Showing posts with label Brexit Related. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brexit Related. Show all posts

30 December 2019

Dracula: Free Movement Of Vampires A Fitting Horror Story For The #Brexit Era

Bloody and unbowed: Claes Bang as Dracula
Bloody and unbowed: Claes Bang as Dracula. (BBC/Hartswood Films/Netflix/David Ellis)
Fictional vampires tend to reflect the politics of the times that produce them: “Because they are always changing, their appeal is dramatically generational,” says the late American scholar Nina Auerbach in her classic work of criticism Our Vampires, Ourselves. The figure of the vampire, she suggests, always tells us as much about ourselves as it does about vampires per se.

With this in mind, the first episode of the new adaptation of Dracula for the BBC and Netflix by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss is at first perplexing. Unlike Moffat’s previous, modernising adaptations of 19th-century fiction – Jekyll (2007) and Sherlock (2010-17) – the series returns to 1897, the year in which Bram Stoker published his novel.

The setting is high Gothic, featuring a crumbling, eastern European castle (Orava Castle in Slovakia) and a convent full of crucifix-toting nuns. Eschewing the sentimental romance of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation or the wildly successful Twilight franchise, Moffat and Gatiss appear – initially at least – to take us back to the horror of the original text.

But as the episode progresses the European setting becomes more than just spooky window dressing. One of the most famous arguments about the novel, first made by Stephen D. Arata, is that Dracula enacts “reverse colonisation” – Stoker’s vampire expresses the threat that imperialism might not be a one-way operation. From his home in eastern Europe, the count travels to Britain to buy up its real estate and add its women to his harem, bypassing the need for a passport or immigration documents and threatening British manhood in the process.

‘Brexit Gothic’

Seen in this light, Dracula offers a clear application to our times. In an article for The Guardian on “Brexit Gothic”, Neil McRobert points out:
"When Nigel Farage expresses concern about Romanian men moving in next door, it makes one wonder if he has read Dracula – the story of a Romanian man who literally moves in beside some stuffy British people."
Moffat and Gatiss are too canny to give us a straightforward metaphor for Brexit – and yet there are clear nods to contemporary anxieties in the first episode. Dracula quizzes Jonathan Harker on English language and culture out of a desire to “pass among your countrymen as one of their own”. He will be the good immigrant who assimilates, who blends invisibly with the host culture. There is a moment of discomfort, however, as he promises to “absorb” Harker – this immigrant is a parasite who feeds off its host.

There is no direct correlation with itinerant agricultural workers, however, as Dracula seeks to infiltrate the highest echelons of society. In a warped version of late 19th-century eugenics, we discover that Dracula’s choosiness about his victims is the secret to his vampiric success – consuming only the blood of the best enables him to retain his human qualities. Hence his appetite for the British Empire. “Vampires go where power is,” says Auerbach. “You are what you eat,” quips Claes Bang’s Dracula.

Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha with Joanna Scanlan as Mother Superior. (BBC/Hartswood Films/Netflix/Robert Viglasky)
Moreover, this is a tale of two Europeans. Sister Agatha, the Dutch nun who questions Harker after his escape from Dracula’s castle (a significantly expanded role from the book, played with exquisite exasperation by Dolly Wells), scoffs at Jonathan’s English masculinity when he fails to realise the incongruity of a secret message written to him in English in a Transylvanian castle: “Of course not! You are an English man! A combination of presumptions beyond compare.” British exceptionalism looks set to take a tumble as Dracula reaches England in the second instalment.

Dark humour

The episode displays the acute self-aware characteristic of vampire films, which are what Ken Gelder calls “citational, constantly referring to previous examples of the genre. There are multiple moments when viewers anticipating romance have their expectations rudely shattered. Twilight in particular comes in for some sharp debunking, with Mina playing the role of Twilight’s heroine Bella, appealing to her lover’s higher moral fibre and coming in for a shock as she discovers that true love does not trump bloodlust after all. Instead of Twilight’s lingering shots of gleaming male torsos we get intimate body horror in excruciating close up – a fly crawling across an eyeball, a blackened nail flaking off a finger.

One of the most striking features of Moffat and Gatiss’s adaptation is its humour. Comedy has always been a crucial element of Gothic literature, which continually teeters between terror and laughter. “King Laugh,” a metaphorical figure invented by Professor Van Helsing in Bram Stoker’s novel to explain his own hysterics, is a version of death, leading the characters in a kind of danse macabre. The novel exhibits black humour in the character of the lunatic Renfield, in particular, who calculates how many lives he can consume, starting by eating flies and trading up the food chain.

As I argued in my recent book, Post-Millennial Gothic, a distinguishing characteristic of contemporary vampires is their increasing comic agency. The first self-conscious vampire joke is the iconic one-liner first spoken by Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning’s classic 1931 film: “I never drink … wine.” Moffat and Gatiss get this out of the way in the first few minutes – and even add a callback later in the episode.

There are more zingers to come as Bang quips his way across Europe like an infernal James Bond. When Harker spots him with a glass and queries that he never drinks, I almost expected him to clarify: “Shaken, not stirred.”

The comparison between Dracula and Bond is not a casual one. Bond props up a crumbling British Empire – Dracula aims to infiltrate it and use it to his own ends. They emerge from the same social and historical concerns, two sides of the same coin. Both reflect us back in multiple ways, and neither offers a flattering picture.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Catherine Spooner, Professor of Literature and Culture, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

18 September 2019

New Research Shows Brexit Is Making the UK a Less Attractive Home for Biggest Global Firms

Gowling WLG report reveals the most favourable countries for global HQ relocations
Gowling WLG report reveals the most favourable countries for global HQ relocations (PRNewsfoto/Gowling WLG)
Almost one in four (23%) global businesses are open to relocating their headquarters (HQ), but uncertainty over Brexit is having a significant impact on the UK's attractiveness as a home for big firms, according to new research from international law firm, Gowling WLG. 

  • Almost half (41%) said they wouldn't currently consider a move to the UK post-Brexit, instead rating Germany, Ireland and Switzerland as the top destinations.
With recent high profile HQ developments for Amazon, Unilever and Google hitting the headlines, the Gowling WLG report, HQ Sweet Spot: Where big businesses want to call home reveals the strategic plans for the most significant operations of more than 650 board level executives at large businesses across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas.

  • A startling 92% of those surveyed that are currently headquartered in the UK are weighing up the benefits of an overseas move - Ireland ranks as the most popular destination option for more than half (54%) of these firms, followed by Germany (33%), the Netherlands (31%) and Luxembourg (23%).
  • More than a third (35%) of global business leaders believe that post-Brexit, the UK will be a less favourable HQ location in the long-term. However, bosses in Brazil, Canada and the US are most upbeat about the enduring cachet of a UK business address and the most likely to consider relocating to Britain.

When asked to rank a broad range of features from availability of talent and digital infrastructure through to political and economic stability in their current location, business leaders in France, Singapore, Switzerland and Japan were the most satisfied and least likely to consider moving. Conversely, those in the UK, Canada and Brazil were the least satisfied with their current home and among the most likely to consider upping sticks.

Commenting on the findings, Richard Bate, head of real estate at Gowling WLG, said:
"The UK patently remains a strong force in the market to attract the world's biggest HQ relocations but our research shows that Brexit is leading global bosses to strongly consider other European alternatives.

When asked what measures the UK could take to improve its attractiveness as an HQ location after Brexit, a clear message from bosses for policymakers emerged: reduce business regulation, improve access to talent, develop a more favourable tax regime and improve transport links.

Our research also reveals the importance of the location basics, from sourcing suitable buildings to excellent digital and transport infrastructure. Indeed, many of our respondents favour destinations offering high quality real estate – an area where the UK excels.

Against this backdrop, a swift resolution to the Brexit impasse and the right policy changes once we have finally exited the EU are essential to enable Britain to take a bigger slice of the HQ market, particularly among North American firms and those beyond Europe."


31 August 2019

How EU Families In Britain Are Coping With Brexit Uncertainty

A British passport on a British flag
A British passport on a British flag (image via Shutterstock)
Mirela left Croatia in 1991 because of the civil war in Yugoslavia. Her husband Frank grew up in the Republic of Ireland. Both are worried Brexit has left a deep scar through British society, one that it will take years to heal. They also worry about the impact of Brexit on their mixed-nationality families and how to mitigate it.

It is a smart option to get as many passports as you can,” Mirela, who holds a passport from the newest EU member state, Croatia, told our team. For Frank, an Irish national, his Republic of Ireland passport is the best to have under current circumstances due to the additional arrangements between the Republic of Ireland and the UK regarding the status of their citizens.

Mirela, who has seen how quickly a country can implode and how rapidly the value of a passport can change, is not persuaded. “Things can change quickly,” She says.

These comments are a snapshot of the many, often animated and tense, conversations EU families have had since June 2016. 

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, recently said the chances of a Brexit deal are now “touch and go”, having previously said the odds of a no-deal Brexit were “a million to one”. This has reopened the debate around the protections provided by the “EU settled status” arrangement, further igniting EU citizens’ anxieties and moving more people towards applying for a British passport via naturalisation.

The latest Home Office immigration statistics released in August show that since March 2019, when the scheme was officially launched after a pilot phase, more than a million EU nationals have applied for EU settled status which allows them to continue living in the UK after Brexit.

Data also reveal that the share of British citizenship applications by EU nationals has increased from 4% in 2007 to 30% in June 2019. At the time of the 2016 EU referendum, applications by EU citizens accounted for 12% of the total.
Applications for British citizenship, 2007-2019. Source: Home Office, Immigration Statistics (Citizenship tables), August 2019. Data for 2019 cover Q1 and Q2. Elaboration: Eurochildren
Applications for British citizenship, 2007-2019. Source: Home Office, Immigration Statistics (Citizenship tables), August 2019. Data for 2019 cover Q1 and Q2. Elaboration: Eurochildren

 Our study – EU families and Eurochildren in Brexiting Britain – shows that for some EU citizens, the result of the EU referendum has meant a sudden and even shocking realisation of the fragility of their legal position in the UK. Others, instead, had already encountered the UK government’s hostile environment and experienced being at the receiving end of the virulent anti-immigration rhetoric of some British newspapers.

Indeed, research shows that Polish and other Central and Eastern EU nationals in the UK have felt negatively targeted by British populist media since much before the June 2016 EU referendum. This might explain why, similarly to Romanian citizens, they began to apply in sizeable numbers for British citizenship even before the referendum and are currently the two main countries of origin of citizenship applicants, followed by Italians, Germans and French.

Given the above, it’s unsurprising, therefore, that while the increase in applications for British citizenship from citizens of so-called “old member states” (EU14) (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden) has been steeper since June 2016, the increase among citizens of “new member states” – divided into EU8 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) and EU2 (Romania, Bulgaria), according to their date of accession to the EU – began earlier.

In 2013, 47% of all British citizenship applications by EU citizens came from EU8 nationals, 27% from EU2 nationals, and 25% from EU14 nationals. By contrast, in 2019, EU14 citizens accounted for 51% of all EU applications, with the EU8 accounting for 30%, and the EU2 18%.

Newspaper reports often take this as evidence of EU nationals racing to secure their status in the UK. But there are an estimated 3.7m EU nationals in the UK, and only one third has so far applied for settled status and 130,000 for citizenship since the EU referendum.

Our findings have highlighted how some EU citizens, particularly children, risk falling through the cracks of the settled status registration process and, as a consequence, may encounter insurmountable obstacles to later accessing citizenship.
A hard decision

There are a range of economic, social and legal considerations, including fees, eligibility restrictions, and the right to dual nationality that may preclude EU nationals from applying for citizenship. We also found that for those in the position to do it, it is rarely a decision that is taken lightly. Many going through the process feel like the decision has been forced upon them by circumstances, and ultimately decided to apply with family and the future of their children at the forefront of their minds.

Family composition, in terms of the countries of birth of both parents and children, also plays a role in the decision-making process. We found that in mixed nationality families, including those with a UK-born partner, leaving the UK and “going home” is a rarely a realistic option and that naturalisation becomes the only viable way of keeping the family safe and together.

We also found that attitudes towards naturalisation vary significantly among EU nationals. Better off and more educated EU nationals, for example, are more reluctant to apply to become British, on ideological and political grounds. Among EU14 nationals this response to naturalisation was more frequent.

Others, like Mirela, take a more pragmatic approach to acquiring a British passport, particularly those who have previously experienced the constraints and difficulties of visa restrictions and come from countries with lower trust in state institutions and the rule of law (for example, Romania and Bulgaria).

The outcome of the EU referendum is tearing some EU families apart, uprooting children and parents, spreading them across borders, and forcing families to reconsider their future in the UK. Under these circumstances, becoming a British citizen is often a defensive move – for those who can afford the £1,349 per person application fee – and a way for them to “take back control” over their lives after years of uncertainty.

About Today's Contributor:

Nando Sigona, Professor of International Migration and Forced Displacement and Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

11 June 2019

Boris Johnson Supporters Want No-Deal Brexit and Less Talk of Climate Change – New Survey of Tory Party Members Reveals

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson (EPA/Neil Hall)
By the end of July the UK will have a new prime minister. They will be chosen not by the electorate but by a group of around 160,000 members of the Conservative Party. This selectorate gets to choose between the two candidates who finish first and second in a series of votes held among Conservative MPs.

There has, perhaps not surprisingly, been a degree of disquiet expressed about this situation. Members of political parties are, generally speaking, more zealous than members of the public. Some argue that it might be better to leave the choice of the country’s PM up to MPs. They, at least, have a direct mandate from voters. And, since governments in parliamentary systems must retain the confidence of the legislature in order to stay in office, allowing MPs to choose would at least guarantee a chain of democratic accountability from executive to electorate. That is bypassed completely when party members alone make the decision.

Such concerns are surely all the more pressing because, as our research has already shown, grassroots Conservatives can hardly be said to be representative of the country as a whole, either demographically or ideologically. There are far more men among them than there are women; most of them live in the southern half of the country; they are generally pretty well-off; they are relatively old (although not quite as ancient as often suggested); they are very, very white; and they are also significantly more right wing than the average voter – whether we’re talking about their economic or social attitudes.

Our new analysis, however, using data from a recent survey of Conservative Party members that was kindly provided to us by Chris Curtis of YouGov, reveals something that is possibly even more worrying for critics of the process. The party members who support the clear front runner, Boris Johnson, are even more ideologically unrepresentative of British voters than are the bulk of their counterparts.

Indeed, compared to the kind of members drawn to the two contenders who, currently seem to stand the best chance of grabbing the crucial runner up spot – the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt – Johnson’s supporters look anything but moderate.

While only around a quarter of the wider British public support leaving the EU without a Brexit deal, an amazing 85% of Johnson’s supporters within the party are keen on a no-deal departure.
Can’t wait for that no-deal feeling.
Can’t wait for that no-deal feeling. (YouGov)
Some two thirds (66%) of the nearly 900 Conservative rank-and-file members who responded to the survey said the UK should leave without a deal, so Johnson supporters are extreme even by that standard. “Only” 37% of Hunt supporters would be happy with a no-deal Brexit.

Even Gove supporters are less enthusiastic about no-deal than Johnson supporters. Their man was a leading figure in the Leave campaign but only 52% of them want to leave without a deal.

Right-wing base

It’s clear that, when it comes to the 39% of the Conservative grassroots who are in Johnson’s camp, what the party’s critics would no doubt label their extremism isn’t just confined to Brexit.

Asked to locate themselves ideologically, some 42% of members overall said they were on the right – not just of British politics, but of the Conservative Party itself, making Gove’s supporters (39% of whom said the same) about average. Just 15% of Hunt’s grassroots supporters (who make up just 8% of the membership overall) located themselves in that space.
Tory Party members assess where they sit on the left/right spectrum
Tory Party members assess where they sit on the left/right spectrum. (YouGov)
Johnson’s supporters had no such problem: well over half of them (56%) said they belonged on the right wing of their party, with about the same proportion (58%) of them styling themselves as “fairly or very right wing”.

The impression that Johnson’s supporters are very much a sub-set of a sub-set is only reinforced when we dig into the specifics.

For instance, Tory members in general are more inclined than the general public to want to cut tax and spending, so it comes as no surprise that 34% of them supported that option – one that only around a fifth of voters right now would go for. But those members backing Johnson, 40% of whom supported cuts, were twice as enthusiastic about them as those backing Gove (20.5%) and Hunt (22%). This may well solve the mystery of why Johnson’s only big domestic policy so far has been his promise to cut taxes – the front runner is mobilising his base.

Johnson’s base is also relatively socially-conservative. A majority (although, at 59%, hardly an overwhelming majority) of Tory members think that David Cameron’s government was right to allow same sex marriage. Those supporting Gove – who has always been seen as socially-liberal and will be seen as even more so after recent revelations about his cocaine use – are slightly more likely (at 63%) than most members to agree. Supporters of Johnson and Hunt are slightly less likely (at 54% and 55%) to do so.

However, it’s probably climate change where we see the most striking attitudinal differences between those who support Johnson and those who support the others. Rather worryingly for those who regard the issue as a priority, one in five Tory rank-and-file members would like to see less emphasis on climate change. But that rises to one in four among Johnson supporters. Just under one in ten Gove supporters feels the same way, and just over one in ten Hunt supporters.
A worrying finding about climate change. (YouGov)

Why the difference?

Why that might be – and why Johnson’s supporters seem to be so generally right wing as well as so keen on a no-deal Brexit – can perhaps be explained, not by demographics (supporters of all three candidates actually look pretty similar in that respect), but by looking at when the members who responded to the survey said they’d joined the party.
Boris Johnson addresses members at party conference in 2018
Boris Johnson addresses members at party conference in 2018. (PA)
Nearly half (44.5%) of all the members surveyed said they’d become party members sometime after the 2016 referendum. Hunt’s backers, 41% of whom had done the same, are therefore about average. In contrast, only a third (34%) of Gove’s grassroots backers joined the party after the referendum. That suggests he draws a slightly bigger proportion of his support from those who have stuck by the party through thick and thin. Over half of those rank-and-file Tory members who are backing Johnson, however, joined the party after the EU referendum three years ago.
Signs of a UKIP influx?
Signs of a UKIP influx? (YouGov)
We can only guess as to how many of Johnson’s supporters were former UKIP sympathisers switching to the Tories; but it certainly seems possible. And, who knows, given that one doesn’t have to renounce one’s membership of the Conservative Party to become a registered supporter of the Brexit Party, perhaps some of them hold a candle for Nigel Farage as well as Johnson.

Whether the country will be as pleased as they will be if Johnson does end up making it all the way to Number 10, however, remains to be seen.The Conversation

About Today's Contributors:

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary University of London and Paul Webb, Professor of Politics, University of Sussex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Bonus Pictures:

(Images via The Brexit Comic Facebook Page)
Boris Johnson launches his Tory Leadership Contest campaign with a new bus...
Boris Johnson launches his Tory Leadership Contest campaign with a new bus...
Mr Trump enjoyed hanging out with his British chums in the Traitor’s Gate spa during his UK visit
Mr Trump enjoyed hanging out with his British chums in the Traitor’s Gate spa during his UK visit
For reasons best known to themselves, the producers of DR WHY? decided to regenerate the Doctor as a clown.
For reasons best known to themselves, the producers of DR WHY? decided to regenerate the Doctor as a clown.

29 March 2019

Theresa May Loses Another Brexit Vote: Here's Why April 12 Is Now The Key Date To Watch

MPs accused Theresa May of leading them towards a ‘blind Brexit’
MPs accused Theresa May of leading them towards a ‘blind Brexit’. (EPA-EFE)
On the day that the United Kingdom was supposed to exit from the European Union, members of parliament effectively voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time, despite her attempts to change the substance of the motion on which they were deciding.

The House of Commons voted 344 to 286 against a government motion that would have indicated its support for May’s withdrawal agreement, settling the terms of the UK’s divorce. In two earlier votes, they had been asked to decide on the withdrawal agreement and the non-binding political declaration on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. May had hoped to chart a path forward by decoupling these two documents.

Despite having won over some prominent Brexit supporters in the days leading up to the vote, May failed to bring Democratic Unionist Party MPs and members from opposition parties on board, which ultimately led to her defeat. Notably, the Labour opposition objected to the prime minister’s decision to only present MPs with the withdrawal agreement and not the political declaration. Labour frontbenchers accused her of trying to lead the country into a blind Brexit”.

Why a vote on the withdrawal deal alone?

Having been granted extra time to get the EU-UK Brexit deal passed, that MPs were voting only on the withdrawal agreement but not the political declaration seemed surprising.

The motivation for separating these two documents is a simple one.

When the UK sought and got an extension to the Article 50 negotiations, the EU 27 made its offer of a longer extension until May 22 conditional on MPs backing the withdrawal agreement by March 29. In other words, if what was now contentious among MPs was the nature of the future relationship and not the Irish backstop, then the EU was open to a discussion about the text of the political declaration. But it wanted to know that the House of Commons could back the text of the withdrawal agreement itself. After all, Article 50 creates a formal procedure for the negotiation of a binding withdrawal agreement that takes into account a framework of a future relationship. Legally, from an EU standpoint, it is the withdrawal agreement that really matters.

The difficulty from the point of view of the UK is that legally, parliament must approve the texts of both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. This is laid down in section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which has been the basis for the two so-called “meaningful votes” that have seen huge defeats for the government.

In separating the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration, it was not open to the government to present this as “meaningful vote three”. Much like the indicative motions debated by parliament earlier in the week, the intention was simply to signal that a withdrawal agreement could pass, triggering the longer extension.

Helpfully, putting forward a different proposition to that defeated in the earlier meaningful votes also allowed the government to satisfy speaker John Bercow’s test that prohibited the Executive from asking Parliament to vote again on the same proposition in the same session of parliament.

The government’s defeat, however, means that the UK has until April 12 to decide what it wants to do next. In the absence of an agreement to further extend the Article 50 process, and despite MPs voting against a no-deal” Brexit, the UK will leave the EU on April 12 without an agreement settling citizens’ rights, its financial liabilities, the Irish border issue and without any transitional framework in place.

Now what?

The prime minister now has to consider her options. She could ask leaders of EU states to offer a much longer Article 50 extension, keeping the UK in the EU. In so doing the prime minister also has a fundamental choice to make. Should she follow through on her televised address following the second meaningful vote defeat and ask the electorate to instruct its MPs to back the Brext deal – a referendum between remaining in the EU or leaving on the basis of the negotiated deal – or should she accept that her government simply cannot command majority support in the Commons for the defining policy of her premiership and trigger the process for an early general election? Is there one last roll of the dice that would allow a new and different vision of the future to be enshrined in a political declaration that would get Labour support?

A revised political declaration would open the way for a further section 13 approval vote that would also meet the Bercow test. But time is short and running out fast.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Kenneth Armstrong, Professor of European Law, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

22 March 2019

Why Emmanuel Macron's Plan For A European Agency To Fend Off Fake News Makes Sense

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron (EPA/Ludovic Marin)
When French president Emmanuel Macron sent an open letter to the people of Europe, he said their first freedom is democratic – “the freedom to choose our leaders as foreign powers seek to influence our vote at each election”. He went on to propose establishing a European agency to protect this right. The idea would be to provide European states with experts to help them fend off cyberattacks and other kinds of threats to their elections.

It’s clear that Europe does indeed need an agency of this kind. There is significant evidence that the cyber-attacks and misinformation campaigns that targeted the 2016 US presidential election were not an isolated incident. Nor is the phenomenon geographically limited to the US.

There have been allegations of Russian meddling in the UK’s Brexit referendum and of fake news being spread in the run up to the unofficial referendum on Catalonia’s independence from Spain in 2017.

In Germany, state agencies have accused Russia of hacking into state computer systems in the run up to parliamentary elections. Concerns have been raised about misinformation being spread on social media in Estonia, Lithuania and Taiwan. And of course, the topic is important to Macron, who saw his emails hacked and leaked online just hours before his second round presidential election run off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

The modus operandi of most of these incidents has been almost identical – although the actors behind the operations are becoming more diverse. Russia was the earliest adopter but Taiwanese officials claim that China has begun to employ similar means towards their citizens. And as Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries develop cyber-capabilities, they are almost certain to soon follow suit.

International threat

It’s clear that all European member states, regardless of their size, are potential targets. The same strategy – steal political intelligence through cyber-attacks, leak it online to sew discord and doubt during the run up to key democratic events – is just as viable a tool of power politics in Montenegro as it is in Germany. This adds weight to Macron’s argument that the response to this problem must come from the European level.

Equally, applying a technical, legislative solution in one EU nation won’t be enough to negate the risk. Twitter and Facebook operate across borders so the response can only be effective if it does too.

The global nature of companies like Facebook and Twitter, whose platforms are the delivery systems of these attacks on democratic processes, poses another problem which is better suited to an EU-driven response. In much the same way that trade deals negotiated on behalf of multinational blocs can often lead to better terms than those sought by individual nations alone, it’s easier for an international institution to force transnational businesses like Facebook to change their ways or accept responsibility for a problem than it would be for an individual country working alone.

The difficulties faced by British parliamentary committees when trying to force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to attend evidence hearings is a striking example of this. Zuckerberg repeatedly evaded them. Even when the UK worked in partnership with Canada, he resisted. An agency representing the economic and global power of the whole EU might have better luck.

Sharing knowledge

Working together also provides European nations with the opportunity learn from each other. Lithuania, for example, has taken an interesting approach by combining military and civilian infrastructures in its counter strategy. Military personnel work alongside journalists and political commentators to directly engage with fake news. They act as fact checkers and censors, removing potentially destabilising stories.

It’s early days for this approach but it does appear to be effective, at least within the Lithuanian or Baltic context. Adapting it to the European level will inevitably raise questions about censorship but there are nevertheless lessons to be learnt even if the technique is not adopted wholesale.

Due to their geographical location and the politics of their region, states like Lithuania and Estonia have been exposed to disinformation of this kind for longer, which has arguably given them a head start on thinking about a solution. This makes them ideally placed to provide the context that is still lacking in the European political debate. While everyone else is just waking up to the concept of the role and threat posed by information operations of this type, these countries are not only aware but have already been educating their citizens about this threat for years.

Emmanuel Macron meets with Mark Zuckerberg in 2018
Emmanuel Macron meets with Mark Zuckerberg in 2018. (EPA)
Individual countries have been developing their own approaches to the kinds of problems Macron is talking about. But bringing these efforts together under a single, central body capable of pooling wisdom and expert led resources would be a significant step. Whether Macron can make it work, though, is a different matter. The French president’s vision will require a significant pooling of political will against a poorly defined threat.

Europe is seeking to deal with a number of crisis, small and large, some of which have been amplified or brought on by the very risks that this agency would seek to mitigate. Russian troll accounts have fanned the fires of the Gilet Jaunes riots in France, for example. Amid disagreement over so many other issues in Europe, forming an agency with a clear, shared role may prove an uphill struggle.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Alexi Drew, Research Associate, King's College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

20 March 2019

Theresa May Requests Short Brexit Extension: How To Understand This Reckless Move

Theresa May
Theresa May (PA)
Before the October 1964 general election, Harold Wilson was reported to have stated “a week is a long time in politics”.

Never has that maxim been truer than in relation to the politics of Brexit and the publication of prime minister Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, requesting an extension to the Article 50 period until June 30 2019.

Less than a week earlier, a day after MPs had for a second time rejected May’s European Union withdrawal deal by a thumping majority of 149, her own de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington had told the House of Commons that the government was opposed to seeking a short extension rather than a long one, stating::
"In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted only last night, making a no-deal scenario far more, rather than less, likely. Not only that, but from everything we have heard from the EU, both in public and in private, it is a proposal it would not accept."
Less than a week later, without parliamentary support for her deal, May has sought that very short, one-off and “downright reckless” extension, which is completely at odds with the House of Commons’ position.

A number of important consequences are likely to follow on from May’s actions on what may become known as her “Reckless Wednesday”.

Her request for a short extension is, for a start, unlikely to be accepted by all 27 European Union member states without more concessions from the UK. Upon receiving May’s letter, Tusk said the extension would be possible if MPs approved her deal first.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had previously reiterated that the EU27 would only countenance such an extension if it received “a concrete plan from the UK” which increased the chances of ratification of the withdrawal agreement, or if the UK requested more time to rework the non-binding political declaration setting out the rough plan for the future relationship between the UK and EU.

Tusk is meeting with EU leaders this week
Tusk is meeting with EU leaders this week. (EPA/Olivier Hoslet)
May’s request letter has not set out a persuasive “concrete plan”. She cannot guarantee that any third meaningful vote on her EU Withdrawal deal will see her deal passed by MPs. She cannot even guarantee, at this stage, that a third vote will happen – given that the speaker of the House of Commons has warned that she cannot ask MPs to vote again on exactly the same proposal. In her letter, May merely states that it remains her intention to put the deal to the house for a third vote, without saying how that is to come about.
Nor has May requested more time to rework the political declaration. She has instead requested that the European Council approve the supplementary documents to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration agreed with Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission – precisely the deal rejected by the House of Commons.

Was this a resignation letter?

What’s more, by ruling out a much longer extension, May has increased the odds of a no-deal Brexit. A longer extension might have enabled a clear plan to be implemented to enable cross-party support to be built for an alternative to her own withdrawal agreement. That seems unlikely in the shorter timeframe.

With that longer extension and threat to Brexit now explicitly ruled out by May, many of the hardcore of European Research Group Conservative MPs will feel that a further defeat for the government in any third vote will increase the likelihood of their preferred no-deal scenario. It will also have the bonus effect of ridding the Conservative Party of a leader and prime minister they have openly opposed, but failed to unseat in last December’s vote of no confidence.

In effect, May has set out the timetable and personal terms for her own resignation and departure as prime minister. If, as seems probable, the House of Commons rejects her EU withdrawal deal for an historic third (and likely final) time – so that Tusk cannot agree to a short extension – and then votes to seek an extension from the European Union beyond June 30, in order to allow sufficient time to negotiate an alternative Brexit or to hold a general election or further referendum, May will have little choice but to resign.

In the foreword to her party’s 2017 election manifesto, May stated: “Brexit will define us: our place in the world, our economic security and our future prosperity.

Rarely were truer words spoken. Brexit has defined May’s premiership. It has been a shambles from first to last. It has put at risk the UK’s place in the world, and compromised its economic security and future prosperity. It was for precisely those reasons that, on April 25 2016, May herself had advocated the UK remaining in the EU.

Article 50 was triggered by May without a concrete plan for its delivery which could command the support of her own MPs, let alone a majority of the House of Commons. Now, on her own “Reckless Wednesday”, May has sought an extension to Article 50, again without a concrete plan which can command the support of her own party or the House of Commons. By her own hand, May has written her own political obituary as prime minister.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Simon Lee, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Hull

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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