Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.


by Frank Schnittger Sun Nov 10th, 2019 at 04:02:49 PM EST

In all the sturm und drang around a no deal or a Boris deal Brexit, it is easy to forget that this is just the prologue. All the Brexit deal does is settle some outstanding details arising out of the UK's departure: It does very little to decide the shape of the future relationship between Great Britain and the EU.

I use the term "Great Britain" advisedly, because the one aspect of the future relationship between the EU and the UK that has been decided in the deal is that N. Ireland, will remain, for all practical purposes, in the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) - whatever Boris Johnson might say otherwise.

But for the rest of the UK, aka Great Britain, all options are still on the table - all the way from a no deal trade war, through trading rules dictated by WTO Treaties, to Canada+++ or Norway---; whatever that may mean. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it's all about the marketing: His slightly reheated and amended version of May's deal is suddenly acceptable to the hoards of hard-line ERG Brexiteers who voted against her original version three times.

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Spanish election thread

by IdiotSavant Fri Nov 8th, 2019 at 06:17:20 AM EST

Spain will go to the polls on Sunday, November 10. Its the second election this year; an earlier one in April saw the Socialists - who had gained power in a confidence vote - gain an easy plurality, then refuse to negotiate a coalition with the left-wing Podemos (which would have allowed them, with the support of a few minor parties and the offered abstention of the Catalan Republican Left, to form a government). Instead, they gambled on new elections and winning a greater share of the vote.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Boris off to a bad start

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 6th, 2019 at 10:45:29 PM EST

Boris Johnson enters the first day of the official UK general election campaign with an average lead of 11% in the 11 polls published since the House of Commons voted to hold a general election. These poll leads range from 7 to 16% and there is no discernable trend over the past week. Not too bad a start, one would have thought, until one recalls that Theresa May's lead was 19% when she called the 2017 election.

Boris Johnson's campaign launch has also been dogged by no less than three scandals on the opening day of the official campaign:

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DUP under pressure in Northern Ireland Election

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 31st, 2019 at 01:28:47 PM EST

Newton Emerson has a very interesting take on how the general election may play out in N. Ireland. The DUP currently hold 10 seats to Sinn Fein's 7, with one independent Unionist.  Essentially Northern Ireland has been re-partitioned East West between unionist and Nationalist representatives with a nationalist enclave in West Belfast.

By Furfur, Brythones - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link


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Turkeys vote for Christmas

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 30th, 2019 at 11:29:11 AM EST

And so the turkeys have finally voted for Christmas. The House of Commons has overwhelmingly voted for an election on Boris Johnson's preferred date of 12th. December.

The vote gave Boris Johnson the date he was looking for and there were no amendments to expand the franchise to include EU nationals or 16- and 17-year-olds. But the prime minister is facing the voters with Brexit still not delivered and his pledge to leave the EU by October 31st in shreds.

Some Conservative MPs fear their constituents will punish them for spending five weeks campaigning rather than scrutinising and passing the withdrawal agreement Bill. And all Conservatives are conscious of the electoral mountain they must climb to return to power.

More than 30 seats short of a working majority of 320 as they go into the campaign, the Conservatives expect to lose seats to the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland and to the Liberal Democrats in the southeast and southwest of England. At odds with the DUP over the Brexit deal and with no other potential coalition parties, the Conservatives will need to win a majority if they are to form the next government.

Labour is on 25 per cent in an average of opinion polls, 11 points behind the Conservatives and just 7 per cent ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Labour started the 2017 election campaign polling 25 per cent too, but more than 20 points behind Theresa May's Conservatives.

Corbyn's allies draw comfort from the outcome in 2017, which saw Labour draw almost level with the Conservatives with 40 per cent of the vote. And Labour has more coalition options than the Conservatives, so it does not need a majority or even to emerge as the biggest party to have a chance of forming the government.

On the other hand Corbyn is by far the most unpopular of the party leaders and the Conservatives are targeting Labour-held seats that voted Leave in 2016, particularly in the midlands and northeast England, and in Wales.

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Krugman-Admits-He-Was-Wrong! (Pt. 1?)

by ARGeezer Fri Oct 25th, 2019 at 05:56:09 PM EST

Paul Krugman -- finally -- admits he was wrong!  Lars Syll RWER Blog

Paul Krugman has never suffered fools gladly. The Nobel Prize-winning economist rose to international fame--and a coveted space on the New York Times op-ed page--by lacerating his intellectual opponents in the most withering way. In a series of books and articles beginning in the 1990s, Krugman branded just about everybody who questioned the rapid pace of globalization a fool who didn't understand economics very well. "Silly" was a word Krugman used a lot to describe pundits who raised fears of economic competition from other nations, especially China. Don't worry about it, he said: Free trade will have only minor impact on your prosperity.

Now Krugman has come out and admitted, offhandedly, that his own understanding of economics has been seriously deficient as well. In a recent essay titled "What Economists (Including Me) Got Wrong About Globalization," adapted from a forthcoming book on inequality, Krugman writes that he and other mainstream economists "missed a crucial part of the story" in failing to realize that globalization would lead to "hyperglobalization" and huge economic and social upheaval, particularly of the industrial middle class in America. And many of these working-class communities have been hit hard by Chinese competition, which economists made a "major mistake" in underestimating, Krugman says.

Michael Hirsh  -  The Economist

It was quite a "whoops" moment, considering all the ruined American communities and displaced millions of workers we've seen in the interim. And a newly humbled Krugman must consider an even more disturbing idea: Did he and other mainstream economists help put a protectionist populist, Donald Trump, in the White House with a lot of bad advice about free markets?

Too important not to frontpage - Frank Schnittger

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by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 20th, 2019 at 10:14:07 PM EST

It is difficult to imagine a more insulting act by a head of government than to send a formal letter on headed notepaper purporting to come from his office and person, but omitting to sign it as a means of authenticating it. And then to send another signed letter saying something quite different.

It is the very essence of duplicity. You are either a democrat taking full responsibility for the acts of your office as mandated by your law and parliament or you are a worthless and untrustworthy operator.

In declining to respond anytime soon, the EU is actually acting with great restraint. It could have returned the unsigned letter to sender requesting due authentication by signature.

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Ulster says NO!

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 17th, 2019 at 10:54:04 AM EST

DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) and deputy leader Nigel Dodds. photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The title of this diary is deliberately provocative as "Uster Says No" has been the Paisleyite, unionist and loyalist moto since the formation of the N. Ireland sectarian statelet. In reality N. Ireland only constitutes 6 of the 9 counties of the province of Ulster, and these were chosen as part of a deliberate gerrymander to create a protestant majority. Even within this context, the DUP now only has about 1,000 members and received 24% and 22% of the vote in the 2019 local and European elections respectively.

So it is more correct to state that it is the DUP which says NO, as they have been doing to every reform initiated since the foundation of the statelet, including the Good Friday Agreement. Basically they claim that N. Ireland is as British as Finchley while at the same time claiming different treatment for Northern Ireland compared to Britain when it suits them on car number plates, bank holidays, tourism, languages, gambling, defamation, anti-discrimination laws, spirit measures, railway lines, lighthouses, waterways, the civil service, abortion and equal marriage.

So the DUP's rejection of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is utterly in character and of no surprise whatsoever to anyone acquainted with N. Ireland politics. But the DUP is also literally incapable of saying YES to any significant change because it does not have the skills or means to persuade its voting base of the necessity for change. As Northern Ireland Unionist commentator, Newton Emerson has observed,

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Spain is not a democracy

by IdiotSavant Mon Oct 14th, 2019 at 09:49:49 AM EST

Two years ago Catalans braved police batons and rubber bullets to vote overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum. Today, Spain jailed nine politicians who organised and supported that referendum process for a combined total of a hundred years for "sedition", after a trial that was little more than a judicial lynching. Protests against the verdicts are already breaking out across Catalonia, but Spain has invaded with 1500 riot police to "keep order". So we'll probably see more scenes of peaceful protesters being beaten, gassed and shot for daring to express the view that a democratic society should resolve questions democratically.

Because that, fundamentally, is what this is about. While Catalans are divided on independence, there has always been overwhelming support for the idea that as a democratic society they should be allowed to vote on it. Spain has responded to that idea with violence and brutality. It has treated Catalonia like a colonial possession, whose people must be kept in line by force, rather than as citizens of a democratic state. It has not behaved like a democracy, but like the fascist dictatorship it supposedly ended 40 years ago.

That treatment has unsurprisingly strengthened the desire for independence, as people seek to leave the country which mistreats them. When this mess began, Spain could have allowed a vote, and probably won it, and that result would have been accepted for a decade or more. Now, there's really only one outcome: independence. The question is how long it takes, and how many people Spain murders trying to stop it.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

Comments >> (10 comments)

Does anyone care?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 10th, 2019 at 01:27:35 PM EST

DUP defensive cunning misses big picture of being laughed out of court

In 2015, towards the end of a previous Stormont crisis, then Democratic Unionist Party leader and first minister Peter Robinson found himself in a corner. He had threatened to bring down power-sharing if devolution was not suspended over an IRA murder. However, the British government had called his bluff. So the DUP commenced an arcane series of rolling resignations, with ministers standing down for a week, resuming their posts just in time to avoid triggering an election, then standing down again.

It was a classic DUP solution under Robinson's tenure, stretching laws and promises to the limit to construct an elaborate face-saving mechanism. But the DUP leader had misjudged Northern Ireland's sense of the absurd. The resignations were promptly christened "the hokey cokey" and became a joke from which Robinson's authority never recovered. He announced his retirement from politics two months later.

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The Blame Game

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 8th, 2019 at 12:26:14 PM EST

Well that didn't last long...

Johnson allies admit deal hopes are effectively dead

British prime minister Boris Johnson's allies admitted on Tuesday that hopes of a Brexit deal at next week's EU summit were effectively dead after Mr Johnson held a bruising phone conversation with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Sterling fell on the news, as Number 10 began a "blame game" strategy amid dark warnings that Britain would retaliate against EU member states and that talk of "sincere co-operation" with the EU was now "in the toilet".

Elsewhere, EU Council president Donald Tusk accused Mr Johnson of playing a `stupid blame game' in his dealings with the bloc. "What's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people," Mr Tusk wrote on Twitter. "You don't want a deal, you don't want an extension, you don't want to revoke," the Council President added, before asking "quo vadis?" the Latin for "where are you going?"

After days of gathering gloom over the possibility of a Brexit breakthrough, unnamed Number 10 sources on Tuesday prepared the ground for failure, claiming that Dr Merkel and other EU leaders had not moved "a centimetre". Although Downing Street has so far declined to comment on the telephone call with Dr Merkel, Mr Johnson's allies accused the German chancellor of vetoing Britain's Brexit plan, which would see Northern Ireland leave the EU customs union.

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Scamming the peace

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 2nd, 2019 at 11:51:32 AM EST

Boris Brexit plan a `scam', says Good Friday agreement negotiator

Ability to feel Irish or British or both `will be destroyed' , says Jonathan Powell.

Former Labour Party adviser Jonathan Powell, one of the chief negotiators of the Good Friday agreement, described Boris Johnson's Brexit deal proposal as a "scam" .

He told BBC's Newsnight: They are "trying to avoid a deal in order to get to no deal as they were always going to do. This is the final confirmation that's their aim."

Powell also said the ability to feel Irish or British or both - a key part of the Good Friday agreement - "will be destroyed" if a customs border is put in. "The point of this is not how long it takes a lorry to cross the border in Northern Ireland. The issue is identity."

The main ingredients of Johnson's plan, to be outlined on Wednesday in his Tory party conference speech, are a proposal for "two borders for four years" and a "Stormont Lock". After the transition period comes to an end, Northern Ireland would stay in the single market for four years but, crucially, not in the customs union.

That would mean that there would be a single market for the whole of Ireland for agri-food and manufactured goods until 2025. It would also mean other goods originating from the North would be subject to customs checks once they crossed the border into the EU.

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Wrightbus goes wrong

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 26th, 2019 at 09:16:31 AM EST

Boris Johnson at Wrightbus

Wrightbus is one of the few iconic N. Ireland industrial concerns along with Harland and Wolff shipyard (which built the Titanic) and Short Brothers aircraft manufacturing, now owned by Bombardier, which manufactures wings for the Airbus A220 aircraft, and which is considered a possible Airbus takeover target. Wrightbus is best known as the maker of the iconic London "Boris Bus"

Wrightbus is headquartered in the Antrim town of Ballymena which is also the home town of Ian Paisley, founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). It is at the very epicentre of hardline, fundamentalist protestant unionism. In 2017 it donated £4 Million to "Christian, evangelical and other charitable activities at a time it made a pre-tax loss of £1.7 million. It is owned by "Pastor" Jeffrey William Wright who controls almost 69 per cent of the company and the Wright Evangelical Trust.

William Wright was a key supporter of the Leave campaign in Northern Ireland, but the Brexit vote caused uncertainty in its marketplace, and the company found that some of its customers reconsidered investment plans because of the UK's changing relationship with Europe. Many of the WrightBus customers are private and State-owned transport operators, and some of these have parent companies with headquarters in Europe. Wrightbus has now gone into administration with the likely loss of 1,200 jobs and thousands more in the supply chain and supporting services.

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Getting rid of Boris...

by Frank Schnittger Tue Sep 24th, 2019 at 03:26:21 PM EST

The judgement of the UK Supreme Court is about as bad as it could be for Boris:

  1. It is unanimous - therefore there is no minority report the government can cling to in part justification for its stance

  2. It is clear cut - no equivocation - the prorogation was unlawful, void, and of no effect - therefore Parliament can resume sitting immediately, and Bills in progress through the house will not have lapsed.

  3. Although the judgement does not say so explicitly, it follows the PM advised the Queen to act unlawfully

  4. The Parliament has lost two weeks work during which time it could not fulfil its primary functions - so real harm has been done, and the effect of the prorogation is described as "extreme".

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UK Supreme Court: Prorogation Null and Void!

by ARGeezer Tue Sep 24th, 2019 at 10:26:02 AM EST

In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court of the UK has ruled that the prorogation of Parliament by the Prime Minister is null and void. The Speaker of the House, the leaders of the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Labour have called for Parliament to be reconvened as soon as possible.

This prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how that change comes about. The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme.
No justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court....It does not discuss the impact of prorogation on the special procedures for scrutinising the delegated legislation necessary to achieve an orderly withdrawal from the European Union, with or without a withdrawal agreement, on 31st October. It does not discuss what Parliamentary time would be needed to secure Parliamentary approval for any new withdrawal agreement, as required by section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

The Court is bound to conclude, therefore, that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.


Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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A Democratic Backstop

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 19th, 2019 at 10:43:19 AM EST

You know you are in serious trouble when Stormont is being touted as the solution to your problem...

Stormont lock is fig leaf for likely DUP climbdown

An air of absurdity and exhaustion hangs over the idea that Stormont is the solution to Brexit. The northern institutions have collapsed, the British government is collapsing and London's sincerity in seeking a deal remains in question. These are shaky grounds on which to place the contention and complexity of Stormont input into the backstop, or some backstop-like arrangement. A new layer of accountability can be imagined and Northern Ireland is hardly a stranger to arcane government systems. But where would the energy come from to make this work, when only the DUP wants it and most nationalists would see Stormont administering Brexit as adding insult to injury?

It is not as if the DUP's need is fundamental - it merely wants a fig leaf to cover its retreat. When then British prime minister Theresa May unveiled the so-called Stormont lock in January this year, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds dismissed it as "cosmetic and meaningless".

May's proposals were stronger than anything now likely to be agreed.

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The end of the Tories

by Frank Schnittger Tue Sep 17th, 2019 at 09:57:16 PM EST

The dog that didn't bark

As the UK drifts ever closer to B-day, you would expect there would be a flurry of activity - tense overnight negotiations, crunch summits of key leaders, emotional parliamentary debates and cliff-hanging votes on difficult compromises. The reality is that nothing much is happening, and probably won't be happening for another month or so.

Parliament is prorogued, all the media focus will be on the annual party conference season, no serious detailed technical negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement are taking place and Boris, having seen Juncker for the first time in his two months of premiership, decided he could afford to alienate the Prime Minister of a small EU member state - Xavier Bettell.

In London the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the legality of the lengthy proroguing of Parliament. But what difference will it make, even if it finds in favour of the plaintiffs? Parliament may end up returning earlier, but the key date - October 19th. has now been etched in stone - it is either a deal agreed by Parliament by then, or it's another extension, or at least that is what the law says.

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Rerversing the dominant submissive British Irish polarity

by Frank Schnittger Sun Sep 15th, 2019 at 02:09:41 PM EST

I normally read Fintan O'Toole's articles, but when I saw the title of his latest piece "For the first time since 1171, Ireland is more powerful than Britain," I decided to give it a miss. Fintan going over the top again, I thought. But then in an idle moment I chanced upon the article again and got drawn in. It turns out to be some of Fintan's best work.

In considering his writing we must remember he is as much an art and drama critic as a political analyst, and while his political analysis can be a bit off the deep end - as when he suggested all Sinn Fein MPs should resign and allow themselves to be replaced by nationalist candidates not bound by an abstentionist policy - his colour writing on the subtle shifts and nuances of Anglo-Irish relations is second to none.

And far from the triumphalist Irish nationalist piece of guff I was expecting with a title like that, it is actually a very perceptive piece on how Brexit has changed the whole dynamic of Anglo-Irish relations. Essentially he is arguing that the polarity of the dominant-submissive mode of the post colonial British Irish relationship has been reversed: Partially in terms of Irish government policy and presentation, but more particularly in the mind set of Brexiteers.

Crazy as it may seem, they imagine themselves to be engaged in a post-colonial struggle for liberation against an oppressive evil empire (the EU) and cannot understand how Ireland would not be an automatic and natural ally in that struggle - but instead has taken on the role of cheerleader and chief antagonist for the evil empire.

Thankfully he notes that "There is far too much at stake to take any pleasure in this bizarre political reversal." The last thing we need to do is to replace an obsequious deference to our lords and masters with an obnoxious sense of superiority.

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Reforming the UK Constitution

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 13th, 2019 at 10:32:23 AM EST

The Brexit debacle has given rise to a lot of discussion of the UK "Constitution", unwritten as it is, and the need to reform key aspects of it to prevent the abuse of power. It would be helpful if there were a written codified version of it, so at least we could all agree on what it says. Instead we have a tangled web of precedents, conventions, "gentlemen's agreements", case law and statutory instruments giving huge scope for disagreement and uncertainty as to what is, and is not "constitutional".

A convention is only a convention until it isn't, and a precedent only a precedent until it is broken. Different judges come to different conclusions as to what is permissible, and there appear to be huge gaps in statutory law. The US experience has shown that a written Constitution is no guarantee against abuse and wilful misinterpretation - see the second amendment to the US Constitution, where reference to "a well regulated Militia" has not been allowed to restrict individuals to bear arms in their own right.

So while accepting that no constitution is ever perfect, what changes would you like to see to the current UK constitution?

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The penny has dropped

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 12th, 2019 at 08:48:25 AM EST

Newton Emerson has been the foremost unionist commentator on political affairs in Ireland over the past few years. In common with almost all unionists he couldn't quite understand why Brexit was an existential threat to the Good Friday Agreement, the peace process and any Irish government, no matter how mild mannered or moderate its chief protagonists. Somehow Brexit was going to be a fact of life and we were all going to have to "just get on with it".

To be clear, Newton, like the 56% in N. Ireland who voted Remain (including 40% of protestants), was against Brexit, and decried what he called the DUP's "recreational anti-nationalism" which saw Brexit as an opportunity to really antagonise nationalists without serious consequences.

In common with most of the British establishment, the DUP never thought the referendum would pass. They thought they could have their cake and eat it: really annoy the nationalists, and then just whistle in the air and carry on as if nothing had happened, all the while grinning at how they had outsmarted their sworn enemies.

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News and Views

 1 - 7 October 2019

by Bjinse - Sep 30, 464 comments

Your take on this week's news

 October Thread

by Bjinse - Sep 30, 92 comments

Let's call the whole thread off

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