Long live the Rome Statute! Long live idiocy?


April 10, 2019

Long live the Rome Statute! Long live idiocy?

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman

Published:  |  Modified:

 

COMMENT | Long live the Rome Statute! Long live Idiocy! What kind of government and society shall we be? From a cashless society we want to be a moral-less society, in a world plagued with genocide and the disease of violent ideologies.

The Pakatan Harapan government’s U-turns on the International Convention on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination (ICERD) and now the Rome Statute signify our entry in our own Age of Mass Ignorance. If opposing war, genocide, crimes against humanity is opposed, we have a government that needs to be deposed.

Rome Statute as peace document

In Malaysia, will all the rallies against Israeli atrocities, Rohingya massacres, & bombing of churches & mosques be banned? Seems that the more we want to have flying cars and a cashless society, the more we show ignorance on issues of war, aggression, and global morality.

The Rome Statute is about stopping the rise of global fascism. What part of it does this PH government not understand? So shallow is our education system’s curriculum on race relations and global issues this idiocy on Rome Statute needs to be exposed?

From a self-proclaimed Asian tiger roaring in the UN condemning aggression, we have become a country mouse dying of ignorance of crimes against humanity. Most ridiculous arguments on “threatening Malay rights” are used to justify the defence of our ignorance on global issues!

They say ignorance is bliss. In Malaysia, on the Rome Statute issue, ignorance is blessed. Will our diplomats now abstain from voting on global aggressions, in order to respect the rights of kampong warriors? Insane!

In matters of universal human rights and global peace, no race or nation should be stupefied by its own leaders and rulers. What are we teaching our children? That it’s OK to discriminate and to condone war crimes? I thought the “lawmakers” in the PH government are more globally conscious? Are they falling now into a deep state of unconsciousness?

Resist mass idiocy

Committing to the principles of justice vis-a-viz international human rights in regards to the ICERD, the violation of human rights in Malaysia as in the recent missing person cases, and to the Rome Statute, is a no brainer.

The most ridiculous logic we hear is that if you oppose war crimes, enforced disappearances, aggression, and genocide, your power as a national government will be challenged, and that the bangsa, agama, and negara will be in danger.

There are principles crafted by the UN that are universal. There are those that are culturally-relative. But not the ICERD nor the Rome Statute. These are human principles that are meant to have us evolve into peaceful global citizens, by condemning mass murder and genocide.

Bebalism or incurable idiocy is what’s governing the new consciousness when it comes to speaking up against human rights injustices. Why is Pakatan Harapan losing the very principles that attracted people to vote for them? Insincerity? Hypocrisy? Idiocy?

As one who has been teaching global issues for years, it will be embarrassing to tell my students how idiotic Malaysia is. O’ Malays, revolt against any attempt by your leaders who attempt to spread ignorance and fear through issues of race and religion.

Hitler mounted ridiculous arguments on race, crafting falsehood to turn it into truth, creating fascism, committing war crimes. Kingdoms that survive on the power of ignorance cannot last long, in an age wherein power and wealth are challenged and eventually get destroyed.

The PH government seems to be surrendering to those wishing to see chaos take root. Did the people vote for cowardice? It has been my argument that education must address issues of polarization, class-based poverty, ecological destruction, and religious extremism.

Utterly shameful and gutless it is for a country claiming to be progressive and a promoter of regional peace, and advocating the global principle of “prosper thy neighbor”. What does opposing genocide, enforced disappearances, aggression, and war got to do with challenging “agama, bangsa, negara?” Are we going mad now?

A few leaders of the Pakatan said that those who criticized the prime minster and the PH government for pulling out of the Rome Statute are cowards who cannot be trusted. How is that logical?

Is the withdrawal due to confusion? Or cowardice? Why allow the tantrum of one man to deny the expression of the people of a nation? It is a basic expression of opposing violence as a global community, aspiring to be cosmopolitan citizens rather than trapped in the prison-nation-state of communalism, post-industrialism, ghetto-ism, and kampong-ism, is it not?

What must we do for the next generation to get out of this intellectual quagmire and the structuring of mass bebalisma?

We must turn to education as the only means for a sustainable personal, social, and cultural progress. Governments, monarchy, and those in power via whatever ideology come and go. But education should set us free.

Not the illusion of knowledge and wisdom. Not the installing of fear. These will not. They will turn the masses into people who continue to support leaders who are now on trial for corruption.

Educate for peace

Students need to be taught how to develop critical thinking and apply those skills in evaluating international systems, environmental issues, and human rights. We need to help them demonstrate the global dimensions of crucial contemporary issues, so that they could develop relational and rational thinking on how to study and think about global problems and relationships of war and conflict and how to address them and find peaceful solutions.

The urgent educational agenda is also to focus on global issues and how human rights, political-economy, ecological destruction, issues of power, wealth, powerlessness are all inter-related contributors to war and peace.

Students need to be taught to recognize the interdependence of the individual and the community in creating the challenges and opportunities in a global society through the examination of sustainability, human rights and peace and conflict. This is necessary so that when they become leaders and rulers, they will not be ridiculous, and not become people with money and power, but with no soul and morals.

Right now, this government is beginning to be a huge mess, unable to stand for the very basic principles of human rights, bowing down to some ridiculous tantrum not worth entertaining. What in the name of global sanity did Malaysians vote for?


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He holds a doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

 

Justin Trudeau Falls From Grace


April 11, 2019

Chris Wattie / Reuters

The depressing squalor of the Trump era has created in liberal Americans a gnawing hunger for leaders to admire. Foreign leaders are especially likely to set liberal hearts aflutter, because they are farther away and their flaws less visible. Of all these alternative “leaders of the free world,” it is perhaps Canada’s Justin Trudeau who has enjoyed the most attention. He proclaims himself a feminist, he hugs Syrian refugees as they arrive at Canadian airports, he performs yoga, he is impossibly handsome—what could go wrong?

But there were always two cracks visible in the face Trudeau presented to the world, and over the past three weeks, those lines have widened.

The first flaw: When frustrated or disappointed, he loses his cool. As one person on the receiving end of his ill temper put it to me, “He yells when he does not get his way, then gloats when he does.” The second? Trudeau does not always accurately think through the ultimate consequences of his actions.

Together, those two fault lines create a dangerous formula for bad decision making in times of crisis.

Over the four years since he came to power in November 2015, Trudeau has offset his personal weaknesses by relying heavily on shrewder advisers. But since February, a serious and growing scandal has cost him the service of trusted aides. The head of the civil service has been forced to resign. Trudeau has been left more and more to his own judgment. This past weekend, that judgment tinged the scandal with a new note of farce.

On April 3, in the Canadian House of Commons, Trudeau was forced, under tightly focused questioning by Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, to acknowledge that one of his first important statements about the scandal had been a falsehood.

On April 7, the leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, revealed that a week earlier, a lawyer for Trudeau had threatened him with a libel lawsuit, a rare step in Canadian politics. One basis of the threat? Scheer had, on March 29, accused Trudeau of lying about the very thing that, on April 3, Trudeau admitted to lying about.

Could the situation get more absurd? Yes! On the evening of April 7, Trudeau’s spinners issued a statement denouncing Scheer for wasting the public’s time talking about issues irrelevant to Canadians’ real concerns—that is, by talking about the lawsuit Trudeau himself had initiated.

Trudeau just failed Kipling’s challenge: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

The scandal convulsing Canadian politics began with a corruption case involving a large engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin. To secure contracts in Libya a decade ago, SNC-Lavalin paid bribes to the son of the former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Those bribes violated Canadian law. SNC-Lavalin was caught and prosecuted, and faced tough penalties.

Hoping to avert or mitigate the penalties, SNC-Lavalin commenced a lobbying campaign within Trudeau’s Liberal Party almost as soon as it came to power in November 2015. SNC-Lavalin has long been an important Liberal campaign contributor. Its chairman is a supremely well-connected former head of the Canadian civil service.

The trouble for SNC-Lavalin was that the then-federal attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, refused to play ball. JWR, as she’s become known, was the first indigenous Canadian to hold Canada’s top law-enforcement job. She had her own agenda, one that often put her at variance with the rest of the Trudeau government. When the party began to pressure her to help SNC-Lavalin, she refused to yield.

In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was removed as attorney general and demoted to the lesser job of minister of veterans’ affairs. On February 8, the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail published the first story about the pressure campaign on Wilson-Raybould. Four days later, Wilson-Raybould resigned from the cabinet, followed on March 4 by another cabinet official, Jane Philpott.

Trudeau has forcefully denied allegations that he sought to tamper with justice. But again and again, the specifics of those denials have been contradicted—culminating in the explosive revelation on March 29 that Wilson-Raybould recorded a phone call back in December with Michael Wernick, then head of the civil service, in which Wernick intimated to Wilson-Raybould that by refusing to relent on SNC-Lavalin, she was putting her job as attorney general at risk. That’s the core allegation of the scandal, and it now stands as fact.

You can read a transcript of that call. A week before the release of the recording, Wernick announced his early retirement from the civil service.

At each stage of the scandal, Trudeau has defended his actions. But his specific statements of self-defense have again and again proved false.

On February 12, Trudeau told the media that no person had ever suggested to him that his actions on behalf of SNC-Lavalin over the previous months, before the issue came into public view, were in any way inappropriate. This is the falsehood that Poilievre exposed in debate on April 3. Trudeau was compelled under Poilievre’s questioning to admit that Wilson-Raybould had directly told him in September 2018 that she felt the pressure was inappropriate. “Once she said that …” and here the House erupted in shouts, but Trudeau continued: “I responded, ‘No, I am not … It is her decision to make …’ And she then committed to revisit and look into the decision again …”

The trouble was that, when Wilson-Raybould made the decision that was supposedly hers to make, and made it in a way different from the way Trudeau wanted her to make it, she got sacked.

It was for saying these things outside Parliament that Trudeau threatened litigation on March 31. The abrupt collapse of the factual predicate for that lawsuit in the following week led to the unusual outcome that by April 7, the target of the lawsuit eagerly invited the prospective plaintiff to proceed: “If Mr. Trudeau intends to pursue this course of legal action, if he believes he has a case against me, I urge him to do so immediately,” Scheer said. That same day, a spokesperson for the prospective plaintiff dismissed his own threat of a lawsuit as a petty distraction from the important concerns of voters: “Andrew Scheer’s press conference today is yet another attempt at talking about anything other than his own damaging plans for the economy.”

The tabloid Toronto Sun’s headline Monday morning expressed the public reaction of incredulity and mockery: “COURT JESTER.”

The SNC-Lavalin story is the kind of process story that political cynics dismiss as irrelevant to voters’ deepest concerns. Indeed, that has been the Trudeau government’s last line of defense in parliamentary debate. But polls suggest that the story has done enormous damage, with Trudeau now lagging Scheer’s Conservatives by double digits. Canada’s next election is scheduled for October 2019. If it were held today, the Conservatives would probably form a majority government.

Why has the scandal done so much damage?

One reason is economic. SNC-Lavalin is based in Quebec, where it employs 3,400 people. The largest investor in SNC-Lavalin is the Quebec public employees’ pension fund, with a 20 percent stake. That fund has taken a beating on SNC-Lavalin’s share price—and would hugely benefit from an easy punishment of the company for its Libyan bribery.

But at the same time the Trudeau government was bending the law to protect 3,400 Quebec jobs, it was shrugging off a jobs debacle in the western province of Alberta.

Since January 2015, the province of Alberta has lost more than 130,000 jobs off payrolls—and uncounted thousands more among the self-employed. The oil-dependent province’s unemployment rate reached 7.3 percent last month.

You might have expected that the Alberta economy would revive with the improvement in the price of oil over the past two years. But that expectation has bumped into contrary government policy. Alberta is landlocked; its oil must come to market via pipeline. Pipeline capacity is utterly inadequate. The Trudeau government has professed willingness to help, but it has consistently paid more attention to the preferences of environmentalists and the economic demands of indigenous groups. The result: Alberta oil sells at an enormous discount to the world price. In November 2018, at a time when West Texas crude was selling for more than $50 a barrel, Alberta oil fetched only $11 a barrel.

In Canada, the Trudeau brand is deeply associated with the crassest favoritism of Quebec economic interests. The SNC-Lavalin affair confirms every apprehension that a Trudeau in power means second-class citizenship for western Canadians.

Yet the polls indicate that it’s not only in the West that Trudeau’s support is collapsing. And this points to a deeper problem.

Canada’s politics are perhaps the least polarized in the Western world. The Liberals successfully appeal to business-minded voters; the Conservatives effectively compete for ethnic minorities. In an unpolarized polity, personality hugely matters. Justin Trudeau marketed himself as a radically different kind of politician: artless, open, transparent, feminist.

For him to be seen browbeating an indigenous woman to protect politically wired insiders from facing the legal consequences of their wrongdoing—the reaction to that, in the words of a cover story in Maclean’s by the high eminence of Canadian political commentary, Paul Wells, is to emblazon him as “The Imposter.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

David Frum is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. In 2001 and 2002, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Uncle Joe and the Perils of Good Intentions


April 8, 2019

 Uncle Joe and the Perils of Good Intentions

Americans have been on a long road trip with Joe Biden. The former Vice-President’s hot mikes, his “handsiness,” “gaffes,” and “loose-lipped and emotive manner” are all a matter of family lore.  Everybody knows a story or two or ten of Uncle Joe whispering in a woman’s ear, clasping her waist, or smelling her hair.

As Biden, now seventy-six, prepares to enter the 2020 Presidential race, several women have come forward to describe deeply uncomfortable situations involving his incursions into their personal space.

What’s changed is not the severity or nature of the offenses—no one has accused Biden of sexual misconduct. It’s just that the voices narrating the scenes have switched, so that we’re looking at the same gestures through a different lens. We’re looking through the lens of Lucy Flores, who wrote in The Cut that her encounter with Biden before a campaign event in 2014 left her feeling “uneasy, gross, and confused.” Or the lens of Amy Lappos, who said that, at a 2009 fund-raiser, Biden grabbed her around the neck and rubbed noses with her. “It’s not affection,” Lappos told the Hartford Courant. “It’s sexism or misogyny.”

On Wednesday, Biden tweeted a video acknowledging the accusations. “The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it. . . . I’ll be much more mindful,” he said. But he stopped short of apologizing. “I’ve always tried to make a human connection,” he said. “Life is about connecting to people,” he also said. The statement gently implied that Biden’s critics were fundamentally untethered—misunderstanding not only him but also the higher purpose of their time on earth. On Friday, Biden appeared more defiant. “I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done,” he said. “I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman—that’s not the reputation I’ve had since I was in high school, for God’s sake.” The same day, at a conference of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in Washington, D.C., Biden joked about getting permission from the union’s president, Lonnie Stephenson, before putting his arm around Stephenson’s shoulder; then he made a similar joke about a child who joined him onstage.

What Biden perceives as intimacy, as empathic connection, may be, in fact, polite forbearance. Every woman knows men who remind her of Joe Biden. (If familiarity is his brand, then women are all too familiar.) These men radiate physicality and friendly exuberance, like messy Labradors—and who wants to seem uptight to a Labrador? Biden’s charisma, for those who see it as such, depends on him being slightly naughty, and then on us discerning his good (or at least harmless) intentions and giving him a pass. It might feel small and cruel not to give him a pass. On some level, a politician as intuitive and personable as Biden must realize that people dislike feeling small and cruel.

Although Biden has been in the public eye for nearly fifty years, his portrayal in the press as a well-meaning rogue is only about a decade old. He has always been a fundamentally sympathetic character, owing to the terrible family tragedies he has endured: the death of his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident, in 1972, and, in 2015, the death, from cancer, of his forty-six-year-old son, Beau. Still, Biden was long seen as a standard politico: slippery, telegenic, vaguely compromised. His first Presidential campaign flamed out, in 1987, owing to his plagiarism both on the stump and back in law school. In 1991, he oversaw Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where Anita Hill faced an all-white, all-male panel of interrogators, and where he declined to subpoena at least three witnesses who could have corroborated Thomas’s pattern of harassing behavior. “Biden was oily and unctuous throughout,” Howard Rosenberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. (“I’ve worked my whole life to empower women,” Biden said in the video on Wednesday.)

Only in 2007, as he considered entering the Presidential race (“I’m a tactile politician and I trust my feel, and I’m telling you I think there’s some pace on the ball”), did the word “blundering” start to appear in coverage of Biden, partly because of a remark Biden made about the then candidate Barack Obama. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. As similar anecdotes began to surface—Biden also referred to Obama as “Barack America,” and encouraged a man in a wheelchair to “stand up” and let the crowd see him—the main cliché about Biden became that he was infelicitously blurty. Media narratives coalesced around words like “quirky,” “anachronistic,” “effusive,” “undisciplined,” “garrulous,” and “folksy.” Wolf Blitzer highlighted the senator’s penchant for “off-the-cuff comments”; Politico called him “a reliable fount of gaffes, awkward statements, and hyperbole.”

On January 20, 2009, a new narrative twist arrived, with an article in The Onion titled “Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration with Ponytail.” The piece marked the début of the comedy Web site’s Diamond Joe character: a muscle-car-loving, Pearl Jam–singing playboy prone to causing trouble at Dave & Buster’s. (Sample headlines: “Biden to Cool His Heels in Mexico for Awhile,” “White House Infested with Bedbugs After Biden Brings in Recliner Off the Curb.”) The Onion’s fictional Biden made hypermasculine tropes look not only unthreatening but delightful. They were the satirical equivalent of petting the Labrador on the head. A slick, womanizing Biden, a shirtless Biden who soaped up his Trans Am on the White House driveway and starred in Hennessy ads (“Sensual, Powerful, Biden”), was, oddly, a familiar Biden—which is partly why the joke worked so well for so long. (It also worked because of the strong contrast with the impeccably statesmanlike Obama, a deft comedian who was, unlike Biden, always in on his own joke.)

By 2010, the “wacky uncle” meme was in full flower. “Joe Biden,” a reporter wrote for the Washington Times, “has acquired . . . immunity. He regularly says things ranging from goofy to merely silly to outrageous, but the passage of the years has made him a lovable old uncle that nobody any longer takes seriously.” In Marie Claire, Alexandra Jacobs described Biden as glad-handing “every politico, getting in close, squeezing their shoulders.” Of the candidate and his second wife, Jacobs wrote, “Joe and Jill Biden exude a marital heat uncommon in buttoned-up Beltway circles.” Jacobs also quoted the Obama aide Valerie Jarrett: “They’re very, very outwardly demonstrative.” (Even Jill Biden, in her forthcoming memoir, admits that, early in their relationship,

Joe’s ebullient courtship left her feeling “strange and uncomfortable,” and that she “sometimes found all that affection draining.”) “Affectionate and freewheeling,” the Times called Uncle Joe, in 2013. The reporter Amy Chozick revealed that, when speaking to his colleague Hillary Clinton on the phone, during President Obama’s first term, Biden sometimes signed off with the words “I love you, darling.”

The next significant update to the Biden mythology came in 2015. A viral photo of the Vice-President massaging the shoulders of Stephanie Carter, the wife of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, during Carter’s swearing-in, caused pundits to snarkily invoke the “ick factor” and the “yuck factor.” (In a Medium post, Carter defended Biden’s “attempt to support me.”) The hosts of the “Today” show pulled together a slide show of images of Biden cozying up to women. “Joe Biden is the most entertaining Vice-President ever,” Carson Daly said, while Willie Geist observed that “he’s getting a little handsy,” and Al Roker smirked at the “Vice-Presidential magic fingers.” (These types of segments are what Flores is invoking when she writes, “Despite the steady stream of pictures and the occasional article, Biden retained his title of America’s Favorite Uncle. On occasion, that title was downgraded to America’s Creepy Uncle, but that in and of itself implied a certain level of acceptance.”)

If Biden is not sorry for anything he has ever done, it’s in part because most men and some women have been telling him for a long time that he has nothing to be sorry for, or, if he does, that it is mitigated by its entertainment value. And it’s conceivable that there is nothing inherently wrong with a kiss on the back of the head. But it’s irrefutable that there is nothing sacrosanct about it, either. A nose rub is a curious hill to die on. Biden’s identity is predicated on harmlessness, and he must cling to that identity even after harm has been demonstrated. Biden may believe that Lucy Flores, Amy Lappos, and other women felt demeaned by their encounters with him, but he also believes that their misunderstanding of his good intentions forfeits their claims to our sympathy. His brand is empathic connection, and to maintain it he must resist empathically connecting with the discomfort and embarrassment of the women he attempted to empathically connect with, using his hands and mouth.

Image result for Uncle Joe Biden

If some Democratic women still have reservoirs of affection for Uncle Joe, they may be sourced in part from one of his greatest political performances: when he faced off against Sarah Palin in the Vice-Presidential debate in October, 2008. In her preview of the event, the Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick offered Biden some prescient advice. Palin “will attack, and you will smile,” Lithwick wrote. “She will make jokes, and you will laugh. Do whatever you need to do—take four Percocet, deploy Zen breathing techniques—to prevent yourself from attacking this woman.” That is exactly how Biden proceeded. The beaming and genial man who showed up onstage deflected Palin’s offensives with such pleasantness that one would have thought he’d spent a lifetime learning to prioritize and reflect back other people’s feelings. It was the first Vice-Presidential debate since 1984 to feature a woman, and Biden flipped the gender script. He was deferential, ever-smiling, on point. He performed polite forbearance. He played the girl. One wonders if he remembers what that felt like.

On legal immigration, Trump might be right


April 7, 2019

On legal immigration, Trump might be right

by Dr . Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/4/on-legal-immigration-trump-might-be-right

 

Image result for president trump

President Trump’s threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border has confused even his allies. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said it “would be bad for everybody.” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) remarked, “I’m not sure that’s a particularly good idea, and I’m not sure it gets the desired result.” Most assume the threat is part of the usual Trump style — bravado and bluff — and will eventually get dialed back, and there are already indications that this is happening.

But on the broader issue of legal immigration, Trump seems to be shifting his position. In his State of the Union address in February, he said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Immigration hardliners did not take this well.

The president has since reasserted the idea. The day after the State of the Union, Trump told reporters: “I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.” And Politico reported this week that Jared Kushner is quietly developing a proposal to increase legal immigration into the United States.

If this is Trump’s new and improved immigration position, the president might find his way to a powerful compromise — real crackdowns on illegal immigration, coupled with reform and actual increases in legal immigration. This also happens to be a smart policy idea.

A recent essay in the journal International Security points out that by 2050, the United States is projected to be the only major world power with an increase in its population . The four authors, all university professors, tie this factor to more dynamic economic growth and also the United States’ continued ability and willingness to play a major military and political role.

The data on other major powers is striking. United Nations projections show that by 2050, China and Russia will have a 20 percent drop in people of working age. Germany’s working-age population will drop by 17 percent, and Japan’s by 29 percent. This will probably translate into slower growth, less economic vitality and greater passivity on the world stage, the report says.

The United States’ working-age numbers are set to rise by 12 percent in the same period. In fact, only three other major developed countries will see increases in their working-age cohort: Australia, Canada and Britain. But all four countries are expected to enjoy this boost only because of immigration. Without immigration, by 2050, the U.S. working-age population would actually shrink by 4.5 percent. Canada’s would plummet by 20 percent.

China, on track to be the greatest economic, political and technological competitor to the United States, faces a demographic challenge that’s even more dire than was previously anticipated. Last year, China’s birth rate fell to its lowest level since 1961, a year of widespread famine. It appears that the Communist regime’s efforts to reverse the nation’s long-standing “one child” policy have not worked. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in January that for China’s population, “the biggest event in the first half of the 21st century is the arrival of negative growth,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Amid all the noise in this country about immigration, it’s easy to forget the big picture. Immigration means a more robust economy. It usually means younger workers, which translates into greater dynamism and more innovation. Most Nobel Prizes are awarded to scientists for work they did when they were young. Most companies are founded by people when they are young. Younger populations are more risk-seeking, adventurous and entrepreneurial.

Despite the rhetoric around it, legal immigration in the United States is actually not that high. Before he became chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett published a piece in National Review ranking wealthy countries on their ratio of new immigrants to total population in 2010. The United States had the third-lowest figure, higher only than Japan and France. Canada and Germany had more than twice as many new immigrants as a share of the population, and Norway and Switzerland had more than four times.

During the past two decades, many of the United States’ crucial competitive advantages have been copied by the world to the point that other nations do it better — with well-regulated market economics, technological investments, infrastructure, mass education. What does America have left to truly distinguish itself?

Over the past half-century, the United States has handled immigration better than most countries. It takes in people from everywhere, assimilates them better, integrates them into the fabric of society and is able to maintain an environment in which the new immigrants feel as invested as the old. This will be its core competitive advantage in this century.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
Washington Post
April 4, 2019

Cambodia–On what basis will there be reconciliation?


April 1, 2019

Cambodia-On what basis will there be reconciliation?

by Thomas Fowler

https://www.khmertimeskh.com

A few days ago, former parliamentarians of the late CNRP launched a call for national reconciliation, mentioning in particular the very short episode of the culture of dialogue. We can only rejoice at this state of mind that seems to mimic the CPP’s opponents.

Above all, Cambodia needs a form of democracy that is based on a desire for dialogue and a spirit of conciliation. The democracy of confrontation, with its winners and losers, so dear to Westerners – even if it offers for the moment rather puzzling examples as in Europe – is absolutely not what Cambodia needs.

Although today a very large majority of its population did not experience the extreme horrors of the 70s, Cambodia still keeps track of the traumas suffered and a collective memory forever marked by this dramatic past. All specialists of mass crimes agree that the victims’ children are also not immune to the shocks suffered by their parents.

..

The Cambodian human and social fabric is still fragile. The extraordinary erasure of knowledge inflicted by the men of Pol Pot, but also the propaganda of his movement that lasted until 1998 are not without consequences. The Cambodian population is a fertile ground for those who conceive politics as a call to passions, lies and radical behaviors. The conditions are in place to allow the demagogues to prosper and sow the seeds of division.

This is what we have known since the day Sam Rainsy began to poison the political life of this country. The only candidate, in 1993, to be blamed by UNTAC for his calls for racial hatred, he built his entire political career on the most hateful form of demagoguery – the one that made the success of a Hitler or a Le Pen in Europe both of whom designated a popular scapegoat for all the problems of the country.

Using ignorance of historical realities, neglecting no opportunity to falsify the past as the present, resorting to opposition to power that create a climate of civil war, insulting, slandering, Sam Rainsy is rapidly hysterical when it comes to political debate.

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Don’t BULLY US– We are a sovereign Nation

With the support of Westerners, at all times careless of Cambodian realities, he has had considerable financial means to prosper in his political adventure. After unsuccessfully igniting the streets of Phnom Penh in 2013, he deigned to accept the prime minister’s proposal to practice a culture of dialogue. He sabotaged it, once obtained a reform of the electoral law he wished.

Everyone knows what followed. Today, some of those who have supported Sam Rainsy’s hateful practices speak of national reconciliation and a culture of dialogue. Very well! If there is in the opposition, including the former CNRP, women and men of goodwill, all the better. We can only rejoice. But we must glean from a quarter of a century of lessons why the attempt to establish a peaceful democracy failed.

..

What has been lacking in the Cambodian people and their political class since 1993 is a national consensus on a number of fundamental issues. The lack of unity of views on these issues has allowed demagogy to flourish. Cambodia offers the spectacle of a country that is not reconciled with itself on essential issues. This is the lesson of the past 25 years: a democracy cannot work if there is no agreement among all political sensitivities on a common denominator.

The Kingdom needs a national consensus on its past, on the territorial configuration of the country before and after colonization, on the reality of the March 18, 1970 coup, on all the crimes committed by Pol Pot’s gang, on the role of Vietnam in the liberation of the country, and on the true pacification of the country.

To question the borders resulting from colonisation is to deny not only the historical facts (Cambodia lost Kampuchea Krom before the arrival of the French and Koh Trâl because of the French), but also the international law and its principle of uti possidetis, however successfully invoked when it comes to the border with Thailand. This is the first essential consensus: to accept the borders of November 9, 1953, and to take into account the consequences of 30 years of war that require modest and balanced adjustments.

This is a historical fact: it was the 1970 coup that plunged the country into a civil, regional and international war in the end of which Polpotism triumphed. To recognize and accept this fact must help to turn the painful page of divisions between Cambodians who survived these events. It is a second constituent element of a necessary national consensus.

The Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot was the one who systematically organized the physical elimination of more than two million Khmers. Evidence has been gathered of the responsibility of this regime and its leaders for the innumerable crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated against the Cambodian people, between April 17, 1975 and January 7, 1979. To deny it, to attribute it to other than to the Pol potists, is to insult the victims and the survivors and to rewrite history. The third consensus that Cambodian democracy needs is to recognize that fanatical Khmer people blinded by a mortifying ideology have massacred their own people.

..

The Pol potists launched in 1975 a war of aggression against the Vietnamese neighbor. For reasons of national security of its own and to answer the call for help from tens of thousands of Cambodians who fled to Vietnam, after failed negotiations during two and an half years followed by the rupture of diplomatic relations and the intensification of fighting, it ended Pol Pot’s regime by entering Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979.

Even though people may have a different opinion about what followed, there is no doubt that January 7, 1979 symbolizes the end of a regime of terror and massacres. Recognizing this fact is the fourth component of a necessary national consensus.

What followed was probably, for those who lived it, still too present to agree on a common appreciation and should therefore be restrained in political debates. As a fifth element of the common ground, it should not be difficult to unite all to recognize that the real pacification of the country took place at the end of December 1998.

And finally, to secure the future, an endorsement and commitment by all to give up the anti-democratic practices used by Sam Rainsy should be the sixth element of the political agreement sealing reconciliation.

How can national reconciliation and peaceful democracy be envisioned if those who govern and those who do not want a dialogue respecting mutual values do not agree on these six elements which constitute the historical and political heritage of Cambodia? Will the whole Cambodian political class have the wisdom to conclude a pact that recognizes these six elements of a national consensus and thus open a new era, looking to the future?

Thomas Fowler is a Cambodia watcher based in Phnom Penh.

How the UK lost Brexit battle


March 20, 2019

How the UK lost Brexit battle

https://www.politico.eu/article/how-uk-lost-brexit-eu-negotiation/?fbclid=IwAR2KYdDNVGPDmHiZK_XmE9YNzxu

 

Illustration by Zach Meyer for POLITICO

 

LONDON

The European Union set the train in motion before the result of the Brexit referendum had even been announced.

It was at 6:22 a.m. on June 24, 2016 — 59 minutes before the official tally was unveiled — that the European Council sent its first “lines to take” to the national governments that make up the EU.

The United Kingdom was leaving the European Union and Brussels was determined to seize control of the process.

In the short five-paragraph document written by Council President Donald Tusk’s chief of staff, Piotr Serafin, and circulated among EU ambassadors, the bloc’s remaining 27 national governments were urged to speak with one voice and to insist that the U.K. leave through the Article 50 process set down in EU law.

This meant settling the divorce first and the future relationship second, once the U.K. had left. “In the future we hope to have the U.K. as a close partner of the EU,” the document read. “First we need to agree the arrangements for the withdrawal.”

“We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave” — The official Brexit campaign in 2016

This was crucial. It ran counter to declarations by the U.K.’s victorious Vote Leave campaign not to be bound by the formal exit procedure. If the U.K. agreed to the terms of its departure before its future relationship was settled, the Brexit campaigners had argued, it would deprive itself of much of its leverage.

“Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop,” read the official Brexit campaign’s prospectus — endorsed by two of the political leaders of the campaign, then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson. “We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.”

It would be the first of many battles the EU declared, and the first of many it would win, as it stuck to the strategies it laid out in the earliest days of the Brexit process.

Over the 33 months since the referendum, British officials would stage a series of unsuccessful stands, trying to dislodge the EU from its chosen course before grudgingly — and often bitterly — acquiescing amid howls of pain in Westminster.

British envoys — including Prime Minister Theresa May — would reach out to national leaders in an attempt to overhaul Brussels’ legalistic approach with a diplomatic discussion about mutual interests, flexibility and “imaginative solutions.” They would meet with no success.

An attempt to strike side deals on citizens’ rights, an effort to begin talks on the future relationship before the divorce was settled, a go at starting bilateral discussions with Dublin over the contentious issue of the Irish border — none of these would shift the direction of the talks set forth by the EU in the earliest days.

POLITICO has spoken to dozens of leading officials, diplomats and politicians in Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Belfast, London and Brussels — including in No. 10 Downing Street and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s team in the European Commission —  about the nearly three years of negotiations.

The story that emerges is of a process in which the EU moved inexorably forward as Westminster collapsed into political infighting, indecision and instability.

The only concession the EU would make regarding its core principles over the course of the talks was at the request of one of its members, the Republic of Ireland — and to the disadvantage of the U.K. The rules of the single market could be bent, but only for Northern Ireland — and only to help the Republic’s unique problem on the border. For the U.K., there would be no special deals. In the words of the EU’s negotiators, there would be “no cherry-picking.”

As Westminster descends into increasing political turmoil, it has become highly uncertain whether British Prime Minister Theresa May will be able to secure parliament’s approval for the Brexit deal she struck with the EU in November.

Twenty-nine members of the government have resigned over Brexit since June last year, and party discipline has all but disappeared in both May’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party. The prime minister has suffered a succession of defeats, including the largest in parliamentary history, when lawmakers rejected her deal first in January and then again in March. She even promised to step down once Britain’s divorce from the European Union is seen through, although she gave no date for doing so.

May’s opponents blame the current crisis on her decision to pursue one interpretation of Brexit.

With Brexit day postponed, MPs have voted to take control of the parliamentary timetable to chart a new Brexit course. Just when and how — and even if — the U.K. will leave the EU has never been less clear.

Even if the prime minister does eventually force her deal through parliament with grudging Euroskeptic support, Brexit is far from over. Despite months of negotiations, many of the key questions raised by the Brexit vote remain unanswered. Such is the opposition in Westminster to the terms on offer, that leading figures on both sides of the talks fear that Brexit, far from settling the U.K.’s place in Europe, will continue to poison British politics for years to come, with knock-on effects for Ireland and the EU.

May’s opponents blame the current crisis on her decision to pursue one interpretation of Brexit, with little real attempt to reach out to MPs on the opposite benches of a hung parliament. But, as this story reveals, many of the unstoppable forces that led to this moment were set in motion long before the prime minister took office.

United front

he European Council’s “lines to take” were the product of months of planning. Ahead of the Brexit referendum, Tusk had spoken to every EU leader urging a united front regardless of the result. Draft political responses had been drawn up, ready to go — for either eventuality: Leave or Remain.

As it became clear what direction the U.K. had elected to take, the document was circulated among EU ambassadors by the European Council — complete with a typo in the subject line: “PEC messqges.”

Across Brussels’ gray Rue de la Loi in the Commission’s Berlaymont building, President Jean-Claude Juncker and his then chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, had worked up an even tighter, technical response that would follow shortly after as a joint statement from the heads of the four EU institutions.

In days following the referendum, the EU ratcheted up its position.

The first turn of the screw came at 11:57 a.m. on June 24, 2016, less than five hours after the result was declared, in the joint statement drawn up by Juncker and Selmayr.

Released in the names of Tusk, Juncker, then European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, then head of the Council of the EU’s rotating presidency representing national governments, the EU ruled out any talks with Britain before it triggered Article 50, as required by the EU treaties.

“We have rules to deal with this in an orderly way,” the statement read. “Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out the procedure to be followed if a Member State decides to leave the European Union. We stand ready to launch negotiations swiftly.”

The leaders also urged London to trigger Article 50 “as soon as possible” and declared that the future relationship between the two sides would only be determined after the U.K. had left. They also made clear there would be costs for walking away.

The EU’s thick yellow and blue lines were set — and formalized by EU ambassadors on Sunday, June 26.

Four days later, EU leaders met in Brussels to formalize their position. The summit — first at 28 with a chastened British Prime Minister David Cameron and then at 27 a day later — would set the tone for the next two years and 10 months.

“The British government should have offered something very, very quickly” — High-ranking European official

On Brexit, EU leaders rowed in behind the heads of the institutions in Brussels, barely changing the opening positions drawn up by the Council and Commission. Only one major change was introduced — a hardening of the EU’s position.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that a specific line on the indivisibility of the four freedoms — the movement of goods, services, capital and people — be included in the final communiqué.

Cameron had told his fellow leaders at the summit that immigration had been a driving factor in the Britain’s decision to leave, but he hoped the U.K. would stay close to the single market.

The EU’s conclusions, ruling out the possibility of carving out the free movement of people from the rest of the single market, looked like a rebuff.

National interest

ad London been prepared for Brexit on June 24, 2016, the negotiations might have played out differently.

“The British government should have offered something very, very quickly,” said one high-ranking official of a large EU country. “If the U.K. had said: ‘Here’s the plan,’ we might have accepted it.”

“The British strength was being one member state, being able to define its national interest quickly and making its move quickly,” the official said. “It did not do that.”

Instead, in the aftermath of the referendum, Cameron resigned as prime minister; Labour MPs attempted to oust their party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn; Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, vowed to hold a second independence referendum; and Martin McGuinness, then deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, called for a vote on whether the British territory should leave the U.K. and become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The seeds of the crisis Britain faced today were planted by Cameron, said Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan. “He called the referendum too early, ran a crappy campaign and then walked out, leaving a vacuum.”

“It is a crisis caused by bad decisions on top of bad decisions, turning a short-term gambit into a long-term catastrophe,” he added. “You can trace the whole thing back to the start. The crash was always coming.”

On the morning after the referendum, Cameron announced he would be standing down to allow a new prime minister to prepare for the negotiation with the EU. “Above all,” he said “this will require strong, determined and committed leadership.”

On July 11, 2016, the Conservative Party chose Theresa May to replace him.

By selecting May — a former home secretary known for her hard line on immigration — the Tory Party put in place a prime minister whose personal definition of Brexit would put her in conflict with the goals set out by the EU.

“We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again” — Theresa May in 2016

May began her premiership with a simple — if enigmatic — definition of leaving the EU: “Brexit means Brexit.” By her first Tory Party conference as prime minister in October 2016, she had clarified her position. Brexit meant controlling immigration from the EU, shrugging off the jurisdiction of EU courts and regaining the ability to strike independent trade deals.

“We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again,” she said, to the ovation of Tory members.  “And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen. We are leaving to become, once more, a fully sovereign and independent country.”

She would spell out in a later speech at Lancaster House in January 2017 that that also meant leaving the single market and the customs union.

If the EU didn’t accept her red lines, “no deal was better than a bad deal.”

But even as May staked out her position, she was also making a commitment that would define the rest of the negotiations.

In the same speech, on the first day of the Tory Party conference, May reiterated a promise she had made in a newspaper interview published that morning: The U.K. would trigger Article 50 before the end of March 2017.

“That duly forfeited at a stroke any leverage over how that process would run,” said Ivan Rogers, former U.K. ambassador to the EU, in a lecture at Liverpool University in December 2018. “And it gave to the 27, who had, by the morning of June 24th, already set out their ‘no negotiation without notification’ position, the first couple of goals of the match in the opening five minutes.”

Jonathan Faull, a British former director general at the European Commission, who led a task force on the strategic dilemmas posed by the U.K.’s EU referendum, agreed: “It was not entirely inevitable … but much of what followed should have been obvious from the way Article 50 is written and how we know the EU works.”

For Matthew Elliott, the Vote Leave campaign’s chief executive, May’s decision to trigger Article 50 was a defining moment. “Vote Leave always had a plan — the key plank of which was not to trigger Article 50 pre-emptively, but to instead use the time after the referendum to prepare and plan,” he said. “It is deeply regrettable that the advice wasn’t heeded among officials.”

May had planted her flag. The question was how the EU would react.

Ireland plans

russels was not the only European capital where politicians and civil servants had been preparing for Brexit.

One adviser on European affairs to a prominent EU27 leader said Dublin had begun lobbying other EU countries in the months before the referendum to ensure Ireland was protected in the event of decision by the U.K. to leave.

“If there is one player which made Ireland go to the top of the agenda, it was Ireland,” the adviser said.

The Irish were pushing on an open door. EU members were always going to give priority to the vital interests of a member state over those of a country that had decided to turn its back on the Union — just as they had sided with Cyprus over the Turkish Cypriots, despite Brussels’ support for a peace deal for the divided island that the Turkish Cypriots had accepted and the Greek Cypriots voted to reject.

That Ireland felt the need to reiterate its commitment is illustrative of how the country’s leaders saw Brexit as an existential threat.

Northern Irish peer Paul Bew, one of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement, said Dublin’s preparation was typical of the Irish in their long history of negotiations with Britain. “They are on top of the detail, and we [the British] are incurious. The people at the top of the U.K. government are also paralyzed by imperial guilt.”

The contrast with London was stark. While Cameron refused to allow officials to prepare for a Leave vote — barring officials from putting anything on paper — Ireland had produced a 130-page Contingency Plan with an hour-by-hour checklist.

On the morning the referendum result was announced, then Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny made a statement intended to reassure the markets and Irish citizens. Its central thrust was blunt: Ireland would remain a committed member of the EU. The point was so important he repeated it.

“Ireland will, of course, remain a member of the European Union,” Kenny declared. “That is profoundly in our national interest.” His government, he said, had “prepared to the greatest extent possible for this eventuality.”

That Ireland, which joined the bloc along with the U.K. in 1973, felt the need to reiterate its commitment is illustrative of how the country’s leaders saw Brexit as an existential threat.

Not only do the two countries share a lengthy and complex colonial history, they remain uniquely intertwined. The two countries share a common travel area — a mini Schengen — a language, and of course, a common land border, one with a violent history quieted by a delicate peace agreement that Brexit threatened to unravel.

Hard border

he problem posed by the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was evident long before the U.K. voted to leave.

On June 9, 2016, two weeks before the referendum, former U.K. Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair visited Northern Ireland to warn that the future of the union was “on the ballot paper” and that a Leave vote risked the return of border controls with the Republic of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland and the U.K. had agreed a common travel area in the 1920s and joined the EU together in 1973. There had never been a moment when one country was in the EU and the other not.

And yet, for all its preparations, Dublin had not come up with a solution.

In Cameron’s statement to the House of Commons on June 27 he said the British and Irish governments would start discussion that week to “work through the challenges relating to the common border area.”

In early scoping exercises, according to “Brexit & Ireland,” by Tony Connelly, Europe editor at the Irish broadcaster RTÉ, Dublin had proposed a U.K.-Ireland bilateral trade agreement for agriculture to avoid the return of a hard border.

This had been rejected out of hand by the EU as illegal.

The Anglo-Irish talks went on for months. Even as May was setting out her “red lines” at the Tory Party conference, Irish and British civil servants were meeting in the Foreign Office in London for a two-day summit, with Brexit on the agenda.

“There was always a worry that the Irish were the Brits’ Trojan Horse” — Senior EU official

These bilateral talks — taking place before the Brexit negotiations had officially started — soon caught the attention of Brussels, where officials were becoming concerned.

“From the autumn onwards, they had their diplomacy on the ground, taking everyone through the details of the Good Friday Agreement,” said one senior EU official intimately involved in the negotiations. “But there was always a worry that the Irish were the Brits’ Trojan Horse.”

A few days after May’s speech at the party conference, Michel Barnier, the Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, arrived in Dublin. The message was clear: Stop negotiating with the British.

From then on, it would be Brussels that took on responsibility for the Irish border.

United front

he appointment of Barnier, a tall, suave former French minister and two-time European commissioner, is credited as one of the primary reasons the EU was able to maintain a united front in the face of Brexit.

“As soon as we had found our ‘face,’ it was a second-rate problem,” explained one Europe adviser to a major EU27 leader. “This is the main reason the U.K. was not seen as a threat.”

A second senior official, a sherpa for an influential EU leader, added: “Brexit is a lose-lose game. We want to focus on the future of the Union and let Barnier settle the accounts of the past.”

That it would be Barnier who would be tasked with the talks was not obvious the morning after the referendum. In the aftermath of the vote, control of the negotiations was the subject of a turf war between the EU’s major institutions. Should it be the Council leading the talks — or the Commission?

“[Barnier is] a politician who is reassuring for France, but is identifiable in Germany” — Europe adviser in major EU government

In the end it wasn’t much of competition. The Council of the EU — the institution representing national governments — was the first out of the gate, with the appointment of the little-known but well-liked Belgian civil servant Didier Seeuws to coordinate its response. Juncker and Selmayr then laid their trump card: Barnier.

“The decision to appoint Barnier and to do so quickly was a big decision,” said the Europe adviser to a major EU27 leader. “This was a decision taken by Juncker. I don’t think he saw all the consequences, but it was a very good decision. Seeuws was a coordinator, not a leader. We needed a political guy. That was clever.”

A Frenchman and a member of Merkel’s center-right European People’s Party, Barnier had the endorsement of the German chancellor and the French president. He also knew the U.K. and the City of London well, having been in charge of EU financial regulation in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

“He’s a politician who is reassuring for France, but is identifiable in Germany,” the Europe adviser explained. “He’s a Brussels man, but from a national capital.”

Most important, he had enough stature to allow national leaders to step back from the process.

No matter how hard May and her officials tried to turn the Brexit talks into a diplomatic discussion, a negotiation among equals, Barnier would ensure it remained an institutional process — between the U.K. and the much larger EU.

Brexit would be — in the words of Pascal Lamy, a former head of the World Trade Organization — not a negotiation, but an “amputation.”

“The Brits always want to make it a political discussion, but it’s just the reverse of an accession negotiation,” explained one EU aide. “It’s not a negotiation. We unwind EU law in your domestic system.”

Even ardent Brexiteers in the U.K. would come to share this view. In March 2019, former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith would complain bitterly about the way the talks had gone. “The negotiations up to now have been less a kind of negotiation and more of a process which allowed the European Union to get their way,” he said.

France’s diplomatic establishment schools its officials in the idea of a “rapport de force” — the balance of power in any relationship. As long as the negotiations remained between Brussels and London, there would be no question who had the upper hand.

“The EU, while strategically myopic, is formidably good at process against negotiating opponents” — Ivan Rogers, former British ambassador to the EU

And that was maintained by controlling the process. There would be no negotiation without notification, no future relationship without the divorce agreement, and no divorce agreement if the money, citizens’ rights and the problem of the Irish border weren’t sorted out first.

“The EU, while strategically myopic, is formidably good at process against negotiating opponents,” said Rogers. “No one was paying much attention to how the EU was patiently constructing the process designed to maximize its leverage.”

At every turn, Barnier pressed home his advantage, and the U.K. — with little alternative — bowed to the inevitable.

“We don’t need to create rapport de force. It was there on the day it [Brexit] was triggered,” was how one French official put it.

Upper hand

owhere was the imbalance of power more important than on the Irish border.

By February, 2017 — before Britain had even triggered Article 50 — Brussels had taken ownership of the problem and come up with the beginnings of a solution.

In a confidential Brexit note, titled “Brexit and the Border between Ireland the U.K.,” the Commission proposed a soft land border for goods — and no border controls for agriculture and food. In effect, the island of Ireland would be treated as unified when it came to food and farming. Northern Ireland would be subject to EU law even after it had left.

The kicker: This meant there would have to be border controls within the U.K. — between Britain and Northern Ireland.

“Ireland asked for something,” one European Commission official said. “But so did the EU: single market integrity in Northern Ireland.”

According to Connelly’s “Brexit & Ireland,” the memo “acknowledged the sensitivity of this idea,” because of the fury it would cause among unionists in Northern Ireland. “As the Commission’s Irish interlocutors have indicated,” the note stated, “insisting on such a solution could harm the peace process.”

But it was the only way under EU law, the Commission concluded, given the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU’s customs union.

The discussion about the border was part of the EU’s work on its Brexit negotiating “bible,” in preparation for the U.K.’s official declaration of departure. It was published, after extensive consultation with national governments, at the April leaders’ summit shortly after Theresa May triggered Article 50 on March 29, 2017.

Like a balloon slowly expanded from its original form, the negotiating guidelines were simply a blown-up version of the statements published by the EU in the hours after the result was announced. As the talks dragged on, the balloon continued to expand but never substantially changed shape.

There must be a “balance of rights and obligations” the agreement declared. “The integrity of the single market must be preserved, which means the four freedoms are indivisible and excludes any cherry-picking,” it read.

“Where we are now has been obvious for a long time” — Senior official at No. 10 Downing Street

Crucially, it also declared there would be a “phased approach” to the negotiations. Only after the divorce had been settled could work on the future relationship begin.

It was exactly what Vote Leave had feared. Britain would have to agree to settle its bills and agree to the EU’s solution to the Irish border before talks could start on what kind of relationship would come next. This would deprive the U.K. of much of its leverage in the discussion about the future relationship.

“Where we are now has been obvious for a long time,” said a senior member of Theresa May’s Downing Street operation. “By setting up the sequencing like they did, and putting Northern Ireland in the first phase, this was always going to happen. It was their choice, it doesn’t say anywhere in Article 50 that it had to be like this.”

Irish wins

hen the EU’s negotiating “bible” was published in April 2017, Brussels was still publicly toying with “creative solutions” for the Irish border. It also restricted its commitment to the “aim” of no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Yet the frenzied Irish diplomacy had already resulted in three substantial achievements.

First, Enda Kenny visited the U.K. prime minister in July 2016, the month that May took office, and won a public assurance that there would be no return to the borders of the past.

Second, the border problem had been put explicitly on Brussels’ agenda — a top-ticket divorce item that needed to be resolved before the U.K. could depart.

Third, Dublin had persuaded the EU as early as April 2017 to confirm that should Northern Ireland ever reunify with the Republic it would automatically become a member of the EU.

“We just could not believe the British had accepted the text” — Senior EU official

The British were furious, but the EU had proved it had Ireland’s back.

In November 2017, after the U.K. had failed to propose a solution to the Irish border, the Commission unveiled its proposal: a “backstop” to ensure that whatever happened in the future, the border would remain open.

Barnier’s team had concluded that the only way to protect the EU single market while avoiding a hard border in Ireland was for the U.K. to ensure that there would be “no regulatory divergence” between Northern Ireland and the rules of the single market and customs union.

For May, already struggling politically, the implications were deadly. Doing so would require one of two painful compromises, each of them anathema to political factions supporting her government.

The entirety of the U.K. would have to abide by EU rules (something hard-line Brexiteers would never accept), or Northern Ireland would be subject to different laws to the rest of the country (a measure to which the Northern Irish unionists whose votes she depended on were sure to object).

Bending the rules

he reaction in London was apoplectic. The Commission had proposed bending the rules of the single market to apply bits of EU law to Northern Ireland, but not the rest of the U.K.

The proposal was designed to answer the goals laid out by Brussels and Dublin: to protect the integrity of the single market and maintain an open border. It ensured the price for Brexit would be paid by the British and not the Irish who otherwise faced the “ghastly choice,” in the words of one high-ranking EU official, of erecting border controls with Northern Ireland or diluting its membership of the single market and customs union.

Olly Robbins, Theresa May’s chief negotiator, travelled to Brussels to complain.

“Among our many arguments was a key democratic deficit point,” said one U.K. official who was in the room with Robbins. “You will leave Northern Ireland with no say in the laws governing it. That is tyranny and will be unsustainable.”

But the EU were immovable — and eventually, in December 2017, the British agreed to the proposal.

In Dublin they could not believe the U.K. had agreed, one senior EU27 official said. “I remember being in a taxi that Sunday night. We just could not believe the British had accepted the text. We knew it would not be acceptable to the unionists. The truth is, Brexit was always going to poison the atmosphere and it has.”

The Irish backstop would remain the key sticking point for the rest of the negotiations, even after May convinced the EU to widen its scope to ensure the whole of the U.K. remained in the customs union.

Ultimately, it caused May’s deal to be rejected in parliament in January 2019 — the largest government defeat ever. That raised the prospect of the U.K. crashing out without a deal, plummeting Northern Irish politics further into crisis.

“There were a number of missteps, but the two most serious were on the sequencing and the language on the backstop,” said former Brexit Secretary David Davis. “By giving way on the sequencing right at the start we broke the linkage with the future relationship that was vital. From December 2017 onward [after the backstop was agreed] it went from a standard, fairly tough negotiation to a struggle to escape from the positions [May] fell into.”

One senior Downing Street official said the U.K. had warned the EU about the risks the backstop posed domestically, but felt it had no choice but to agree. “It didn’t feel like we had much choice, it felt like it would all fall apart quite quickly if we didn’t. But that sowed the seeds for where we are now.”

Asked directly whether the EU knew what it was getting itself into, one senior official close to Barnier said: “Oh, we know what we’re getting ourselves into. We just have no choice.”

Salzburg reality check

or the U.K., the reality of its position finally came crashing down in September 2018, at special EU summit in the Austrian town of Salzburg.

On, Wednesday September 19, May’s most senior advisers were relaxing on a rooftop hotel bar. The mood was light. Hopes were high. May was due to address EU leaders the following day and had one-to-one meetings lined up with key leaders Donald Tusk and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar.

By lunchtime the next day, the prime minister — and British diplomacy — would be publicly humiliated, her best-laid plan for Brexit rejected.

May had started her tenure riding high in the polls — the dominant, domineering figure in British politics. Parliament was rarely consulted; only because of a court order did the prime minister seek the chamber’s consent before triggering Article 50.

It all went wrong for May after she called a snap election in the hope of securing the strong majority she would need to push through whatever deal she struck with Brussels. The plan backfired. In a stunning rebuke, voters stripped the Conservative Party of its majority.

As the leader of the largest party, May remained prime minister, but she became reliant on the votes of the conservative Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, a fiercely pro-union party that had opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the island.

Weakened, May became unable to soften her red lines — or compromise on the Irish border — without losing the support of the hard-line Brexiteers in her party or the Northern Irish unionists. Her red lines kept her in power, but they made it nearly impossible for her to strike a deal with the EU.

“She drew bloody red lines which she has consistently tried to blur afterwards,” one of the EU’s most senior Brexit officials told POLITICO shortly after the deal had been agreed. “It wasted a lot of time because it made every single step very painful.”

Forced retreat

s the negotiations dragged on, Britain was repeatedly forced to retreat. May would make a stand, only to be forced to back down as the EU pressed on relentlessly.

Efforts to whittle down Britain’s financial accounts with the EU were rejected, until May finally agreed to honor them in full. Rows over the role of the European Court of Justice protecting EU citizens’ rights dragged on. British pride was badly piqued when the EU made clear the U.K. would not remain full partners in EU programs it had once played a leading role in, such as Galileo, European defense or security. The law was the law, and Britain would be a third country.

British concessions were large and small. Staff at the U.K. parliamentary representation in Brussels — UKREP — were left exasperated after each visit from David Davis, May’s first Brexit secretary.

On each occasion, Davis demanded that they prepare to host the joint press conference with him and Barnier on British soil in the city. But every time, despite the staff going to great lengths to ensure the U.K. could put on a press conference at the last minute if necessary, Davis always, eventually, relented to take questions in the European Commission.

The first significant blurring of Theresa May’s red lines came in December 2017, with her acceptance of the backstop.

“It was every bloody time,” said one British official. “Every time. And every time we ended up at the Commission.”

There were other small indignities. Before the negotiations started there had been, in London at least, talk of alternating the negotiations between the British capital and Brussels. By the end, no technical talks had taken place in London.

Officials from both sides often met in meeting room 201 of the European Commission’s “Charlemagne zone” on floor five of the Berlaymont building, one EU official said. On the side of the wall outside the room sits a picture of Conwy Castle in Wales, a building renovated using EU structural funds — a neat statement of the EU’s position on Brexit.

Climbdown

he first significant blurring of Theresa May’s red lines came in December 2017, with her acceptance of the backstop.

Then came May’s Chequers proposal, in July 2018. For May, the proposal — named after the prime minister’s country retreat — was a huge climbdown. It envisioned the whole of the U.K remaining, to all intents and purposes, in the EU’s single market for goods.

It would allow the U.K. to avoid a border being erected — on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea. But it was politically costly. May’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and her Brexit secretary, David Davis, both resigned in protest, along with six other junior members of the government.

It was this proposal that May had brought to Salzburg, in an attempt to break the deadlock by appealing directly to EU leaders.

Doing so was a gamble — and an enormous miscalculation. At the leaders’ summit, Donald Tusk quickly dismissed any chance it would be accepted. The Chequers proposal was “not acceptable” he said. “Especially on the economic side of it.”

French President Emmanuel Macron broke with diplomatic niceties, attacking British Brexiteers as “liars” and dismissing May’s proposal as a “brave step” that remained “not acceptable.”

“The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it,” he added.

“The big loss is that they have not settled the question for the future” — Senior official close to Michel Barnier

In Westminster, the episode became known known as the “disaster of Salzburg,” epitomizing months of failure. “Salzburg was the moment British diplomacy came crashing down,” said one U.K. diplomat.

“It was a big misunderstanding, a big mistake,” agreed the senior adviser to an EU leader intimately involved in the negotiations.

Westminster had underestimated the EU’s determination to ensure the Brexit talks remained a bureaucratic process — and not be sucked into political horse-trading with the U.K. “It misread the legal nature of the EU,” one senior French official said. “This is what makes it strong.”

The British “seemed to think this was the moment it would be taken out of Barnier’s hands to become a political negotiation,” the adviser continued. “That was the last time the U.K. thought it could all be sorted out politically.”

MPs take control

 feel like, when people look back at this, they’ll realize this was the real beginning of the end,” texted one member of May’s inner circle. It was 10:20 p.m. on March 25, 2019, and MPs had just voted to begin the process of “indicative votes” on alternative Brexit plans.

With less than three weeks until Brexit day — already kicked down the road into April after parliament had twice voted down the deal May struck with the EU in November — the prime minister had formally lost control.

A third vote on her deal had been pulled because she just did not have the numbers.

For many around May, that a crash would come had been obvious for months. As far back as July 2018, senior figures inside No. 10 Downing Street had warned that her deal, as it was shaping up, was unsustainable. There was just no way a majority in parliament could be assembled for the Brexit the EU was offering.

In truth, the trains had been set in motion far earlier — the collision was the culmination of decisions taken by both sides within the hours, weeks and months that followed the referendum. The EU’s determination not to cut London a special deal; Cameron’s decision to walk away; May’s sweeping promise not to raise a border in Ireland, while at the same time drawing incompatible red lines — something had to give, and it would not be Brussels.

The result, some of the most senior figures in Brussels and London admit, is an outcome in which the  negotiations will have fallen short of their limited ambitions — even if a deal is eventually forced through a recalcitrant House of Commons in the coming days or weeks.

The contentious Irish backstop — the root cause of the crisis — has become so toxic for the largest party in Northern Ireland, the DUP, that it risks permanently undermining power-sharing until it is removed and replaced.

Throughout the negotiations, the divisions in Northern Ireland have deepened, and the peace process has been damaged — as the Commission predicted in February 2017.

Most important, few of the major questions created by Britain’s decision to leave the EU have been answered. “The big loss is that they have not settled the question for the future,” one senior official close to Barnier admitted.

Should the EU have resisted the temptation to press home its overwhelming advantage? Should it have allowed the U.K. some cherry-picking? Should it have made Dublin share some of the costs of Brexit by imposing a border with Northern Ireland instead of the backstop?

Many in the U.K. might think so, but few in Brussels, Dublin or any other European capital would agree. “History will judge,” said the senior official.

Paul Taylor and David Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the institution that appointed Didier Seeuws as Brexit coordinator.