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Brexit: Any light at the end of the tunnel?

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Adding a new twist to the divisive issue of the timetable and terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has asked the EU to postpone Brexit until June 30, 2019, the BBC reported.

In a letter to the EU leadership, May said that the proposed delay would give the British parliament more time to agree a Brexit deal to prevent Britain from crashing out of the bloc. She added that London would try to leave the EU before the May 23 elections to the European Parliament.

The situation has thus become absolutely confusing. In an effort to break the current logjam, Theresa May recently engaged in unprecedented direct talks with the opposition Labor Party. Meanwhile, the European Union has reiterated its refusal to make any further concessions to London by making it clear that it would only agree to postpone Brexit until May 22 (which is currently being considered in London as a compromise option) if the British House of Commons approved earlier rejected withdrawal options put forward by Theresa May, before April 12. If not, the UK would have to leave the European Union on that very day without any agreement.

According to The Guardian, the discussions Theresa May had on the subject with Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on April 3, centered on thrashing out an alternative Brexit plan May was to present to the leaders of the EU member countries during the April 10 summit.

The May-Corbin parley was preceded by a Cabinet meeting on April 2 and a televised address to the nation, which May made later that same day, saying she was ready to cooperate with Labor and essentially opted for a softer version of Brexit, which, among other things, would keep Britain in the EU Customs Union and in the common trading area (the so-called “Single Market 2.0”). 

Teresa May promised that if the talks with the Labor Party did not work out,  she would implement the legislators’ will and act as they decided.

Commenting on the outcome of the Cabinet meeting, May said that even though the UK is ready to leave the European Union without a prior agreement, an orderly Brexit based on a treaty would better meet the country’s interests.

“This is a decisive moment in the history of these islands, and it needs national unity to deliver the national interest,” she reiterated.

Theresa May is working hard to avoid Britain’s participation in the May 23-26 elections to the European Parliament. According to EU legislation, each member of the bloc must be represented in parliament, and, as confirmed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, if the United Kingdom does not leave by the end of May, it will be obliged to take part in the European elections.

Still, no matter how strongly the British government may hope, London will be preparing for the May vote in the event of an emergency, Bloomberg reported, citing its own sources.

Theresa May’s readiness to make concessions despite her previous promise to step down as a condition for approving a previously agreed deal with the EU is dictated by a clear realization of the hard fact that there is virtually no other politician in the UK ready to take responsibility for finding a generally agreed way out of the current impasse, if, of course, this is possible at all. Meanwhile, it looks like no one in London has any desire to “rake the rubble” of this controversial and risky project. That being said, however, all parties have their own opinion on this subject and influence it each in its own way.

With the situation unfolding as it is, the opposition clearly felt it could score additional points and extract new concessions from the prime minister. In an official statement, the Labor Party stated that during the negotiations the parties had “agreed a program of work between our teams to explore the scope for agreement.”

However, in an interview with Sky News, Jeremy Corbin said that although during their meeting he and Teresa May had presented their own positions on Brexit, a series of additional meetings would be required to coordinate these positions.

Mr. Corbyn described the meeting as “useful but inconclusive,” adding that “there has not been as much change as I expected.”

“I put forward the view from the Labor Party that we want to achieve a Customs Union, and that we want to have access to the (EU) market,” he added.

Jeremy Corbin also said that he outlined the party’s position on the possibility of holding a second public vote on Brexit in order to prevent a “no deal” withdrawal from the EU, which would have dire consequences for the country’s economy. He added that Prime Minister May was seeking Labor’s support for the government’s draft agreement pertaining to the terms of Brexit as well as for the political declaration attached to it.

Meanwhile, Theresa May has been faced with increasingly strong criticism from hard-line Tory Brexeteers for softening her initial position.

“It is very disappointing that the cabinet has decided to entrust the final handling of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. It now seems all too likely that British trade policy and key law making powers will be handed over to Brussels – with no say for the UK,” tweeted former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

“I think the result will most certainly be that Corbyn has his way and we remain in the Customs Union, so that we can’t control our trade policy,” he insisted.

Essentially, Theresa May “has once again drawn a line between the agreement on withdrawal and the political declaration on the UK’s future relations with the EU,” the head of Europe Insight research company Andrei Kulikov noted. He believes that if the sides manage to agree on something, it “will be written down only in the declaration. Therefore, exactly how this will help enlist the support of those who reject the agreement itself is hard to tell.”

“If May keeps piling pressure on Corbyn to support her deal, then they will hardly be able to reach agreement. Parliament will then most likely demand a longer delay and the government will have to go along,” he continued. If the prime minister comes up with a new proposal, for example, one of the alternative plans, then perhaps the Labor Party’s leader will be satisfied, Kulikov observed.

“There will be a lot of political horse-trading, and chances are that the sides will eventually come to terms as they have shared interests, including in avoiding early elections,” he noted.

The EU leadership, wary of the negative financial and economic impact of the continuing uncertainty about the principles and timing of Brexit, has taken a particularly hard stand on the issue, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisting that a postponement until May 22 is possible only if Britain’s House of Commons endorses Theresa May’s previously rejected Brexit plan before April 12. The Guardian warns that many European leaders fear that London will not be able to clinch a consensus by that deadline, resulting in a “chaotic” Brexit happening right ahead of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament.

According to the newspaper, any compromise with Jeremy Corbyn is fraught with Theresa May abandoning some of her “red lines,” including Britain’s participation in the EU Customs Union, which is just contrary to what the Conservatives promised.

Commenting on Theresa May’s position, EU Council President Donald Tusk stresses the point that now is too early to judge whether her plan to reach a compromise on Brexit will succeed. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said that the EU could agree to postpone Brexit only if the UK parties found a realistic way out of the European Union. He added, however, that it this would be “hard to believe.”

The financial and economic implications of Brexit – all the more so of a “hard” one without any real transitional period and agreed mechanisms – are probably the key factor explaining the actions of all the main participants in this process – including of the United States. President Donald Trump initially supported Brexit and during his meetings with Teresa May he, in keeping with his own business mentality, invariably tried to prod her towards making quick and radical steps. Britain’s exit from the EU without keeping in place existing mechanisms of trade and customs interaction would effectively undermine the country’s position in world trade and push it towards signing a bilateral trade deal with the US from a position of a weaker partner. Simultaneously, the political and economic weakening of the EU resulting from Brexit, would similarly benefit President Trump and his associates in the White House and on Wall Street.

In an interview with The Financial Times, Mark Mobius, formerly the  managing director of Templeton Asset Management, said that the UK increasingly resembles an “emerging market” and risks a currency crash should it leave the EU without a deal next month. According to Mobius, if British politicians fail to prevent an abrupt exit from the EU, the pound would tumble to parity against the dollar and Britain’s credit rating would be cut.  Sterling tumbled more than 10 percent immediately after the 2016 poll and has since traded at an average of about $1.30 against the US dollar, Mobius noted, warning that emerging markets may suffer from a “hard Brexit” as well.

It should also be borne in mind that the crisis around Brexit is unfolding against the backcloth of yet another negative factor for the European and world economy, namely the inability of the United States and China to clinch a trade deal. The document was expected to be inked during President Trump’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in late March. US-Chinese differences linger on though, and Washington now expects bilateral trade talks to be pushed back to summer. Sources say that China is in a better position and is not going to give in and although it really wants a good deal with the US, it still knows that Donald Trump may be needing it even more.

The existing situation gives a reason to expect further consultations between London and Brussels to try to avoid a “hard” Brexit and, at the same time, resist US pressure on the negotiating sides (above all Britain) to fast-track the Brexit process. Now it all depends on the EU’s response.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

Peter Iskenderov, senior research assistant at RAS Slavic Studies Institute, candidate of historical sciences

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What Europe Can Do to Avoid WW III?: Say ‘No!’ Now, to Its Start

Eric Zuesse

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The U.S. Government, which had lied its way into invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 (with a little help from UK and Europeans), wants Europeans to pitch-in for more U.S.-run invasions. Europeans find this disturbing, but not repulsive enough to say, flat-out, “No!” to it. However, only that “No!” can stop the onrush toward a massive U.S. war against both Iran and Iraq, which would spread ultimately into a global nuclear war between U.S. and Russia.

On January 6th, Barbara Wessel, a columnist for Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), headlined a common European sentiment: “Trump has Europeans caught in a trap: Europe is suffering under the way Donald Trump makes political decisions on the fly. The only option left is to appeal to Iran’s interest in self-preservation”. But Iranians can’t stop the sanctions against itself, and can’t stop Trump’s other outrageous aggressions. Wessel’s false underlying assumption was that Europe must lecture Iranians. That’s like lecturing to Jews during WW II: “The only option left is to appeal to Jews’ interest in self-preservation.” Victims already do everything they can to stop their being victimized; they cannot stop the victimizer from victimizing them. They don’t cause it. Europe must, at last, say “No!” to U.S., the tyrant over the entire world — Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and more. Wessel, however, understood, at least, that the dangerousness actually comes far more from the U.S., than it does from Iran. So, she recognized that her thinking on this whole matter was confused. She stated:

Any illusions about the possibility of an even partially rational cooperation on foreign policy with the government in Washington have long been shattered. Cynical remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accuses the Europeans of not giving enough support in the Middle East, underline their helplessness. … Even experienced observers of US Middle East policy have been unable to explain how this [Trump’s “bring American soldiers home”] fits in with the strike against Soleimani. … Europeans find themselves in the trap of a kind of US foreign policy that is marked by the emotional eruptions of an unpredictable president and his power-drunk neocon supporters. … Basically, their [the U.S. Government’s] only explanation for killing Soleimani is: “Because we can.” … Granted, Europe looks weak and helpless when, in joint statements, Europeans call for de-escalation after their presumed partner, the US, has just done everything it can to escalate the situation. … The new year will quickly show how strong the current tendency to suicide is among all those involved. …

The presumption on which such sentiments are based is that things must go on as before, and EU must continue to be allied with U.S., instead of with the rest of the EurAsian Continent — but this presumption (EU with U.S. instead of with all the rest of EurAsia) has been false ever since the U.S. Government went wild in its response to the mainly Saudi Arabian 9/11 assault against the U.S. and Israel cheered that event, and Iran got blamed by the U.S. government for 9/11 as being “The top state sponsor of terrorism” (which was yet another lie), and Obama perpetrated a coup replacing Ukraine’s democratically elected Government with a U.S.-imposed fascist and rabidly anti-Russian government such as Obama wanted to be next-door to Russia. He even was intending to replace Russia’s largest naval base, which is in Crimea, by yet another U.S. naval base, to be installed there. None of this is in Europe’s interest. Nor is it even discussed in Europe or in any other vassal-region of the U.S. empire. It’s censored-out there.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain and all the rest of Europe, actually belong with all the rest of the EurAsian Continent, rather than with the formerly democratic but now fascist United States across the Atlantic Ocean. A federal EurAsia, composed of free and independent states within a wider United States of EurAsia, would have 4.618 billion population, almost half of the entire world, and wealth to match that, and economic growth which far exceeds that of what will then be left of the U.S.-and-its-allied-countries: UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. All other nations would ally either with EurAsia or with that U.S. group — American and those three core allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel, and UK). NATO is America’s aggressive alliance, which routinely invades countries that pose no threat to either U.S. or Europe (such as Iraq). America’s plan for NATO is to expand it worldwide, so that the U.S. will automatically have European allies for invasions in places such as Latin America. NATO needs to be replaced by a united EurAsian defense force, which will be able to counterbalance, within its sphere, the world’s largest military. The U.S. has around 1,000 military bases, of which around 300 are inside U.S. Though officially the U.S. spends 37% of the global military budget, it actually spends around half of all global military expenditures, but hides around one-third of its annual military spending by listing those costs in other federal Departments, such as the U.S. Treasury Department, so as not to seem as militaristic as the U.S. Government actually is. It’s actually a global empire — the largest that the world has ever known. Europe is, and can only be, vassals in that empire. The alternative requires new thinking, and is not to spend more money on the military, but to recognize that when Russia ended the Cold War in 1991, the war secretly continued, and still does continue, on the U.S. side — and Russia and China recognize that this is America’s intention. Europe must stop the Cold War, because only Europe can do that.  

Barbara Wessel’s commentary presumes, instead, that Europe’s leaders have no ability to say no to the U.S. That presumed passivity is only bad habit, inherited from a Europe which was wrecked by WW II. That’s no longer the reality today. Instead, Europe, joined with Asia, will be the global superpower that can finally end America’s endless wars —simply by not joining them. EurAsia will be the world’s dominant power, if Europeans want a future that is better than the past, instead of catastrophic. Either way, the future won’t be much like the past. Europe needs to wake up now, from its vassalage since WW II ended. Simply continuing that would produce a horrible future.

Another DW columnist on January 6th, Konstantin Eggert, headlined “Opinion: Putin’s power games may get out of hand”, and he was even more supportive of Germany’s vassalage to the U.S. regime. He presented a strong case that by murdering Soleimani, Trump had pulled the trump card in the U.S.-v.-Russia game by eliminating the key person upon whom Putin had been relying in order to transfer dominance in the Middle East away from U.S. and toward, instead, Russia. Soleimani was that key individual for Putin’s success in this. “According to sources in Moscow, Putin knew Soleimani very well: He played a key role in creating the Russian-Iranian alliance that saved Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria from what seemed in 2015 an imminent demise.” With Soleimani now gone, Eggert predicted that regardless of what Iraq’s Government might want, the U.S. would refuse to terminate its occupation of that country, and Iran would be in a much weaker position than before. He said that “Putin has every reason to wish the Iranians backed off from confrontation with the United States,” so as for Russia to avoid being drawn into World War III. “Putin’s best chance to avoid this drama is to play peacemaker — not alone but in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Erdogan, who are rushing to meet him in the coming two days. Berlin and Ankara do not want to see the Middle East explode and will be asking Putin to use his close ties in Tehran to hatch a deal and fend off confrontation.” In this sense, the missile that hit Soleimani on January 3rd hit not only Iraq and Iran but EU and Turkey. Eggert therefore advises America’s vassals to remain America’s vassals because Russia now is trapped and Putin might not fold his hand and might not simply let Iran become ultimately swallowed-up — Merkel etc. should urge Putin to fold his hand, is the implication here. Eggert’s implication is that, in the final analysis, might makes right, and that therefore any resistance against it (for example, if Putin continues to resist) would only be harmful. Or, as he puts it: “With the Iranian regime massively undermined or destroyed, Moscow’s position in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin’s personal prestige as the world’s topmost authority on stopping ‘regime change’ and someone who never leaves allies in the lurch, will be badly hit and revealed as much weaker than it seems.” Eggert sees Trump’s assassination of Soleimani as, in effect, a master-stroke, which has severely weakened Putin. Of course, if Europe’s leaders will act this way, then Eggert’s might-makes-right view will be vindicated, by them.

Europe is the U.S. regime’s indispensable ally. If EU breaks away from U.S. and joins with the rest of the EurAsian continent instead, at least the possibility will exist for avoiding a hellish future of continued and accelerating vassalage to the U.S. regime for the entire world. Passivity and might-makes-right slants such as “Putin’s power games may get out of hand” (instead of “America’s assassination of Soleimani places entire world in danger”) are choicesnot inevitable — and Europeans will ultimately be the individuals who will be making the choices here. Europeans will decide whether the U.S. is the world’s enemy; or, instead, whether Russia, China, Iran, and, really, all the rest of Asia, will be treated as if they were that (like the U.S. regime wants). Ganging-up against the victims — if that is to be the European response — would be a choice, not an inevitability (such as DW implies). It will be up to Europeans whether to order all U.S. troops to leave, and to tariff all imports from America, and to sanction and boycott U.S. brands and increasingly replace them with EurAsian ones instead. Trump can be trumped, but only Europe has the clout to do it. The future will be decided by Europeans. The voices of passivity, such as DW, are doing the bidding of Europeans’ enemy — not of the entire world’s future: a EurAsian-led world.

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The right to affordable housing: Europe’s neglected duty

Dunja Mijatovic

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Increasingly making the headlines, the scarcity of affordable housing in Europe is a serious and growing problem that pushes an ever-larger number of people into housing insecurity and homelessness. Unless governments in Europe step in to take decisive measures to turn back the tide, this crisis will continue to intensify and increase existing inequalities, exclusion, and segregation.

Housing is in short supply in Europe today, in spite of increasing demand. In many countries, the overall level of housing construction is lower now than in previous decades, contributing to structural shortages which are especially acute in large cities. This scarcity of housing is pushing up rents as well as prices, which in most European countries surpass the increase in wages. These trends cause many people to gradually be “priced out” of certain neighbourhoods and force them to accept homes of substandard quality or to move to areas where they face poorer prospects of finding work within a reasonable distance, decent education, quality healthcare, and other basic social needs.

Affordable housing: whose problem?

According to the European Committee of Social Rights, housing is affordable if the household can afford to pay initial costs, rent and other related costs, like utility bills and charges, on a long-term basis, while still being able to maintain a minimum standard of living. Meeting this challenge is an uphill struggle for many Europeans today as the cost of housing consumes the lion’s share of their household budgets. Frequently, this results in the so-called housing cost overburden, which arises when more than 40% of one’s disposable income is spent on housing. For instance, this affects around two out of five people in Greece, one in five in Bulgaria, and one in six in Denmark and Germany.

Although the problem concerns many people across Europe, high housing costs have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty and those at risk of poverty, including the “working poor”. The numbers are telling. A report on housing inequality, published by the Council of Europe Development Bank in 2017, showed that the housing cost was an excessive burden for nearly a third of the lowest earners in the EU/EEA area.

Between 2007 and 2017, the average housing cost overburden rate among poor households increased in the majority of European Union countries. The highest figures in 2017 stood at 90% in Greece, 75% in Denmark and 50% in Bulgaria. Among the EU’s youngest citizens living below the poverty line in 2017, 42% on average were overburdened by the cost of housing; this ratio reached 63% in the Netherlands, 84% in Denmark and 91% in Greece. A similarly discouraging picture appears outside the EU: a 2017 UN study found the cost of housing in Armenia to be unaffordable for most citizens. In the same year, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was ranked second least affordable in Bloomberg’s Global City Housing Cost Index.

The availability and quality of housing is a closely related problem. In Armenia, according to UNECE, the 2011 census reported 16,000 people (2% of all households) to live in structures unfit for housing, like metal shipping containers. Also according to UNECE, in Ukraine in 2011 more than one million households were in need of housing while the average waiting time for social housing was estimated to exceed 100 years, and 20 years in Russia. Eighty thousand households have been reported to lack long-term housing solutions in North Macedonia.

Social housing: outsourced and underfinanced

As a result of the shortage of affordable housing, the social housing sector in Europe is coming under pressure. While there is no single formula for getting social housing policies right, state responses to rising demand have so far been to withdraw and to shift the burden to the local government, private sector, housing associations and non-profit organisations. In 2017, overall spending by governments on social housing represented only 0.66% of the European GDP and continued to fall. In many countries, the emphasis has been placed on increasing housing allowances. We need fresh ideas in this area. A new toolkit published by the European Housing Solutions Platform outlines 50 out-of-the-box solutions making use of social housing, the private rental sector, and integrated approaches to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing systems.

Rising homelessness and forced evictions

As observed by my predecessor in the 2013 Issue Paper on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis, the 2008 crisis and growing unemployment led to a sharp increase in evictions and rising homelessness in many European countries. While tenant protection laws often serve as a safety net, overall they do not seem to effectively tackle the problem. The 2017 and 2018 annual overviews, published by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and Fondation Abbé Pierre, found evidence of rising homelessnessin all the EU/EEA countries surveyed except Finland and Norway. The decline in homelessness experienced in these two countries was attributed to the implementation of long-term strategies of successful cooperation between the state, local authorities and local stakeholders, and approaching homelessness from the perspective of a human rights violation.

Increasing homelessness has been observed to particularly affect migrants, young people, women, families, and children.The 2018 FEANTSA report noted that children are becoming the largest group of people in emergency shelters. In 2015, children accounted for one-third of Ireland’s entire homeless population; from 2014 to 2017, their number rose by 276%. In the UK, the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation reportedly rose by 40% in the same period. In Russia, although the available figures appear to vary greatly, one rough estimate put the number of homeless children in 2010 at hundreds of thousands, while other reports hint that this number might be even higher. During her 2015 visit to Serbia, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing touched upon the risk of homelessness and exclusion that weak protections for renters and no access to social housing meant for certain vulnerable groups, including young people.

State responses to rising homelessness have often been characterised by a short-sighted, punitive approach, in a misguided attempt to move the problem out of public sight. My predecessor’s visit to Hungary in 2014 shed light on the national and local government bans on “sleeping rough” on pain of fines, which were imposed on more than a thousand people, and in some cases led to the imprisonment of those unable to pay. Similar bans were observed during his 2015 visit to Norway. More recently, in the UK, press reports found that as overall numbers of rough sleepers continued to rise, in some localities homeless people were banned from town centres and fined.

European institutions have intervened in some cases related to forced evictions. The European Court of Human Rights has notably balanced interests of landlords against the need to secure accommodation for the less well-off, and on some occasions has acted as a last resort for families threatened with imminent eviction. The European Committee of Social Rights has in several decisions identified the safeguards that must apply when evictions do take place: respecting the dignity of persons; no evictions at night or during the winter; taking measures to re-house or financially assist the persons concerned. The case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for its part, has empowered domestic judges to suspend or annul evictions if the rights of occupants have not been respected, for instance in the context of abusive mortgages. While these interventions offer helpful guarantees, states should prevent such emergencies affecting families and children, among others, from occurring in the first place.

The way forward

In a poignant introduction to her January 2018 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noted that “[w]e are at a critical moment. Globally, housing conditions are fraught. Homelessness is on the rise, including in affluent countries; forced evictions continue unabated; (…) and housing in many cities is simply unaffordable even for the middle class”.

We should pay close attention to her call. We need to fully grasp the extent and urgency of the problem in Europe with regard to housing, one of the most basic human needs. As demonstrated above, this is an issue which affects the population at large and contributes to a growing sense of uncertainty and precariousness. Leaving it unaddressed leaves our societies vulnerable to increased social tensions.

States’ obligations towards the full realisation of the right to housing must go beyond providing emergency and individual solutions. There is an urgent need for genuine political commitment to adopting sustainable, long-term and inclusive solutions, in line with the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goal of providing adequate, secure and affordable housing to all by 2030. Housing is not simply a commodity, but a human right. It should move to the top of the political agenda in Europe.

First, member States which have not yet done so should promptly accept to be bound by Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter (RESC) dealing withthe right to housing. Of the 34 member States which ratified the Charter, so far only 10 have accepted its Article 31 while 4 more have accepted to be bound only by some parts of that provision.

Second, States should adopt and implement sustainable national housing strategies with clear targets to end homelessness, harnessing to the maximum extent the available resources, establishing credible and independent mechanisms for monitoring progress, and paying close attention to their impact.

Third, States should step up investing in social and affordable housing in view of eradicating the housing cost overburden, particularly among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Fourth, States should urgently adopt long-term measures to prevent and eradicate homelessness, in particular among children and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. In adopting and implementing such measures, states should involve all stakeholders and be guided by respect for the human dignity of homeless persons and the realisation that homelessness is a violation of human rights.

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UK-US relations: Challenges ahead

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The past few days have been witness, to some important statements made in the context of the Joint Comprehensive Program for Action (JCPOA) — also referred to as the Iran Nuclear deal. US allies, including the UK and some EU member states do not seem to be in agreement with the US President’s Iran policy in general, and his inclination towards scrapping JCPOA altogether.

Boris Johnson’s interviews and his comments on the JCPOA

In an interview to the BBC on January 14, 2020, British PM, Boris Johnson stated, that the JCPOA, could be renegotiated, and seemed to be accommodative towards Trump. Said Johnson:

‘Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead’.

Johnson’s remarks came a day after UK, Germany and France had issued a joint statement, stating that all three countries were totally in favor of keeping the JCPOA alive.UK Germany and France had also said, that they were keen to ensure, that the nuclear non -proliferation regime is kept intact, and Iran is prevented from developing nuclear weapons.

Earlier, in a telephonic conversation, last week, with the UK PM, US President Donald Trump, had told Johnson, that the deal was ‘foolish’, and other signatories should also walk out of it.

During the course of his interview with the BBC, which happened to be the first interview with the media, after the victory of the Conservative Party in the recent general elections. Johnson, while having a dig at Trump, said that the US President thought himself of as a good negotiator, as did many others.

Johnson also made the point, that the current deal, had been negotiated by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and alluded to the point, that this was one of the key reasons, why Trump wanted to renegotiate the JCPOA.

Members of Johnson’s cabinet and their comments on the Iran deal

UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, while criticizing Iran for failing to meet with the compliances related to the JCPOA, also stated, that the UK is keen to keep the deal intact.

Before Raab, another member of Johnson’s cabinet, the British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace had also indulged in some straight talk, lambasting the Trump administration for its increasingly isolationist approach towards global issues, and Trump’s tendency of taking Washington’s allies for granted. Wallace had also stated, that US support for UK’s coalition should not be taken for granted.

Responses of Trump and Rouhani to Johnson’s remarks

US President, Donald Trump’s response, to Johnson’s suggestion, regarding a fresh JCPOA was predictable, and welcomed the British PM’s proposal.

In the meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an aggressive address, on January 15, 2020,  where he lashed out at the EU and UK, said, that all Trump knew, was violation of contracts, so there was no question of a new Iran deal.

UK-US relations

Interestingly, Johnson in his interview to the BBC, had also said, that there was no real need for the UK to have been informed in advance by the US, with regard to the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. It would be pertinent to point out, that not just members of the Labor Party, but even a senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, also a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the US for not consulting the UK.

This brings us, to another important point. While Johnson’s main challenge is perceived to be the withdrawal of UK, from the EU by January 31, 2020. There are likely to be important differences between Washington and London over dealing with Iran. A close advisor of US President Donald Trump, has already stated, that if Johnson wants a UK-US Free Trade deal, UK should immediately pull out of the Iran deal. Richard Goldberg, who until recently was a member of the White House national security council (NSC) expressed these views while speaking to BBC.

US-UK FTA and Trump’s support for the same

Trump has been in favor of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with UK (which happens to be the 5th largest trading partner of the US) for some time. In fact, in his congratulatory tweet to Boris Johnson after his victory in December 2019, Trump had said that Britain and the U.S. will now be able to forge a significant new Trade Deal after Brexit.

At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump had spoken about how the US would sign a path breaking trade deal with the UK, post Brexit. It has been argued, that while the Conservative lobby, in the US-UK, which has been in favor of  bilateral FTA, there are lobbies in both countries, which are fervently opposed to such an idea.

It also remains to be seen, whether the Trump Administration is serious, about imposing conditionalities on UK regarding the FTA — such as, supporting the US stance vis-à-vis Iran. Given the reactions by some members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet (to Trump’s handling of the Iran issue), it is tough to really predict the UK’s reaction.

Not just Iran, US-UK also differ over Huawei

Apart from the Iran issue, one issue which could act as an impediment to further consolidating economic and strategic relations between US and UK could be use of equipment of Chinese tech giant, Huawei, by UK for the development of next-generation 5G wireless networks. 

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May had stated, that non-core technology of 5G were acceptable, while core parts would be banned. At a meeting of the National Security council (NSC) in 2019, some of May’s colleagues including — Jeremy Hunt, then Foreign secretary, Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary (now treasury secretary), Gavin Williamson, then Defense Secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, then international development secretary — had opposed May’s decision. Interestingly, Williamson had been sacked for allegedly leaking the proceedings of the meeting.

Johnson’s approach towards Huawei

In the interview to BBC, Johnson stated, that he did not want to jeopardize cooperation with any of the other “5 Eyes Intelligence alliance partners” (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US are the other members of this network, apart from the US). While hinting at the US stand on Huawei, Johnson said, that those criticizing one technology also needed to provide an alternative.

Differences between US and other allies over other crucial economic and strategic issues

It is not just UK, but other allies like India which would be closely watching Trumps approach on crucial geo-political issues. For instance, while earlier US had stated, that it would get a waiver from CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), even if it went ahead with the purchase of S400 Missiles from Russia (India and Russia had signed an agreement in October 2018 during Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s . Only recently, a State Department Spokesman while commenting on the waiver to India stated that there was no blanket waiver from the side of the US Administration. Of course later, the State Department Spokesperson did clarify, that US views these issues on a case by case basis.

Conclusion

If one were to look at the scenario for bilateral relations between UK and US (defined as a ‘special relationship’ first by Winston Churchill in 1946) there are numerous challenges.

There is a tendency, to oversimplify bilateral relationships to personal chemistry of leaders, and ideological inclinations as in the case of Johnson and Trump. There are likely, to be a number of obstacles which may come in the way of the bilateral relationship (differences over crucial geo-political and economic issues as discussed above). In addition to this, there is a note of caution for other allies like EU member states (especially Germany and France), Canada, Japan which have already born the brunt of Trump’s insular economic policies, and his myopic and transaction approach towards complex geo-political issues.

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