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Boris Johnson: The dictator

Ideas on Europe Blog - Tue, 06/08/2019 - 22:08

We thought that Prime Minister, Theresa May, was dictatorial. But her replacement, Boris Johnson, has taken the word to new depths.

Mrs May tried her best – but failed – to pass Brexit by bypassing Parliament.

But Mr Johnson is determined to ride roughshod over Parliament, if he must, to ensure Brexit happens on 31 October, deal or no deal, come what may, do or die.

Today’s front page of The Times announced:

‘Boris Johnson would refuse to resign even after losing a confidence vote so he could force through a no-deal Brexit on October 31, under plans being considered by Downing Street.’

The Times reported that Mr Johnson would ignore the result of a confidence vote and stay on as Prime Minister.

Could he do that? Apparently, yes.

Constitutional experts have confirmed that Mr Johnson would not be under any legal obligation to quit if he lost a confidence vote.

Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, said that technically, under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, the Prime Minister was not required to resign upon losing a vote of confidence.

“In terms of a strict reading of the legislation, Boris is not required to resign. It is completely silent on all of this,” she told The Times.

“The onus is on the incumbent Prime Minister – they get to choose whether they resign. If they do not it is hard for a new government to be formed without dragging the Queen into politics.”

The Times reported:

‘Experts say that it is only convention that dictates that a Prime Minister losing a vote of no confidence has to resign.’

Conservative MP, Dominic Grieve, former Attorney-General, commentated that it would be absolutely extraordinary if Mr Johnson refused to quit if his government lost a vote of no confidence.

“The Prime Minister who has been defeated on a confidence motion has a duty to facilitate that process not to obstruct it,” he said.

“It would be utterly extraordinary for a Prime Minister to refuse to leave office when he has lost a vote of confidence and there is an alternative individual available [and] able to form an administration.”

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s senior advisor and now regarded as the (unelected) de facto deputy Prime Minister, asserted last week that Britain would leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October.

He told colleagues that, “nothing will stand in the way of that” and that the Prime Minister, even after losing a vote of confidence, has the power to set the date for the next general election after Brexit has been delivered.

Mr Cummings, who was the Campaign Director for Vote Leave in the referendum, said it was now “too late” for Parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit. He made clear he would do “whatever is necessary” to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman told the press yesterday that:

“The UK will be leaving the European Union on October 31 whatever the circumstances, no ifs or buts. We must restore trust in our democracy and fulfil the repeated promises of Parliament to the people by coming out of the EU on 31 October.

“Politicians cannot choose which votes to respect. They promised to respect the referendum result. We must do so.”

But asked if Mr Johnson was committed to “respecting” a no-confidence vote against him, the spokesman would not specifically answer.

Today, a cross-party group of MPs mounted a legal challenge to the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue (i.e. close) Parliament in order to force a no-deal Brexit.

The group, which includes Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Labour’s Lord Peter Hain, independent MP Heidi Allen and SNP’s Joana Cherry, have lodged legal papers in the court of session in Edinburgh to rule on whether Boris Johnson has the right to suspend Parliament in order to force through no-deal Brexit.

The crowdfunded challenge, led by the Good Law Project, the same team that won a victory at the European Court of Justice last year over whether the UK could unilaterally cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50.

It’s clear that we are now heading for one almighty constitutional crisis, and nobody can be clear what will be the outcome.

The country has now been taken over by a completely new government, unelected by the electorate, and with a manifesto entirely at odds with the Tory manifesto that got the party into power at the last general election in June 2017.

That 2017 manifesto promised to ‘deliver the best possible deal for Britain as we leave the European Union delivered by a smooth, orderly Brexit.’

But it is now almost a certainty that, instead, Mr Johnson’s new government will not achieve any deal, let alone ‘the best possible deal’, and contrary to what his party promised, he will deliver a rough and disorderly Brexit.

Just how rough and disorderly is starting to become clear.

Writing in the medical journal, The Lancet, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would face unprecedented levels of disruption to food supplies.

He added that the public so far had been kept “largely in the dark” by the government about the gravity of the situation.

Some fresh food prices could rise by 10%, he said, hitting the poorest hardest. This could become worse by November, as the UK is heavily dependent on fruit and vegetables from the Mediterranean in the winter months.

Professor Lang said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the public health advice to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day would have to be abandoned.

Add to that the shortage of vital medicines in the event of no-deal.

Earlier this year, a government minister announced that he was the world’s biggest buyer of fridges to stock-pile medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This is costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s money.

Senior managers in the NHS have told me that patients will needlessly die as a result of shortage of medicines.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Chief Executive Mike Thompson said this week:

“Pharmaceutical companies have been doing everything in their power to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU, including increasing stocks and planning alternative supply routes where possible. But some things are outside of their control.”

How ironic that the leading slogan of Brexiters in the referendum was, ‘Take back control’.

The bottom line? Britain would not have voted for Brexit in 2016 if they had known this would be the outcome.

Now, our new unelected government is planning to impose on us a terrible, harsh and catastrophic Brexit in which the country will suffer, with the poor and vulnerable suffering most of all.

This government does not care. They are determined to jump over the cliff edge, taking all of us with them, as if this was a fantastical, cult religion that demanded such a dreadful sacrifice.

Somehow, the likes of Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Dominic Raab have seized the reins of power, with no intention of letting go, even if Parliament votes for them to do so.

And hard-nosed Brexiters have the barefaced cheek to call the European Union undemocratic. None of the shockingly undemocratic plans now being cooked up by Cummings and Co could happen in the EU, which has a much more robust democracy than ours.

After all, to get elected as the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen required the votes of an ‘absolute majority’ of MEPs – over 50%.

If the same rules had applied to our EU referendum, Leave could not have won, as they only got the votes of 37% of the electorate – an absolute minority.

It’s now time for all good parties to come to the aid of the people. We urgently need a new ‘national government’, an emergency coalition of mature states people, to steer the country back to normality and safety.



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Categories: European Union

Will Britain’s beaches be clean after Brexit?

Ideas on Europe Blog - Sun, 04/08/2019 - 22:49
With the pound dramatically lower as a direct result of Brexit, many more Britons are now holidaying at Britain’s seaside resorts. And it’s thanks to the EU that 95% of our beaches are now clean enough to wade out into the sea.

It wasn’t always like that.

Back in the 1970s, we used to pump our untreated sewage straight into the sea. It’s only because of EU laws that the UK was forced to clean up its act.

As reported by Friends of the Earth, who campaigned during the referendum for the UK to stay in the EU for the sake of our environment:

“The EU’s 1976 Bathing Water Directive – and successful legal action by the European Commission – has made our beaches as clean, clear and swimmable as they are today.

“But it wasn’t easy going…The UK fought hard to maintain the right to continue polluting.

“Successive UK governments exploited whatever loophole they could find. They pumped untreated sewage into our ocean until 1998 – longer than any other European country.

“Now, water quality at beaches is better than at any time in living memory, according to the Environment Agency.

“Some of the UK’s most beautiful and loved beaches are protected in this way: Watergate Bay in Cornwall, Druridge Bay in Northumberland, Croyde Beach in Devon and hundreds more which have reached good and excellent water-rating standards.”

Added the environmental pressure group:

“Staying in the EU delivers a win-win scenario of cleaner beaches and economic gain for sea-side economies.”

But, warns Friends of the Earth, not all of Britain’s beaches reach the crystal-clear standards that we have now come to expect. Only around 60% of UK bathing waters meet the new “Excellent” standard of the revised 2006 EU Bathing Water Directive.


It does not look hopeful.

After Brexit, the UK will no longer be subject to the EU’s Bathing Water Directive and Water Framework Directive.

With Brexit now on the immediate horizon, standards are already seriously slipping.

According to a major investigation by The Times this weekend, the government in recent years has allowed 86% of our rivers to fall short of the EU’s strict ecological standards.

The Times reported that dangerous pollutants in England’s waterways have reached their highest levels since modern testing began. The newspaper revealed that, “no river in the country is now certified as safe for swimmers.”

Last month, Southern Water was fined a record £127 million for “shocking” breaches that allowed raw sewage to be released into rivers and on to beaches.

England’s rivers are now among the most polluted in Europe.

Under EU rules, the government is supposed to ensure that all rivers are of good ecological standard by 2027. But according to the World Wildlife Fund, ministers are “not remotely on course” to achieve this target.

And if Britain is not in the EU, what incentive or legal duty will the government have to keep our waterways and beaches clean, especially if their past record is anything to go by?

Commented Friends of the Earth:

“Without external EU pressure it seems likely that standards will slip.”

Leaked documents during Theresa May’s premiership suggested that the Conservative government planned to “scale down” climate and environmental protection laws to secure post-Brexit trade deals. Does anyone think that under Boris Johnson our protection laws will be safe?

The bottom line? Brexit is a filthy business. It’s not too late to stop it, if that’s now what Britain wants.
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Categories: European Union

The EU3/EU4 vis-à-vis Iran: Unwilling and Incapable?

Ideas on Europe Blog - Tue, 30/07/2019 - 10:46

In light of the current political tensions in the Persian Gulf, Tom Sauer asks whether the Europeans can save the Joint Common Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the 2015 nuclear deal. 

© Vlad / Adobe Stock

Political tensions are once again rising in the Persian Gulf. Iran has been accused of attacking six tankers over the last weeks. It has confiscated a British tanker (after the United Kingdom confiscated an Iranian ship), and shot down an American drone (after which the US shot down an Iranian one).  Iran’s policy of strategic patience with Trump’s maximum pressure approach is over. Worst of all, Iran has started violating the Joint Common Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the 2015 nuclear deal. The latter was initiated by the E3 (being France, the UK, and Germany) in 2003 and concluded by the EU3+3 (the EU3, plus the US, Russia and China). Today’s question is: can the Europeans save the JCPOA?

In May of this year, exactly one year after President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal, President Rohani announced that Iran will start crossing some of the limitations (like the amount of low enriched uranium, the percentage of enrichment, and in the future probably also the number of gas centrifuges that are needed for enrichment, etc) agreed upon in the deal, be it in a limited and reversible way. Tehran claims that it cannot continue fulfilling its part of the obligations without seeing any of the (economic) benefits of the deal.

The diplomatic signal by Teheran to the rest of the world, and especially the Europeans, is twofold: first, “rescue the deal!”. If not, Iran is planning to cross other limitations every two months. As a result, the Iranian break-out time (which is the time needed for Iran to build atomic bombs in secret, which was significantly lengthened thanks to the deal) will start shortening again, which brings Iran closer to the Bomb. The latter may provoke another war by the US in the Middle East, something that the Europeans absolutely want to prevent as the wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya led to migration streams to Europe (not to the US) and a boost for nationalist and populist parties in all EU member states. A second reason for Iran to put up the pressure is to position itself better for potential new negotiations with the US.

Unfortunately, the EU seems either incapable or unwilling to save the deal. The problem is not only that the most important actor – the US – withdrew from the deal. President Trump made matters worse by announcing that also any non-American (e.g. European) firms that continue doing business with Iran (and the US) would be sanctioned by the US through the so-called extraterritorial sanctions. As a consequence, all major European firms (like Total, Siemens, Peugeot, Citroën) left Iran again after flocking back to Iran in 2015. The result is an Iranian economy in shatters with high inflation (40-60%) and the rise of the conservative faction and the Revolutionary Guards.

The EU4 – the EU3 plus Italy – announced immediately after the US withdrawal in 2018 that it would set up a Special Trading Vehicle Mechanism (called INSTEX) that would help European firms to circumvent the American sanctions. Again, the future of the nuclear deal depends on the extent that Iran can enjoy its economic benefits. Setting INSTEX up has taken approximately one year, and it is still not running and so not bringing a lot of foreign capital towards Iran. Why does it take so long? Is it because the Europeans have never set up such a mechanism, or is it due to lack of political will? Or both? According to some observers, lack of political will, certainly on the side of the UK (because its close ties to the US, especially in uncertain times of Brexit), is definitely part of the answer.

More fundamentally, the whole episode shows the weakness of the EU4. Just like the period before the Iran deal, ad hoc informal international organizations (IOs) – in this case the E3, EU3, EU3+3, EU4 – are helpful and may be necessary, but are certainly not sufficient to resolve intricate international problems. There are however also advantages to these ad hoc groupings. First, they encounter less bureaucratic obstacles for cooperation than formal IOs, including flexibility with respect to membership. Second, they can decide faster than formal IOs due to less veto-players (at least if the political will exists). Third, and finally, these ad hoc groups are able to buy time to bring in more important diplomatic actors (like formal IOs – such as the UN and the EU – and major powers like the US) into the game in order to resolve the conflict. That’s what the EU3 rather successfully did before the deal, and what the EU4 is trying to do now with INSTEX. At the same time, the major limitation of these ad hoc informal IOs is that they need other actors – in this case the UN and especially the US – to finalize a (new) deal.

The recent tensions in the Persian Gulf has made it clear that the Rohani government cannot wait until the next US presidential elections to resolve their issues with the US and the international community. Iran needs money now. If it won’t be able to sell oil in the coming months, it will gradually up the ante by contravening other parts of the deal. This will bring us closer to an Iranian atomic bomb, and in all likelihood followed by a nuclear arms race in the Middle East or a new war in the region.

If the EU wants to be perceived in the rest of the world of being a strategic actor, independent from the US, it should act now by making that INSTEX works and that the Iranian economy can substantially benefit from it, and at the same time put pressure on the US to either re-enter the previous nuclear deal or (if that is impossible) to negotiate a slightly better agreement, so that President Trump can show his base that he has negotiated a better deal than Obama. If the US sanctions are then lifted again, the Iranians and the rest of the world (except maybe Israel and Saudi Arabia) can certainly live with that.

This piece draws on the article ‘The Role of Informal International Organizations in Resolving the Iranian Nuclear Crisis (2003–15)’ published in the Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS). 

Please note that this article represents the views of the author(s) and not those of  Ideas on Europe, JCMS or UACES.

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Tom Sauer is Associate Professor in International Politics at the Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium). He has published six academic books, and numerous journal articles, mostly on nuclear proliferation and disarmament. He is a former BCSIA Fellow at Harvard University. Sauer is also an active member of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and received the 2019 Rotary International Global Service Award.


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Categories: European Union

Knowledge Policy Dynamics in the Global Context (International Conference on Public Policy 2019)

Ideas on Europe Blog - Tue, 30/07/2019 - 10:12
Martina Vukasovic

The fourth edition of the International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP) took place 26-28 June 2019, in Montreal (Canada), on the premises of the University of Concordia (following the 1st ICPP in Grenoble in 2013, the 2nd ICPP in Milan in 2015, and the 3rd ICPP in Singapore in 2017). The conference  included more than 150 thematic panels organized into 22 larger thematic groups, covering conceptual themes related to e.g. policy process theories, governance, comparative policy analysis, implementation, policy design etc., as well as sessions dedicated to specific policy domains (e.g. health and environment).


Apart from this, two roundtables and one keynote speech were organised. The opening roundtable focused on populism, right-wing parties and immigration policy in North America and Europe, while the topic of the closing one was governing in turbulent times, in particular in relation to how public policy can address the “climate disorder”. On the second day of the conference, Frank Baumgartner gave a keynote speech on the infrastructures necessary for comparative policy analysis, in particular highlighting the Comparative Agendas Project. The conference was preceded by a set of courses focusing on various theoretical and methodological approaches.


Higher education, research & innovation

When it comes to higher education, research and innovation, there were three interesting panels with active participation of members from the ECPR Standing Group Knowledge Politics and Policies. First, “Knowledge Policy Dynamics in the Global Context”, comprising two sessions, included papers on role of consultants in academia, politics of higher education in general and internationalization in particular, governance capacity of stakeholder organizations, pull and push factors of academic mobility, Bologna Process through international regimes lens, and institutionalization of applied research. Second, the “Bridging Science and Diplomacy in Global Policy Making” panel, comprising three sessions, focused on comparisons between EU, US, China and former USSR scientific diplomacy, discussions on differences and similarities between cultural and education diplomacy, use of science diplomacy on broader diplomatic efforts, and exploring tools of science diplomacy (including branding). Finally, the third panel focused on theorizing internationalization of higher education from a policy perspective.

The conference also included panels on educational policies, comparative policy analysis, interest groups, complexity in public policy, policy transfer, policy design, policy advise, expertise and evidence, accountability and legitimation, etc. 

At present, it is not yet clear where the fifth ICPP conference will take place in 2021. In the meantime, the International Public Policy Association (IPPA) will be organizing a number of events, including several public policy schools.

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Categories: European Union

A deadline is not a policy

Ideas on Europe Blog - Thu, 25/07/2019 - 09:59

Image: BBC

There’s much to consider from Boris Johnson’s first half-day in office, but let’s focus on a central question: what is his Brexit policy?

At one level, this is perfectly clear: the UK must leave the EU on 31 October, “no ifs, no buts”, ideally with a deal, but without one if necessary.

But this is not nearly as simple as it appears.


Let’s start with the deadline itself: 31 October.

Johnson advanced no particular logic for this date in his first speech at Number 10, noting only that: “…we are going to fulfil the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31.”

But that date wasn’t a promise made by Parliament, since it’s the result of a government request to extend Article 50 to that date, to which the EU agreed.

Moreover, Parliament has repeated rejected the option of not leaving the EU, so it can’t be that either.

Presumably, Johnson means that this has all taken too long, “because the British people have had enough of waiting.”

Fair enough, but then still his approach doesn’t stand up.

Plan A

Johnson suggests that his Plan A is to secure a revised Withdrawal Agreement (WA) – “without that anti-democratic backstop” – by this deadline.

But as the Institute for Government has been pointing out, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) that would be necessary to translate the provisions of the WA itself into British law would take at least 10 sitting days to pass Parliament. Factor in that this would not be an uncontentious piece of legislation – more Maastricht than Nice – and the government’s lack of majority in the Lords, and could easily find that all the remaining sitting days before 31 October would be needed.

And that’s even before whatever time is needed to renegotiate the WA’s contents, something that now looks set only to begin in September.

Since Johnson says that no-deal is not the desired outcome, then renegotiation is a serious intention, but in a situation where he secures a new text, there is no indication of how he would deal with finding himself half-way through WAB approval on 31 October. Does he ditch it because of the “no ifs, no buts” deadline, or does he push it back, because a deal is what he wants?

Plan B

So maybe the intention to renegotiate isn’t sincere. Certainly, there is still to be an suggestion of what an alternative WA model, without backstop, would involve, and it’s hard to imagine what that might be, given how picked-over this ground has been for the past 18 months.

In that case, maybe the time to 31 October is really about no-deal preparation.

But the government has long claimed it is ready for no-deal, so why delay until 31 October?

If people have had enough of waiting and there’s no realistic chance of renegotiation on the terms set out, why not just cut loose now and tell the EU it’s not going to happen: the sooner, the better for taking back control, no?

Two issues arise here.

The first is that the UK is evidently not ready for no-deal. Johnson himself promised a ramping-up of preparations thereon in his speech. The NAO still doesn’t report operational systems on critical border infrastructure.

The second is Parliament. As much as it’s not in favour of no Brexit, so it’s not in favour of no-deal Brexit.

Plan C?

And this is maybe the crux of the matter.

Packing the Cabinet with the Leave true-believers certainly sends a signal about determination, but it doesn’t change the Parliamentary arithmetic at all. Indeed, piling 17 rather annoyed ex-ministers onto the backbench at this time looks bold.

As it stands, Johnson doesn’t have a plan for Brexit renegotiations that will be acceptable to the EU. Thus the wheels move to a no-deal scenario, which in turn makes Parliament have to decide if it will let that pass.

This gets us either to Parliament forcing the government to seek an extension, or to a general election, be that through a vote of no confidence or through Johnson’s belief that he can flip voters during a campaign.

Of course, a general election gets us into the muddy waters of what happens should that election occur after 31 October (something that’d be the case with any election called after the start of October), given the effective absence of a Commons during that period.

Which brings us back to the initial question: what is the objective of Johnson’s policy?

Given that the nominal approach appears to have no chance of success, perhaps this is just the latest in a long line of efforts to avoid blame: we wanted to renegotiate, but they didn’t; we wanted to leave on 31 October, but they stopped us.

That makes some sense, when faced with a set of poor choices, but it doesn’t address the underlying issues.

It may well be that “No one in the last few centuries has succeeded in betting against the pluck and nerve and ambition of this country”, but those things do not solve problems by themselves.

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Categories: European Union

Can Remain now win, 100 days before Brexit?

Ideas on Europe Blog - Sat, 20/07/2019 - 12:44

A sobering article in today’s Financial Times by Camilla Cavendish, who assertively claims that, ‘Remainers have lost and must now accept defeat’.

Her article opens:

‘Britain’s downhill slope towards leaving the EU is getting steeper; the slide into liberation-oblivion is coming closer.’

She claims, ‘A second referendum is vanishingly unlikely. Moderates who don’t want the UK to leave the EU are still going through the motions, but that battle has already been lost.

‘The only question now is what kind of Brexit we will get.’

She goes on:

‘A second referendum looks increasingly like fantasy, since neither main party leader wants it.’

She adds, ‘MPs who oppose a no-deal exit are running out of procedural devices. On Thursday, the Commons voted by a majority of 41 to prevent the next administration from suspending parliament for more than two weeks.

‘That guarantees slightly more time for the moderates to try to force the prime minister to request an extension. But it would still be a tall order.’

She says of Mr Johnson becoming Prime Minister next week, ‘In the honeymoon period, Tory rebels will come under extreme pressure not to be “turncoats” who vote with Labour. Few will be willing to trigger the ultimate sanction: bringing down their own government in a no-confidence vote.’

The key for Boris Johnson and his team would be to postpone any general election until after 1 November, by which time, Britain would have left the EU.

And she concludes:

‘The forces of political gravity mean there is no point in wishing away the referendum result.

‘The best we can hope for is that both sides will strike a better deal than no deal, and avoid leaving the country in limbo.

‘Tories who say they want to “finish the job” will soon find out that the real job will only start when we leave.

‘You can’t climb up a slippery slope — you can only go forward into the unknown.’

Is she right? Depressingly, quite possibly.

Where is the potent, effective, determined, professional counter attack by the Remain movement?

I can’t see it.

Where is the national, brilliant awareness campaign to explain to the nation how almost everything they’ve been told about the EU these past 40 years has been grotesquely wrong?

The intense drive to properly explain the positive benefits of EU membership; how the EU is democratically run by its members for the benefit of members?

I can’t see that either. We’ve never had such a campaign in the UK.

Labour is in disarray, with the worst polling ratings in its history. They still cannot say if they would support their version of Brexit, or Remain, in a new snap general election.

The LibDems don’t even have a leader yet, and precious little time for any new leader to be known, let alone loved, by the nation at large.

The Tories are about to confirm Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the UK, with a promise by him that we will leave the EU ‘deal or no deal, come what may, do or die’ by 31 October.

Yes, there is an anti-Brexit march in London today – hopefully a huge march – with the message, ‘Say no to Boris and yes to Europe.’

The demand of the march is to call on Mr Johnson to ‘stop hurtling us towards the cliff edge’.

It’s an urgently vital message, and it needs to be heard. But it is not enough.

100 days until Brexit is due to happen, ‘do or die’, according to our next Prime Minister.

Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Petitions, protests, marches, motions – they have all been tried, and for sure, Brexit has been delayed, but now its looming large. It’s in our face.

We can now peer over the perilous cliff edge, feel giddy at the sight, with our knees weakening at all the ominous predictions of economic calamity, but even that has not been enough to stop Britain now hurtling towards its Brexit destination.

What can the Remain side do in 100 days to put a legitimate halt to Brexit? Something it’s never done before?

You tell me.


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Categories: European Union

Deeds, not words: getting ready for the next stage of Brexit

Ideas on Europe Blog - Thu, 18/07/2019 - 08:54

The torpor of summer is crawling across Europe: the siren call of that holiday you’ve promised yourself all year grows ever louder, even as your workplace empties.

So what better time of year to be kicking off what prove to be a decisive stage in the Brexit process?

Next Tuesday, we’ll find out who has won the Tory leadership contest (Boris Johnson) and which of his plans is actually going to happen. Or perhaps we’ll see the springing of a Parliamentary revolt before his feet even get under the table at Number 10. Maybe the Queen will want proof he has a majority before accepting him as the new PM.

Or maybe we’ll just roll into summer, desperate for a break and eager for the hope that someone else will sort it out before September comes round.

This is only partly about summertime: it’s much more about the pain of politics at the moment.

As we’ve seen endlessly rehearsed, none of the options on the table are pleasant, happy ones, which would make everyone – or even, many – content. Instead, they all involve substantial costs; to economies, to politics, to reputations. The incentive here is to avoid those costs, to push them on to someone else to deal with, rather than to seek out consensual solutions.

This has been the theme of Brexit, ever since June 2016 and there’s no good reason to think that will change.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s useful to think about what other indicators there might be to the coming weeks/months, based on what we’ve seen so far in the UK.

The most obvious candidate so far has been the strong tendency to delay what cannot be easily addressed. All of the steps to date have been very much weighted to the back, from the protracted wait to get to Art.50 notification, through the backstop package, to the saga of UK ratification. There has not been a single point where the earliest possible opportunity was taken to tackle an issue.

As I tell my students in negotiation, delay is a valid tactic, but only if you have a constructive plan to make use of that time. The vague hope that something will pop up is not such a plan.

The second offering is the observation that the overall direction of travel has been consistent with the expected process: the UK votes to leave; it notifies its intention to leave; it negotiates a Withdrawal Agreement; it tries to ratify that. The calls to either stop that process or to exit it into a no-deal have failed to gain wide support, broadly speaking, with the implication that there is some weight behind continuing down this path.

For all the Johnson talk about no-deal, it’s more striking to me that there remains a presumption that a deal is preferable (and achievable), when it is self-evident that such a thing cannot happen in the terms being suggested. Since I never resort to the notion of stupidity to explain behaviour, either the rhetoric or the approach is wrong.

Which brings us to the final thought: actions have been a better indicator than words.

A lot of people have talked an awful lot about Brexit – yes, including me (BTW check out the podcast: it’s got some great interviews) – in such a contested political space, the capacity to separate the signal from the noise is limited. That’s especially true when so many political actors are trying to power-stance their way to the front of the debate.

Much more valuable has been looking at material actions taken, be that in organisation, or in negotiations or in votes.

As I’ve argued in this thread, that’s where we’ll learn more about Johnson’s next steps:

I've not tweeted much about #ConservativeLeadershipRace, mainly because I'm placing a high discount on their Brexit remarks prior to actually entering office.

However, it's useful to think about what we should look for in those opening days


— Simon Usherwood (@Usherwood) July 8, 2019

All of which might just be a long way of saying that you might better use this weekend to do something else.

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Categories: European Union

Warsaw and Budapest are boasting about - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 17:49
Warsaw and Budapest are boasting about their support for von der Leyen after the german is confirmed only by a small margin of MEPs, but the illiberals should not expect the softening of rule of law scrutiny.
Categories: European Union

[Analysis] Von der Leyen faces gender battle for commission posts - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 16:24
The first-ever female president of the European Commission wants half of her team of commissioners to consist of women. But most of the commissioners put forward so far by EU member states so far have been male.
Categories: European Union

EU proposes yearly rule of law 'reports' - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 15:31
EU states ought to undergo a yearly "Rule of Law Review Cycle" to help stop countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Romania from backsliding on EU norms, the European Commission has said.
Categories: European Union

Debate: What does von der Leyen's election mean for Europe? - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 12:02
The European Parliament has elected Ursula von der Leyen as the new President of the EU Commission with nine votes more than she needed. Since the heads of government ignored the actual lead candidates for the top EU post many MEPs only decided to vote for the German politician at the last minute. Reactions in the press to her election are divided.
Categories: European Union

Debate: French environment minister resigns over extravagance accusations - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 12:02
After ten months in office France's Environment Minister François de Rugy has resigned over a spending scandal. According to French online magazine Mediapart Rugy invited guests to lavish dinners on several occasions at the expense of the state. De Rugy has announced that he will bring an action for libel. Was he condemned prematurely?
Categories: European Union