Hectic week where my attention was mostly focused on British politics. I am consciously avoiding the Cambridge Analytica scandal as I simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to comment on it. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing less articles and elaborating more here due to professional constraints…
A good week for the Conservative Party and Theresa May. David Davis and the government finally agreed to the Brexit transition deal with the European Union. While there have been further concessions on the British side, there wasn’t anything that could have served a as a rallying cry for the dissenters in the more extreme sides of the Leave and Remain factions of the party.
There was some major consternation over the acceptance by the UK government that fishing quotas will continue to be set by the EU during the transition period. There were grumblings of mutiny from the Sottish Tories led by Douglas Ross and supported by Ruth Davidson. However, May called the would be rebels into 10 Downing Street and she seems to have weathered that storm for now.
The end date for the transition period of December 31st, 2020 will provide businesses with just about enough certainty now to get their ducks in a row for the short to medium term as the UK will remain in the Single Market and Customs Union during this period.
I have written a few times now about how nothing has been agreed on the Irish Border and that we were heading towards a political earthquake that would probably lead to Theresa May losing her job. I have to say I am not so sure if this is the case now. May seems to have gotten most of her MPs a little more onside and while there is still a good chance she’ll lose some votes in parliament I don’t now see a heave taking place this year.
That said, the UK local elections on May 3rd may still be a major blow to the Tories and Theresa May’s leadership with Labour set to make major gains based on the consensus of most election gurus.
The chances of this happening though have slightly decreased over the last two weeks with Jeremy Corbyn taking flak from a number of flanks. There have been rows over his statement on the Salisbury attack, a fallout over an anti-Semitic mural and most recently his sacking of Owen Smith as shadow secretary for Northern Ireland.
From what I can deduce Owen Smith can have little complaint over his dismissal after penning an article in the Guardian that went against the Labour policy. Smith lost out to Corbyn in the last leadership contest in the summer of 2016. The relationship between the two has been uneasy since but the timing couldn’t be worse for Corbyn who is now beginning to see his party consistently poll behind the Tories (they’ve been behind in 5 of the 7 polls in March so far).
I will certainly come back to polling and the potential successes and failures of the main parties between now and May 3rd but I am a lot less confident that we will see any major changes in the British political landscape in the short term…
The two main stories in the US this week were the appointment of John Bolton as Trump’s new national security advisor and the March for Our Lives pro-gun control marches across the US and further afield yesterday.
John Bolton seems to be a particularly hawkish security advisor that will raise some eyebrows when some of his previous statements on North Korea and Iran are analysed;
“We have a very limited amount of time left before NorthKorea gains deliverable nuclear weapons. We’ve got to look at the very unattractive choice of using military force to deny them that capability,”
“The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”
On the March for Our Lives rallies it’s hard to assess what impact, if any, they will have now and at the US Congressional and Senate elections in November. Gun control is still such a divisive issue that, like Brexit in the UK, is not simply split evenly along party lines.
A very bad result for Fianna Fail (25% -4%) in today’s Sunday Business Post poll has thrown me slightly on how to read the last week in Irish politics. I was going to write about how Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael (33% +1%) are still looking a little sheepish over the Strategic Communications Unit but it seems the electorate don’t care about it as much as Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein (16% +2%) do. Fine Gael have hit at least 32% in almost every poll since November and Fianna Fail, under Michael Martin, currently look bereft of ideas about how to close that gap…
March 11th: The Two Donalds: Trump to meet Kim Jong Un and Tusk reminds UK that it's "Ireland first"...
One Big Surprise (Trump to meet Kim Jong Un) and something pretty obvious (Tusk on Ireland) were among key highlights this week….
Trump shocked the world last week by agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un before the “end of May”. It came out of nowhere and was something very few expected. It does remain to be seen if it is even possible to organise a meeting of this magnitude in such a short timeframe. However, Trump has little regard for due process and protocols so I think he will be able to pull it off.
Looking slightly ahead, the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district on Monday should be very interesting. It was a district that Trump won by 19% in 2016. The young Democrats candidate, Conor Lamb, is causing quite a stir. A win for him would be a great boost for the Democrats ahead of the November Congressionals, in which I’ve recently punted on the them re-claiming the House.
Donald Tusk hammered May’s proposed solutions for the Irish border on Wednesday. This was to be expected after sources from the EU have continually poured water on the alleged progress being made on the issue over the last few weeks. He went further and said;
“If in London someone assumes that the Brexit negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.”
I’ll continue to follow Brexit closely as it impinges upon most of the political arenas I follow closely…
March 4th: Trump itches for trade war after Hicks departure and Xi Jinping paves way for authoritarian rule...
Storms, political and meteorological, dominated the last seven days…
Trump had a tough week with one of his longest serving aides, Hopes Hicks, resigning one day after giving testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. Allegedly, she admitted to investigators that she had told “white lies” for the president, much to his ire.
There is some divergence of opinion on whether she was pushed out or chose to resign to pursue new opportunities. Either way, it will be a blow to the president as his tightly-knit group of key advisers seems to constantly diminish.
The frustration may still have been in his mind when he announced tariffs of 25% and 10% respectively on imported steel and aluminium. It seems to have come as a shock to many close to the president.
However, when questioned on the policy, Trump announced that “trade wars are good” and further threatened to place tariffs on EU imported cars. I won’t speculate on the potential impact of the tariffs yet (according to Reuters the US is the world’s biggest steel importer, buying 35.6 million tonnes in 2017.). The worrying part is the lack of long term thinking and strategy with minimal consideration for the reactive measure other key powers around the globe will take.
Early in the week, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee announced that it would be removing the current two-term limit for Presidents. It’s seen as a major move towards authoritarian rule for Xi Jinping. It is a sharp contrast to the current chaos engulfing the United States leadership. However, in the long run it may increase unrest in the country.
China has continued to have a strong economic performance and this may have emboldened him to push for this power consolidation. As I’ve mentioned it may expose his leadership to future dissent. Putin got around the two-term limit by allowing a key ally, Dmitry Medvedev, to rule for one term back in 2007 while Putin served as Prime Minister.
China has done an excellent job of steady progress that flies under the radar as much as possible for the first or second (based on the metrics) largest economy in the world. A potential act of hubris like this may hinder the low key, consistent progress at some point in the future.
A hugely momentous week in British politics that focused on Brexit. I had written a preview here and will write the epilogue in the next two days. My immediate take away is that the Brexiteer wing of her party has been appeased for now…
A week in Ireland that was dominated by the coming together of Storm Emma and the “Beast from the East”. I’ll give it a pass this week and come back to the state of play in Irish politics in the coming weeks.