One down, two to go in the French election
With the EU starting the year facing three potentially severe blows to its future in the form of Dutch, French and German elections, there will have been a collective sigh of relief amongst Europhiles this week as the results of the first French presidential ballot was announced on Sunday.
While Marine Le Pen did make it to the second round of the French general election, receiving 21.3 % of the votes, she will now have to face Emanuel Macron (24.1 %), and not the other extremist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon making the second ballot was feared by EU leaders, with such a scenario putting Le Pen on course for victory.
Instead, the next President will most likely be the youthful centrist, Emmanuel Macron, who could be described as the nearest to a viable establishment candidate. But with elections the world over proving during the last year that we should expect the unexpected, many across Europe will have some restless nights before the second ballot result is announced.
Regardless of which candidate wins on 7 May, the result will have huge implications for both Britain, and the EU. Macron has said the Brexit objective must be “to preserve the rest of the European Union and not to convey the message that you can decide to leave without any consequences.” If elected President, Macron would promote a tough stance towards the UK in Brexit negotiations. In contrast, Le Pen has said she will become Britain’s ally in Brexit but has vowed to hold her own referendums over France’s membership of the EU – which could call the future of the whole bloc into question.
Needless to say, the drama is far from over.
Labour and Brexit
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer took to the microphone this week, seeking to map out Labour’s policy on quitting the European Union. Labour has been widely criticised by both the Conservatives and former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair for a lack of clarity in its approach to Brexit.
Unfortunately for Sir Keir, it seems the confusion about what Labour ‘really wants’ continues.
Sir Keir said Labour will scrap May’s Brexit plans and guarantee the rights of EU residents before starting on further Brexit negotiations, if elected on 8 June. He also insisted Labour would ‘rip up’ the Government’s white paper and scrap the Great Repeal Bill while continuing to negotiate on membership of the Single Market and the customs union – claiming Labour would listen to the will of the people while potentially delaying the process of leaving in order to get a better deal.
Reaction to Sir Keir’s statement was decidedly mixed, with numerous commentators suggesting it left no-one any clearer as to Labour’s Brexit policy, and only emphasised the deep divisions within the Party on the issue. Unsurprisingly, Labour’s campaign focus thus far has been on public services, with strategists seeking to steer well clear of the Brexit debate.
May in Wales
To Wales, where Prime Minister Theresa May capitalised on Labour’s seeming Brexit confusion, calling the Party’s position ‘nonsensical’ and attempting to win votes in the historical Labour heartland. Repeating her new-found mantra, Ms May told the Welsh that a Conservative vote would ‘strengthen her hand’ in the Brexit negotiations and create a ‘stronger Wales’.
The Prime Minister is right to feel optimistic about her campaign. According to YouGov’s recent poll, the Conservatives could win a landslide victory in Whales – remarkable since the Conservatives have not won a majority of Welsh seats at a general election since the 1850s. If anything, the fact that she chose to visit Wales so early in her campaign points to her confidence in victory on 8 June.
We need to talk about the EU
With all the talk about the upcoming general election and how the Government is handling Brexit negotiations with the EU, it’s been striking how little political and media attention is being spent on trying to understand what the other 27 EU states think about the upcoming negotiations. After all, irrespective of how strong Theresa May’s mandate might be, she’ll still have to negotiate with all member states – and on evidence this week, they’re not for turning.
Angela Merkel’s told the German Bundestag this week that the current understanding across the continent is that the UK is under the illusion that it will be able to leave the union while keeping yielding the benefits of memberships. Considering the current unity of the other 27 EU members, the UK may have to take an eye off its election to consider the opinions of the states it soon will have to negotiate with.
Scottish membership: a dying dream?
Scottish independence is becoming more unlikely – at least if that’s if new polls are to believed. While First Minister Nicola Sturgeon remains committed to holding a vote on Scotland’s future between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019, her fellow Scots are losing interest in the idea of an independent Scotland. According to a recent YouGov poll, a majority (51%) of the Scots don’t want another referendum either before or after 2019.
The lack of support for Scottish independence could be explained, in part at least, by the fact that many of those who voted for it in 2014 did not do so because they were persuaded by blood and soil nationalism, but because they felt political decisions about Scotland were being made too far from Scotland itself.
Unfortunately for Ms Sturgeon, Brexit now seems to have taken over some of that frustration. Indeed, a sizable minority (36 %) of SNP supporters share a will to leave the EU with other UK nationals. So with Brexit on the horizon, Scottish independence is seemingly becoming increasingly unlikely.
For more information about Brexit, the negotiations and their impact, please visit Project Brexit.