UK and French leaders in major crises

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addressing Parliament on the current Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

Europe is at the core of international interest with major political crises in the United Kingdom and France. The leaders of both countries face rising opposition, Prime Minister Theresa May in Westminster and President Macron from Yellow Vest protesters.

The British House of Commons is posing a major threat to Theresa May as the debate on her Brexit Deal moves to a vote on Tuesday (11). May has faced three major defeats in the Commons this week, on her refusal to release to the Commons the legal advice given to the Government on the Brexit issue.

She is pushing ahead with Tuesday’s vote, despite calls from senior ministers to delay the parliamentary clash and a near defeat, while her Northern Irish allies have increased threats to bring down the government if the Deal goes ahead.

Having failed in a bid to have the legal advice issue referred to the Privileges Committee of MPs, her government was found in contempt of parliament and forced to publish the legal advice, in a hugely humiliating defeat. This is the first time a UK government was found to be in contempt of parliament. The third defeat was over intended changes to the parliamentary process if the Commons votes down May’s Brexit Deal.

Theresa May and her Cabinet are trying hard to push the Brexit Deal, agreed with the European Union, as the only effective way of the UK leaving the EU on March 29, 2019. The rising opposition to the Deal is making it increasingly hard for May to present the Deal as the best way out of the EU.

Prime Minister May’s minority Conservative Government, is already losing the support of the 10-member Democratic Union Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, who had an agreement to support May on major governance and financial issues. They see the Brexit Deal as wholly unfavourable to Northern Ireland. Nigel Dodds, leader of the DUP in the Commons, said the agreement “falls short” of delivering Brexit “as one United Kingdom” and would mean entering “a twilight world where the EU is given unprecedented powers over the UK”. The Opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn is wholly opposed to the Deal, as well as increasing numbers of Conservative MPs, as well as other smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP).

Jeremy Corbyn told the Commons it was a bad deal for the UK and that his party would seek a vote of no confidence in the government if it was thrown out by MPs. “I hope and expect this House will reject that deal,” he said. “At that point, the government has lost the confidence of the House. Either they have to get a better deal from the EU or give way to those who will.”

The leader of the SNP at Westminster, Ian Blackford, said the “cold, hard truth” was that the deal represented “a moment of self-harm in our history”.

The Conservative Whips in the Commons are reportedly making desperate efforts to prevent party members from voting against the Brexit Deal, with some pro-deal members saying its defeat in the Commons will be an attempt to steal Brexit from British people; which would be a democratic affront, and against 17.4 million people who voted for leaving the EU in the referendum held two years ago.

Those who oppose May’s Brexit Deal see it posing a major threat to the UK economy in the coming years, and one without full consideration of the impact of leaving the EU after more than 40 years, and not considering the impact of the many treaties signed with and within the EU. They see the voting for leaving the EU at the last referendum as uninformed, with voters were not given the economic and political facts of an exit.

With the increasing possibility of a defeat of May’s Brexit Deal, many see the Commons wresting control of the Brexit process from ministers, and a push for a ‘Plan B' to prevent any chance of the UK leaving the EU without a deal in place, which is the ‘No Deal Exit’ that Theresa May warns about. There is increased calls for a fresh referendum on Brexit, and the possibility of a majority in the Commons calling for a fresh General Election, in a situation where the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn have a major lead.

Macron retreats

President Emmanuel Macron made a major policy retreat this week, abandoning the fuel price increases, scheduled from January 2019, after three weeks of protests that also turned violent, over the cost of living and the hardships faced by the people. There are also moves for the protests to resume this weekend.

Although Macros had earlier said there would be no changes in economic and financial policies following the “Yellow Vest” protesters demonstrating in many parts of the country, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had announced the fuel price delay in a TV address earlier this week. He said: anyone would have ‘to be deaf or blind’ not to hear or see the anger of the people, seen in the protesters.

As protests increase, Macron has now abandoned the price increase.

Scores of protesting teens have also clashed with police at a high school west of Paris on Thursday, part of nationwide student action over university admissions procedures and rising administrative fees, leading to a widening of the Yellow Vest protests.

These protests, are carried out by non-politically organised activists, wearing the high-visibility yellow vests required by law to be carried in every motor vehicle for safety needs. The protests have grown into widespread anger at the government, and especially against President Macron, who was elected last year with an overwhelming mandate for sweeping economic reform. However, his popularity has fallen sharply in recent months amid accusations that he is a ‘president for the rich', due to his economic policies.

Prime Minister Philippe earlier said there would be consultations across the country to see what accompanying measures might be introduced to ease the burden for the worst-off. He also said planned increases in gas and electricity prices this winter would be halted, and that a toughening of the rules for vehicle emissions tests would also be postponed.

Mr. Macron was elected President on a platform of economic reform, which would improve the lives of the French people via lower unemployment and a kick-started economy. But many feel that has not emerged. An analysis of the 2018-19 budget carried out by France's public policy institute, for example, found that incomes for the poorest quarter of households would largely drop or stay the same under the plans.

Middle-income earners would see a modest bump - but the greatest beneficiaries would be those who were already wealthy, in the top 1%. The pattern is worse for retired people - almost all of whom will be worse off.

‘Not enough’

The Yellow Vests are not fully pleased with the temporary relief. They see it as a suspension of the tax rise and not an abolition, and suspect the government would reinstate the taxes later this year. They are reportedly in no mood to call off their protests.

What the government seeks is to satisfy a large enough bloc of “moderates” among the Yellow Vests, and wean them away from the barricades, to lose the momentum of the protests. Protesters are also demanding Macron’s removal of the wealth tax concession that benefits the wealthiest 1% of people.

The climb down by President Macron, comes with his earlier insisting the measures are necessary to combat climate change and meet budget deficit reduction targets. The Yellow Vest protests come as the ‘COP24’ the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, takes place in Katowice in Poland, which is seeking to support and push further the decisions of 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) held in Paris. Macron’s international image is largely associated with the decisions of the 2015 Climate Conference, and the protests and response to the Yellow Vests makes France move away from the key national decisions on Climate Change.

The Yellow Vest protests are seen by many analysts of French politics as a major shift in both national and regional politics, moving away from policy support for the rich and the business sector, to the demands of the wider public. This is seen as a rising shift in the politics in Europe, where the ruling parties of the past several decades losing ground to ‘populist politics’ and the rise of non-liberal politics.

While President Macron’s political party La République En Marche, a centrist, liberal and social-liberal party has a large parliamentary majority, it is fast losing popular support. Other parties of the right and left are now making efforts to capitalize and benefit from the current crisis in governance, but the trends are not in their favour, too. Populism is making strong headway.

Roads leading to the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris were closed amid recent protests and riots.

 



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