Brexit Has Become the Totem of Britain’s Culture War

View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011
View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

Why have not more British people changed their minds about leaving the EU now that it turns out the promises of the “leave” campaign are not being met?

Sebastian Payne argues in the Financial Times that it’s because Brexit has become the totem of the island’s culture war. Read more

French Republicans Lurch Right with Wauquiez

French Republican leader Laurent Wauquiez attends a memorial ceremony in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, November 9
French Republican leader Laurent Wauquiez attends a memorial ceremony in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, November 9 (Facebook)

Republicans in France are likely to take a harder line against President Emmanuel Macron under the leadership of Laurent Wauquiez.

An education minister in the last conservative government, Wauquiez prevailed in an internal leadership ballot on Sunday with almost 75 percent of the votes.

He has ruled out alliances with both Macron’s centrists and the far-right National Front.

But he argues the party must take the fight to the latter by returning to what he sees as the “true values of the right”: order, respect and security. Read more

Stirrings of Centrism in the United Kingdom

View of the Thames in London, England at dawn
View of the Thames in London, England at dawn (Uncoated)

Miranda Green writes in the Financial Times that the polarization of British politics has caused some to wonder if there might be room for a new party or political movement in the center.

  • Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry recently said “there are millions of people in this country who feel that there is not one political party that represents them.”
  • A group of entrepreneurs with serious money is clustered around Simon Franks, a former Labour donor.
  • Former prime minister Tony Blair is reportedly bringing together rebellious “sensibles” from all established parties with a view to collaborating at some point in the future.
  • Chris Coghlan and Annabel Mullin, two anti-Brexit politicians, have founded centrist new political parties in Battersea and Kensington, respectively.
  • Adam Knight, an angel investor who unsuccessfully ran in Witney — David Cameron’s old district — last year is said to be mulling a new movement. Read more

Europe and Japan Finalize Trade Deal

The skyline of Tokyo, Japan
The skyline of Tokyo, Japan (Unsplash/Louie Martinez)

The European Union and Japan have finalized a trade agreement that would create the world’s largest open economic zone when it comes into effect in 2019.

The deal cuts tariffs, harmonizes product regulations and liberalizes public procurement for a market of 600 million people.

The EU and Japan account for 28 percent of the world’s economic output.

In a joint statement, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe said the deal demonstrates their commitment “to keeping the world economy working on the basis of free, open and fair markets with clear and transparent rules.” Read more

Britain Gives into European Demands on Northern Irish Border

British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pose for photos in Brussels, December 4
British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pose for photos in Brussels, December 4 (European Commission)

As I predicted it would, Britain has given into European demand on the Northern Irish border in order to secure an exit deal on Friday that paves the way for talks about the kingdom’s post-Brexit trade relations with the EU.

In the absence of an innovative solution, Britain is now committed to maintain “full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement” that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

The text also specifically bars the United Kingdom from imposing “new regulatory barriers” that could put the 1998 Good Friday Agreement at risk. Read more

An Old Conflict in New Form

Opening of the French Estates General at Versailles, May 5, 1789
Opening of the French Estates General at Versailles, May 5, 1789 (Auguste Couder)

I used to think that rise of far-right populism, the crisis of social democracy and growing divides along class and educational lines were creating a new political reality in the West.

In a 2016 report for the consultancy Wikistrat, I argued that the political spectrum was shifting from left-right to cosmopolitan-nationalist.

Others made similar observations:

  • Andrew Sullivan argued in 2014 that America’s blue-red culture war had come to Europe: “Blue Europe is internationalist, globalized, metrosexual, secular, modern, multicultural. Red Europe is noninterventionist, patriotic, more traditional, more sympathetic to faith, more comfortable in a homogeneous society.”
  • Stephan Shakespeare, a British pollsters, observed a year later that people were either “drawbridge up” or “drawbridge down”.
  • The Economist characterized the divide as between open and closed: “Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change or resist it?”
  • David Goodhart divided people into “anywheres” — mobile and open-minded — and “somewheres” — attached to country, community, family.

I still think this is broadly correct, but now I wonder how new this split really is. Read more

Momentum for Macron’s EU Reforms, But Obstacles Ahead

Paolo Gentiloni, Mariano Rajoy, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, the leaders of Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, deliver a joint news conference in Berlin, June 29
Paolo Gentiloni, Mariano Rajoy, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, the leaders of Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, deliver a joint news conference in Berlin, June 29 (La Moncloa)

France’s push for closer European integration is gaining momentum.

  • Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, has conditioned another grand coalition government with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats on support for Emmanuel Macron’s proposals.
  • Armin Laschet, the prime minister of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and a prominent Christian Democrat has come out in support of the French agenda.
  • The European Commission has unveiled its own proposals for closer economic and fiscal integration that resemble Macron’s. Read more