Spain over the territory.

The EU leaders have approved the two key Brexit documents:

  • The EU withdrawal agreement: a 599-page, legally binding document setting out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. It covers the UK’s £39bn “divorce bill”, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland “backstop” – a way to keep the Irish border open, if trade talks stall
  • The political declaration, which sets out what the UK and EU’s relationship may be like after Brexit – outlining how things like UK-EU trade and security will work

There was no formal vote on Sunday, with the EU proceeding by consensus.

Divided over Brexit but nowhere to run

Financial Times:  Brexit deal crisis: Rudd returns, Gove stays

Theresa May has reshuffled her cabinet as she battles for survival, replacing the two minister who resigned as part of the political fallout over the draft Brexit treaty. The big question still hanging over the prime minister is whether those seeking to oust her can find 48 Tory MPs needed to trigger a no confidence vote.

BBC:

Summary

  1. Steve Barclay is appointed new Brexit Secretary, replacing Dominic Raab
  2. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd returns to cabinet as the Work and Pensions Secretary
  3. Theresa May answered listeners’ questions on the draft Brexit deal on LBC radio show
  4. Michael Gove ends speculation about whether he would follow fellow Brexiteers out of the cabinet
  5. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox joins Mr Gove in urging MPs to support the deal
  6. More than 20 MPs have called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister

Also from BBC:

When the UK made a major change in direction towards the EU it created chaos in New Zealand as our biggest marker for produce turned it’s back on us.

Now the chaos is in Britain as they try to exit from the EU, with little effect on us apart from possibly, eventually, providing more trade opportunities.

UK Ministers resign, confidence vote likely for Theresa May

Missy has summarised developments (overnight NZ time) in the UK political split over Brexit plans, with a number of Cabinet Ministers resigning (7 so far), and a confidence vote in Theresa May likely.

(Thanks for this Missy).


Her ‘deal’ has been compared to Chamberlain returning from Munich.

A quick review of this morning’s happenings (rather than re-posting everything I posted this morning).

Five Members of the cabinet have resigned, they are:

  1. Shailesh Vara – Junior Minister for Northern Ireland. He claims that the deal leaves Britain in a half way house.
  2. Dominic Raab – Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. He said the indefinite backstop threatens to break up the Union.
  3. Esther McVey – Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. She said the deal does not honour the result of the referendum.
  4. Suella Braverman – Junior Minister for the Department for Exiting the EU. She warned that the concessions do not respect the will of the people.
  5. Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Education Secretary. She said the deal is unacceptable to Brexit Voters.
  6. Ranil Jayawardena – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice. He said the deal does not deliver a fair Brexit.
  7. Rehman Chishti, the PM’s trade envoy to Pakistan and Vice chairman of the Conservative Party for communities has resigned, saying that the deal is contrary to their Manifesto commitment.

May gave a statement in Parliament after which she received no support. During the questions after Jacob Rees-Mogg asked May why he shouldn’t put in a letter to the 1922 Committee Chariman. This is quite a big thing, whatever you think of him JRM has always supported the PM, he hasn’t supported the deal, but he has always said he supports the PM of the day, and that he has indicated in Parliament that he is thinking of putting in a letter of no confidence is quite a big deal, and he has influence among other Brexiters.

When he spoke in Parliament JRM obviously already had his letter written, he has just submitted it to the 1922 Committee. The key part is this: ‘It is of considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place. Regrettably, this is not the situation, therefore, in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures of the Conservative Party and the 1922 Committee this is a formal letter of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May.’

JRM has said that the Brexit deal has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the PM.

It is expected that the required number of letters will be received by the Chair of the 1922 Committee by tomorrow, and if so then a vote of confidence in Theresa May as leader on Tuesday is expected.

There has been some speculation on who may run for leader, though I think we may get a better idea when the Chair of the 1922 Committee are closer to receiving the 48 letters needed and we see which Cabinet members resign then.

Leading contenders at the moment are:

  • Dominic Raab (odds about 11-2)
  • Boris Johnson (odds about 5-1)
  • Sajid Javid (odds about 5-1) he is the most credible leading contender, despite having voted remain he is against a soft Brexit and for delivering Brexit. He has gone against Theresa May on several occasions, and he was reportedly behind a tougher stance on EU Migrants post Brexit than was originally positioned by TM. Has the advantage of being an ethnic minority (Pakistani parents) and a (non practicing) Muslim, despite having been brought up in a Muslim household he doesn’t practice now, and has stated on a number of occasions the only religion in his house is Christianity (his wife is apparently a practicing Christian). So looks good for the moderate Muslim vote, but isn’t a problem for the extreme anti-Muslim vote.
  • Jeremy Hunt (odds about 8-1) he won’t be a popular choice, he is universally disliked by the public.
  • David Davis (odds about 11-1) he is a popular choice among many party members to bring in as an interim PM until Brexit is done.
  • Amber Rudd (odds about 50-1)

Sources are reporting that Michael Gove was offered the Brexit Secretary job, but he has turned it down unless he can go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.

 

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

 

UK to review medicinal cannabis use

Like here are elsewhere in the world pressure has been growing in the UK to allow the use of cannabis products for medicinal use. Sick children have been used to highlight the issue, and the UK government has now announced a review of drug laws.

BBC: Medicinal cannabis use to be reviewed by government

The use of medicinal cannabis is to be reviewed, which could lead to more prescriptions of drugs made from the plant, the home secretary has said.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Javid said the position “we find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory”.

The decision was prompted by recent high-profile cases of children with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil to control seizures.

The review would be held in two parts, Mr Javid told MPs. The first will make recommendations on which cannabis-based medicines might offer real medical and therapeutic benefits to patients.

In the second part, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will consider whether changes should be made to the classification of these products after assessing “the balance of harms and public health needs”.

He said: “If the review identifies significant medical benefits, then we do intend to reschedule [change the rules].”

He said the cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell had made him conclude it was time to review the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

He also announced that Alfie, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was being issued with a licence to receive cannabis-based drugs. The six-year-old has a very rare form of epilepsy that causes up to 150 seizures per month,

His family had originally applied to the government in April, saying his condition improved after using cannabis oil in the Netherlands.

Sounds similar to what has been happening here.

But Sajid Javid stressed the drug would remain banned for recreational use.

Separating medicinal use from recreational use is tricky – fears of opening the floodgates for recreational use often hold back politicians from acting on medicinal use, but that’s ridiculous given the widespread recreational use now.

It’s bizarre that recreational product is widely available but medicinal product is difficult to obtain.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott welcomed Mr Javid’s statement, telling MPs that it was “long overdue”.

Lady Meacher, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform – which two years ago called for cannabis-based drugs to be legalised – said the move was a “no brainer” which could benefit many people.

She said: “About one million people, probably, could benefit from medical cannabis – people with severe pain, obviously children with terrible epilepsy.

“There are 200,000 people in this country with uncontrolled epileptic seizures; MS sufferers, people with Parkinson’s, people with cancer.

“So there are just so many people who must be celebrating today, and I’m celebrating with them.”

She compared cannabis with morphine, and said it was “much, much safer, less addictive and has much, much less in the way of side effects”.

As we know here, opposition MPs can talk big reforms, but seem to get cold feet when in power.

The incoming Government here introduced the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill

This Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The Bill will introduce an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil; provide a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet; and amend Schedule 2 of the Act so that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classed as controlled drugs.

This is currently at Select Committee stage. The limitation to “terminally ill people” has been strongly criticised. Hopefully sense will prevail after the committee considers public submissions.