Europe (i.e., UK) update: June 8-9 2017


Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a master, and while I’m no expert on British political history or the history of electoral politics more generally, I can’t help but tip my cap to Theresa May, who yesterday achieved what has to be one of the greatest self-inflicted political wounds of all time, perhaps even greater than the one her predecessor, David Cameron, suffered when he decided to hold the Brexit referendum. She surpassed all our expectations. In an election that as recently as a month ago looked like her party was going to win in a historic landslide, she lost her parliamentary majority.

This was an election that, to reiterate, May didn’t have to call. She chose to have a snap election because polls told her she could run up a huge, secure Conservative majority. She wanted a huge majority so that she could approach Brexit talks with the freedom of knowing that even if she had to walk away without making a trade deal with Brussels, even if the situation were bad enough that some Conservative MPs balked, she would still have a reliable parliamentary majority to work with. Instead, her party lost 12 seats, going from 331 to 319 (she needed 326 for a majority) and now has to enter a partnership with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose ten seats will give her a majority smaller than the one the Tories had on their own before the election.

This outcome obviously has implications for a lot of things, but let’s start with the fact that the Conservatives are now forced to throw in with the DUP to retain their government. Who are the DUP, you ask? Well, imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church formed a political party that also had ties to domestic terrorists. Now imagine that party somehow won a handful of seats in the US House of Representatives, and the Republican Party were forced to caucus with it in order to retain its legislative majority. That’s what the DUP is, Ireland’s more violent version of Westboro:

Originally, the DUP was closely associated with the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which was founded by the Rev. Ian Paisley, who also led the DUP for decades. The Free Presbyterians are evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. In contrast to conservative evangelicals in the United States, who forged a tacit political alliance with conservative Catholics decades ago, the Free Presbyterians have strong anti-Catholic views. Paisley himself was involved with anti-Catholic paramilitaries in the 1960s and notoriously yelled that Pope John Paul II was the “Antichrist” when the pontiff visited the European Parliament in the 1980s. The relationship between the church and party has weakened over time: Paisley’s successor as party leader, Peter Robinson, started the movement away from domination by the Free Presbyterians, and the current DUP leader, Arlene Foster, is a member of the Episcopalian-linked Church of Ireland. Nonetheless, the party’s association with a particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity has shaped many of its political positions (including not only hostility to Catholic Irish nationalism, but to homosexuality too).

That the Tories would be reduced to coddling a hate group masquerading as a political party in a desperate attempt to hold on to power is itself discrediting. But consider also that Conservatives and their pundit allies spent a good portion of this campaign smearing Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged sympathies for the Irish Republican Army. Having spent the campaign attacking their opponent for being friendly with Northern Irish extremists, the Tories are now forming a governing coalition with a party of… Northern Irish extremists. Unfortunately the fascist UKIP saw its support drop to almost nothing and failed to even win a single seat, or else I guess May could’ve brought them into the fold as well.

To add injury to this very real insult, the DUP is likely to be a thorn in May’s side as she negotiates Brexit. While opposition to the European Union is in the party’s DNA, it is a fact of political life in Northern Ireland that Brexit is not popular. Whatever people might think of the EU, they’ve gotten pretty used to having a soft border with the rest of Ireland, and very few Northern Irish voters are keen to return to the days of a hard border. May promised to withdraw from the EU’s freedom of movement regulations, even if it means crashing out of the EU single market–which Brussels will likely demand anyway, because they won’t let the UK be in the market without accepting freedom of movement. Now, if she goes that route, which would certainly lead to a return to a hard Irish border, she’d be likely to meet instant opposition from the party that’s keeping her in the prime minister’s office. Do you suppose Brussels is going to realize that as well?

The truth is, nobody really knows what this means for Brexit now. The Guardian even thinks there could be another Brexit referendum, though that seems to me like an exceedingly long shot. Brussels is already complaining because the outcome of yesterday’s election almost certainly means a delay in starting the talks, but I suspect they’ll appreciate the fact that May’s position is weaker, not stronger, than it was before.  Most observers in Brussels appear to be doing what I’m still doing, which is dropping my jaw and staring dumbfoundedly at the Tories, who have now screwed themselves electorally twice in about a year. Was it all their own doing? No, I think three recent terror attacks in the UK probably played into this outcome. But if May had responded to any of those attacks with any level of assuredness, or if she hadn’t been responsible for cutting 20,000 police as home secretary, then maybe the election would have played out differently.

It’s not even clear at this point that May is the one who will be leading the Brexit negotiations. And not just because her coalition talks with the DUP could still snag on something. No, there’s a real possibility that May is going to have to step down as PM and party leader. Seriously, in any other line of work if you fuck up this comprehensively you’re usually not invited to continue in your position. And May has to answer for how she managed to turn a 20+ point polling majority into a loss of seats in just seven weeks. We could still see a Prime Minister Gary Busey Wearing a Pregnancy Suit Boris Johnson, though I don’t think the universe loves me enough to make that happen, or a Prime Minister Philip Hammond. Maybe May can move to Washington and get a job as the person who holds Donald Trump’s hand when he has to go down a staircase.

The other party leader who comes out of this vote probably needing to resign is Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, whose laser-like focus on a new Scottish independence referendum was so popular that SNP lost 21 seats. This probably means there won’t be a second Scottish referendum after all, and, since a number of those seats went to the Conservatives, it also means that Sturgeon is as responsible as anyone for the fact that the Tories remained close enough to a majority that it only took DUP’s 10 seats to put them over the top.

Then there’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the man who was supposed to destroy the Labour Party and wound up leading it to one of its highest vote totals ever. Still, he didn’t win, and there will likely be calls for him to resign, because there are literally calls for Jeremy Corbyn to resign every single day. But he’s not going anywhere. You don’t exceed expectations this bigly and get booted from your job. And if there are any liberals out there who are genuinely interested in a left political agenda but don’t think it can be sold to the public, maybe Corbyn has some lessons to offer them. I won’t hold my breath. Still, if Corbyn’s agenda was enough to outperform expectations this much, imagine what he might have done if the entire British center-left hadn’t spent the last two years treating him like a case of bubonic plague.


In a remarkable turnaround given that they were just put on ice a couple of weeks ago, reunification talks are scheduled to begin again on June 28. The security disagreements that have put these talks at their current impasse are still there, but the fact that the two sides have decided to give things another go is encouraging.


Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the (apparently self-appointed) “commander” of ISIS in Kosovo, has reportedly been killed in an airstrike while fighting for the group somewhere in the Middle East. He’s one of over 300 Kosovar Albanians who are known to have joined ISIS. He will be…missed?


German authorities have arrested a man, “Mohammed G.,” who they now believe is the “European correspondent” for ISIS’s Amaq news/propaganda service. As NYT reporter Rukmini Callimachi pointed out on Twitter, Amaq often does something approaching actual journalism–even when ISIS is claiming “lone wolf” attacks that it didn’t really have any hand in carrying out, Amaq obtains and releases details about the attacker and the attack often before Western media can. Part of the reason they’re able to be so active is that they’ve got people in Europe who can manage the service without the tribulations of navigating the internet in the Syria/Iraq war zone.


Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, is pushing for greater EU defense cooperation as a complement to NATO and in an effort to make up for Europe’s newly unstable relationship with the United States (though on Friday, Donald Trump did, finally, say something nice about the collective defense part of the NATO treaty, so that’s something). European military integration is of course hampered by the fact that every country’s military buys its own weapons and vehicles and those aren’t always, or even often, compatible with one another. But with the UK (which has consistently opposed greater EU military cooperation) leaving the union, France is far and away its most powerful member militarily, so it may set the tone for any integration moving forward.

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