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The United Kingdom has officially left the European Union - at midnight Central European Time on January 31. For a range of news coverage and what it means please see these links:


Gambling on the future - 2
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson won his bet on the future of Britain in a snap election on December 12. Voters woke up on Friday the 13th to a thumping Conservative majority, the resignations of both main opposition party leaders – Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson, and a resurgent Scottish National Party seeking the independence of Scotland. Johnson’s Conservatives won the biggest Conservative majority – 80 seats - since Margaret Thatcher in 1987 despite taking less than 44% of the national vote and a mandate to deliver its simple election message of “Get Brexit Done”. But their promise to leave the EU on January 31 followed by EU trade negotiations with a deadline in December is only one of a raft of questions facing the government – some fairly obvious from the election campaign but others with deeper and longer-term significance as outlined here by Trisha de Borchgrave, artist and daughter of prominent long-time U.S. journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave. This includes the possible fragmentation of the United Kingdom as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seeks a new referendum on independence and leads the SNP as the third largest party in the UK Parliament with 48 seats - all but eight of Scotland’s 56 seats. On the other hand, rumblings about increasing support for a united Ireland leaving the UK may be on hold as Northern Ireland’s voters seem to be supporting middle-ground politicians. Meanwhile the Labour party faces a wrenching period of soul searching and infighting over both their leadership and political direction and the Liberal Democrats look for their fifth leader in less than 10 years.
Please also see here for:
Election result numbers

How Johnson’s Conservatives won:


Gambling on the future - 1
UK politicians rolled the dice on another election. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the snap election for December 12 – instead of leaving the European Union as he promised to do on October 31. He wanted to make the election about getting his Brexit. The Liberal Democrats (with 20 MPs as the election started) and the Scottish National Party (35 seats) also wanted to make it about Brexit – but about stopping it. The main Opposition Labour Party wanted to make it about transforming UK society.
So in a much divided UK, the first election days brought signals of a rocky road ahead:
- a highly controversial intervention by U.S. President Donald Trump
- a £500,000 fine accepted by Facebook for its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica voter manipulation scandal in the last election in 2017
- a controversial finding by an inquiry into the searing Grenfell Tower fire that same year blaming the fire department in its first report rather than the government authorities responsible for its  management.
Despite a healthy but questionable lead in recent public opinion polls Johnson faced a difficult job to keep a volatile electorate focussed on Brexit. And it was by no means clear it would end in any clearer political direction as a minority government was possible. Before getting Parliamentary approval for the vote – required because of a law setting fixed term elections every five years – Johnson had lost virtually every other vote he had sought since being forced to recall Parliament on September 25 by a Supreme Court ruling. Although he did get approval in principle for his surprise deal to withdraw from the EU – because MPs opposed to it wanted to bring in amendments to make it acceptable to them. Johnson withdrew the bill before it could be fully debated, leaving both his deal and Brexit itself in limbo.


UK Supreme Court overturns suspension of Parliament
The UK Parliament sat again after the country's highest court ruled that the prime minister’s suspension of it was unlawful. All 11 judges of the UK Supreme Court declared Boris Johnson’s action was null and void. He is widely suspected of seeking to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny or questions by suspending Parliament on Sept. 10 for five weeks – an action declared unlawful by Scotland’s highest court the next day and subject to 3 days of hearings in the UK Supreme Court the following week.  He’s denied accusations he lied to the Queen to get the suspension.


No Deal?
Before the suspension, the UK Parliament passed an emergency law requiring Johnson to present a deal to withdraw from the European Union for approval by Oct. 19 or ask the EU for an extension to the current Brexit deadline of Oct.31. The prime minister has said he will not request an extension and would rather “die in a ditch” - his words. Given his actions since being elected he is expected to seek any way possible to avoid complying with the law – ignoring it, challenging it in court, resigning, calling an election, even getting an apparent new deal.  He also tried to get Parliamentary approval for an election – needed because of the UK's recent law on fixed 5-year term parliaments - and failed twice. Opposition parties and even some senior members of his own Conservative party suspect he would use an election to avoid challenges to leaving the EU on October 31. In his campaign to win the Conservative party leadership Johnson promised to take the country out of the EU by the Brexit deadline, with or without a deal. After winning the leadership vote by 160,000 Conservative party members he ramped up preparations for no deal with an extra two billion pounds funding, put his pro-Brexit referendum sidekick Michael Gove in charge of that, appointed the controversial pro-Brexit referendum campaign strategist Dominic Cummings as his senior adviser, and appointed a strongly pro-Brexit and right wing cabinet. He has said repeatedly he’s prepared to leave without a deal although he claims that is a last resort, the chances of it are a million to one, and he’s only using it as a bargaining tool with the EU. He still keeps claiming he’s seeking a new deal with the EU and is making every effort to get one although for the first weeks of his premiership he flatly refused to talk with the EU unless and until they changed their position on having an Irish backstop before finally sending his new representative to Brussels for regular talks. The EU has consistently said they have received no new workable proposals.
In the few days Parliament actually sat before the suspension, MPs were able to take control of the agenda and come together in a rare alliance that passed the legislation requiring Johnson to get a new deal or request an extension to the Brexit deadline.
Weeks before this, only one day after winning his party leadership, Johnson was suspected of planning a snap general election and events since then have confirmed it. Within days of his win he made a tour of the UK nations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – where he was welcomed by hostile demonstrators and politicians while trying to claim he wants to unite the country.
For a sense of how he divides opinion take a look at these two opposing political columnists:

The Guardian’s John Crace

Blogger Guido Fawkes

And here’s a snapshot of one early afternoon in the UK’s new political life.


Summer of elections
”Not another election” exclaimed Brenda in 2017 about Prime Minister Theresa May’s snap election call. This summer there were three for key leaders in the EU and the UK – all of whom could change the shape of both European and UK politics and all with narrow and sometimes questionable “selectorates." The EU chose new heads of the European Commission and the European Council in an opaque and indirect process in which even the system of selection is not certain as analysed here by AEJ member Charles Jenkins, former Western Europe editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In the UK some 160,000 members of the Conservative party chose the country’s next prime minister - members who are predominantly male, white, older and conservative and reinforced by a recent campaign to encourage right-wing supporters of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) to join. The two final candidates – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt –both appealed to hard line supporters of Brexit and said they were prepared to leave the EU without a deal.
And the UK's Liberal Democrats also chose a new leader who is expected to benefit from a recent surge in support from voters who want to remain in the EU. About 105,000 party members could vote – on average younger than Conservative or Labour party members but not as young as Green supporters, most considered relaxed about immigration, and 90% of them Remain voters in the 2016 referendum on the EU. There has been no significant criticism of the fairness of this process but it does mean just over 100,000 party members selected a leader who could ride a voting wave that further transforms British politics both in its effect on Brexit and by reducing the power of the two main parties - Labour and the Conservatives.
There were nearly 46 million registered voters in the UK as of the end of 2018.

Will Brexit happen?
Prime Minister Theresa May resigned as Conservative leader and was replaced as prime minister in late July.
Both the governing Conservatives and opposition Labour parties lost heavily in late May’s elections for the European Parliament with the big winner Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party seeking a quick exit from the EU.
And 160.000 or so members of the Conservative party chose the next prime minister. By early June, 11 Conservative Members of Parliament had said they would stand for election. All supported Brexit and all but a handful supported leaving with no deal if necessary.
So the UK faced the same questions it has confronted for most of 2019. Will Britain leave the EU? And when? And under whose leadership?
It is not clear what role Parliament will play in plans for Brexit despite voting clearly against exiting without a deal. Because Theresa May’s withdrawal deal – rejected three times - is currently off the table and how the next prime minister will proceed is not known. And because it is not clear how Parliament could exercise its will if the next prime minister is determined to exit without a deal.
The Conservatives suffered their worst electoral defeat since 1832 in the European Parliament elections, losing nearly 15% of their vote and coming fifth among party results. Labour lost more than 11% and came third. Gaining votes were the Liberal Democrats who leapfrogged to second and along with other parties that support remaining in the EU took a total of about 40%. But the big winner was Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party which won nearly 32% of the vote, probably taking it from the Conservatives and UKIP which all but collapsed. His win is likely to worry Conservatives and encourage leadership candidates to appeal to those voters.

Brexit deadlines – a shifting saga
The official deadline for the UK to leave the EU is October 31, Halloween. That’s the date set by an early April summit of 27 EU leaders after UK Prime Minister Theresa May requested an extension to June 30.
It shifted the political dynamics as ITV’s Robert Peston reported - leading the prime minister to drop plans to get her withdrawal deal approved by the UK parliament and ultimately forcing her resignation and subsequent leadership contest. Members of Parliament had already rejected her deal three times and opposition both to her deal and her leadership was reported to have hardened during a two-week Easter break from Parliament. She continued cross-party talks with the Labour opposition but there was no sign she would get the support she wanted and ultimately Labour pulled out of the talks. But not before the simple act of finally talking to Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn angered some Conservative MPs and local party groups so much they sought ways to replace Mrs. May. And two sets of elections threatened Conservative politicians in particular – votes for local councils around the country on May 2 and elections for the European Parliament on May 23. In the local elections both the governing Conservatives and opposition Labour parties lost seats across the country - the Tories suffering their heaviest losses since 1995 under Prime Minister John Major and Labour failing to make gains – in fact suffering losses - despite a divided and vulnerable government. Pro-Remain parties and independent candidates benefited. Local and national issues are always mixed in local elections so the results can be difficult to decipher accurately and they unsurprisingly sparked a new round of wildly varying interpretations which tended to depend on who was doing the interpreting.
Mrs. May’s request to the EU summit to delay the Brexit deadline came after Members of Parliament voted narrowly – by a single vote – late on April 1 to approve legislation that would legally require her to request a delay. The legislation was quickly approved by the upper House of Lords. Very unusually the legislation was proposed by MPs and not the government, and was passed in a single day. A majority of MPs oppose leaving the EU without an agreement and a significant number leaving the EU at all. After a marathon 7-hour cabinet meeting the next day the prime minister said she would seek a further delay and surprisingly invited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to discuss Brexit plans. After the first three days of talks Labour was already describing them as “disappointing” and said Mrs. May had not proposed any changes to her Brexit deal

Brexit Day….
Only two days before the original Brexit Day, March 29, Parliament passed government legislation to delay Brexit – possibly to May 22, possibly to April 12. But that is likely to change again. The vote to delay - 441 to 105 - approved Prime Minister Theresa May’s acceptance of the EU’s dates given in their response to her request for a delay.
The May 22 date depended on Mrs. May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU getting approval in the Commons. Instead she lost 344 against to 286 for. But she was widely reported to be trying for a fourth vote.
In the meantime Members of Parliament voted twice on options for dealing with the deeply divisive Brexit issue. They were unable to find a majority in their second try on April 1 after narrowing the options from eight to four from their first votes on March 27 in a series of “indicative votes”. They lost a vote allowing a third try although the prime minister has indicated she may pursue her own agenda of indicative votes if her talks on Brexit with the opposition Labour party failed.
Before her Brexit Day vote loss, Mrs. May spent the week scrambling to secure support – even promising to resign once Brexit “is delivered” and widely suspected of trying to offer more money to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to get them on board. She did convince several key Brexiters but not the DUP which has so far propped up her government by providing a slight majority in Parliament. The Speaker of the House of Commons has ruled she could not bring back the same deal which lost twice for another vote, it had to show “substantial change” – so Mrs. May offered only the withdrawal agreement half of her deal for the Brexit Day vote, but not the political declaration which purports to lay out the future direction of talks with the EU but is not in any way legally binding on either side. 
The latest political manoeuvring came after what many reporters predicted would be a historic week in Parliament. A look at both British newspaper headlines and the European press reflected the confusion.
In three key votes starting on March 12, Parliament:
- decisively rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal to withdraw from the EU.
 - voted to stop withdrawal from the EU without a deal, at any time but that vote was not legally binding.
- voted to delay Brexit past March 29 – but there was ambiguity about the result.
The UK was required by law – Article 50 - to leave the EU on March 29 until the government changed that law by requesting an extension or revoking it. So even though Parliament narrowly voted – 312-308 – to reject withdrawing without a deal that vote did not change the law. The vote overturned Mrs. May’s plan to restrict this vote specifically to the March 29 date and leave open the option of a no-deal Brexit at any other time. It forced a rewording of the government’s motion to clearly reject no deal at any time and another vote which then passed it 321-278.
The next day Parliament overwhelmingly voted to extend the Article 50 deadline of March 29 – but again the Prime Minister chose her words carefully. Her motion –approved 413-202 – called for a short extension until June 30 if her withdrawal deal was approved. She said if her deal was rejected again she would need to seek a longer extension. And in the end the EU gave her two new dates, both earlier than she had requested.
So the prime minister kept trying to win support for her deal in a third vote, hoping to keep the MPs who had so far voted for it and convince enough more to get it passed. She needed another 75 in addition to all the MPs who had voted for it last time and pressured hardline Brexiters in her own Conservative party and the DUP to stop voting against her.
The votes came after two weeks of trying to get further changes to her deal aimed at meeting the Brexiters objections. But that failed when her own attorney general gave his legal opinion that the additions did not stop the UK being "trapped" in an Irish backstop arrangement although they did reduce that risk - and the hardline Brexiters’ legal team said her deal was not substantially changed enough. Brexit supporters have objected to the “backstop” – designed to keep an open border in Ireland if the UK and the EU cannot agree on a trade deal in the next few years - because they fear it could stop the UK from ever leaving the EU. Both the DUP, which gives Mrs. May a working majority in Parliament, and the European Research Group of Conservative Brexiters advised their members to vote against the deal.
Other MPs from both the governing Conservatives and various opposition parties have multiple and varied objections to the Prime Minister’s deal.


May and Corbyn change positions
At the end of February resignations from both the governing Conservatives and opposition Labour parties forced both Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to change their stance on Brexit. The Prime Minister again postponed a meaningful vote on her deal until March 12 but promised that if it’s rejected Parliament would get separate votes in the following two days on a no-deal Brexit and extending the Article 50 withdrawal process beyond the current deadline of March 29. And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was forced into supporting another public vote on Brexit. All of which made a no-deal exit a bit less likely, a delay to the March 29 deadline more likely, and a second referendum more possible.
The prime minister had previously insisted that no deal had to remain possible and no deadline extension was possible. But she was forced into her reversal by a threat from three senior cabinet ministers to resign unless there was a vote on no deal and then actual resignations by three senior Conservative MPs who support remaining in the EU. And Parliament has all but locked in her latest promises by voting massively – 502 to 20 –to allow votes on leaving the EU without a deal and delaying Brexit.
Corbyn had previously evaded calls for a second referendum on Brexit, insisting that Labour’s priorities were a better deal with the EU and if necessary an election – all in an attempt to keep both his party together and his voters with Labour. But 8 MPs resigned from his Labour party to form what they call The Independent Group and were then joined by the three Conservative MPs who resigned – all oppose the handling of Brexit by their former parties and want to keep close ties with the EU. Along with continuing calls for a second referendum from various groups of politicians, ex-politicians, and members of the public Corbyn was finally prompted to execute the plan his party agreed last autumn at their annual conference. So Labour called for a vote in Parliament on their five requirements for a better Brexit deal. That was rejected by Parliament as expected and Labour’s move to force an election had failed in January. So in line with Labour’s conference plan Corbyn was forced to say his party will now support a second referendum.
There were other Brexit votes in Parliament on February 27 including one calling for a separate agreement with the EU on rights for both UK and EU citizens in each other’s jurisdictions even in the case of a no-deal Brexit – this was approved without a vote as there was no opposition to it.
Prime Minister May had narrowly kept her withdrawal deal with the EU alive at the end of January – and at the same time moved a step closer to leaving with no deal. She said she would try to convince the EU to change the backstop arrangement which is designed to avoid any return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – a part of the withdrawal deal adamantly opposed by hardline Brexit supporters. The EU immediately said this cannot be changed and maintained this position through February. Parliament also voted to reject leaving the EU with no deal but the vote was not binding on the government and the prime minister continues refusing to rule it out. As usual the main national newspapers headlined the result in line with their positions on Brexit. The series of Parliamentary votes on January 29 can be interpreted as Mrs. May giving in to hardline Brexiters in her party and moving closer to their desire for no deal. Right wing pro-Brexit Conservatives and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up her government have objected to the backstop. She won their support on January 29 by 317 to 301 by pushing her party to vote for an amendment calling for changes to the deal she negotiated and strongly promoted for the last two months. Parliament also voted 318-310 to reject leaving the EU with no deal but defeated all other amendments, most either trying to prevent no deal or extending the deadline for leaving the EU. Currently the law– Article 50 – requires the UK to leave on March 29. It would have to be extended or stopped to prevent that as a majority of all MPs prefer but there have also been suggestions from Brexit supporters inside and outside Parliament to shut it down to ensure the UK leaves the EU on March 29.
Despite a massive rejection by MPs on Jan. 15 of her withdrawal agreement with the EU, Mrs. May has persisted in pursuing her plan, continuing to claim the only other option is leaving with no deal. She lost the crucial vote in Parliament on her plan on Jan.15 by 230 votes - 432 against her deal to 202 for, the largest defeat of a sitting British government ever. She immediately faced a motion of no confidence in her government moved by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn. She won that vote 325 to 306 on the next day with the support of all her own Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. She then immediately urged MPs and opposition leaders to join her in reaching a solution. She had not done this during two years of negotiating her rejected deal with the EU, was told by the leaders of every opposition party she must abandon her threat of exiting the EU with no deal for such talks to proceed, and showed no immediate sign of changing anything in her position. Her direct approach was reported to be over two days later although she has continued to say she wants to find agreement on Brexit. There is continuing and widespread opposition both outside and inside her own party as MPs consider multiple other options – none of which have yet gained a clear consensus from MPs. They include, as they have since December:
– the UK leaves the EU with no deal as currently required by the Article 50 law which triggered the Brexit process.
- Extension or suspension of the Article 50 deadline for Brexit on March 29.
- Theresa May comes back yet again to Parliament with a deal – possibly changed from her original one.
- Parliament votes to try for a different deal with the EU based on either the Norway or Canada models or something new.
- Another referendum, an option pushed by a number of politicians and public campaigns who support staying in the EU. The form and questions on the referendum ballot are hotly debated, the government has to propose legislation to allow it, and a majority in the Commons has to approve it.
- A general election – the Opposition Labour Party’s preferred option but again it requires Parliamentary approval from a fractious and much divided Parliament – and country.
- A Labour minority government formed without a general election if the governing Tories fall in Parliament and the Queen invites Labour to try to govern.
The January 15 vote came a month after Prime Minister May delayed a crucial vote in Parliament. And instead of facing a “meaningful vote” – and possible amendments - on her deal, she was suddenly confronted by a vote of no-confidence in her leadership, mainly from right-wing pro-Brexit supporters in her Conservative party. She won 200-117 and cannot face the same challenge for another year.
For more please see:


No deal on Brexit?
How likely is no deal with the EU on Brexit?  Prime Minister Theresa says the only choice is between her Chequers plan or no deal – in a BBC interview on the eve of an EU summit.  EU president Donald Tusk said her plan won’t work at that EU leaders summit three days later -  and not unexpectedly. Mrs. May stood by her plan, taking a defiant stance in the face of Fleet Street newspaper headlines that claimed she had been humiliated or even ambushed by the EU. There are other options - another referendum on the outcome of the EU talks, replacing her as prime minister, or a forced election – let alone the possibility of a changed negotiating framework under any new prime minister or government, Conservative or Labour led - none of which Mrs. May wants. She says she wants her much-derided Chequers plan which would keep the UK closely aligned with the EU but outside its jurisdiction on issues such as immigration and the European Court of Justice, while keeping EU rules on trade in goods but not on services, which constitute about 80 per cent of UK trade. Donald Tusk responded to the UK prime minister’s unusual live statement by saying she had been too hardline in her most recent actions but the door was still open to compromise. Months before, when the Chequers plan was announced and formal negotiations resumed the EU took her negotiating stance apart. But talks continued and had already been extended to November, reinforcing a belief that the EU far prefers some kind of deal to none at all. Mrs. May has kept insisting she doesn’t want a “no deal”, “hard” or “cliff edge” Brexit. But her actions could mean this is exactly where the UK is headed. So there has been much analysis of a no-deal Brexit – what it is from the anti-Brexit London Evening Standard, how it might work from Politico, various analyses from think tanks, what the public thinks. Both the EU and the IMF issued warnings about the consequences of leaving the EU without any agreed deal.


Brexit Checkers
In early July Prime Minister Theresa May forged an agreement from her cabinet on Brexit  – an agreement that fell apart starting two days later with a series of resignations, 10 in total including two of the three major cabinet Brexit hardliners David Davis and Boris Johnson. Brexit hardliners further weakened her negotiating plan in Parliamentary votes days later.  For a longer more thoughtful look at the Chequers plan try the BBC's Briefing Room. On July 6 Theresa May gathered her cabinet at her country retreat Chequers to get their agreement on a Brexit negotiating position. When the day ended she said she had it – reported overseas here by the France 24 tv channel and the New York Times. Two days later the minister responsible for negotiating Brexit – David Davis – resigned, saying he could not support her position on Brexit and potentially upsetting her "delicate" balancing act of staying in power. He was replaced within 12 hours by another pro-Brexit cabinet minister Dominic Raab. Then Boris Johnson, the foreign minister and most prominent Brexiteer, resigned – reported overseas here by CNN and the Washington Post. That was just 30 minutes before the prime minister was scheduled to meet with her members of Parliament to seek their support.  On July 16 and 17 she managed to get Parliamentary approval of both her customs and trade legislation in preparation for Brexit – by the narrowest of margins and with questionable tactics. In the process she accepted four amendments to her plans from hard-line Brexiters and still managed to get all but a handful of her Conservative party to support her.


Brexit meets fake news

·    A UK Parliamentary committee says there is a crisis in democracy because of fake news – as in a campaign of disinformation and hate in the Brexit referendum two years ago.

·    Facebook has now released ads targeted at specific groups of people during the referendum – bought by the leave campaign for more than £2.7 million.

·    The UK Electoral Commission has fined the official Vote Leave campaign for breaking spending limits in the referendum and referred two key leave campaigners to the police for false statements.

·    And the man who bankrolled Brexit and the UKIP political party - Arron Banks – is facing questions over the source of his funds and possible Russian involvement.

Fake news? Supporters of Brexit in and out of the media accuse the Electoral Commission of bias against Brexit. The commission was set up by Parliament in 2001 as an independent body to regulate UK elections and sought enhanced powers in the wake of its investigation.
One of the men referred to police – Darren Grimes, head of the BeLeave campaign – has launched a crowd funding campaign to overturn the ruling.
And the Parliamentary committee doesn’t even like the term “fake news” and prefers “disinformation” as more accurate. Even as it in turn is accused of fake news – by leave campaign funder Arron Banks. The committee – the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins – highlights “the manipulation of personal data, and targeting pernicious views to users” particularly during elections and referenda.  And it outlines a series of recommendations to tackle the problem largely aimed at trying to make social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google more accountable for their content. The committee’s interim report was officially released at the end of July, days after it was leaked by a key Brexit campaigner who had consistently refused to appear before the committee. The official report will be released in the autumn but it has already sparked debate and this interesting comparison with action on parallel issues in the United States.
These latest developments follow a series of revelations about voter manipulation in the spring of 2018 noted here.


UK Parliament passes EU repeal law
The UK Parliament has approved the Conservative government’s EU withdrawal bill, paving the way to Brexit by converting all applicable EU laws into UK law. Very narrowly. Without clear language to allow detailed parliamentary scrutiny of whatever deal – or no deal – is agreed with the EU. Without the support of 6 rebel MPS from the governing Conservative party  - but with the support of 4 opposition Labour MPs who are longstanding supporters of Brexit. Without complete cabinet solidarity on the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations. Without clarity on a number of outstanding key issues such as the UK’s future customs relationship with the EU and the Irish border. And without even a hint of consensus on how to interpret all the political manoeuvring. Prime Minister Theresa May has called a cabinet meeting on July 6 at her country retreat Chequers to seek agreement on a Brexit negotiating position. Opponents of Brexit held a massive protest march in London marking the second anniversary of the referendum on 23 June - organizers said they drew 100,000 people. There was also a much smaller rally nearby in support of Brexit which included members of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) and far right groups such as White Pendragons and Generation Identity.
In a week of high political drama the government defeated a final amendment on June 20 to allow MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal by 319 votes to 303. It was the second time in a week that MPs voted on this issue. And it was the second time in a week that Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to offer an assurance to a small group of Tory MPs who threatened to vote against the government unless there was clear language on a “meaningful vote.” The first time she headed off the revolt in the final hours by personally giving assurances to the rebels – they said. But almost immediately other cabinet ministers said no promises or concessions were given – only a promise of further discussions. The second time she headed off the revolt – again in the final minutes - after convincing leading rebel Dominic Grieve with an assurance that the parliamentary Speaker could decide if MPs get a “meaningful vote” on Brexit. Again cabinet ministers immediately said no concessions were made. It was the final act allowing the government’s withdrawal bill through. But it’s far from the final act in the Brexit saga as Mrs. May faces a number of other Commons votes on Brexit issues, one expected within just a month on possibly the biggest core issue of Brexit – what kind of customs relationship to have with the EU. For more, with varying interpretations, on the latest events please see these sites:

 Please see here for more about debate on this legislation.


UK and EU Brexit transition deal
Britain and the European Union agreed on most of the terms for the Brexit transition period in a deal announced on March 19 2018 showing concessions on both sides as well as remaining disagreements. For instance the UK will be allowed to negotiate and sign its own trade deals but will remain subject to EU rules including new ones implemented without a UK vote. And both the deal and its interpretation will likely cause dissent and disagreement for some time. For more please see these varying reports:


EU withdrawal bill passed
The UK Parliament has approved the Conservative government’s EU withdrawal bill, paving the way to Brexit by converting all applicable EU laws into UK law. Very narrowly. Without clear language to allow detailed parliamentary scrutiny of whatever deal – or no deal – is agreed with the EU. Without the support of 6 rebel MPS from the governing Conservative party  - but with the support of 4 opposition Labour MPs who are longstanding supporters of Brexit. Without complete cabinet solidarity on the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations. Without clarity on a number of outstanding key issues such as the UK’s future customs relationship with the EU and the Irish border. And without even a hint of consensus on how to interpret all the political manoeuvring. Prime Minister Theresa May has called a cabinet meeting on July 6 at her country retreat Chequers to seek agreement on a Brexit negotiating position. Opponents of Brexit held a massive protest march in London marking the second anniversary of the referendum on 23 June - organizers said they drew 100,000 people. There was also a much smaller rally nearby in support of Brexit which included members of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) and far right groups such as White Pendragons and Generation Identity.

In a week of high political drama the government defeated a final amendment on June 20 to allow MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal by 319 votes to 303. It was the second time in a week that MPs voted on this issue. And it was the second time in a week that Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to offer an assurance to a small group of Tory MPs who threatened to vote against the government unless there was clear language on a “meaningful vote.” The first time she headed off the revolt in the final hours by personally giving assurances to the rebels – they said. But almost immediately other cabinet ministers said no promises or concessions were given – only a promise of further discussions. The second time she headed off the revolt – again in the final minutes - after convincing leading rebel Dominic Grieve with an assurance that the parliamentary Speaker could decide if MPs get a “meaningful vote” on Brexit. Again cabinet ministers immediately said no concessions were made. It was the final act allowing the government’s withdrawal bill through. But it’s far from the final act in the Brexit saga as Mrs. May faces a number of other Commons votes on Brexit issues, one expected within just a month on possibly the biggest core issue of Brexit – what kind of customs relationship to have with the EU.

For more, with varying interpretations, on the latest events please see these sites:

Mrs. May in fact got her withdrawal bill through virtually unchanged, winning every vote in the House of Commons on amendments proposed by the upper House of Lords. Only a month earlier, the Lords ended three months of detailed examination of the withdrawal bill with defeats to the government in 15 major votes  - votes that showed the deep divisions in both Conservative and Labour ranks over what deal the UK should seek in negotiations with the EU. The Lords amendment on the meaningful vote would have allowed Parliament, not just cabinet ministers, a potentially decisive say over Brexit – power to stop the UK from leaving the EU without a deal or make Theresa May return to negotiations. This amendment was approved by 335 votes to 244, fleshing out an earlier House of Commons vote in December forcing the government to guarantee Parliament a meaningful vote. The Lords also challenged the government and members of the House of Commons with amendments for the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU and in a form of the single market, the European Economic Area. Hard-line Brexiters see either one as a betrayal of the close 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU. Business voices have called for the closest possible alignment with EU rules to avoid severe harm to the economy; and the Irish government and the EU are sticking to their demands on the Irish border as is Northern Ireland’s DUP which has been providing the Conservative government with a tiny voting majority.  When the Lords began second-reading examination at the end of January one of the biggest concerns of opponents in both the opposition and governing party was what they saw as an attempted power grab by the May cabinet – giving themselves powers to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and use the legislation to weaken or destroy employment, environmental, equality and human rights protections. The Conservatives have the largest number of Lords but no majority and can be outvoted by opponents. As the unelected Lords handed them defeat after defeat, the Tory right and its supporters in the national press ramped up attacks on the bastion of conservatism and the establishment they had historically defended and protected. The Lords began examining the bill after the House of Commons voted to approve it 324 to 295 on January 18 2018, four months after narrowly voting to allow more debate on it. The vote was 326 to 290. The UK and EU began historic talks on June 19 2017 over British plans to leave the EU. Please see these links for more:


Theresa May’s election gamble backfires
The newspaper headlines said it all on the morning after the 2017 UK election. Prime Minister Theresa May lost 13 seats and in the coming months possibly her own job. She was forced to lose her two long-time key advisers who designed the Conservative election manifesto, ran her office and in effect her management of the government for the past year, leaving her even more vulnerable to pressures inside her party. Her Conservative party won the largest number of seats in Parliament – 318 – but lost its Parliamentary majority. So she had the opportunity to form a new government but faced anger and opposition inside her own party and minimal likelihood of much support from outside it. The result raised questions not only about Mrs. May’s own future but also about the stability of the UK government, its ability to negotiate Brexit, and its very competence to govern. If her new Conservative government fails to work then it is possible that the leader of the next largest party, Jeremy Corbyn of Labour, will be asked to form a government. A number of Labour policies have been echoed by nearly all the other opposition parties but even if all of their MPs joined an alliance they would still not have an overall majority. No single party in this Parliament has an overall majority – more seats than all other parties combined – quaintly called in the UK a “hung Parliament”. In many other countries it is simply known as a minority government which can often govern for significant amounts of time with or without formal coalitions. Many commentators are expecting another election long before the current statutory 5 years. For the moment Mrs. May has said she will work with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party which won 10 seats in the UK Parliament. Most observers do not expect this to work for long – the DUP is a socially conservative party with positions on abortion, gay rights and climate change that are inconsistent with UK law, has close historical ties to the Protestant community, and is a key partner in the Northern Ireland peace agreement in which the UK government is supposed to be a neutral arbiter.
When Mrs. May called the surprise election for June 8, she claimed she needed the support of the country in her negotiations for British exit from the European Union.  There was little discussion of Brexit during the 7-week campaign and no more detail on her plans for negotiation. Throughout the campaign she constantly repeated the mantra that voting for her meant “strong and stable” government. Halfway through the campaign she was already being mocked instead for being “weak and wobbly” – most especially when she reversed her manifesto position on social care for the elderly and later for refusing to debate other party leaders.  When she called the election, all four opposition parties with seats in Parliament – Labour, the Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and the Green party – accused her of opportunism, trying to take advantage of a massive lead in public opinion polls despite her repeated previous statements that she would not call an election before the 5-year fixed term ran out in 2020. There were also suggestions of her trying to avoid political damage from possible criminal charges over Conservative election expenses in 2015 and 2014, and her need to resolve long running struggles inside her own Conservative party between so-called moderates and hardliners on Brexit and a number of other social and political issues. Many observers and commentators echoed those points including the AEJ-UK’s own recent guest Jim O’Neill, former Conservative Treasury minister and former chief economist of Goldman Sachs who coined the term BRICs. Mrs. May had a massive lead of more than 20 points in public opinion polls when the election was called and most politicians of all parties and most mainstream journalists and commentators expected her to win with the only question being the size of her landslide. However Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outperformed all expectations with an increasingly popular campaign, clever strategy and tactics particularly targeting young voters, and a manifesto that turned out to have broad appeal despite being the most left-wing in decades, calling for higher taxes on the rich and re-nationalisation of the railways, the post office and utility companies. The campaign cut the polling lead to a few points by voting day and won Labour 30 more seats – their biggest gain in 20 years - and about 40 per cent of the vote, more than Tony Blair won in 2005 and just over half a million votes less than Blair’s 1997 landslide. This all may further secure his position as party leader and support his team’s desire to reposition the Labour party further left of the political centre. But it is not clear if it has changed either the doubts or opposition of many of his MPs who tried to distance themselves from Mr. Corbyn during the election campaign and may continue trying to undermine him. The Liberal Democrats campaigned largely for a second referendum on Brexit trying to target voters who wanted to stay in the EU – winning 4 more seats but seeing their vote share go down 0.5% to 7.4% of total votes.
And the SNP lost 21 of the 56 seats they won in a near sweep in 2015 as both Labour and Conservatives positioned themselves to oppose any second referendum on Scottish independence.
Ultimately this election has re-opened major splits in the Conservatives, probably failed to resolve splits in the Labour party, delayed any direct resolution of Scottish independence, and thrown the course of Brexit into serious doubt.
Standings after this election in the 650-seat UK Parliament are:
Conservatives 318
Labour 262
Scottish National Party 35
Liberal Democrats 12
Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland) 10
Sinn Fein  (Northern Ireland) 7
Plaid Cymru (Wales) 4
Green Party 1
Other 1

The Brexit voting saga
On March 13 the lower House of Commons voted 498 to 114 in a final vote to allow Prime Minister Theresa May to invoke Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the European Union. Before the final vote, the Commons rejected two amendments proposed by the upper House of Lords – voting 331 to 286 against a requirement for Parliamentary approval of any final deal – or no deal - with the EU; and 335 to 287 against requiring the government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK within 3 months of triggering Article 50. The legislation was then passed by the unelected House of Lords and Roya1 Assent was given on March 16. On March 7 the House of Lords handed Prime Minister Theresa May a second defeat on the proposed law to leave the EU. The unelected Lords added two amendments before sending the bill back to the House of Commons. The upper house voted 366 to 268 to require Parliamentary approval of any final deal – or no deal - the government reaches in negotiations with the EU. It was the largest turnout ever in the history of the House of Lords. Earlier, on March 1, the Lords voted 358 to 256 to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. This amendment would require the government to provide such guarantees within 3 months of triggering Article 50, the formal start of the process to exit the EU. The Conservative government says it does not want to undermine its Brexit negotiating position and claims unilaterally guaranteeing EU citizen rights in the UK without getting a reciprocal agreement could harm the interests of UK citizens. There are an estimated 1.2 milllion UK citizens living in the EU and an estimated 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK. The issue of EU citizen rights has both moral and practical facets and a number of individuals and groups have expressed concern about the current uncertainty. Recent UK Home Office figures show a sharp rise in applications for permanent residence and the government itself admits more than 130,000 EU nationals applied for UK residency in the six months after the Brexit vote. Overall last year there were more than 200,000 applications  - double the previous record. In the Lords votes, the government tried to apply significant pressure including unusual appearances in the House by both Prime Minister May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd who also sent a personal letter to every single peer urging no changes to the bill. Right after its Lords defeat Theresa May fired a key rebel Conservative lord, former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine. There were also significant speeches by two former prime ministers – Labour’s Tony Blair and Conservative John Major – opposing Brexit and urging reconsideration of UK withdrawal from Europe. The Conservatives have the largest number of peers –252 –in the Lords but they are not a majority; Labour has 202 members, Liberal Democrats 102, and there are 178 Crossbenchers, officially unaligned with any political party.
On Feb. 8 the UK House of Commons first passed the Conservative government’s proposed law to exit from the European Union and send it to the Lords. MPs voted 494 to 122 to approve the government bill – a short 137 words allowing it to trigger article 50. MPs had only 3 days to debate the bill in detail and all attempts to amend it were rejected. The closest vote was 326 to 293 against an opposition Labour party amendment to give Parliament a meaningful vote on any EU agreement negotiated by the May government, an amendment now added to the bill by the Lords. The Brexit issue has shaken the political establishment, the public, and the entire framework of the UK since the referendum last June 23 in which 51.9% of voters across the UK chose Brexit and 48.1% rejected it. The May government has taken a strong position in favour of Brexit despite a small working majority in the 650-seat House of Commons - her party has been split on the issue of Europe for decades. The main Labour opposition party is riven on the Brexit issue – and a number of others – but has officially supported the start of the exit process, hoping to avoid further alienating the significant minority (an estimated 37%) of its supporters who voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum. In the final Commons vote 52 of 229 Labour MPs defied party instructions to vote with the government. The Scottish National Party is unified in opposition to Brexit, wants to stay in the EU, was supported by more than 60% of Scottish voters in the referendum, and won a vote in the devolved Scottish Parliament 90 to 34 to oppose the UK government on Brexit. Its arguments for Scottish independence saw a boost in the opinion polls during the Brexit debate.
The UK Liberal Democrats – partners with the Conservatives in the coalition government preceding Mrs. May’s - officially oppose Brexit.
(See party standings)
Prime Minister May was forced to allow Parliament to vote by the UK Supreme Court. It upheld the supremacy of Parliament in a ruling on January 24, rejecting claims by May’s Conservative government that it could use executive powers and avoid consulting Parliament. In a historically rare occurrence, all 11 justices heard the landmark case and voted 8-3 against the government – full details are here from the Supreme Court and the Telegraph newspaper with multiple media reports available online such as the Independent, the Guardian, the Express and many others.
Besides having its refusal to introduce legislation on triggering Brexit overturned, the Conservative government was also forced to reverse its refusal to provide details on its Brexit plans after a potential revolt by some of its own MPs. Those plans were finally outlined in a white paper presented to Parliament on Feb. 2.

MPs face rising levels of abuse and threats
A survey by the BBC has confirmed growing levels of abuse and death threats to MPs. This issue was sadly highlighted by the killing of Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, on June 16 2016 in Birstall, West Yorkshire.  The Association of European Journalists issued a statement condemning the murder of the 41-year-old Labour Member of the British Parliament who was shot and killed in her Yorkshire constituency. Jo Cox had reportedly received threats of violence before the deadly attack. The AEJ said such acts of extreme violence can have a chilling effect on the robust exchange of arguments, opinions and information which are the essence of open democratic societies.
On Nov. 23 2016 Thomas Mair, a 53-year-old unemployed gardener, was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life for the murder.  He had shot the MP twice in the head and once in the chest with a sawn-off hunting rifle before stabbing her 15 times. At the sentencing hearing the judge described Ms. Cox as “passionate, open-hearted, inclusive and generous” and a true patriot while the murderer “affected to be a patriot”. The judge explained: “It is evident from your internet searches that your inspiration is not love of country or your fellow citizens, it is an admiration for Nazis and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds.”


Brexit Trumped
For one  - of many – analyses of the connection between the election of Donald Trump and Brexit please see here for a European perspective. And here is a quick survey of media coverage of his victory on Nov. 8 2016.
AEJ UK member and former FT correspondent Anthony Robinson has these reflections on the world post Trump and post Brexit – from the AEJ congress as well as the Brexit campaign just last June.


Brexit information resources
See here to monitor progress of the government bill, and for ongoing and up-to-date reporting see the Independent, the Guardian and other UK media.
Standings in the lower 650-seat House of Commons are:
Conservatives 330 MPs
Labour 229
SNP currently 54
Liberal Democrats 9
MPs representing Northern Ireland, Wales, the Greens, and independents 26
UKIP  0 - the UK Independence Party  which is considered to have provoked the referendum and the whole exit process has no MP  - it’s only MP was a Conservative who defected from the previous government before the 2015 election and quit UKIP to sit as an independent  on March 25 2017.
Vacant 1
Speaker 1

Please see here for membership of the House of Lords.

The Telegraph breakdown  of the preliminary Brexit vote in Parliamaent

For a breakdown of the referendum vote in different regions, constituencies and demographics please see these links:





Guests and AEJ on Brexit

Brexit and Quebec separatism
Nick Hopkinson, AEJ member and a former director of Wilton Park, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy forum, finds some striking parallels between the long campaign for independence in his native Quebec and Brexit in the UK. And in this article – first published in February 2020 in The New European - he argues the Quebec experience can provide some insights into how the Brexit process may unfold in the United Kingdom.


London central to UK future relations with EU?  (Rory Stewart) January 2019
Rory Stewart, former Conservative MP, cabinet minister, and contender for Conservative party leader, says London could have a "very, very central" part to play in Britain's future relations with the European Union. Now an independent candidate for London mayor in elections on May 7, he told an AEJ UK meeting on January 29 that London’s connections and contributions are crucial to the success of the rest of the UK and it could act as a bridge between Britain and the EU over the next 10 to 15 years in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology while still learning from policies in other European cities. For more on his argument and following discussion please see this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio recording of the meeting.


European Parliament Lookahead  (AEJ UK member and former RTE journalist Brian O’Connell)  December 2019
Just days before British voters gave Boris Johnson's Conservatives a green light to exit the European Union, delegates to the AEJ’s 2019 Congress in Paris were treated to an assessment of the impact of the new European Parliament from its Secretary-General, Klaus Welle. At Jean Monnet House outside Paris – a complex devoted to the life and work of one of the fathers of the EU – Mr. Welle analysed the May 2019 European Parliament elections held at the height of talks with the UK about Brexit and after open resistance to EU policies on migration and the rule of law in the four Visegrad states of central Europe. He said the election results were mixed: fragmentation of the vote into more separate party groupings meant that at least three party groupings will be required to pass legislation. But he also claimed the new parliament has increased democratic legitimacy because the elections reversed a long-term downward trend in voter turnout. For more on this presentation please see this report from Charles Jenkins, AEJ UK member and former Western Europe editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
And AEJ UK member and former RTE journalist Brian O’Connell has this report on the prospective agendas of the newly-elected political groupings, with Brexit colouring debate but by no means dominating it.


The future after Brexit (Lord Peter Ricketts) November 2019
Britain’s role in the world will require a new national strategy if Brexit happens - and that needs a lot more attention says one of Britain’s top diplomats. Lord Peter Ricketts, former UK National Security Adviser and head of the diplomatic service, told an AEJ lunch on November 20th 2019 that’s just one of the multiple challenges facing the UK in a post Brexit world. For more on his presentation please see this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript.


Will Brexit cause more civil unrest? (Lord David Willetts) October 2019
That’s one of the questions posed to – and by - Lord David Willetts, a prominent Conservative Party thinker, former minister, and until recently Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation, an independent think tank focused on improving living standards for people on low to middle incomes. “Very polarised and volatile” is how the current mood in England is described by the Archbishop of Canterbury – and he’s advised prime minister Boris Johnson and other politicians to stop stoking hate and using inflammatory language. At an AEJ UK meeting on October 23 Lord Willetts tried to bring some clearer perspective to the social, economic and political issues increasingly polarised by Brexit. For more on the former Universities and Science Minister’s in-depth analysis please see this report from ex-FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript of the meeting.


The view from Scotland (AEJ visit to Holyrood) September 2019
Three members of the Scottish Parliament, three different parties, three differing perspectives on Brexit’s impact north of the border. All held with passion. But instead of generating the heat and hate currently demonstrated at Westminster those perspectives are articulated with thought and detailed analysis not strident words and personal attack. It’s a tone that permeates the very building they work in and extends even to First Minister’s Questions – a tone reinforced by the semicircular parliamentary chamber at the heart of Scotland’s modern parliament complex in Holyrood. And a tone evident in this report from AEJ member Charles Jenkins – and this audio transcript – of views on Brexit, Scotland and independence from representatives of the Scottish National Party, the Conservatives and Labour. For more please also see this reflective piece from AEJ member and former FT Moscow and Rome correspondent Anthony Robinson and these blogs from Firdevs Robinson, AEJ member and former BBC World Service editor, and Jonathan Fryer, AEJ member and writer. This panel discussion followed a tour of the Holyrood buildings and a session of First Minister’s Questions organized for an AEJ-UK delegation by AEJ member Rick Thompson in late September. For a snapshot of politics in Scotland please see these links:


The State of Play (Catherine Barnard) September 2019
Confused about Brexit? Less than two hours after the UK Supreme Court ruled that the government’s suspension of Parliament was illegal, one of the leading experts on European Union law, Catherine Barnard, gave an instant assessment of the landmark ruling and clarified some of the possible ways forward. At the AEJ UK on September 24 the professor of European Union and Labour Law at Trinity College Cambridge and a senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe explained the consequences of a no-deal Brexit and the other possible courses of action by Boris Johnson’s government up to October 31st , as well as the massive task ahead to negotiate a long-term treaty between the UK and its major trading partners in Europe. Please see here for a report on the meeting from AEJ member and ex FT correspondent Peter Norman, an audio transcript of the meeting and here for her Powerpoint slide presentation.


European populism is not “contained” (Brunello Rosa) May 2019
That at least is the view of Brunello Rosa, CEO of Rosa and Roubini Associates and an analyst of strategic country risks who closely monitors geopolitical trends and the economic performance of countries across Europe. He told the AEJ UK on May 30 he strongly disagreed with the idea that”populists have been contained” as expressed by Martin Selmayr, secretary general of the European Commission, and other observers. He noted the gains by right-wing populist parties in May’s elections for the European Parliament and spelled out some of the impact they may have. For more on his presentation please see this report from AEJ member Charles Jenkins, this audio transcript of the meeting, and these reflections on populism and Brexit from AEJ member Tony Robinson, former FT correspondent in Moscow and Rome.

Does the UK face a constitutional crisis? (Robert Hazell) April 2019
Yes says constitutional expert Robert Hazell. And it pits popular sovereignty against parliamentary sovereignty, and the four nations of the UK against each other. But this is a failure of the political system not the United Kingdom’s unwritten constitution the professor of government and the constitution at University College London and founder of its Constitution Unit told the AEJ UK on April 24. He says Brexit has triggered this crisis and its origins lie in the British political system, Westminster’s adversarial political culture, and serious failures of political leadership. Please see this report on the meeting from former FT correspondent Peter Norman and here for an audio transcript of his presentation and following questions and answers.

Crisis? (Sir Ivan Rogers) March 2019
One of the UK’s key political insiders for the last 20 years and the man who represented the UK at the EU until January 2017 says the country is in the midst of a political crisis - and potentially a constitutional and democratic crisis with unknown economic implications. Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK Permanent Representative to the EU from November 2013, resigned shortly before Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to trigger Article 50 on March 29 of that year starting a two-year countdown to Brexit. Before serving at the EU Sir Ivan was principal private secretary to Tony Blair from 2003-06 and David Cameron’s main adviser for Europe and global Issues from 2012-2013. On the day previously designated as the deadline for Brexit Sir Ivan provided the AEJ UK with a uniquely qualified insider’s comprehensive and insightful analysis of how we got here and what might be ahead. Please listen here for an audio transcript of his remarks and following questions and answers. Earlier the same day Sir Ivan participated in a similar panel discussion at Chatham House which can be viewed here.


Britain in the EU (Sir Stephen Wall) December 2018
On the day UK Prime Minister Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence in her leadership from her own party, the official historian of Britain's membership in the European Community told the AEJ UK that Britain’s issues with it date back to the very beginning of the relationship in the early 1960s. Mrs. May won her vote of confidence. But that did nothing to resolve the current UK political impasse over Brexit. And at an AEJ lunch on December 11, Sir Stephen Wall, retired senior UK diplomat and author of the official history of Britain’s relations with the EU, reflected on the long and fraught history behind the divisive vote in the referendum on the EU in 2016. Laying out some of the highlights of this history, he attributed these long term factors as well as the disruption of the 2008-9 global financial crisis to Britain's "No" vote in 2016. He said political errors in the management of Brexit had further contributed to the current crisis. What now then?  That’s "anyone's guess" says Sir Stephen. As a supporter of remaining in the EU he was more hopeful of a second referendum but there were major issues over the wording of the questions and even more the reaction of the British voters. And both Mrs. May’s deal with the EU - which is still not expected to pass Parliament - or any of the trade alternatives so far being suggested faced long and hard bargaining without solving the problem of the EU-UK border in Ireland. He predicts the UK is "destined for a decade or more of real difficulty" before regaining the prosperity lost through Brexit.  It removes Britain from policies and institutions previously deemed important for maintaining peace and security since the second world war and reduces Britain’s political clout in the world. And, he added, it would be a real loss to the EU. The UK has contributed to EU foreign policy cooperation; promoted the single market; promoted reforms on agriculture, financial services, and digital plans; and partly acted as a bulwark against Franco-German dominance of the EU. For more on his informative presentation please see this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript.


Bleak outlook with Brexit says former top UK diplomat (Sir Nigel Sheinwald) November 2018
Sir Nigel Sheinwald, one of the UK’s top diplomats before he retired, is not hopeful. In a meeting with the AEJ UK on November 22 to discuss Britain’s future after Brexit he asked if there are grounds for optimism. And his conclusion was very few. He said outside the EU, the UK would lose influence at a practical level and would lose stature in the view of the rest of the world. And the UK’s position is further weakened by two other factors he added - the fraying of its relationship and influence with the United States under President Donald Trump, and threats to the multilateral system of alliances and institutions that has served much of the western world for 70 years since the Second World War. Sir Nigel has 36 years experience as a UK diplomat including his three final jobs as UK ambassador to the US from 2007 to 2012, foreign policy and defence advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2003 to 2007, and UK Ambassador to the EU from 2000 to 2003. Despite his pessimistic view of the future he did have some advice for UK action after Brexit so for more on his thoughts please read this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman.


AEJ UK and Brexit – 50 years of dialogue (September 2018)
On the anniversary of its formation 50 years ago the AEJ UK hosted an open and substantial dialogue among figures from opposing sides of the Brexit debate. Six months before the UK’s planned departure from the European Union and at a time when the outcome of the negotiations was shrouded in extraordinary uncertainty, close to 100 diplomats, officials, and professionals from many fields including more than 40 journalists from all corners of Europe engaged in the debate. In his keynote speech (see link here) on Friday September 28 Sir Martin Donnelly, who held senior posts dealing with the EU inside the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office until 2017, said that the UK government’s mishandling of the Brexit negotiations and unrealistic expectations are likely to result in serious damage to the country’s wealth and standing in the world. That could last years and would require a sober re-think of Britain’s testy relationship with its closest neighbours to achieve a recovery in its fortunes. Gisela Stuart, who played a leading part in the Vote Leave campaign, contested that assessment. She said the referendum had shown the settled mindset of a majority of British people, she was confident that any second referendum would confirm the results of the first one, and that in future people would look back on this period of turmoil in the UK and ask themselves what all the fuss was about. The day-long Colloquium tested common ground in the fierce divisions exposed by the Brexit debate and included two panel discussions - The UK In and Out of Europe: Politics, Identity, and Cultures and Whose Europe Is It Anyway? Media and Public Opinion. Please see here for a detailed report and these links for more:
Photos and more on AEJ UK Facebook page

Debate on Twitter at #aejbrexitdebate

Agenda UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit: the  AEJ UK 50 years Forum

Opening remarks from William Horsley

Keynote speech by Sir Martin Donnelly

Notes on panellist Gisela Stuart

Notes from panellist Gina Miller

Notes from panellist Alexandre Holroyd

Notes from panellist James Hawes

Notes on panellist Peter Foster

Notes from panellist Imke Henkel

Notes from panellist Quentin Peel

Notes from panellist Stephen Jukes

Speakers biographies

Illustrated brochure celebrating the first fifty years of the AEJ UK

About the AEJ UK

Information on AEJ Membership


AEJ UK 50th Anniversary Dinner: then and now (September 2018)
At a dinner gathering in London AEJ journalists from across the EU celebrated the birth of the UK Section of the AEJ in 1968 -- five years before the UK’s accession to the EEC -- and the Association’s  present existence as a pan-European network for independent journalism and press freedom. Today the association is active in all corners of the continent, from Portugal to Armenia and from Finland to Greece. Please see here for more on this and following links to short speeches and references.
Recollections on the AEJ UK and the EU from David Haworth
Speech by Otmar Lahodynsky, AEJ International President
Speech by Miguel-Angel Aguilar, a founder member of the AEJ Spanish section in 1981
Speech by Kevin d’Arcy, former AEJ UK secretary
Roger Broad's account of the UK Section’s 40th anniversary ten years
Speakers at AEJ UK monthly meetings in 2018


No deal Brexit will work … (Lord Peter Lilley) September 2018
says Lord Peter Lilley, former Conservative cabinet minister and outspoken supporter of the UK’s exit from the European Union. He outlined his arguments to the AEJ UK’s first autumn lunch meeting on September 4 in a presentation he described as intentionally provocative. It came as the UK government faced make or break negotiations with the EU on their future relationship and widespread criticism of its negotiating plan both inside Parliament and across the UK. Hardline Brexiters have opposed and dismissed Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Chequers” negotiating position as a betrayal of the referendum result in June 2016. More moderate Conservative MPs outside the cabinet have been lukewarm at best and openly critical in other cases, mostly opposing it as an unworkable and ineffective compromise. The EU rejected it but kept the door open to further talks. Peter Lilley says the Chequers plan is “moribund” and adds that the May government looks like it needs lessons in trade negotiating and is giving lessons in political suicide. Most important, says Lilley, is what the UK does with the powers it takes back with Brexit. Ultimately he says Brexit is a political issue and urged people not to exaggerate the importance of trade deals. For more on his presentation please see this report on the meeting from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript of the meeting. And for more detail on the case for no deal made by Lord Lilley and other Brexiters please see this document published on Jan.7 2019, a week before the scheduled Parliamentary vote on Mrs. May’s deal with the EU.


Germany and the EU (Sir Paul Lever) June 2018
Both supporters and opponents of Brexit might want to consider their expectations of Germany’s role in the process. That was NOT the message to the AEJ UK from Britain’s former ambassador to Germany - but it was inherent in his wide ranging and in depth analysis of Germany’s role in Europe. Sir Paul Lever, UK ambassador to Germany from 1997 to 2003 and author of a recent book on the subject, says despite becoming Europe’s dominant power, Germany has limited policy ambitions and no blueprint for Europe’s future. At the AEJ UK on June 25, Sir Paul said Germany’s key  goals are supporting its national interests and economic strength while preserving what has already been achieved in Europe. So it is unlikely to show any appetite for grand EU integration plans as suggested by France's President Emmanuel Macron - and has already shown constraints on any support for adjustments to the EU’s trading relations with Britain under both UK Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May. For more on Sir Paul’s wide ranging and in-depth analysis please see this report by AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript of his remarks and following discussion.


Labour’s balancing act (Baroness Dianne Hayter) May 2018
As Brexit continues to divide both of the UK’s two major political parties and the British people, Labour’s shadow deputy leader in the House of Lords and spokesperson for exiting the EU walked the fine line between Labour’s stance on Brexit and political realities. At a meeting of the AEJ UK on 24 May 2018, Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town explained why she and other Labour members of the unelected House of Lords had challenged the UK government by forcing a series of amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the upper house. She says Labour is attempting to move Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May away from her hard red lines in negotiations with the EU and believes the final decisions on Brexit should be in the hands of MPs in the House of Commons. She also thinks that the Lords votes for 15 amendments to the government’s withdrawal bill may influence public opinion and debate on the kind of Brexit that will eventually happen. She acknowledged there was no clear evidence of a shift in public support or opposition to Brexit in most polling results since the referendum, including Labour’s own private polling and her own contacts with voters. There is however a recent analysis of multiple polls by the YouGov polling organization that questions this orthodoxy and suggests some possibly important shifts away from Brexit. Baroness Hayter was walking her own fine line inside Labour as a former strong supporter of Tony Blair now articulating a position under EU-sceptic party leader Jeremy Corbyn. She personally opposed Brexit and considers it a looming nightmare, but insists that the Labour party will honour the result of the June 2016 referendum. Baroness Hayter was Labour Party chairman from 2007-8, became a Labour peer in 2010, and previously held senior posts in the legal, financial and consumer affairs industries. For more on this meeting please see this article by AEJ member Nick Hopkinson and this audio transcript of her remarks and following discussion.


Will Brexit damage human rights in the UK? (David Isaac) March 2018
The chairman of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission says it could if the government’s Brexit withdrawal bill is not changed. At the AEJ UK on 23 March 2018, David Isaac explained the basis for his concern – backed by a number of NGOs working on human rights in the UK – that plans for incorporating European into English (and Scottish and Northern Ireland) law did not live up to the government’s promise that Brexit would leave our rights unchanged. Please see this account from Hugh Sandeman and here for an audio transcript of the meeting.


German business on Brexit (Bob Bischof) February 2018
There will be a Brexit deal says the leading voice of German business in the UK. Bob Bischof, vice president of the German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce and chairman of the German British Forum, said German business is confident of a Brexit deal and made his case at an AEJ UK meeting on February 20 2018. See here for a report on the meeting from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman. And here for an audio transcript of his remarks and subsequent questions and answers. 


Stopping Brexit  (Lord Andrew Adonis) November 2017
Lord Andrew Adonis says it’s time to stop Brexit. And 7 weeks after outlining concerns to the AEJ, he underlined them in Christmas week by resigning as infrastructure tsar for the Conservative government of Theresa May. At an AEJ-UK lunch meeting on Nov. 9 2017, the Labour peer and former Labour minister for education and for transport offered even odds on reversing the current political process to exit the European Union. Speaking while he was still chair of the UK Infrastructure Commission, Lord Adonis said the next 18 months are crucial. For more on his analysis to the AEJ-UK please see this report from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman.


Brexit will not happen… (Paddy Ashdown) October 2017
says Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and now the party’s leading elder statesman.  As recently as July 2017, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon – Liberal Democrat leader from 1988 to 1999 and a bitter opponent of Brexit – expected Brexit to take place.  But he has changed his mind and thinks Brexit will not happen.  Speaking to the AEJ’s lunchtime meeting on 12 October 2017, he painted a grim picture of a dysfunctional UK government that is incapable of negotiating a satisfactory withdrawal from the EU and which could collapse next year. By a narrow margin, he believes Britain will stay in the EU but retreat from an active international role and lose global influence. Drawing on his many and varied experiences as a Royal Marine, intelligence officer, diplomat, politician and international administrator, Lord Ashdown also commented on a range of international issues in this “most dangerous, volatile and frightening age” of his lifetime. Please see this summary of his remarks from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman.


Article 50 can be stopped or revoked (Lord John Kerr of Kinlochard) September 2017
The author of Article 50, Lord John Kerr of Kinlochard, says negotiators for both the UK and the EU have made fundamental mistakes and become mired in public disagreements. And he warned of a “precipice” in the UK’s relations with the EU if the talks end without agreement. At a meeting of the AEJ UK on September 15 2017 he also said there is nothing in the law to prevent the UK from changing its mind and stopping or revoking the process of UK exit from the EU. It’s by no means the first time he’s said this but at the AEJ UK meeting he spelled out his analysis of the Brexit process in forensic detail. A former head of the UK Foreign Office and a cross-bench (independent) peer since 2004, Lord Kerr has emerged as a severe critic of the UK government’s approach to Brexit. He has called for a halt to the Brexit process and a national debate in the UK to think again about leaving the EU, previously describing the UK government’s actions since the referendum as “a completely wasted year while the Tories negotiated with themselves”. See this detailed report by AEJ UK chairman William Horsley and an audio recording of the meeting. Known in Brussels as a wily and effective negotiator, Lord Kerr held senior posts in the UK Treasury as well as the Foreign Office. He was UK ambassador to the EU and the U.S. before taking the top Foreign Office job in 1997. In 2002/3, after retiring as a UK diplomat, he was secretary general to the European Convention, where he drafted the EU exit clause that became Article 50. For more on his recent positions please see:

AEJ plugs into reaction in Europe (European Parliament seminar with AEJ) March 2017
As the UK government was launching its exit from the European Union, the AEJ plugged into a chorus of discordant voices at the European Parliament in Brussels. AEJ journalists met with MEPs from all parts of Europe and all the political groups for 2 days of lively debates in the run-up to the UK’s delivery of its `Brexit letter’ on March 29 2017. The event took place as the EU sailed into unknown territory beyond its 60th birthday and the UK prepares its own lifeboat to disembark from the mother ship. AEJ UK chairman William Horsley has this detailed report on a range of European voices.
And AEJ UK member Tony Robinson has these “personal musings” on the EU and its future after his participation in the European Parliament seminar with AEJ journalists from across Europe.

The French election… (Dominic Moisi) April 2017
was a recipe for uncertainty even just 2 weeks before the vote said political scientist and columnist Dominique Moisi. He said the presidential election was the most unpredictable and most important that he could remember in a lifetime of observing and analysing French politics and international affairs. At the AEJ UK on 6 April 2017, Moisi said that if Brexit is likely to damage the EU then a victory for Marine le Pen and her far-right Front National would be far worse. For more on Moisi’s outline of the French election campaign please see this report from AEJ member Quentin Peel, this audio transcript of Moisi’s presentation and following questions and answers, and Moisi’s own recent article.


Brexit and globalisation (Jim O’Neill) March 2017
Donald Trump’s advisers are “stuck in the dark ages” and the UK government of Theresa May has yet to “get real” about Brexit says the man dubbed the high priest of globalisation. Jim O’Neill is the former chief economist of Goldman Sachs who coined the term BRICs in 2001 for the rising economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China; a former Treasury minister in David Cameron’s Conservative government; and one of the world’s pre-eminent proponents of globalisation. He says the populist politics of Brexit and Donald Trump are hostile to further growth and out of sync with world economic trends. Despite much of the political rhetoric surrounding both Trump and Brexit – and from other political leaders – he says world economic growth is not slowing, noting that in this decade it is in line with performance in the 1980s and 1990 and “not as weak as often perceived” by western leaders. For more on his nuanced and informed briefing to the AEJ UK on March 13 2017 please see this report on the meeting from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman; and here for an audio transcript of Lord O’Neill’s remarks and following questions and answers. And for more of his comments on Brexit see this report on Politico.
On the wider issue of globalisation, Lord O’Neill of Gatley has recently been arguing in articles and on a BBC radio series for a re-examination and urging business leaders to address issues which have left vast numbers of industrial workers and regions in the western world reeling and disaffected.

Brexit and cultural revolution (Vernon Bogdanor) February 2017
One of Britain’s foremost constitutional experts says last year’s referendum vote for Brexit shows that Britain is a totally different country from its continental neighbours. At a meeting of the AEJ UK on Feb.15 2017 Vernon Bogdanor, a historian and constitutional adviser to a number of governments around the world, explained the vote as the result of a long-simmering cultural revolt. In a wide ranging interpretation of the Brexit vote and its ramifications Prof. Bogdanor also said that it endangers stability in Northern Ireland; Leave voters are likely to suffer most from the consequences of Brexit; current political leaders in England are deceived about the deal they can reach; and there is still a possibility that the Brexit process can be aborted. For more on this meeting please see this report from AEJ UK Chairman William Horsley. Prof. Bogdanor is research professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History at King’s College London, and former professor of government at Oxford University and senior tutor and vice-principal at Brasenose College. He was awarded a CBE for services to constitutional history in 1998 and is a Fellow of the British Academy.


Scottish Brexit (Alex Salmond) November 2016
Alex Salmond and two of his Scottish National Party MPs provided a preview of SNP plans on Brexit as they treated us to one of the more memorable meetings of 2016 on Nov. 29. While the former First Minister of Scotland  was trapped in a broken-down Heathrow Express and running late, his two MPs – Stephen Gethins and Tasmina Ahmed-Shah – valiantly tried for 45 minutes to answer a barrage of questions about their plans for dealing with Brexit. When Salmond arrived he brought both calm and some clear answers on SNP strategy: a desire to stay in the EU, retention of  trading and economic relationships in Europe, and as necessary a referendum on independence for Scotland. His clarity came weeks ahead of the official SNP blueprint released on Dec. 20 by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, setting out in detail how the SNP believes the Scottish vote on the EU in/out referendum should be respected.  For more on this enlightening – and entertaining – meeting  please see these notes from AEJ members David Lennon and Rick Thompson.


Brexit dominates AEJ congress  (AEJ) November 2016
Perhaps unsurprisingly the issue of Brexit was on every delegate’s mind and their lips at the AEJ’s 2016 Congress in Kilkenny in southeastern Ireland on 4 –6 November – and in reporting of the event. The congress debated Brexit and the rise of demagoguery, the threat to journalism in a brave new media world, and talk of a so-called `post-truth era’, under the overall theme of `The changing face of Europe and its media. William Horsley, AEJ Vice President and Media Freedom Representative, has this account of the highly charged discussions.
Press coverage focussed on Brexit at the AEJ meeting can be found here:

Stephen Collins Irish Times

Miriam Lord Irish Times

Colm Kelpie and Cormac McQuinn The Independent

Also here and in these three articles from the Austria Press Agency were written by Thomas Karabaczek, president of the Austrian section, and quoted in Austrian dailies (edited translation via Google).
On another subject discussed at the Kilkenny congress see this article by Bruce Clark in The Economist on threats to media freedom in the Balkans.


Former prime minister of Finland and EU insider on Brexit (Alexander Stubb) September 2016
Alexander Stubb told another packed AEJ-UK meeting he believes Brexit is lose-lose for both the UK and the rest of the EU. And to avoid further damage the former finance minister and leader of Finland’s centre-right National Coalition Party has his own blueprint for a “soft Brexit”. William Horsley made these notes on his ideas discussed on 19 Sept 2016. Before stepping down as finance minister and party leader, Stubb served Finland as trade and Europe Minister, foreign minister, MEP and adviser to EU Commission President Romano Prodi.


Retired senior UK civil servant and trade negotiator on Brexit (Sir Simon Fraser) September 2016
Sir Simon Fraser, former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, provided an insider’s view of Brexit at one of the largest AEJ-UK meetings in recent years. The 5 Sept. 2016 lunch meeting was packed with members and invited foreign correspondents to hear and question Sir Simon on the details, complications and issues involved in the upcoming process of UK extraction from the European Union. For more on this meeting please see this blog by AEJ member Jonathan Fryer and this report by BBC News. Sir Simon retired in July 2015 after a long career with the FCO including secondment to the European Commission; he is now managing partner at business consultancy Flint Global.


French Minister Axelle Lemaire on Brexit – July 2016
A French government minister provided the AEJ UK with a stark and critical assessment of the UK referendum campaign, the UK government’s post-vote strategy, and future prospects for both the UK and the rest of Europe.
Axelle Lemaire, Minister for Digital Affairs in the French Ministry for the Economy and Industry since April 2014, spoke in July 2016 at the AEJ UK’s first meeting since the referendum vote in which the British public voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU.
UK chairman William Horsley made these notes of an animated and informative exchange on July 14, Bastille Day, 2016.