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British Expat Newsletter: May 2019

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In this issue

This month

Brexit drags on. (Fancy that.) So, predictably, last month the UK took part in the European Parliament elections which Theresa May had been so keen for us to miss out on. Equally predictably, there was no shortage of commentators – within the political parties and outside – eager to put their own particular spin on the results.

The Brexit Party were clear winners. Regardless of your personal stance on Faraargh, it’s still an impressive performance to go from (almost) scratch to over 30% of the vote in less than two months. They were helped by UKIP‘s steadily eroding credibility, including a massive hit in the council elections in England earlier in the month. And, of course, by a single-issue manifesto: get the UK out of the EU no matter what (and without the unpleasant xenophobic baggage that now comes with UKIP). The fact that many voters would be prepared to vote for The Brexit Party in a general election, in spite of the fact that it has no position on any other issue whatsoever, is a deeply scary sign – both of how far one issue has come to push out all others from politics, and of how willing people are to vote for one charismatic person without giving any thought to the consequences.

Unsurprisingly, the other main winners were the unambiguously pro-Remain parties. The Lib Dems went all out to campaign as the Remain party, with their memorable if crude slogan: “Bollocks to Brexit”. They leapfrogged both Labour and the Conservatives to take second place nationally and first place in London. The Greens also performed well, though – as ever – environmental issues were a major part of their campaign and may have served to divert some support to the Lib Dems among single-issue voters. And the SNP and Plaid Cymru boosted their position – the SNP coming a clear first in Scotland, PC achieving a best-ever second place in Wales. The one exception was the new Change UK party, which failed to establish itself as an effective independent force in the centre alongside the Lib Dems and the Greens.

Labour had a disastrous election. Unwilling either to commit wholeheartedly to a “confirmatory vote” (or “People’s Vote”, or second referendum) or to rule one out, it fudged the issue and, bizarrely, tried to campaign primarily on national welfare issues. Consequently Remainers deserted it in droves for other parties, resulting in its annihilation in its traditional strongholds of London, where it won just two out of eight seats, and Scotland and Wales, where it failed to win any at all. Deputy Leader Tom Watson and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry weren’t slow to draw the conclusion that Labour needed to commit to a People’s Vote. But Leader Jeremy Corbyn remains lukewarm, and clearly favours a general election over a referendum – though several anti-Brexit commentators have questioned the wisdom of seeking to appease the relatively few left-wing Brexit supporters while haemorrhaging support from Labour’s Remainer majority.

The Tories fared worse still, achieving less than 10 per cent of the national vote and just four MEPs out of 73. They failed to come first in a single district or council area. This was doubtless partly due to their extreme reluctance to campaign in the election in the first place; they had no manifesto, and their election leaflet majored on the need to push through a Brexit deal which many of their own MPs and party members didn’t want. Small wonder that Theresa May was finally forced to announce a timetable for her departure as Tory Party leader and as PM, in an emotional address outside 10 Downing Street on 24 May.

We now face a Tory leadership contest in which (at the time of writing) 12 candidates are standing. Worryingly, several of them appear more than happy to embrace a no-deal Brexit, regardless of the consequences. None of them favour the kind of soft Brexit that might have secured a Parliamentary majority. And their thoughts seem mostly to be running on what’s best for the stability not of the nation, but of the Conservative Party.

After the Article 50 extension to 31 October was agreed, European Council President Donald Tusk said, “Please do not waste this time.” Based on past years’ Parliamentary recesses for the summer holidays in July and August and the party conference season in September, there’s not much time left to waste, with the BBC calculating just 49 sitting days between now and Brexit day.

However, the true picture is worse than that. The leadership contest may last well into July, and while it continues any kind of debate on Brexit policy is effectively on hold. It’ll be followed almost immediately afterwards by the summer recess in Parliament and Europe’s traditional August shut-down when little business gets done. So effectively all of June, July and August will be lost, leaving just the 22 sitting days in September and October.

Hallowe’en is only two months away. Wooooo…

It’s been a while since we last looked at Africa. Our latest Pic of the Week does so, but only tangentially – it’s a postage stamp from Benin, featuring…Madonna. Can you make the connection between Madonna and Benin? No, nor could we.

And our latest quiz delves a little deeper into Benin – which was known before 1975 as Dahomey. How much more do you know about it?

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