Key Events This Week
More trouble ahead for May and Corbyn
The leaders of the two main parties have been subjected to further political pressure as attention returns to the Brexit impasse with the resumption of Parliament after the Easter break.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn fended off a mini rebellion from members of his shadow cabinet, including Deputy Leader Tom Watson, over the party’s stance on the terms of any second Brexit referendum. Ahead of European elections which the UK are likely to contest this month, the party was reportedly preparing election literature which had no reference to a second referendum and suggesting that the party would push ahead with delivering Brexit albeit in a different form.
The revelation sparked fury among leading Labour party MPs including Keir Starmer, Hilary Benn, Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson. In response to the pressure the National Executive of the Labour Party, which is heavily supportive of the leader, decided to include the option of a referendum. However, the Party’s leadership rejected calls by Deputy Leader Tom Watson to campaign for a referendum in all circumstances.
Prime Minister May also received a further headache this week as Conservative constituency organisations garnered enough support to reach the threshold to trigger an emergency vote on her future. The vote marks the first time in the party’s 185-year history that local conservative associations have used an emergency meeting of the National Conservative Convention to deliberate on a party leader’s position. The move by grassroots members follows calls from the backbench committee of Conservative MPs for the Prime Minister to set out a clearer timetable for her departure. As results from this week’s local elections in England and Northern Ireland continue to flow in today and with the potential surge in support for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party in a European election, it’s unlikely the Prime Minister will be putting her feet up anytime soon.
European Commission announces policy priorities for next mandate
This week the European Commission published its policy recommendations for the EU’s next strategic agenda from 2019-2024. The Executive’s priorities include measures to strengthen the European Security Union with the goal of developing a “genuine European Defence Union.” This measure is likely to cause further division among those member states who favour stronger defence cooperation and others who resist such efforts.
Ahead of an informal meeting of EU leaders in Romania next week the Commission also recommended that the internal market must be upgraded and modernised and also emphasised the need for a reform agenda to be fully adopted in the next mandate. These measures, it is hoped, will allow the EU to focus on research and innovation when it comes to environmental, social and economic issues, while also investing in key digital capabilities in line with the growth of artificial intelligence.
The European Commission also recommends that the EU accelerate efforts to fortify the position of the euro, embrace the circular economy through the promotion of sustainable consumption practices in light of climate change concerns and calls for measures to be taken to promote social inclusion across Europe.
However, the upcoming European elections are likely to see a rise in Eurosceptic and populist parties at the expense of the ruling EPP and PES blocs which will move the pendulum in terms of EU policy on a range of issues. Furthermore, the significant change in the number of EPP and PES Heads of State and Prime Ministers since 2014 will lead to a vastly different College of Commissioners and quite possibly, a new direction of policy travel to that favoured by the outgoing leadership.
Voters choose left-wing continuity but Madrid faces deadlock
Sunday’s third general election in just four years highlighted the dramatic change in fortune for Spain’s two main political parties. Leader of the Socialist Workers’ party (PSEO) and outgoing Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, looks set to return to power with his party emerging as the biggest winner with an additional 37 seats.
However, the outcome of the vote was starkly different for the centre-right party, Partido Popular (PP), which has dominated Spanish politics for the past two decades. The party suffered its worst defeat in its 30 year history, winning just under 17% of the vote. The entry of the far-right Vox party and an almost doubling in seats for centre-right Ciudadanos party will see pressure on PP leader Pablo Casado to step down.
While Sanchez was the ultimate winner in Sunday’s vote his party failed to get an overall majority and Madrid will once again play witness to weeks of negotiations in efforts to form a stable administration. In the immediate aftermath of the vote Sanchez’s Deputy Prime Minister announced her preference to lead a minority government. However, with the PSOE some 53 seats away from an absolute majority, it’s likely the party could seek to form an agreement with the left wing bloc including Podemos as well as a number of independents but that too falls short of a majority. An agreement between PSOE and Ciudadanos would solve the arithmetic problem but the latter has made its position clear that it seeks to overtake a debilitated PP as Spain’s main opposition to the centre-left.
While voters delivered a clear mandate for a PSOE-led government, the make-up and indeed timeline of such an administration is far from certain.