The HINDU Notes – 14th December 2019 - VISION

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 14th December 2019

πŸ“° Britain votes for Brexit

With a thumping win, this is Boris Johnson’s opportunity to refashion the U.K. according to his beliefs

•The British election results are the political equivalent of an earthquake. It is an unambiguous signal that in the months and years ahead, the United Kingdom will become a very different country — politically, economically, possibly territorially but certainly in terms of its international standing. After almost a decade of weak or coalition prime ministers, Boris Johnson will be a powerful head of government, strengthened not just by his sizeable majority of 78 but also by the weakest Labour opposition since almost 1935.

•The first big change will be Brexit. Britain will leave Europe on January 31, 2020. Yet that will also constitute the first big challenge. Mr. Johnson has 11 months to secure a trade deal not just with the European Union but also with Britain’s other significant trading partners such as the United States, Australia, China and India. Can it be done in such a short time? It won’t be easy and if he fails the transition period will end with the equivalent of the hard Brexit everyone wants to avoid.

Working class vote

•A lot will turn on the political and economic changes Mr. Johnson’s victory heralds. With 364 seats and 45% of the vote his Conservatives have achieved their best result since Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1987. In fact, in vote share terms it is the best outcome since 1970. More significantly, the party has made major gains in Labour strongholds in the midlands, north-west and north-east. Tony Blair’s Sedgefield has fallen to them. More tellingly, Stoke-on-Trent and Great Grimsby, which have never been won by the Tories, are now in their possession. In Bassetlaw the swing from Labour to Tories was an astonishing 18%. Even London constituencies such as Kensington, which voted 70% to Remain in 2016, have gone their way. So it is no exaggeration to say the Conservatives have transformed from a party of the shires to one that also represents the working classes and London.

•In contrast Labour is diminished. This is the party’s worst defeat since 1935. The 203 seats it has won are less than the 209 delivered by Michael Foot in 1983. At the time the party’s manifesto was dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’. Mr. Corbyn’s could quite possibly have buried the party.

•Not surprisingly, Mr. Corbyn has announced he will not lead Labour into the next elections. Though he wants to continue over the period of reflection that must follow it is hard to believe his party will let him. The truth is Labour was defeated not just by Brexit but also because Britain was not prepared to accept Mr. Corbyn’s socialist policies. He cannot shrug off personal responsibility for this debacle.

The Sturgeon factor

•It has also been a disappointing election for the Liberal Democrats whose leader, Jo Swinson, lost her seat. The party ended up with just 11 MPs, one less than it had. But across the border in Scotland it was a brilliant outcome for Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalists. Of the 59 seats to be won her party got 48, increasing its tally by 13 and securing a vote share of 45%. Along with Boris Johnson she is the other champion winner of this election.

•Without doubt the Scottish Nationalists will demand a second referendum on independence for Scotland. They believe they have a mandate for it. Mr. Johnson, on the other hand, has already said he will not agree. With both politicians triumphant there’s a clear and unavoidable clash looming ahead.

•In these circumstances, what sort of prime minister will Mr. Johnson seek to be? First, he is the undisputed leader of his party which, in turn, has a firm and unshakeable grip on Parliament. He can do virtually what he wants. This is his opportunity to refashion the U.K. according to his beliefs.

•In terms of political positioning, his victory speech suggests he might move from the right towards the centre. He defined the Conservatives as a “one-nation” party. As he put it, “we must change too”. So will he distance himself from Tory right-wingers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the leaders of the eurosceptic European Research Group? Yesterday, speculation on the BBC suggested this could happen. And, certainly, if Mr. Johnson wants to retain his party’s hold on the seats it has won in northern and midland Labour strongholds, this would be necessary.

What next for Labour?

•Much the same could also happen to Labour. If the party is to recover from the grim defeat Mr. Corbyn has led it to then it can only be by returning to the centre ground Tony Blair identified in 1997 and which gave the party three consecutive election victories. Of course, a lot depends on who emerges as Labour’s new leader. The Momentum lobby might want a younger version of Mr. Corbyn but the parliamentary party will undoubtedly opt for a social democrat who will harken back to Mr. Blair’s style and tone.

•The paradox is whilst both parties might see virtue in moving politically to the centre, economically Mr. Johnson could incline towards the right. As leader of the Brexit movement in 2016 he made it clear he did not share the protectionism, anti-globalism and even the rigid anti-immigration stand of many Brexiteers. Now, as Prime Minister, he may not subscribe to the Singapore-on-Thames vision of the Brexit hard-wing but his first budget speech in March is likely to introduce radical tax reform, reduce regulation whilst substantially boosting incentives for enterprise and, in particular, The City.

•However, this is likely to happen alongside several significant welfare measures. Mr. Johnson’s victory speech also committed him to increasing public spending, particularly on infrastructure and health. The National Health Service, which Labour claimed could be in danger in his hands, will be a significant beneficiary.

•In foreign policy terms Mr. Johnson will forge a close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump who, anyway, regards him as a friend. But he will be equally conscious of the need to maintain effective ties with Europe. He has repeatedly said he is not anti-European. Little England or British isolationism is not part of his thinking.

For India

•We, in India, can expect in Mr. Johnson a British Prime Minister with affection for and a substantive understanding of our country. Though separated from his wife Marina, who is half-Indian, his four children have Indian blood. He is a frequent visitor, including an unpublicised trip to Ranthambore last year.

•The only concern could be his response to Mr. Narendra Modi’s policies like the National Register of Citizens, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the broad stress on Hindutva. He may not criticise in public but he could express disapproval behind closed doors.

•The final irony is whilst Britain distances itself from Europe, the world will be intently watching to see how much it changes and in which direction. The elections of 1945 and 1979 were turning points. This one is no less. It is even possible Mr. Johnson, who used to be considered a bumbling non-serious politician, could one day be compared to Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher.

πŸ“° EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for U.K. trade deal

Member states will not accept it blindly, says EU Council

•European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday warned of the tight timing for securing a trade deal with Britain, hours after Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a crushing election victory.

•“The time frame ahead of us is very challenging,” Ms. von der Leyen said, following a discussion by EU leaders on the way forward after Brexit, now expected on January 31.

•On the “first of February, we go to work,” she said.

•EU Council President Charles Michel warned that the 27 member states would not accept a deal blindly, stressing that the bloc would insist that Britain respect European norms to win the deal.

•“There is no question of concluding a deal at any price, said Mr. Michel, who coordinates EU summits, after the talks.

•“Negotiations are over when the results are balanced and guarantee respect for the different concerns,” the former Belgian premier said.

•“We have a way of doing things based on experience, transparency and maintaining unity” in the EU, he added.

•EU is worried about the breakneck speed with which Mr. Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe and any British effort to undermine the unity among the remaining 27 members.

Level playing field

•In a text released after the talks, the 27 EU leaders called for “as close as possible a future relationship with the U.K.” while warning that it “will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field”.

•EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will direct trade negotiations, which the leaders will follow closely “and provide further guidance as necessary, fully consistent with the EU's best interest,” conclusions added.

•Mr. Johnson has until July 1 to ask for a trade talks extension.

•If he refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom at the end of 2020.

πŸ“° CAB, NRC are internal issues: French envoy

‘We respect India’s democratic system’

•France is aware of the internal debate going on in India on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), but these are issues on which other countries should refrain from commenting, French Ambassador to India Emmanuel Lenain said here on Friday.

•Interacting with a select group of reporters at the French Consulate, Mr. Lenain said, “These are issues obviously discussed during official deliberations. We are aware of the ongoing debate in India on CAB and NRC. I don’t think another government should interfere in India’s domestic affairs. But we recall our attachment to the freedom of religion.”

•On the removal of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation, the Ambassador said France respects India’s democratic system. “The country is world’s largest democracy,” he added.

•“Some issues are domestic and there are some issues that are decided through a democratic process. Our country is also attached to certain values and shares those with India,” he said.

‘J&K a complex issue’

•Recalling the statement of French President Emmanuel Macron on Article 370, he said the Jammu and Kashmir issue was complex. “It can only be solved through bilateral discussions. There is no benefit in internationalising the issue. All parties should refrain from any action that could aggravate the situation. We are following the situation very carefully and wish the situation would become normal as soon as possible. The rights of civilian population and their humanitarian concerns need to be respected,” Mr. Lenain said.

πŸ“° ‘Maldives is negotiating China debt’

Visiting Foreign Minister differs from Speaker, who said country will scrap FTA

•Maldives is working with China “practically” to discuss its approximately $1.4 billion debt, said Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, indicating that the Solih government does not intend to cancel infrastructure projects or loans at present as the ruling party had promised ahead of elections last year. The comments came even as former Maldives President Mohammad Nasheed, who is the Speaker of the Assembly said that Maldives would not go ahead with the Free Trade Agreement signed by the previous government, and that it was necessary to “restructure the debt” with China.

•Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Shahid said that he had visited Beijing last month and said there was “goodwill in the Chinese leadership” to discuss the debt Maldives owed. “To be fair to China, it has been a generous donor. It has invested in housing and infrastructure projects. There has been irresponsible borrowing by the previous government and unfortunately we have to deal with it,” he said in an exclusive interview, while in Delhi for Joint Commission talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar as well as to attend the 11th Delhi Dialogue on “Advancing Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.”

•Mr. Nasheed, who is also the leader of the ruling MDP, made it clear that the FTA with China will “not go forward” as it has to be ratified in Parliament, and said the combined private and public loans totalled more than $3.5 billion, which must be restructured, warning that otherwise there will be a debt crisis in the Maldives by 2022 when the loans come due.

Debt trap, says Nasheed

•“If you are unable to restructure these projects or amend the course, I don’t see a soft landing for the Maldives at present. If you lack vision or a set of principles to take things forward, then what you do becomes unsustainable,” Mr. Nasheed told journalists in India, accusing China of “inflating project costs” to “debt trap” the Maldives, and compared it to the British East India company.

•Both Mr. Nasheed, who led a parliamentary delegation to India and Mr. Shahid, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday. In a statement released by the MEA, Mr. Shahid “expressed his deep appreciation for India’s support in various development cooperation initiatives that are currently being implemented in Maldives,” and stressed the commitment of the Maldives government to its ‘India First’ policy.

•After the joint commission meeting, India and the Maldives exchanged MoUs on cooperation between their Election commissions and Financial intelligence units, and the ratification of the extradition treaties agreed to earlier.