POLITICS DIGEST - 04.03.18
By Alex Beard
As we enter March with all the grace of Boris Johnson having an asthma attack, it is my job for the first time to summarise the week's political news, in Scope's new Weekly Politics Digest - I can barely contain my excitement. Check in every week to read about all of the biggest stories from Westminster and beyond - I'll keep informed so that you don't have to.
- The Irish Border
The Brexit process trundles on as ever, with little progress being made and yet it dominating the headlines as much as ever - the snow seemed an almost welcome prospect as it gave the press something else to talk about. The biggest issue currently facing Theresa May and her motley bunch of negotiators is something that has always had the potential to cause significant damage and yet has been largely ignored by many high-profile Tories - what will happen to the border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Previously, friction-less trade had been possible as both countries have had the same regulations on goods and trade, both being EU member states, but Britain's departure will almost inevitably change this. Add to the mix the region's history of division and sectarian violence between (pro-Irish) Republicans and (pro-UK) Nationalists and it is easy to see why the issue is so pressing.
Unsatisfied by any of the solutions the British government has put forward - including Boris Johnson helpfully suggesting a 'congestion charge' (yes, he is still Foreign Secretary) - the EU has put forward a proposal which involves NI effectively staying part of the Customs Union so its trade restrictions mirror Ireland's. The DUP (one of NI's major parties) are vehemently opposed to such an idea and, since they are propping up the government, are likely to be taken seriously.
- Labour's Soft Brexit Proposal
After having floated the idea in the Observer months ago (iirc), Sir Kier Starmer - Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary - has finally been able to outline a Labour vision for Brexit which would see Britain enter into a Customs Union with the EU, very similar to the existing one, thus making trade far easier. The Party have been conspicuously quiet about Brexit, watching the Tories implode over the issue without Corbyn having to make his own decisions on the matter, which is useful as it is the issue which he is most at odds with the party membership, the vast majority of whom want to stay in the Single Market. This step is symbolic, but will not mean much unless Labour are in power.
- Trump's unlikely enemy
Despite belonging to a party funded and voted in, to a significant extent, by the gun lobby, Trump has made the surprisingly sane decision to push for tighter gun control laws after yet another horrific mass shooting in Florida. Branded a "gun snatcher" by the NRA, Trump started the week saying that teachers should be armed, perpetuating the damaging idea that somehow the best way to prevent gun deaths is by giving more people guns. Whether any action will be taken remains to be seen, but significant steps forward seem unlikely with establishment Republicans dominating Congress - Barack Obama is one of many Presidents unable to pass through legislation on stricter gun control such as background checks and the National Rifle Association had much to do with this. Peaceful protest has taken place in the form of businesses such as airline Delta and car hire firm Hertz removing their discount programmes for NRA members. The fight continues...
- Elections in Italy
This Sunday sees Italians go to the polls under a new voting system to elect members of their lower and upper chambers - the Chamber of Deputies and Senate of the Republic respectively. Parties have formed coalitions and that with the largest share of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies is expected to form a government, with the right-wing alliance of 'Forza Italia', the 'Northern League' and 'Italian Alliance', run by former Prime Minister and convicted fraudster Silvio Berlusconi leading in the polls and the Pro-European centre-left coalition led by embattled Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (who lost a referendum on constitutional reform in 2016) expected to take second place. Italy has not escaped the socially right-wing populist movement and in addition to the long standing Northern League, who want to abandon the Euro and have positively draconian views on immigration, comedian Beppe Grillo's 'Five Star Movement' is expected to do the best of any individual party, despite having very little in the way of developed policy. They are expected to be voted for on an anti-globalist sentiment which runs particularly high in the more deprived regions of the South. The election follows a racially motivated attack on a group of North African immigrants in the town of Macerata by a man who had stood in local elections for the Northern League, in which at least 6 people were seriously injured.
Also this week:
- University lecturers went on strike over pensions.
- The CDU gave the green light to another 'Grand Coalition' to rule Germany, leaving the final decision up to members of the SPD.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has boasted about the country's nuclear arsenal in a speech shortly before the Presidential Elections, in which he is (for one reason or another) expected to win.