Following the 2016 EU Referendum, Chatham House continues to provide an independent platform for debate and analysis around issues raised by the vote and the international implications of Brexit.

Issues covered include the future of UK foreign policy, implications of a no-deal Brexit, the backlash to globalization, inequality, the growing divide between cities and rural areas, identity, and the future of the nation-state.

UK PM Theresa May delays crunch vote on her Brexit deal


British Prime Minister Theresa May delayed a vote on a Brexit deal negotiated by her government – a decision that throws her plan to leave the European Union into chaos.

May admitted her agreement would have been defeated by a “significant margin” at Tuesday’s vote, but warned those calling for a second referendum on leaving the EU would risk “dividing the country again”.

“It is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue – the Northern Ireland backstop – there remains widespread and deep concern,” May said.

The prime minister said she would first ask the EU for more “reassurances” over the main bone of contention: a “backstop” to ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland, which her critics say means Britain could end up indefinitely subject to EU rules after it leaves.

Announcing the delay, May was laughed at by some lawmakers when she said there was broad support for the deal and that she had listened carefully to different views over it – the result of 18 months of tortuous negotiations.

‘No-deal’ scenario

Despite postponing the vote, the Conservative leader insisted her deal was the best compromise between continued membership of the European Union and a “no-deal” Brexit, which would see the UK crash out of the bloc without key agreements on trade and movement in place.

Nevertheless, May said she would meet EU leaders to express concerns shared by opponents of her deal while making preparations for a “no-deal” scenario. Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29.

Alan Wager, from the group UK in a Changing Europe, said despite May saying she would go back to Brussels “the deal cannot be substantially changed”.

“I think she’s going to buy time and bring back the deal in January with a bit less time from MPs to say we’ve got a better option. She’s saying to MPs, ‘look it’s this or nothing’,” Wager told Al Jazeera.

“I think we’re looking at a period of instability that’s going to go on beyond March now.”

May’s government and parliament at large are divided along a number of divergent views, ranging from those who feel her deal does not go far enough in separating from the EU and others who feel closer cooperation is possible.

Many others believe the United Kingdom should not leave the EU at all.


Burdened with Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May is on the brink

‘May needs to go’

Opposite parliament, a small but raucous crowd of demonstrators spanning both sides of the Brexit divide gathered near Westminster’s College Green to make their feelings clear.

Amid competing five-metre high Union Jack and European Union flags, 54-year-old business owner Catherine Ginn said she was “disgusted” by Monday’s events.

“I think May has chickened out of this vote because it’s clear she’s not going to get it through. But I don’t care about this deal, the only deal I care about is remain,” Ginn told Al Jazeera.

Others, meanwhile, said the British prime minister had failed to deliver a definitive enough Brexit.

“May needs to go, she is well past her sell-by date and we need a new prime minister,” Tony Blighe, a 59-year-old retiree, told Al Jazeera.

“We need someone to stand up and say negotiations have failed and we are leaving on March 29 under World Trade Organisation rules,” he added.

No-confidence motion

Inside the Commons, May now faces the threat of a no-confidence motion.

If triggered and successful, it would end the rule of her government.

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn told parliament: “The prime minister is trying to buy herself one last chance to save this deal. If she doesn’t take on board the fundamental changes required, then she must make way for those who can.”

Earlier, the leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, said she will support Labour if it lodges a no-confidence motion on May’s rule.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, also said his party would support a motion of no-confidence if it is called.

“With the fiasco today, the government has really lost all authority. I and my colleagues will fully support the leader of the opposition if he now proceeds to a no-confidence vote as duty surely calls,” Cable said.

Prominent Conservative Brexit hardliner, Jacob Rees-Mogg, also called on May to either “govern or quit”.

Pound plunges

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Monday Brexit would be discussed at the council meeting on Thursday, including how to help the British government ratify the exit process, but that the Withdrawal Agreement was not up for renegotiation.

“We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification. As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario,” Tusk said on Twitter.

The pound, the main gauge of international investors’ confidence in the country’s economy, fell to a 20-month low of $1.25, down a sharp 1.7 percent on the day.

Investors are worried the political gridlock in Britain over how to leave the EU is increasing the likelihood of the country exiting the bloc without a deal on future relations.

That is a worst-case scenario, the Bank of England says, that could lead to the deepest recession in about a century and a further plunge in the pound.


MAY IMAGE NEWSMay vows post-Brexit UK will be leading investor in Africa


British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday pledged to prioritise investment in Africa as she started a three-nation visit to the continent to drum up new trade deals ahead of leaving the European Union.

Her tour of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — May’s first to Africa since becoming premier in 2016 — is seen as an effort to reinforce Britain’s global ambitions after Brexit.

“By 2022, I want the UK to be the G7’s number one investor in Africa, with Britain’s private sector companies taking the lead,” May told business leaders in Cape Town, South Africa.

The G7 groups major industrialised nations but does not include China, which has become a big investor on the African continent.

“As prime minister of a trading nation whose success depends on global markets, I want to see strong African economies that British companies can do business with,” she said.

“I want to create a new partnership between the UK and our friends in Africa built around shared prosperity and shared security.”
May is facing pressure at home from so-called Remainers sceptical of her ability to forge trade deals once Britain severs ties with the EU, as well as from Brexiteers fearful she will not deliver a complete break.

“As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships,” she said in a statement as she arrived in South Africa.

Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, whose July departure from the cabinet brought May’s government to the brink, said in his resignation speech that May’s current Brexit policy would hamper London’s ability to strike independent trade deals.

But May said Britain was well placed and had many companies ready to invest in Africa.

She announced a new four-billion-pound ($5 billion/4.4 billion euro) investment programme. There were no immediate details about the initiative.

May added that Britain would also host an African investment summit next year, and would open new diplomatic missions across the continent.

May will later Tuesday present President Cyril Ramaphosa with the bell from the troopship Mendi, which sank in the Channel in 1917 drowning more than 600 mainly South African troops who were set to join the Allied forces fighting in World War I.

It was the worst maritime disaster in South Africa’s history, and has become a symbol of its Great War sacrifice.

The bell was given to a BBC reporter in 2017 following an anonymous tip, according to the broadcaster.

The prime minister is also expected to visit Robben Island where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

May will head to Nigeria on Wednesday for meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja and with victims of modern slavery in Lagos.

On Thursday she will meet Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, shortly after his return from seeing US President Donald Trump in Washington and before he travels to China to meet President Xi Jinping.

The prime minister will also see British troops in training action and tour a business school, before concluding the trip at a state dinner hosted by Kenyatta.

China supports Zimbabwe election results


China, a key ally of Zimbabwe, has endorsed the country’s elections results and suggested that the international community needs to show more support.

Beijing on Friday urged all sides to respect the outcome of the presidential election in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner with 50.8 per cent of the vote.

The narrow margin is just enough to avoid a run-off against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who dismissed what he called “unverified fake results”.

Opposition allegations of foul play had already sparked a deadly crackdown on protesters in the capital Harare on Wednesday when troops opened fire, killing six.

“As a friendly nation to Zimbabwe, we call upon relevant parties to put the interest of the country and the people first and respect the choice made by the Zimbabwean people,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“We hope the international community will join us to make contributions to upholding the peace and development of Zimbabwe,” Geng said.

China, a long-time trade partner of Zimbabwe, joins Tanzania, South Africa and Burundi in accepting the poll results.

President Mnangagwa, who took power after veteran leader Robert Mugabe was ousted in November last year, was chosen as the successor in the ruling ZANU-PF party.

President Xi Jinping hailed Mnangagwa, who received military training in China when he was a young liberation fighter in the 1960s, as an “old friend” of the Asian powerhouse when he visited Beijing in April.

Beijing had long been one of Mugabe’s most powerful allies and a major trade partner, as the West shunned him over his government’s human rights violations, but it avoided publicly taking sides during his ousting.

At last, good news on Brexit: Britain is heading for Norway.

Source the Guardian


Norway here we come. This is the good news on the Brexit front. It will take two years. The voyage will be stormy and the destination messy. But plus-or-minus Norway offers the only sensible way for Britain through the Brexit morass. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer agree. Nick Clegg agrees. Most of the cabinet and the Tories’ remainers publicly or privately agree. So do those close to the Brussels negotiations. They still seem unable to shake hands on it, but they will soon.

The week has been full of hopeful signs. On Monday the EU’s Michel Barnier – a secret “Norwegian” – could not conceal his glee at his cobbled-together transition deal, nor could his British counterpart, David Davis.

The deal was a document of the most brutal realism. For now, the UK remains a non-participating member of the single market, with freedom of movement and right of settlement. Farmers and fishers are “as you were”. Britain can discuss “offshore” trade deals, but not agree them. Hard Brexiteers can go jump off a cliff.

The smart money in Brussels was always on the Norway option. The so-called European Economic Area was a simple “off-the-shelf” basis for a bespoke deal with the UK. The challenge lay not in negotiating it but in overcoming Theresa May’s belief that her fate depended on some 50 backbench leavers and the editors of the Sun and the Daily Mail. She was terrified of them.

Even so, the assumption was that, as the March 2019 deadline approached and the impossibility of a “frictionless” hard Brexit became ever clearer, Theresa May would be forced into a series of tactical retreats. The tough Lancaster House and Florence speeches, and Chequers last month, were dollops of fudge to keep hard Brexiteers on board. But this week’s transition deal would mark a parting of the ways. So it has appeared. The sight of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and assorted friends shuffling miserably into line, whimpering over dead fish, was heart-warming. So in a sense has been May’s and Johnson’s distraction over Russian poison, hysterically comparing Vladimir Putin to Stalin and Hitler.

A detailed analysis of the Norway option in last month’s Economist was unequivocally favourable. Norway in 1994 went through the same referendum debate as Britain, with the same drift towards compromise. The country remained in the European Free Trade Association (Efta). It stayed open to a single European market in goods, capital and labour, but it held aloof from the common fisheries and agriculture policies. Norway also stayed outside the EU customs union, to secure its own trade deals elsewhere. It is hard to see what substantive argument a Brexiter could have against this.

Norway fiercely denies it is a “vassal state”. It is rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the “most democratic” in the world. It must abide by EU rules on trade in goods within the EU. But so must EU members, who can be overruled by majority voting. On matters of joint concern, such as energy, Norway is consulted and heard. Its lobbying office next to the Berlaymont building is more effective than any council vote. As for the European court, the Efta court liaises with it and is rarely in conflict.

Trade in services and finance is more crucial to the UK than in goods, and here both Europe and the world would remain its oyster, as this EU single market is in its infancy. As for migration, Efta arrangements embrace a register of EU nationals, controls on their citizenship and property ownership and expulsion if they are out of work for six months. A mere 20% of Norwegians regret their Efta status. Of course Norway is smaller than the UK. But the issue is whether its model is practicable. It is.

The one argument against the Norway option for Britain is that it would lie outside the customs union. How valuable this freedom is to Norway’s economy is moot. Efta has laboriously reached deals with 38 countries, including Canada. But it requires a hard border with Sweden to enforce country-of-origin controls. Since such a border is anathema in Northern Ireland, Norway plus customs union with the EU makes sense. I have seen no calculation that shows an advantage to UK trade in being outside one.

Yes, Britain would pay into the EU for all this, as does Norway. But Norway’s money is carefully earmarked for grants, scholarships and projects. Likewise there are disciplines with “regulatory alignment” within an EU single market. But they did not worry Thatcher when she co-invented the market in 1985. Leaving the EU would usefully repatriate some controls, as over farming, construction standards, procurement and the environment. Britain, like Norway, could opt out of fish quotas. But these are trading practicalities not issues of principle. They are about how to make the best of “the decision to leave”, not about following a neo-imperial will-o’-the-wisp.

What Britons thought they were “leaving” in 2016 remains opaque. No replacement question was asked. Britain will withdraw from the EU, but what takes its place must be a decision for parliament. Everything we read from polls and surveys suggests there is no majority for trade barriers at Calais or a ban on European care workers or plumbers. Public opinion wants soft Brexit. It wants Norway.

The last time Norway featured prominently in the Commons was in 1940. British failure against the Nazis cost Chamberlain his job, but these events formed the basis for victory and reconstruction. Sooner or later, the Commons will debate Norway again: whether the UK should remain within a single market and customs union, however camouflaged. When that happens, May will drive her hard Brexiters into sullen acceptance or resignation. But she can tell them her hands have been tied to a Norwegian mast. If so, history could regard her twisting and tacking, her softly, softly Brexit strategy as the most brilliant of political manoeuvres. But I am not holding my breath.

Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist

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Brexit transition deal: ‘Significant step’ made as Tory civil war looms


Significant concessions are made on the rights of EU citizens arriving after 2019 and control over fishing quotas.

The UK secured a key concession from Brussels by winning the right to sign trade deals with non-EU countries.

However, they will not come into force until after the transition ends,the document states.

There is still no agreement on the EU’s so-called ‘punishment clause’ that would restrict Britain’s access to the single market during the transition. The draft text appears to have softened following a leak in February.

A joint committee of representatives from both sides was also announced to arbitrate on disagreements for the 21 months after Brexit day.

David Davis and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
Image:David Davis won concessions to scrap the ‘punishment clause’

But the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, won a battle to define 13 key areas – including health and education – that could form part of a “common regulatory area” in Northern Ireland in case of no deal.

He also secured the same rights for EU citizens who arrive in the UK during the transition period as those in the country before March 2019

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