General Elections in the UK are strictly regulated. For example, there are restrictions on spending, with each campaign able to spend a limited amount depending on the number of candidates they are putting forward. These rules and regulations are set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) and are monitored and enforced by the Electoral Commission, an independent body that exists to ensure elections are transparent and fair.
Another important part of the election process in the UK is the existence of a period of Purdah. This means that during the official election campaign (which by law must last for at least six weeks) certain rules are put in place to ensure the Government is not able to take advantage of its incumbency. For example:
⁃ The Government are expected not to enact any new initiatives that might well be considered to be of political benefit to them.
⁃ Public funds cannot be used for any form of political campaigning.
⁃ Civil Servants must not answer questions about the potential implementation of party manifestos.
⁃ The Civil Service (who are required to be politically impartial anyway) monitor and ensure they Purdah is enforced throughout the different Government departments.
Civil Servants, like Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, are expected to enforce Purdah across the Government.
Last week the Government announced that the Benefits Freeze (the freeze on the amount paid for different welfare claimants) would end in 2020. Announcing this clearly may have a positive influence on the electoral prospects of the Conservatives. It is a good example, therefore, of something that could not have been announced after the 6th November when
Purdah does not end automatically following an election, instead it ends when a Government is formed. This is important in the event of there being a ‘hung parliament’ and different parties considering options for coalition. This was evident in 2010 when the Conservatives were the largest party but did not have a majority. Gordon Brown therefore remained a temporary Prime Minister until a Government could be formed. Insiders to the Brown camp after the 2010 election describe him as being desperate to do something proactive, but being reminded by the Civil Service of his responsibilities under Purdah. On this occasion, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat’s agreed a Coalition Agreement and ended up in Coalition Government for five years.
This post was kindly submitted by a Sixth-Form Student at St. George’s College, Weybridge.
US trade policy in the Trump era is defined by one word: protectionism. Essentially, this ideology argues against free trade and, to a larger extent, globalism. It is the trade aspect of his all-round America First approach. In practice, it is the economic policy of restricting imports from other countries through methods such as tariffs. In the US, protectionism has taken the form of tariffs against China. However, before Trump picked a fight with China, he had a bigger enemy – Mexico.
While campaigning in 2015 and 2016, a common phrase heard from Trump was ‘Mexico is taking our jobs!’ This is how his protectionism was formed. His base is largely made up of white, working class men in exurban areas who had lost their jobs as companies moved to countries with cheaper labour or began to automate. So Trump fought against the loss of American jobs more than any traditional, free-market Republican. That’s not to say he wasn’t thinking about China before his presidency, but his was focus was on jobs and not trade.
After becoming the President, one of Trump’s goals was to renegotiate NAFTA, and end the large trade deficits that the US has been running for so many years. A businessman at heart, not a politician or economist, he saw these deficits as losing. There is a logic to this – running a deficit means you are buying more from a country than selling to them, which in turn means they are getting more money from you than you are getting from them. His other complaints of China were accusations of intellectual property, and earlier this year, the administration officially named them a currency manipulator. So in March 2018, Trump laid the first set of tariffs on China, in an attempt to rebalance. The tariffs were 25% on $50billion dollars of Chinese goods, mostly on steel and aluminum. China consequently announced tariffs on approximately the same value of goods. They have been increasing the tariffs ever since, while remaining in negotiations.
The most interesting aspect of Trump’s protectionism is how badly it fits with most right-wing ideology. When farmers in Middle America were suffering badly due to tariffs on their soybeans, the Trump administration gave them $100bn in aid. Essentially, this is government bailout due to failed market intervention – two things that Republicans never traditionally support. The ‘America First’ philosophy has inverted the traditional debates. Whereas Democrats used to be wary of free-trade, eager to protect blue-collar jobs, Republicans lived by it, preaching the invisible hand of the market would produce the outcome.
On an international scale, the trade war has led to widespread fears of a global economic slowdown in the next two years among economists. The rest of the world is fearful of Trump’s tactics but wary to get involved. At this year’s G7 summit, the European Council President Donald Tusk said “trade wars will lead to recession.” The fact that most tariffs are on basic goods (steel, aluminum, etc.) means that the world’s whole manufacturing sector is struggling as a result of the higher prices. Germany, a manufacturing-based economy, is already in a recession.
In the first week of October 2019, Trump has also added $6 billion worth of tariffs onto the EU, mostly as a response to the large subsidies that the EU gives Airbus, Boeing’s competitor. The Brussels-based EU executive consequently proposed tariffs worth £15 billion on US goods. This new fight is creating tensions between the EU and US. France urged the EU to respond ‘firmly’ against the US if the tariffs come into force in the coming weeks. Juncker, the European Commission’s president, said: ‘Trade wars are easy to start but escalate quickly and usually end badly. Whoever starts a trade war will end badly in his own camp. Europe will always defend free and fair trade, based on a level-playing field and reciprocity.’ This additional tension will undoubtedly continue to build, and could lead to long-lasting damage to the EU-US relationship. It is unclear on the impact that this could have on Britain’s own special relationship with the US.
The Middle-East is dominated by two regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
On the face of it, the two states are not dissimilar. Both are Islamic theocracies where Islamic teaching is fundamental to all aspects of government and wider life. Both are also authoritarian states where there is little political opposition to the government. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and has been governed by the House of Saud since 1932. Iran is led by the Supreme Leader, currently Ali Khamenei, who the main institutions of the state, such as the Armed Forces, are directly subject to.
In addition, both countries have enormous economic potential, largely due to their oil reserves. Today, there are estimated to be 268 billion barrels of oil in Saudi Arabia and Iran is estimated to have around 158 Billion barrels.
However, there are clear dissimilarities too. Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni state, with up to 85% of the population being Sunni. Iran, however, is a predominantly Shia state, with 95% of the population identifying as Shia.
The Saudi’s had always claimed to be the leaders of the Muslim world. Notably, because both Medina (the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad) and Mecca (the holy city of Islam) are within its borders. However, at the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country has claimed to be the true beholder of the Muslim Faith.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have actively sought to extend their influence in the Middle-East. Iran and Saudi Arabia have never gone to war with each other. Instead, they have supported different sides during the various wars that have taken place in the Middle-East. This is known as fighting a ‘war by proxy’. For example, in two prominent wars taking place in the Middle East at present they support opposing sides:
Yemen – A Civil War has been ongoing since 2015 between the Yemeni Government and Houthi Rebels. The Yemeni Government is supported by a Saudi-led coalition. Iran supports the Houthi rebels. The conflict is further deepened by the presence of terror groups in the region, including Al-Qaeda and ISIL.
Syria – The Syrian Civil War has taken place since march 2011. The Government forces of President Assad are supported by Iran, whilst the Syrian rebels are supported by Saudi Arabia.
Both sides want to ensure their influence in the region and support the sides that they do in order to do this. This was the same process that American and the Soviet Union engaged in during the Cold War, not directly engaging each other militarily, but supporting different sides in conflicts (like the Korean War) in order to preserve and extend their influence in the region.
The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is complicated by the involvement of the world’s major powers in the region. Since 1951 the United States of America and Saudi Arabia have been actively allied on many fronts. The USA has traditionally sort influence in the Middle East to protect oil exports, a decline of which could seriously damage the global economy. The US supplies military hardware to Saudi Arabia. In 2017 Saudi Arabia and the USA signed an arms deal that would see the US sell $350 Billion Dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia over the course of a decade. In addition, the US retains active military basis in the country, with around 5,000 US military personnel based there.
Saudi Arabia also have close relationships with other western countries. The UK’s largest ever arms trade deal is with Saudi Arabia. Most recently, the UK have sold 72 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia. This was heavily criticised by the Labour and Green Party who criticised the decision of the government to sell arms to a country with an extremely questionable record on Human Rights.
The close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia is not mirrored in the US relationship with Iran. Since 1980 the US and Iran have had diplomatic relationship and the US have imposed a trade embargo on Iran since 1995. In 2015, relations appeared to be getting better when Barack Obama’s government negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran that guaranteed that the US would lift sanctions when Iran dismantled its nuclear facilities. However, in 2018 the Trump Government reimposed sanctions, something he had promised right from the start of his presidential campaign.
However, Iran is supported by two major powers – Russia and China. Since sanctions have been placed on Iran by the West, Russia have provided Iran with a lifeline. Russia have supported the Iranian military, including planes and advanced artillery systems. In addition, the two countries have an extensive trading relationship, including a $20 billion dollar trade deal in 2014.
China have been a key buyer of Iranian Oil for a number of years and Chinese companies have been given drilling rights in Iran.
What has happened recently?
Tensions in the region have ratcheted up greatly in the last week. On Saturday 14th September an attack was mounted on one of Saudi Arabia’s most important oilfields and one owned by the government. The fires that erupted after the attack lasted for many hours and the chaos that it created resulted in a 5% drop in global oil production.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Houthi, a rebel group fighting against Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The attack was carried out using advanced drone technology – this is technology that is almost certain that Iran has supplied.
Iran has denied any responsibility for the attacks. However, Saudi Arabia, in addition to the UK and US have clearly indicated that they believe Iran to be firmly responsible.
Both Britain and the US have suggested taking action against Iran in response to the attacks.
Any direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia would be bloody. Iran has far bigger armed forces, whilst Saudi Arabia, with the support of Britain and the US, have far more modern forces:
It is clear than Iran is seen by many as a force of instability in the region. Saudi Arabia, and its allies, will not shy away from checking the growth of its influence. The significance of the recent attacks should not be understated.
The UK Supreme Court have made a judgement on Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament – and it is not a good one for the Prime Minister.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the UK for both criminal and civil issues. In this role, they uphold the function of Judicial Review, whereby the Supreme Court can consider decisions made by Parliament and the Government and rule whether or not they are Ultra Vires (beyond their power/authority).
Unlike the the US, Britain does not have a codified constitution. Therefore, there is no constitutional framework against which to adjudge parliamentary and executive decisions. In the US, the Supreme Court has found a number of things to be unconstitutional and has been able to strike them down (overturn them). For example, in 2013 a Supreme Court case called Obergefell vs Hodges ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution guaranteed the rights of same-sex couples to marry in the United States. Since then, Same-Sex Marriage has been a protected right across the United States.
In the UK, Parliament is sovereign. This means that although the Supreme Court may find something Ultra Vires, they cannot enforce a change of government policy or reverse a law passed by Parliament. However, a ruling by the Supreme Court is extremely difficult politically for the Government to ignore. This is why, for example, the Government listened to the Supreme Court’s judgement in Miller vs Brexit Secretary.
The case heard at the UK Supreme Court was an amalgamation of appeals for two separate cases, one in Scotland and one in England.
In Scotland, the Court of Session ruled that the prorogation was unlawful. They found that Boris Johnson’s “true reason” for advising the Queen to prorogued Parliament was to limit Parliament’s ability to scrutinise Brexit. They said that because parliamentary scrutiny is essential to upholding democracy and the rule of law, the prorogation was unlawful. The government appealed this case and this has now been heard in the Supreme Court.
England, the High Court dismissed the case led by Gina Miller in ruling that
the decision on whether to prorogue Parliament was a political rather than a
legal decision and therefore the court had no place to make judgment on it.
Gina Miller’s team appealed the case and now, alongside the Scottish case, it
is has been heard in the Supreme Court.
The ruling of the Supreme Court today found that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament had been unlawful. Importantly, they stressed that the motives for the Government’s actions were not central to the issue. They said that the fact that prorogation had stifled parliamentary debate meant that “the effect on the fundamentals of democracy was extreme”. The unanimous judgement given by the court was that:
” The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability to Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification”
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Jon Bercow, immediately announced that he was preparing for a resumption of the parliamentary session on Wednesday 25th September. The Government has said that it is considering their response.
One potential avenue open to the PM appeared to be re-proroguing Parliament. However, the fact that the court have said that it is the action itself, rather than the motive, that is illegal, this appears difficult.
This is the most significant intervention in the political process that the Supreme Court have made since it started sitting in 2009. Miller vs Brexit Secretary was a case about where legal power resided over the triggering of Article 50. This case, however, is directly about the limits of the prerogative powers of the Prime Minister. Its precedential effects on the UK’s unwritten constitution could be significant.
On the 11th September 2001 the world stood still as it watched the unfolding events in the United States of America. Two planes struck the World Trade Centre in New York, the symbol of American capitalism. Another hit the Pentagon, the symbol of American military power around the world. A final plane came down in a field in Pennsylvania while heading for Washington DC and the Capitol Building or the White House, the symbols of American democracy.
The attacks were quickly linked to terrorist group Al-Qaeda, led by Usama Bin Laden, the son of a Saudi billionaire who had close links to the Royal Family. Bin Laden had joined the mujahideen forces fighting the Soviet Union in Pakistan before forming Al-Qaeda in 1988.
Al-Qaeda and Usama Bin Laden had been a known terrorist threat for some time. The group were Islamic Fundamentalists with the stated aim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate and removing western influence from Muslim countries in the Middle East. In 2000 they had orchestrated a suicide attack on the USS Cole that claimed the lives of 15 American Soldiers.
The majority of Al-Qaeda, including Bin Laden, were believed to be in Eastern Afghanistan. Here they were harboured by the Taliban. The Taliban were an Islamic Fundamentalist group who enforce a strict version of Sharia law in any territories they control. By 2001, they controlled over 90% of Afghanistan and formed the de facto government of the country.
In October 2001 America began a military action in Afghanistan to remove both Al-Qaeda the Taliban. American Foreign Policy fundamentally changed as America actively attempted to tackle terrorism across the globe. In a speech in September 2001 George W. Bush declared a ‘war on terror’:
Now, eighteen years later, and after the deaths of over 2,000 US Soldiers and around 110,000 Afghans, it appeared that America was on the verge of making peace with the Taliban. Under the deal, America would remove its remaining troops in return of the Taliban agreeing to disassociate itself with terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda, and actively working to come to a negotiated peace agreement with the official Afghan Government in Kabul.
However, on the 7th September, President Trump dramatically decided to cancel the impending peace agreement. As has become customary from Trump, this big foreign policy decision was announced via Twitter.
The proposed peace agreement was the culmination of over
a years diplomatic work by the American State Department. The decisions to cancel
the talks comes in response to the Taliban admitting the killing of a US
soldier. However, 16 US soldiers have been killed this year and the Taliban had
never agreed to cease their military operations whilst talks were ongoing.
For Trump, the thought of a peace deal that brings home US Troops before the 2020 Presidential Elections is a tempting prospect. However, there is equally a risk that the withdrawal of US Troops will lead to the inter-sectional chaos that has erupted in Iraq. Afghanistan is a largely artificial state, its boundaries were drawn by Mortimer Durand, a British colonial leader, in 1897. It is populated by a variety of ethnic groups, all of which vie for power and influence:
America has completed it stated mission in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has been decimated. Donald Trump has stated many times that he is opposed to foreign interventionism whether it can be avoided. The job left in Afghanistan now is that of nation-building in one of the poorest and least homogeneous geographical territories in the world. The US under Trump will undoubtedly look to leave Afghanistan soon. However, Trump lambasted George W. Bush and Barack Obama for allowing Iraq to turn into a sectarian blood-bath after the US withdrawal, he will not risk doing that in Afghanistan before the 2020 election. America will leave when it is electorally suitable for Trump, not necessarily when it is strategically best for the region.
It is Party Conference season and the first major party to hold their conference have been the Liberal Democrats. The other main party conferences are:
Labour: 21–25 September 2019, Brighton.
Conservatives: 29 September – 2 October 2019, Manchester.
The Liberal Democrat Conference had two particularly significant moments. Firstly, Sam Gyimah MP joined the party.
He follows Sarah Wollaston and Philip Lee joining having been former Conservatives who have moved to the Liberal Democrats.
Gyimah was one of 21 Conservative MPs who had the whip withdrawn for voting against Boris Johnson over a No Deal Brexit. The arrival of Gyimah takes the number of Liberal Democrat MPs up to 18, up from 12 seats at the 2017 General Election.
The Lib Dem’s are on a high. They are polling at around 20% in national opinion polls and now have roughly the same number of grassroots members as the Conservative Party. There are strong rumours that more defections to the party are on the way too.
However, not all Liberal Democrat’s are happy with the influx of ex-conservatives. They point out, for example, that Sam Gyimah has some issues in his voting record that most Liberal Democrat’s would take umbrage with:
He voted against retaining the EU “Charter of Fundamental Rights” as part of EU Law post Brexit
He voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act (1998)
He voted against investigations into the Iraq War
He voted for keeping Britain’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent (Trident)
He voted against guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens and their right to legally reside in the UK after Brexit.
He has voted for the ‘bedroom tax’.
He has voted against measures to combat Climate Change.
In addition, in 2016 he filibustered the so-called Turing Bill that would retrospectively decriminalise individuals who had been found guilty of homosexual acts before they were decriminalised in UK law.
It remains to be seen what effect the influx of ex-Tory members will have on the direction of the Labour Party.
The most significant news to come from the Lib Dem Conference, however, is the change in their Brexit policy which was voted on by members. The Lib Dems are the clearest anti-Brexit party. Since the result of the referendum in 2016, they have consistently campaigned to reverse the Brexit division. They have long supported a Second Referendum (a so-called ‘peoples vote’). However, they now have confirmed at their conference that if they form a government they will support the revocation or Article 50 by Parliament as a means to stop Brexit.
The truth is that the Lib Dems, despite their current polling, are extremely unlikely to win a majority in the next election. Third parties often have the freedom of making manifesto promises that they know they will not have to implement. Making this pledge may be a smart electoral move as an attempt to win over anti-Brexit Labour and, to a less extent, Conservative voters. However, for a party which places liberal notions of democracy at its heart, many will believe it is undemocratic of the Liberal Democrat’s to not even seek to question whether the mandate given by 17.4 million leave voters should be revisited.
It will now be interesting to see how Labour react. Currently, Labour support a Second Referendum, but fall short of placing themselves as a remain party. They may be closer to doing so now that the Liberal Democrat’s have taken such an unequivocal position.
With the Brexit chaos continuing, one extraordinary dialogue taking place in British Politics is whether or not Boris Johnson will carry out the instruction of Parliament to seek an extension to Britain’s departure date from the European Union.
The Rule of Law is a fundamental principle of the UK’s constitution and indeed that of any Liberal Democracy. In Britain, the Rule of Law was codified by Victorian scholar A.C Dicey. One of the most important principles that he codified was that no person is above the law and the law applies equally to everyone.
On 9th September 2019 an act was passed in Parliament which instructs the the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the Brexit deadline from the European Union if Britain and the EU are unable to reach a deal by 19th October. The text of the letter to be sent is included in the bill. It will read:
Dear Mr President,
The UK Parliament has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Its provisions now require Her Majesty’s Government to seek an extension of the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, currently due to expire at 11.00pm GMT on 31 October 2019, until 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020.
I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom is seeking a further extension to the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty. The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end at 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
This Act, and the letter it mandates, is contrary to the Prime Minister’s stated promise to UK citizens that the the UK would leave the EU on the 31st of October “do or die, come what may”.
The Act of Parliament has left the Prime Minister with very little wriggle room. A number of scenarios have been suggested:
Option 1 – Accompany the letter with another letter
One option that has been suggested is that the Prime Minister could send Parliament’s letter but also include his own in the package. In this second letter he could say that he does not really want an extension and that he does not believe it is Britain’s interest. He may hope that doing this may exasperate the EU so much that they will give in and refuse to give Britain and extension.
However, legal experts have been clear that this would likely be illegal. The former Chief of the Crown Prosecution Service said:
The act is quite clear in what it requires the prime minister to do. If he sends a side letter to the EU that deliberately conflicts with that requirement, he is deliberately in breach of the law.
Ken Macdonald -Former Chief of the CPS
Option 2 – Persuade an EU Member State to veto the extension.
The EU can only grant an extension of all of the other 27 member states agree. Boris Johnson may try to persuade one of the member states to vote against an extension. If this happens, Britain will leave on the 31st October 2019 as this is the legal default position. There are some leaders of EU countries that are eurosceptic, Viktor Orban of Hungary being a clear example. However, the EU has a long history of acting collectively. Hungary would have little to gain from upsetting her European neighbors and would likely vote as the rest of the bloc does.
Option 3 – Find a loophole in the legislation
A number of prominent Cabinet Members have said that the Government is actively trying to find a loophole in the legislation that has been passed. However, the bill was drafted by Hillary Benn and supported by figures like Dominic Grieve. These are respected parliamentarians and it is unlikely that they have created anything but a watertight bill.
Option 4 – Resign and force an election
Boris Johnson has twice failed to convince Parliament to vote for an early election, with Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP all saying they will not support an election call until the Brexit extension has been granted. However, Boris Johnson could choose to resign. This would start a 14 day process for a new government to be formed or a new election would have to be called. However, this would be a perilously risky move. An alternative government may be found from elsewhere in the House of Commons and this is a risk that Boris Johnson will unlikely take.
Some of these options risk Boris Johnson running fell of the Rule of Law, a key feature of the UK Constitution. In the UK Parliament is sovereign. This means no body can overrule, not even the Prime Minister. Any attempt by the Prime Minister to avoid or circumvent the lawful instructions given to him by Parliament may not only result in court action but may also be a criminal offence.
Boris Johnson has said he would rather ‘die in a ditch’ than seek an extension from the EU. In reality, if he wants to stay Prime Minister, he really has no choice as things stand.