Tag: #Brexit

Article 50 triggered – but is a Brexit deal really possible in two years?

The phony war phase of Brexit is brought to an end by the UK government’s decision to formally submit its request to leave the European Union. After a protracted period of speculation, now begins the two-year formal countdown for Britain to depart from the EU.

But the question of whether Brexit will be completed in an orderly fashion within that timeframe will be determined between now and the summer.

Three key objectives will need to be realized by then. First, the divorce settlement. This is the outline of the exit agreement on what the UK owes the EU in funding commitments and otherwise. Then the two sides will need to agree on the contours of their trade and immigration relationship. The UK wants to leave the EU’s single market and customs union and strike a comprehensive free trade and investment agreement instead. Both sides need to agree on that, as well as how immigration is going to work in the future.

There will need to be a deal on the principle of a transition agreement. This is to cover the period of time between the end of the two-year negotiation and any successor agreement coming into force. This is to avoid any disconnection (a cliff-edge Brexit) between the current membership relationship and whatever comes next.

Ticking clock

Realistically, a full Brexit agreement cannot be reached by March 2019 but its broad principles will need to be determined before the UK’s EU exit to allow for clarity on what will need to be covered in a transition agreement. Reaching a consensus between the UK and the EU on what should be included in the exit, successor and transition agreements by the summer of 2017 would allow for a substantive period of negotiations (and the ratification of exit and transition agreements) by the end of the two-year period covered under the provisions of Article 50.

But this is unlikely to happen either. This is due to the different political and economic forces at work on both sides. The UK government will approach the negotiations from a much more settled political and economic condition than the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May leads a party and government which is now overwhelmingly committed to Brexit. For the foreseeable future, she faces no serious parliamentary, party, public opinion or electoral threat to her commitment to see through on her plans.

In contrast, the EU faces a period of uncertainty in political leadership. Elections loom in France, Germany, and Ireland. More problematically, substantive disagreements exist between the member states over the future goals of the EU project – and especially whether they should loosen or deepen their integration. A lack of a settled consensus among the member states on the future shape of the EU will significantly affect their ability to agree on what they, as a group, want their relationship with the UK to be in the future.

They do agree, however, that the divorce settlement is a priority. They’ve made this clear through very public statements about the UK’s outstanding financial commitments to the EU, even before Article 50 was triggered.

The UK, though, looks to be hardening its negotiating stance on the divorce settlement. The continuing absence of a “Brexit shock” to the economy has provided a political morale booster by creating the sense that the UK can weather the economic consequences of EU departure. An extended period of megaphone diplomacy over UK debts to the EU will make the political climate for consensus on both sides for the outlines of the exit, transition and successor agreements impossible.

In the absence of agreement by the summer of 2017 on the broad objectives for the two-year Article 50 timetable the negotiations will settle into a condition of “muddling through”. Work will continue on the technical and legal aspects of Brexit but the significant questions about the shape of the future EU-UK relationship will remain undecided after 2019. The UK is due to have a general election in 2020 – and its future relationship with the EU could be a key issue.

Richard Whitman, Director of the Global Europe Centre, University of Kent and Senior Visiting Fellow, Chatham House, University of Kent

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scotland heads towards a second independence referendum

The seemingly inevitable prospect of a second referendum on independence was finally confirmed in a speech by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. The Scottish government will begin preparing for a referendum sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, as Brexit negotiations unfold.

A second referendum became likely the moment the result of the EU referendum was confirmed. The devolution settlement that has endured since 1999 was always going to be put under considerable strain when Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, while the UK as a whole voted to leave.

In her speech, Sturgeon was at pains to point to out that, despite attempting to engage and persuade, the UK government had more or less dismissed her appeals for Scotland to be allowed to stay in the European single market after Brexit. Such a prospect was never likely anyway, but the incorrigible nature of the UK government’s position on the matter has, according to Sturgeon, left the Scottish government with no choice.

From the point of view of the Scottish government, a referendum on independence should now be held towards the end of the Brexit negotiations. That would, it is suggested, give the people of Scotland the chance to weigh up their options with the maximum amount of information available before the UK actually leaves the EU.

Sturgeon said she will ask the UK government to push a section 30 order, which would hand Scotland the right to hold a referendum. There is clear precedent for this: the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, which set out the broad terms of the 2014 referendum, preceded the official approval of the section 30 order in February 2013.

There is nothing to suggest that the technical process of holding a second referendum will be any different this time around. Politically, there may well be some stumbling blocks – though it would be counterproductive for the UK government to block a referendum entirely.

The UK government was accused last time of giving the Scottish administration carte blanche to decide when the referendum would be held and set the question on the ballot. That said, wise counsel would suggest too much interference in the second referendum could simply boost support for independence.

Is everyone ready?

When it comes to campaigning, the pro-independence movement is in a far healthier position than its opponent. Some elements have never ceased activity. Groups such as Common Weal and Women for Independence are still very active campaign organizations. The new media scene has also grown since 2014, with outlets such as CommonSpace now playing a key role in Scotland’s media landscape. It won’t take long for the pro-independence movement to return to full capacity again.

The pro-UK side, however, is in a different situation. Scottish Labour was badly tarnished by its role in Better Together, the campaign that was on the winning side in 2014. Since then, Scottish Labour has been absolutely decimated as a political force in Scotland and its poll ratings ahead of local elections in May are abysmal. Better Together Mk.II has some serious thinking to do about how to organize and who to select as its figurehead.

The polls have shown a slight increase towards Yes since the last referendum. However, the latest poll of polls still puts No in the lead with about 52%. That’s well within the margin of statistical error, so for all intents and purposes, the current state of play is neck-and-neck. This is very encouraging for the pro-independence movement since it started from a much lower base last time around. However, it remains to be seen if it can persuade enough women and older voters to back independence – two groups that voted No in 2014.

What’s changed?

The Brexit vote has transformed the independence debate in a number of ways. Whereas staying part of the UK was framed as the safe, stable choice last time around, the same can no longer be said with any real conviction. The decision to leave the EU has triggered all kinds of uncertainties and unknowns.

On the other hand, there are still serious questions around the fiscal and economic case for independence. The drop in the price of oil and the subsequent collapse in revenues to an estimated £60m as a result has left Scotland with a very high estimated fiscal deficit, were it independent today, of over 10%, compared to the UK’s fiscal deficit of 4%. The Scottish economy has also been significantly lagging behind the UK economy for quite some time. Any vote for independence would require serious and stark choices to be made on public expenditure in Scotland.

What’s more, the Scottish government will have to make plans for the future of its currency in the event of independence. Assuming it wants to remain a member of the EU, Scotland will have to sign up to the EU’s exchange rate mechanism in anticipation of the adoption of the euro. In the meantime, it would probably have to adopt its own currency and set up its own central bank. That process is perfectly possible but would probably have significant implications for the country’s credit rating when borrowing funds on international markets.

What to expect now

Last time, there was an official campaign period in the run up to the referendum. In reality, however, the campaign started a couple of years before that. Whatever your constitutional preferences, Scotland is back in campaign mode and the referendum to come will unquestionably dominate public life once again.

Meanwhile, the Brexit process will occur simultaneously. The future is therefore extremely uncertain, although once the Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the EU get properly underway there may be greater clarity as to what sort of impact that is having on opinion in Scotland.

Craig McAngus, Lecturer in Politics, University of Aberdeen

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

To tackle the post-truth world, science must reform itself

Before Brexit and the US elections, Nature magazine columnist Colin Macilwain set out a challenge: “If Donald Trump were to trigger a crisis in Western democracy, scientists would need to look at their part in its downfall.”

Now Trump has become president, the possibility of crisis is real, including the spectre of a “Twitter ban” for scientists. So what of scientific introspection?

Macilwain argues that the scientific elite is inextricably linked to the centrist, free-market political establishment. In their continuous pursuit of funding, scientists reinforce the ruling nexus of politics and finance, oblivious to the evident cracks in the system.

We share Macilwain’s diagnosis, and note that the scientific community seems set to avoid a much-needed soul-searching about its responsibility in the twin crises of science and democracy, escaping introspection by using denial, dismissal, diversion and displacement.

These tactics need to be understood in order to address the current crisis and its potential solutions.

Denial and dismissal

Denial goes something like this: “There is no crisis in science. And if there is one, it does not impact the social role of science, including informing policy.”

International organizations studying the production and delivery of science, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO seem to adopt this position, discussing scientific advice without admitting the problems in the science that underpins it.

Alternatively, researchers and policy-makers could acknowledge the existence of a problem but dismiss it as something to be treated with topical remedies. For example, one recent analysis shows how bad incentives drive off good science by sustaining a state of affairs that systematically encourages malpractice.

But responses from the field seem to conceive of the problem as one that requires only a refined technical solution from within the scientific establishment, not fundamental reforms.

Even a recent manifesto for reproducible science, which lists measures to improve key elements of the scientific process including methods, reporting and dissemination, reproducibility, evaluation and incentives, aims only to make science more efficient.

We argue that the present scientific crisis emerges, in part, from uncritically applying to science a mainstream economics concept of efficiency, unavoidably associated with measurements and metrics, when metrics are seen instead by many as part of the problem.

Diversion and displacement

Diversion is another way to avoid addressing the current problems with science.

This stance can be summarized as, “There is a problem, and this is due to an ongoing war on science between the educated liberal left and the ignorant conservative right.” It has been realized by the election of Donald Trump.

Because science is under threat, then, it holds that scientists should close ranks and reject criticism, as they have done in the past when faced with postmodern critiques.

This position feeds onto a persistent Cult of Science, portraying science as the master narrative to adjudicate on the full range of human and societal affairs, and scientists as a nobler domain of humanity.

But in doing so, scientists risk being perceived as just another interest group. Indeed, the public is increasingly wary about trusting scientists to be objective, and scientists would be wise to reflect on the nature of their activism.

Last but not least, displacement is perhaps the most widespread response, judging by the insistent claims about the onset of the post-truth era. This position implies that before Brexit and President Trump, we were living in a world where truth was commonplace in policy and politics.

Scientists accuse the public of incompetence on scientific matters such as vaccines and climate change. And Donald Trump fuels these fires by flirting with known vaccine bashers and shutting down the climate pages on government websites.

In this view, the world would be a better place if only the lay public and politicians better understood science.

But it is important when analyzing the vaccine saga – or the ease with which conspiracy theories catch on – to consider the relations between the pharmaceutical industry and regulators, feeding on a series of documented instances of corrupted science, and ruthless industrial pressure.

The mistakes of the lay public should not be taken as an excuse to overlook science’s own faults. Let us not forget the parallel cases of Love Canal in the 1970s, and Flint, Michigan and Washington, DC today, where the same script seems to repeat itself, with residents having to rely on their own scientists to expose the truth.

What went wrong with science?

In one recent analysis, we suggest that science is in crisis because of contradictions between the practice and structure of science, and its public image and social roles.

In his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Science, Derek de Solla Price described how the small-scale, single-project research activities that characterized most scientific work in through the mid-20th century shifted dramatically to big science after the second world war. This resulted from the impressive growth in the scientific production and workforce, and was characterized by large projects requiring advanced technologies.

De Solla Price speculated that this current context might one day lead to a senility of science.

Our analysis – which owes to earlier works by philosopher Jerome Ravetz – follows on to argue that the sheer scale of science today is destroying the disciplinary peer communities of little science and demanding objective metrics of quality, which encourage perverse incentives and are subject to corruption.

No quantitative and formalized system of quality control can replace the old, informal system. Instead, resolution will require people and institutions beyond the scientific system.

For political scientist Dan Sarewitz, the degradation of science is also due to its engagement in what he calls a “trans-scientific” endeavor, meaning a problem that can be expressed scientifically but is not amenable to a scientific solution via existing scientific means.

Obesity, for example, seems to be a scientifically soluble problem only if we neglect the extremely complex chain of possible causes which could contribute to the condition.

Sarewitz argues that the miracles of modernity came not from “the free play of free intellects but from the leashing of scientific creativity to the technological needs of the US Department of Defense.”

From this perspective, the ongoing problems with reproducibility in scientific experiments result from researchers choosing to study trans-scientific issues to maximize their funding and publication metrics. Even though science is better, for Sarewitz, when constrained by clear mandates and control, for example, at the service of a market-driven technological development.

Still, the idea that “market” and “innovation” keep science clean begs the question of who keeps market and innovation clean?

What should be done?

Though science is often put at odds with religion, there share similarities in that both function as worldviews. And despite their existential crises, religion and science remain a source of hope for many.

For this reason, it is perhaps not far-fetched to look at the crisis of the church to gain insights for the scientific field.

Martin Luther started his Protestant Reformation in an outraged reaction to generalized corruption – economic and intellectual – within the church. Monk John Tetzel, who was selling indulgences (a remission to the amount of punishment a sinner has to undergo after death) in Germany around 1517, was an example of such corruption.

Today’s science crisis also reveals how the combination of corruption, rage and new technology can mobilize major social change.

Reconstructing science would require a broad democratic constituency, including humanists, technologists and citizen activists, as well as scientists, investigative journalists and whistle blowers.

At the moment, however, creating a blueprint for such a reformation seems delusional: we live in an age of increasing fragmentation, not inclusion.

We must be able to question the idol of objective truth without being accused of postmodern relativism. We must also critically view the co-evolution of science and power that Macilwain alludes to.

Any worldview shift today, scientific or otherwise, must also reconsider the present economic paradigm.

Science in society

None of these structural changes is easy to achieve, of course. So what we suggest, while conditions for this global critique ripen, is that science is at its best when it is explicitly embedded in society, enhancing knowledge rights to an extended peer community.

Taking cases of environmental degradation such as Love Canal or Flint discussed above, it is clear that corrupt administrations, operators and regulators, with their own science, may concur to produce disasters.

Here an extended peer community of concerned citizens and willing scientists can identify the problem and its possible solutions.

Citizens have the right to engage with ideological and political debates about science and question the governance processes that produced these failures. Instead, right now, they’re just being called to defend science from its purported enemies.

The Conversation

Andrea Saltelli-Adjunct professor, University of Bergen and Silvio Oscar Funtowicz, Adjunct Professor Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen


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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2016, the year that was: Politics and Society

If you had the feeling that global politics in 2016 operated on something of a fault line, you’re not alone. Month after month, the world was rocked by unexpected yet momentous events: terror attacks in Nice and Brussels, Brexit and the rise of Trump, to name just a few.

Here in Australia, our federal election on July 2 seemed fairly tame by comparison, despite the fact that it took more than a week for the result to be known (even then, we didn’t know if it would be a minority or majority government).

There was, too, the unmistakable irony of going to a double-dissolution election because of a fractured and unwieldy Senate, only to find ourselves after the election with a razor-thin majority government and a fractured and unwieldy Senate.

Before all of that, the relatively new Turnbull government was having trouble passing its industrial relations laws, the rejection of which by the Senate was the ostensible reason for the double-dissolution election. Part of this reflected the changing nature of trade unions, which we covered in a series in April.

It wasn’t until December that the government finally negotiated the passage of the enabling bill for the Australian Building and Corruption Commission (ABCC), by which time, judging by the response, few Australians seemed to care.

Tale of two Australias

One of the most striking aspects of the federal election result was the extent to which, as Dennis Altman wrote, the “rusted on” vote has diminished. This reflects, albeit in a more understated way, the seismic political shifts happening elsewhere in the world: the shift away from establishment parties and institutions; the boom of right-wing populism.

In Australia, this was reflected by the rise of the “micro” parties at the expense, particularly of the two major parties. One Nation and Pauline Hanson returned seemingly stronger than ever; the moderate populist line offered by the Nick Xenophon team also appealed. Jacqui Lambie, Bob Katter and Cathy McGowan were returned to parliament while the “Human Headline”, Derryn Hinch, joined the Senate.

Since the election, the micro parties and independents have provided much of parliament’s color – One Nation has already split with controversial Senator Rod Culleton, while Family First’s Bob Day quit after his business collapsed.

Political donations continue to be in the spotlight, with calls for more transparency on exactly what donors expect – and are given – their generous support.

We can only hope for a calmer and more constructive parliament in 2017. We’re unlikely to get it, of course, but we can hope.

Take a jump to the left? No, a huge step to the right

Our seemingly endless election campaign was sandwiched between two cataclysmic and unexpected politic events.

The first was the stunning success of the Brexit campaign, led by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, which was not predicted when Britons went to vote in the referendum. The result caused British Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, and Theresa May to become the UK’s second female prime minister.

The Brexit result left many pundits wondering how they didn’t see it coming. But if that was a surprise, it was nothing alongside the November 8 election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, so sure were so many that Hillary Clinton would become the first woman elected to what is still arguably the most powerful job in the world. She had, after all, performed clinically in the three televised debates, while Trump seemed to stumble from one disaster to another, all the while using the media to his advantage – even though the media were largely critical of him.

Trump’s election caused – and continues to cause – a great deal of consternation, with worries about how he will handle the Asian region, immigration, and the economy among a host of other issues. His presidency promises one thing for sure: it will not be dull.

Tale of two Australias, part two: gay marriage, safe schools and free speech

Politics and policy are often slow to catch up with social change. With that in mind, and with the legalization on gay marriage poised to go to a plebiscite under a returned Coalition government, we launched a series in May looking at just how the family has changed.

Still, after heated debate and canvassing both the pros and cons of a plebiscite, the notion was eventually rolled by the Senate out of fears of the damage a public campaign could do young LGBTI people and their families.

The same-sex marriage debate has embedded in it a question of freedom of speech, which had a nexus with another passionately contested, and still unresolved, debate: whether Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should be changed. So hotly debated was it that we published a series on the politics of free speech in September.

Led by powerful conservative voices within the government such as Senator Cory Bernardi, you can expect to hear plenty more about freedom of speech, and in particular 18C, in the year ahead.

That wasn’t the only issue that was exercising Bernardi and other conservatives such as George Christensen. The Safe Schools Coalition, and the sex ed program it offers in Australian schools, became one of the most fiercely contested issues inside the parliament and in society more broadly. Of most concern seemed to be discussing issues of gender identity and fluidity with schoolchildren – an issue on which research is often cast aside in favor of ideology. Again, there is little doubt that this debate will be revisited in the coming year.

The nation was shocked in July after the airing of a Four Corners program detailing the abuse of children at the Don Dale facility in the Northern Territory. The shocking footage immediately prompted the prime minister to announce a royal commission, as our authors unpacked the nature of torture, the failure of the state to care for prisoners – especially the very young – and why so many Indigenous children are incarcerated in the first place.

Islamic State falters in Iraq and Syria, and terror hits Europe

What may have initially looked like an accident: a truck plowing into a crowd of people in the French city of Nice, was soon revealed to be an act of terrorism.

This followed the Brussels bombing in March, for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Then, in December, a truck plowed into a Christmas market in Berlin, in an attack eerily similar to the one in Nice, boding ill for the year ahead and the ongoing threat of terror.

Meanwhile, the cities of Mosul and Aleppo will be forever etched in our minds, for the worst possible reasons. Even though IS is on the back foot in both cities, their futures, and those of their citizens, remain uncertain.

There is no sign this will end anytime soon.

Hot in the cities

Closer to home, throughout 2016 we explored how our cities are responding to challenges such as climate change and the pressures of simultaneous urban expansion and densification on resources, urban infrastructure, and services, including the humble public toilet.

Most competing “global cities” aspire to be more resilient, sustainable and liveable. Yet the problems of unaffordable housing and transport congestion seem a world away from the technology-driven promise of smart cities. Questions of grossly unequal access, opportunity, wealth and wellbeing across cities continued to occupy our authors.

In seeking answers to these questions, we considered how more coherent, inclusive and democratic urban policymaking might help make city life better for all.

What will the new year hold?

After all that happened in 2016, 2017 will have to be a quieter, gentler year, right? Well, let’s just put it this way: one of the first major international political events on the 2017 calendar is the January 20 inauguration of the next president of the United States and avid tweeter, Donald Trump.

Happy new year.

The Conversation

Amanda Dunn, Editor, The Conversation; John Watson, Editor, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation


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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump trolls, Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement: The internet meets politics

We blame the internet for a lot of things, and now the list has grown to include our politics. In a turbulent year marked by the U.K.‘s decision to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, some have started to wonder to what extent the recent events have to do with the technology that most defines our age.

In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, commentators accused Facebook of being indirectly responsible for his election. Specifically, they point to the role of social media in spreading virulent political propaganda and fake news. The internet has been increasingly presented as a possible cause for the post-truth culture that allegedly characterizes contemporary democracies.

These reactions are a reminder that new technologies often stimulate both hopes and fears about their impact on society and culture. The internet has been seen as both the harbinger of political participation and the main culprit for the decline of democracy. The network of networks is now more than a mere vehicle of political communication: It has become a powerful rhetorical symbol people are using to achieve political goals.

This is currently visible in Europe, where movements such as the Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement, which we have studied, build their political messages around the internet. To them, the internet is a catalyst for radical and democratic change that channels growing dissatisfaction with traditional political parties.

Web utopias and dystopias

The emergence of political enthusiasm for the internet owes much to U.S. culture in the 1990s. Internet connectivity was spreading from universities and corporations to an increasingly large portion of the population. During the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore made the “Information Superhighway” a flagship concept. He linked the development of a high-speed digital telecommunication network to a new era of enlightened market democracy.

The enthusiasm for information technology and free-market economics spread from Silicon Valley and was dubbed Californian Ideology. It inspired a generation of digital entrepreneurs, technologists, politicians and activists in Silicon Valley and beyond. The 2000 dot-com crash only temporarily curbed the hype.

In the 2000s, the rise of sharing platforms and social media – often labeled as “Web 2.0” – supported the idea of a new era of increased participation of common citizens in the production of cultural content, software development, and even political revolutions against authoritarian regimes.

The promise of the unrestrained flow of information also engendered deep fears. In 1990s, the web was already seen by critics as a vehicle for poor-quality information, hate speech, and extreme pornography. We knew then that the Information Superhighway’s dark side was worryingly difficult to regulate.

Paradoxically, the promise of decentralization has resulted in few massive advertising empires like Facebook and Google, employing sophisticated mass surveillance techniques. Web-based companies like Uber and Airbnb bring new efficient services to millions of customers but are also seen as potential monopolists that threaten local economies and squeeze profits out of impoverished communities.

The public’s views on digital media are rapidly shifting. In less than 10 years, the stories we tell about the internet have moved from praising its democratic potential to imagining it as a dangerous source of extreme politics, polarized echo chambers and a hive of misogynist and racist trolls.

Cyber-optimism in Europe

While cyber-utopian views have lost appeal in the U.S., the idea of the internet as a promise of radical reorganization of society has survived. In fact, it has become a defining element of political movements that thrive in Western Europe.

In Italy, an anti-establishment party known as the Five Star Movement became the second most-voted for party in Italy in the 2013 national elections. According to some polls, it might soon even win general elections in Italy.


-Lecturer in Geographic Information Science, Birkbeck, University of London

-Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies, Loughborough University

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.