On June 23, 2016, an historic vote in the United Kingdom forever changed the course of history. The UK voted to break away economically and to a lesser degree politically from the ‘constraints’ of Brussels, and the EU. The media frenzy surrounding the Brexit referendum had pundits believing that there was no possible way Brexiteers would get their wish. They were considered a fringe group of extremists, but the media got it wrong. They have gotten it horribly wrong many times since then, more recently with the election of US President Donald J. Trump. But it’s the Brexit issue that lingers and presents the greatest challenges to Europe and the United Kingdom. Come Friday, 29 March 2019 at 11 PM, the UK will be required to leave the EU.
The issue of what to do with Britons living abroad and Europeans living in Britain is an important one. For starters, there are millions of people from both the EU and Britain living outside of their countries. This large expatriate population is already experiencing all manner of financial difficulties through the recent volatility of the GBP. Global transfers from Europe to the UK and the UK to Europe have been increasing in recent years, thanks to the Brexit issue. The list of service providers offering these international money transfers is currently populated by many non-bank financial institutions, Recall that its zenith, the GBP was trading around 1.47/1.48 to the USD. It soon plunged to 31-year lows, and only recently started to claw its way back to those levels. Expatriates can benefit from GBP weakness by sending EUR, USD, JPY, SEK and other currencies back to the UK. This results in boosted performance of the GBP, and has a lag effect on stock portfolios.
The Brexit issue presents as an unprecedented economic and political calamity for Europe, the likes of which it last encountered with the overhyped Grexit (Greek Exit) fears. According to the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, Britain had 2 years from the date it announced its intention to leave the EU for the formal ratification of a Brexit. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is an interesting legal triggering mechanism, and the process got underway in March 2017. With approximately a year to go, the UK government must muster all the support it can to prepare for Brexit. The negotiations have been exceedingly difficult, with both EU and UK officials struggling to come to consensus on any number of issues.
What was the Final Vote Tally in Favour of Brexit in the UK?
According to the BBC, 72.2% of the UK electorate voted in the Brexit referendum. Of that, 51.9% voted to leave the EU, amounting to 17,410,742 votes. The Bremain (Britain remains in the EU) vote amounted to 48.1% or 16,141,241 votes. There were some 26,033 rejected ballots. It is interesting to point out which parts of the UK voted overwhelmingly in favour or against a Brexit. Scotland (62% to remain) was largely against a Brexit, as was Northern Ireland (55.8% to remain). But it was England (53.4% to leave) and Wales (52.5% to leave) with their large populations that swung the needle in favour of a Brexit.
And so, the Brexiteers got their wish and history was made. The areas in the UK overwhelmingly preferring a Brexit included Arun (62.5%), Northumberland (54.1%), Stoke-on-Trent (69.4%), Derby (57.2%), Northampton (58.4%), Cornwall (56.5%), Amber Valley (60.3%), Ashfield (69.8%), Lancaster (51.1%), Luton (56.5%), and many others. The listing of pro-Brexit cities and districts in and across England sent a powerful message to 10 Downing St., and Brussels alike. The British Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron was taken aback by the results, even though he was heading the Tory government. The London Mayor, Boris Johnson was spearheading calls for a Brexit, posing a serious challenge to the PM.
According to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, ‘any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements’. Once Article 50 has been triggered, the European Council is officially notified of the UKs desire to leave the EU and it will no longer be bound by EU rules. Of course, there are many complications inherent in the extrication process. These include the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and vice versa. There are also existing business agreements, financial partnerships, and related deals between UK and EU companies that need to be consolidated, amended, or ratified.
Concerns for the UK Post Brexit
Other challenges to a successful Brexit include passports, travel, work permission, and borders. While the UK was part of the EU, residency requirements for all nationals in the single bloc were easier to understand. Now there is the issue of what to do with people post-Brexit. These are but a handful of the many challenges facing the UK government as it looks to carve out new alliances with Asia and the West, post-Brexit. Of course, one of the most urgent concerns is the UK economy, and the currency. The GBP has whipsawed wildly since the June 23, 2016 referendum. It plunged spectacularly from 1.47/48 prior to the Brexit and hit a 31-year low soon thereafter.
This has far-reaching implications for UK business, listed companies, and UK indices. Every time the GBP weakens, the FTSE 100 index strengthens, and vice versa. This well-established relationship saw the FTSE 100 index rising well above 7,000 as sterling continues to plummet. However, there has been a strong resurgence in the value of GBP, leading many to believe that the separation from the EU will not be as detrimental as once thought. Negotiations began in earnest, and both parties agreed to making significant headway in the Brexit discussions. However, the EU’s head negotiator Michel Barnierand his EU counterpart, David Davis have been at loggerheads many times.
Upcoming Meetings Prior to the Looming Brexit Deadline
According to Davis however, the UK has set March 29, 2019 at 11 PM GMT as the official date that Britain will depart from the EU. Some of the most important dates to remember moving forward include September 24 when elections in Germany will determine what becomes of Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then another meeting in October 2018. The latter is a crucial date to watch, since it is 6 months prior to the official divorce between Britain and the EU.
At that point, details of a final Brexit deal can be ratified. A big part of the reason Britain left was money. The UK was subsidizing Brussels to the tune of billions of pounds, and many UK conservatives commented that foreigners were using up valuable NHS resources and costing Britons a fortune. It’s a difficult predicament to be in, given that the UK is now negotiating to repay the EU a tidy sum in the separation agreement.
It was once thought that £350 million per week was sent by the UK to the EU. This according to Boris Johnson, is precisely what Britain pays the EU. However, the UK’s membership fee with the EU is £17.8 billion. Once the Treasury report was conducted, that figure was actually £375 million weekly, or £19 .5 billion. In November, The Guardian ran an article stating that the UK could pay upwards of £50 billion after UK leaders and EU leaders could not come to consensus. That’s the figure that was needed for heavy hitters like Germany and France to sign off on any new trade deals post-Brexit with the UK. Figures as high as £89 billion have been floated, but UK government ministers are insisting that the true figure will be approximately 50% of that. In any event, these are serious concerns for the UK post-Brexit, given that the burden will be brought to bear on UK workers.
Is the Brexit officially on?
According to Labour and Conservatives, the Brexit issue will move ahead as planned. However, several politicians and parties have threatened to derail any Brexit plans by requesting a snap referendum on the issue. It looks as if Britain will be leaving the EU in March 2019, preferably with a framework for Brexit in place. The British Prime Minister was against a Brexit during her early days, but promised to support a Brexit once she was sworn in. The UK economy has been in all sorts of turmoil since the Brexit saga became priority number one.
The GBP/USD pair is back at parity with pre-Brexit levels, but the GBP remains approximately 15% weaker against the EUR. UK economic growth remains robust, despite reports that the Brexit issue will destroy UK manufacturing and service industries. The purported single market refers to the EU bloc and if Britain leaves, it will no longer enjoy all of the privileges such as no customs duties, tariffs and trade fees. However, there is a customs union in place. The single market is a reference to broader integration and interaction between the EU and the UK.
In summary, it is important to manage personal finances well during this volatile period in Britain’s history. Britons with assets abroad stand to benefit significantly by repatriating their earnings, salaries, wages and so forth back to the UK. If the GBP strengthens, much the same can be said of Europeans living in the UK. Of course, banks will be having a field day with all the money changing hands, and the high spreads, fees and commissions they can charge on unsuspecting clients. After the dust has settled, it’s money transfer companies that will reap the rewards of these actions since they offer the best value to Britons.
Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape
The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.
This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”
Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.
Victims, and their children, pressed into silence
The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).
Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.
As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.
A global problem
It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.
In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.
Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”
No end in sight
Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.
EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership
At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.
Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.
President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:
Advance multilateralism and rules based governance
Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.
Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.
Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.
Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.
Macron so far has augmented French isolation
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”
There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:
First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.
Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.
Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.
The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.
Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.
Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.
First published in our partner MNA
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