Who’s John Swinney, the SNP veteran set to run Scotland?

John Swinney is going for a second bite of the cherry — and he might just get it.

After a dramatic week in Scottish politics, the veteran former leader of the country’s ruling Scottish National Party confirmed Thursday he’s ready to run all over again.

His main potential challenger, Kate Forbes, is now rowing in him behind him — meaning he looks on course to become Scotland’s next first minister.

Announcing his bid for the SNP leadership at a press conference in Edinburgh, Swinney said: “I want to unite the SNP, and unite Scotland, for independence.” 

But that might be a whole lot harder than it sounds.

Here’s POLITICO’s snap guide to the man vying to enter Bute House as Scotland’s first minister.

Why’s Swinney running?

Swinney’s return to frontline politics comes just over a year after he stepped down from the second highest office north of the border — but what a year it’s been.

He’s vying to replace Humza Yousaf, who resigned after just 13 months in power following a botched conclusion to an SNP-Scottish Greens power sharing agreement. 

A veteran politician, Swinney can pitch himself as a safe pair of hands — and his biggest potential challenger has just ruled herself out.

He’s already swept up the endorsements of SNP big-hitters including its Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education Jenny Gilruth. 

And Kate Forbes — who made her own unsuccessful bid for the leadership last year — had been mulling another go, but on Thursday afternoon vowed to join with Swinney and press for a “reform agenda within the Scottish government.”

Amid talk of a deal, Swinney’s made clear he wants Forbes to play a “significant part” in his team.

Despite that show of unity, Swinney’s vying to take charge of a party deeply divided on … just about everything.

If he becomes SNP leader and first minister he’ll face the tricky task of leading a minority government or stitching back some kind of coalition. Westminster elections are just around the corner with the party trailing in the polls. Oh, and the SNP itself is subject to an ongoing police probe over its finances.

Speaking Thursday, Swinney accepted the SNP “is not as cohesive as it needs” to achieve its aim of breaking away from the United Kingdom.

“That has to change. I could have stood back and hoped others would sort things out — but I care too much about the future of Scotland,” he said.

Second time lucky? 

Swinney, who celebrated his 60th birthday earlier this month, is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of party leadership. 

He steered the SNP ship between the turn of the century and 2004. But his leadership was widely criticized. The party went backwards in the 2001 general election and shed eight seats in the 2003 elections to the Scottish parliament. 

Despite winning a leadership challenge later that year, poor European election results in 2004 and a perceived lack of charisma saw Swinney ousted by party apparatchiks – dubbed the “men in gray kilts.

He’s been around the block

The SNP hopeful has been immersed in politics for a while. He became the SNP’s national secretary at just 22 and served as then-leader Alex Salmond’s deputy between 1998 and 2000. 

Elected MP for Tayside North during the 1997 New Labour landslide, he entered the Westminster parliament for just one term, before making the leap to the Scottish Parlaiment in 1999. 

He’s served in some big roles since then. Swinney was secretary for finance when the SNP entered government in 2007, and served for the whole of Salmond’s tenure. 

That period covered the financial crash and Scotland’s bruising independence referendum — as well as a rapid ascent for the SNP in Scottish elections.  

He’s a Nicola Sturgeon loyalist — who didn’t want the top job last year

Swinney kept his job when Nicola Sturgeon succeeded Salmond, and got a grand promotion to Scottish deputy first minister. 

For five years he was education secretary during a tricky time which saw Scotland tumble down the rankings and two votes of no confidence over an exams controversy in 2020

When Sturgeon announced her sudden resignation last February, Swinney joined her, leaving government and the SNP frontbench after 16 years.

He spoke about helping to “create some space” for a “fresh perspective” on Scottish independence by departing frontline politics. 

Sturgeon heaped praise on his time in office, saying she could not have wished for a “better partner in government.” That quiet life out of the spotlight did not last long. 

He’s no Scottish independence hardliner

Swinney comes from the gradualist tradition in the SNP, working alongside Salmond in the ‘90s to reform the party into a less urgent position on its ultimate goal of breaking up the United Kingdom and letting Scotland go it alone.

This school of thought prefers a push for more devolved powers for Scotland from Westminster, rather than immediate independence — with the thinking being this eventually translates into the end goal.

It’s at odds with the SNP’s independence “fundamentalists” — and the row came to a head for Swinney the first time he ran for leader in 2000, beating his more hardline rival Alex Neil.

Decades on, Swinney made clear he still believes in a gradualist approach.

“I have believed all my adult life that Scotland’s future is best served as an independent country,” he said as he launched his leadership bid Thursday. “But I recognize that more people need to be convinced of that point before independence can be achieved.”

He added: “I want to focus my efforts on reaching out in Scotland, with respect and courtesy, to address the obstacles in the way of winning the case for independence.”



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Reform UK: The right-wing party that could transform British politics

Having attracted its first MP in the form of a Tory defector, the former Brexit Party is catching up with the government in the polls.

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Most western European countries have at least one major radical right-wing party either in government or close to it.

Italy’s government is run by the Brothers of Italy and Lega; the Finns Party remains part of Finland’s coalition government, the Sweden Democrats are in a confidence-and-supply deal with a mainstream right-wing coalition in Stockholm, and Germany’s AfD, France’s National Rally and Spain’s Vox all carry serious electoral weight – even if their chances of actually leading national governments remain slim for now.

Thanks in part to its electoral system, the UK has not yet seen a party like this make major gains at the ballot box outside of previous EU Parliament elections. But with the ruling Conservative Party unable to close a 20-plus-point polling deficit against the Labour Party, that could be about to change.

With a general election set for sometime this year, Reform UK, the rebranded version of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, is rapidly catching up with the governing Conservative Party in the polls. It currently has only one MP: Lee Anderson, who defected from the Tories after falsely claiming the Muslim mayor of London was controlled by Islamists.

Reform’s ideology has much in common with Europe’s radical right in general. As stated by its leader Richard Tice, it emphasises “traditional” values, including “pride in British history/culture” and law and order, while rejecting mass immigration, environmentalism, trans inclusivity, and “Islamic extremists on our streets”.

While its national polling numbers currently put it at 10-15%, a level that does not guarantee it will even win seats in parliament, Reform seems to be pulling voters away from the Conservatives at a time when they simply cannot afford to lose them.

Right and wrong

Reform has repeatedly and vehemently insisted it is not a “far right” party, and has threatened legal action against media organisations that label it as such.

Yet according to Dr Katy Brown of Ireland’s Maynooth University, there are undeniable similarities between Reform and its counterparts across the English Channel.

“Reform shares a number of ideological and policy positions with established far-right parties in Europe,” she says, “for example proposing net-zero immigration, adopting trans-exclusionary definitions of gender, and claiming to fight so-called ‘woke’ ideology.

“This places them much in line with parties like the Lega and National Rally, so it’s clear that such comparisons are not only warranted but also important in highlighting the exclusionary politics on which the party is based.”

The “far right” label has also been rejected by European parties that are far more openly radical than Reform. National Rally has its roots in the old French right, dating back to apologists for the Vichy collaborationist regime and the Algerian war of independence. The Finns count defenders of the Nazis among their ranks, while Vox has been frequently accused of nostalgia for the fascist regime of Francisco Franco.

Over the line

Reform’s stated policies aside, some of its candidates have also espoused extreme views in public.

On the one hand, Tice spoke out sternly after a major Tory donor was reported to have made viciously racist and sexist remarks about a black Labour MP, Diane Abbott. The Tories were slow to condemn his comments, and were widely criticised for their hesitancy.

And while the Tories did ultimately cut Anderson loose, many of their current MPs and candidates have pushed into the realm of conspiracy theory – with former prime minister Liz Truss increasingly associating with extremists on the American right.

However, Reform’s hands are hardly clean on this front.

Besides Anderson’s unfounded claim that the Muslim mayor of London was in the pocket of Islamists – which he made before Reform welcomed him – there is the example of Ginny H Ball, whom Reform dropped as a parliamentary candidate after she made a litany of racist statements

Another candidate was dropped after referring to Scotland as “a turd that won’t flush”.

Expert Brown, whose academic work focuses on the mainstreaming of extremist and radical ideas in European politics, cautions that Reform’s insistence it isn’t a far right party should not be taken at face value. Instead, she adds, we need to think about why it and other parties are so keen to reject these labels.

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“It is a common strategy for parties to attempt to seem more acceptable by overtly distancing themselves from supposedly more extreme examples,” she explains. “It is crucial that we challenge these self-characterisations – else we risk allowing them to set the agenda for how they are defined and perceived, which can ultimately facilitate their normalisation.”

The future

But political normalisation aside, the deciding factor in Reform’s future may be its leadership.

In its days as the Brexit Party, Reform was led by the right-wing anti-immigration politician Nigel Farage, who previously helmed the UK’s top Eurosceptic party, UKIP. That party performed well in European Parliament elections but never made much headway at Westminster level, and Farage ultimately abandoned it.

With him gone, UKIP shrank dramatically while welcoming figures from the extreme racist fringe. Meanwhile, Farage helped create the Brexit Party, which made a big impact in the 2019 European Parliament elections. 

But when it came time to fight the British general election in 2019, Farage agreed to stand aside for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in most seats, giving the government a clear path to re-election on the campaign slogan “Get Brexit Done”.

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Farage then left the party’s leadership, where he has been succeeded by the far more obscure Tice. But according to some polls, if he were to take the leadership, he might immediately give Reform an instant bump, and possibly even pull ahead of the Tories.

That almost certainly would not give Farage a path to government – but it would once again make him too loud a voice for mainstream British politicians to ignore.

Euronews has approached Reform for comment.



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Why are UK’s Conservatives embracing European conspiracy theories?

At its last party conference before an election it’s expected to lose, Britain’s ruling party is bringing fringe ideas into the mainstream.

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With an election due to be held within the next year, the British government is struggling desperately to win over public support – and with perhaps only months to go till it faces the electorate, its rhetoric is morphing into what looks like full-on populism.

Among the latest ideas the ruling Conservative Party’s MPs have floated are preventing a “tax on meat” (which the opposition has never proposed), and banning “15-minute neighbourhoods” which would supposedly allow local government to restrict people’s movements.

These are false claims that have been widely debunked, but they have lately gathered traction among fringe right-wing groups active on social media. And by European standards, the Conservative government is in fact a relative latecomer to these particular theories.

The concept of a 15-minute neighbourhood was first formulated in France in the mid-2010s, and adopted by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo as her city began to re-emerge from the COVID pandemic.

As the idea spread to other world cities, it became the target of conspiracy theorists radicalised during the pandemic, who see it as the next wave of an insidious plot to make lockdowns permanent on the pretext of combating climate change.

This idea dovetails with other fringe theories about creeping totalitarianism in everyday life among them a wariness of the “cashless economy” and claims that a “globalist” elite is conspiring to ban meat consumption and force citizens to subsist on insects instead.

The insect theory has enjoyed a surge of interest in Lithuania, where public authorities have had to push back hard against it. It’s also caught on in Bulgaria, including with the help of a loudmouthed fringe politician – and a prominent Russian state TV host.

But these outlandish theories are not just the province of Russia-amenable far-right media and fringe grassroots protest movements: they also have their advocates in certain European governments.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is fighting to secure another term in a 15 October election, has actively propagated the insect-consumption story.

Earlier this year, several PiS politicians accused opposition leader Donald Tusk and his party of planning to deny Poles access to meat. One PiS lawmaker, Bartosz Kownacki,​​ declared that “Instead of chicken, eat a worm” because “this is their real election programme”. Tusk derided the claim as embarrassingly desperate.

Also subscribing to the insect theory is far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini, whose party supports the current government in Rome.

While the Conservatives have not mentioned insects specifically, that they are raising the twin spectres of government control of meat consumption and limits on personal movement indicates that they have identified an audience potentially receptive to this sort of rhetoric.

So why now? According to Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London, the dire state of the party’s polling and its exhaustion after 13 years in power are both weighing heavy.

“The Conservatives know fully well that the fundamentals – the economy, the NHS, and even asylum and immigration – are running against them so they are basically throwing a whole bunch of ‘war-on-woke’ and ‘green crap’ stuff against the wall in the hope that some of it will stick. I’m not sure it’s that coordinated or coherent, more clutching at straws.”

Bale, whose book The Conservative Party After Brexit charts what has happened to the party in the last five years – which have seen it led by four different prime ministers – is unconvinced that the government’s sudden investment in outré paranoid ideas has much of an audience among the electorate.

“The Tories target voters are middle-aged to elderly, mainly white, mainly home-owning, car-driving, non-university graduates with culturally conservative views,” he explains. 

“They’re hoping that the ‘war-on-woke’ and ‘green crap’ stuff will mobilise them to turn out and vote and, even better, stem any losses to Labour which might result from the loss of their reputation for economic competence and the dire state of public services.

“It may also bring a few supporters of the radical right-wing populist party Reform UK back into the Tory fold. And who’s to say it might not work. The question is will it be enough – to which the answer is probably not, but what else have they got?”

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The Reform UK party that Bale mentions is the rebranded version of the Brexit Party, formerly led by Nigel Farage. The party has not won any electoral representation since the UK left the EU except for a tiny handful of local government seats. That in turn raises the question of how much the Conservatives have to gain from competing with it.

Yet when Farage, who has traded on the insect theory himself, arrived at this week’s Conservative conference in Manchester, he was all but mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. And The Spectator, the British press’s top establishment right-wing political magazine, recently named him the most powerful figure on the British right, ranking him above the sitting Tory prime minister.

Having stepped back from running for office himself, Farage’s main mouthpiece is his show on GB News, a right-wing news channel whose anchors include full-on conspiracy theorists and notorious provocateurs attacking “wokeness” in all its forms.

Meanwhile, as the Conservatives use their conference to vent more bizarre ideas than ever, Bale is not optimistic about the state of the party – or of British politics in general.

“It’s pretty depressing, really,” he says. “when you’ve got a government that’s reduced to telling people that, among other things, it’s going to make it easier for people to appeal against parking tickets, we’re not exactly in visionary territory, are we?”

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Meet the New Conservatives giving Rishi Sunak a migration headache

LONDON — Watch out Rishi Sunak, there’s a new right-wing Tory pressure group in town.

The New Conservatives — a group of 25 MPs from the 2017 and 2019 parliamentary intakes — launched Monday with a headline-grabbing call for the Tory prime minister to do more to cut migration.

They’re urging Sunak — already under pressure over the issue — to focus on meeting his predecessor-but-one Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto pledge to get net numbers to below 226,000. So who are the New Conservatives? And what exactly do they want?

The new group is run by Danny Kruger, a former aide to Johnson, and Miriam Cates, a backer of Home Secretary Suella Braverman when she ran for the Tory leadership last year.

Other members of the group include backbenchers Tom Hunt, Jonathan Gullis, Gareth Bacon, Duncan Kaker, Paul Bristow, Brendan Clarke-Smith, James Daly, Anna Firth, Nick Fletcher, Chris Green, Eddie Hughes, Mark Jenkinson, Andrew Lewer, Marco Longhi, Robin Millar, and Lia Nici.

Lee Anderson, the pugnacious former Labour aide turned Tory deputy chairman, was conspicuously absent from the event — and all literature — despite being part of the group and billed to speak right up until late last night. Stand-in Kruger insisted “he’s unwell in bed” but also “doesn’t officially endorse policy proposals” due to his party role.

Eagle-eyed readers will note that this list does not tot up to the advertised 25.

When asked about this at the press conference, Hunt said there were a “wide group of MPs who are supportive of our work,” but that those listed are the ones specifically endorsing the migration policies presented today.

So what do they want?

Cates kicked off the group’s launch event in Westminster by making it pretty clear that the group’s immediate focus is on migration — though there’s clearly plenty more to come.

Her message to Sunak? “The choice is this: cut immigration, keep our promise to voters, and restore democratic, cultural and economic security, or kick the can down the road, lose the next election, and resign ourselves to a low growth, low-wage, labor-intensive service economy with a population forecast to rise by another 20 million in the next 25 years.”

The New Conservatives outlined a 12-point-plan Monday that they claim will do just that. But some of its key recommendations are likely to prove contentious.

Perhaps the most headline-grabbing point is a call to scrap Health and Care Visas, launched to fill gaps in the health and social care sector with overseas workers. The group says this will cut the number of new visas issued by 117,000 and reduce long-term international migration by 82,000.

But big questions remain over exactly how the resultant gaps in the health and social care workforce would be filled with British recruits. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said the government has “done nothing to solve the growing crisis in care. Now a group of its MPs want ministers to make things a whole lot worse.”

Beyond that pledge, the New Conservatives also want to reserve university study visas for only the “brightest” international students; stop overseas graduates staying for up to two years in the U.K. without a job; and place stricter limits on social housing being allocated to migrants.

They also want to “rapidly implement” the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which — given its mauling in the House of Lords Monday — may be a tough ask.

Are they rivals to Rishi?

The group sternly rejects the notion that they’re here to cause trouble for the prime minister, with Daly telling assembled journalists Monday that he’s “depressed” by questions of rivalry.

Just to hammer the point home, Daly added that “every single person here today supports the prime minister.”

But they’re undoubtedly a thorn in Sunak’s side as the next election looms.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson insisted Monday that the government’s plans on migration don’t need toughening up. “We have to strike the right balance between tackling net migration and taking the people we need,” the spokesperson said, adding “we believe they strike the right balance currently. We keep our migration policies under review.”

Is this just about migration?

So far — but expect to hear plenty more from the group in the coming months.

Speaking to POLITICO, Hunt said he sees the group focusing on three main issues: migration; law and order; and what they see as the threat to Britain from “woke” ideas.

Hunt stressed that he wants the outfit to be “dipping their toes” into anti-woke issues “generally as a push-back, rather than waking up every morning and thinking ‘right, what’s our next big culture war wedge issue?’” So expect some anti-woke seasoning sprinkled on the New Conservatives’ main course.

Hunt says he’s animated by what he sees as “wokeness” in schools, and a preponderance of “self-loathing in this country.”

“I get concerned when I see the odd poll that says the majority of 18-25-year-olds see Churchill as a villain rather than a hero,” he said. That doesn’t mean the group will call for Britain to start “glossing over the past and saying we’ve always got it right,” he added — but recognizing that “in a struggle of Russia and China, we’re a damn sight better than them.”

So will this agenda help the Tories win in 2024 — or recover afterwards?

Polls suggest the Tories are on course to lose the next election, and badly. The New Conservatives want their ideas featured in the 2024 election manifesto, and believe they have the agenda to connect with working-class voters in the so-called Red Wall seats Johnson snatched from Labour in 2019 and which now look vulnerable.

Cates told the audience gathered in Westminster Monday that: “We want to win, of course we do, but it’s more than that. It’s because we believe that we still have, despite everything, the best chance of delivering for the British people.” She said of the party’s 2019 platform: “The demand for that offer is still there. We want to fulfill it.”

Not all Tories are convinced. Conservative commentator John Oxley argued that the New Conservatives’ impact may be short-lived.

It is, he said, “dominated by the sort of 2019, Red Wall MPs who are very likely to lose their seats next time around. They may be trying to sway the manifesto in a way that helps them, or mark themselves out as immigration hardliners to try and buck the national trend, but it seems unlikely to have much sway with Rishi Sunak.”

And he warned: “Equally, it seems unlikely this group will have much impact on the future of the Conservative Party, as so many of them will be out of parliament when that discussion begins after the election.”

Dan Bloom contributed reporting.



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Has the UK forgotten the lessons of the past in its latest trade deal?

By Dan Sutton, Postgraduate researcher, University of Manchester, and Christos Kourtelis, Lecturer, Loughborough University

The UK must not continue to reject the Single Market in favour of trade agreements such as that with the CPTPP, Dan Sutton and Christos Kourtelis write.

Britain’s ascension to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has been touted as its “biggest trade deal since Brexit”. 

Positively, the CPTPP undoubtedly presents potential benefits for the UK, receiving greater trade access to over 500 million people. 

The CPTPP is a trade agreement with 11 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. 

However, joining the CPTPP will help the British GDP to grow by 0.08% — or only a 50th of the economic damage impounded by Brexit. 

Contrastingly, leaving the Single Market, the OBR predicts that the UK’s GDP will be 4% lesser over 15 years as a consequence, whilst others have predicted that GDP has already reduced by 5.5%.

The UK has a history of overestimating itself

This self-inflicted damage is reminiscent of British attitudes to Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1955, Britain “missed the boat” at Messina, refusing to buy a ticket for proper involvement in European integration. 

Later, the UK understood the necessity not to be left behind whilst simultaneously opposing the Messina Six’s supranationalism, doubting its long-term potential.

Thus, it arrived at “Plan G” — an attempt to promote British interests in the run-up to the Messina Six establishing the customs union at the Treaty of Rome. 

Plan G was Britain’s attempt at reconfiguring trade relations with Europe, pursuing full access to Europe’s markets without accepting customs that would limit its ties with the Commonwealth.

Unsurprisingly, with Britain overestimating its prowess, Plan G was rejected by the EEC members. 

Plan G showed how unaccustomed Britain had become to informing integration positively — still emptily seeking what was best for the UK without considering the bigger picture.

Same thing happens with the Single Market

Following this, Britain applied for full membership twice in the 1960s, desiring to acquire the lost level of influence within Europe. 

The UK had to accept fully developed institutions, procedures, and policies upon joining the European Community in 1973. 

Overvaluing itself, Britain’s reluctance to integrate with Europe meant that it endured economic detriment. Between the ECC’s origination in 1958, and Britain joining the EC in 1973, its GDP per capita grew by 50%, whilst France, West Germany, and Italy saw 95% growth.

The patterns are self-evident. In the 1950s, the UK was fuelled by a misunderstanding of its place in Europe, failing to see past the lens of an empire that was in the midst of collapse. 

Aligned, Britain has made the same mistakes in leaving the Single Market, adopting a trade partnership that is shaped by others and raises significant political questions.

What about animal welfare and environmental standards?

Firstly, of the countries within the CPTPP, the EU has trade agreements with Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam whilst ongoing negotiations with Australia are reportedly close to being finalised. 

Seemingly, the trade deal the UK has reached is one with Brunei. However, there is obviously a difference in governance between the EU’s set of deals and the UK’s. And such governance of the CPTPP raises cause for concern.

One issue regards Britain’s approach to tariffs within the CPTPP. Within the CPTPP, members have upheld protectionist tariffs in particular areas, and the UK is entitled to do so. 

Imperatively, countries outside of the UK aren’t required to meet the UK’s standards, such as with animal welfare and environmental standards. 

Thus, if the UK removes tariffs on the CPTPP in these areas, there is a possibility that UK farmers might get priced out of business whilst the public could receive produce that doesn’t meet Britain’s animal welfare standards. 

The UK has seemingly accepted an agreement that presents the same criticisms received from the potential arrival of US-grown chicken.

A step symbolic of British Declinism

Moreover, the officials in London will be held to foreign lobbying pressures to remove or impact regulation that prevents profit. Thus, in the future, the UK may be politically pressured by objections against raising its standards.

Irrespectively, the UK has promised that whilst it is now possible to do so, it won’t compromise its standards, but immediately came under criticism as it announced the concession of tariffs on Malaysian palm oil, which has been blamed for deforestation.

Such issues are of further significance due to the CPTPP’s dispute mechanism. Giving written evidence, the BHR strongly criticised the CPTPPs ISDS. 

Through ISDS, corporations receive the ability to sue states if a policy threatens future profits or even if it is aimed at protecting human rights, minimum wages and the environment. Compared to the Single Market, this is a step symbolic of British Declinism.

Whilst joining the CPTPP raises specific issues, there is a similar limitation to arguments made around ascension blocking a return to the Single Market. 

In continuum with the comparison with the 20th century, when Britain did join the EC in 1973, it remained a member of the then-divergent EFTA, proving that realignment is possible.

Why keep repeating the mistakes of the past?

However, re-joining would potentially be prevented by the issue of harmonising the rules between the CPTPP and the EU. 

Currently, if there is a regulatory divergence between CPTPP membership and Single Market membership, and as the UK currently de facto aligns with the Single Market, there would then be a clash between the UK and CPTPP. 

A lack of this shows the strong level of consistency between the two trade areas. 

Thus, the issue of regulatory divergence is a future one. The ISDS could see that Britain’s desire to upkeep high food standards incurs opposition, whilst the UK could adopt a complex position where it conforms domestically to EU regulation, with different requirements for trade with CPTPP.

Overall, there remains one key point. The UK must not continue to reject the Single Market in favour of trade agreements such as that with the CPTPP. 

Ironically, if not re-joining the EU, the obvious solution to Britain’s current situation is re-joining the EFTA, the organisation it set up to counter the European customs union in the 1950s, now part of the Single Market. 

In the end, the UK must come to understand its past, not continue to repeat its mistakes.

Dan Sutton is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Manchester, and Dr Christos Kourtelis is a lecturer in European and International Politics at Loughborough University.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Will Britain become a republic, or keep the royal family?

When the Sex Pistols released ‘God Save the Queen’ in 1977 it certainly ruffled a few feathers.

The anti-establishment anthem — which blasted the “fascist regime” of Elizabeth II — was banned by the BBC, while the tabloid press accused the punks of treason, calling for them to be hung.

But Britain is a different place than it was when the single came out. 

This year marks a watershed for the country, as a new monarch will be crowned for the first time in 70 years. 

King Charles III will ascend to the throne amid a weekend of pomp and pageantry; ancient religious rites and a concert featuring today’s global music stars. 

Support for the monarchy stayed fairly constant in the months before the Queen’s death last year, and in the months since, according to YouGov: with around 60% of people in favour of keeping the monarchy, and 25% in favour of abolishing it. 

There may well be a “coronation boost” for the institution of the monarchy in springtime, but the long term trends show a clear loss of support for the royals over the years among members of the public, with increased numbers of people wanting the ancient institution swept aside and replaced with a republic. 

In 1983, some 86% of Britons believed the monarchy was “very” or “quite” important. By 2021, this had slumped to 55%, with 25% saying it was “not at all important” or should be abolished, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.

A string of scandals have fuelled these republican rumblings, including Prince Andrew’s alleged sexual relations with minors, then Prince Charles accepting “bags of cash” for honours and the ongoing public spat between Harry, Meghan, and the rest of the family. 

‘Ingrained deference’

While even the most ardent anti-royals would perhaps concede a grudging respect for the late Queen Elizabeth and her life of service to the country and Commonwealth; but for most republicans, it does not matter who the head of state is.

“Republicanism about the type of society we want to have in Britain,” Ken Ritchie from Labour for Republic told Euronews. “The monarchy represents elitism. A society in which rank and status are important and where your position is entirely dependent on the circumstances of your birth.”

“Surely in the 21st century, this ought to be wrong”, he said.

The overall wealth of Britain’s royal family is hard to gauge due to the opaque nature of its finances. In 2015, a Reuters analysis suggested it had nominal assets worth almost 23 billion pounds at the time.

However, republican criticism of the monarchy’s riches goes further, drawing attention to its relationship to the British Empire. 

“A lot of their wealth was extracted through colonialism and indeed slavery,” said Ritchie. “This is no longer the sort of country we want to be.”

“The monarchy is much grander, much more extravagant, much more expensive than the others in Europe,” he added. “I suspect that stems back to the idea that Britain was the centre of an empire spanning the world.”

While the monarchy is symbolic of British history, others question how much the royal family directly profited from colonialism.

What’s the situation like in other European countries?

Britain is not the only European country with an active discussion about the role of the royal family.

In the Netherlands, a poll carried out for King’s Day in April 2022 showed 71% support for the monarchy and 29% support for a republic — a few percentage points more support for republicanism than in the UK, but a much stronger support support for the royals. 

Meanwhile in Denmark — where Queen Margrethe is Europe’s longest-reigning monarch, and recently celebrated 50 years on the throne — a February 2022 poll showed almost 77% of people supported a Danish monarchy, while just 14.6% of people wanted the Nordic nation to become a republic. 

And in Spain, where a series of financial and personal scandals has rocked the House of Bourbon in recent years, an October 2020 poll found that 40.9% of Spaniards favoured replacing King Felipe and Queen Letizia in favour of a republic; while 34.9% of people said they supported keeping the royal family.   

The sprawling fortunes of Britain’s royals are not the only gripe of anti-monarchists. It’s also what they call the “inequality of power” that comes with it. 

Professor Richard Toye, a historian at Exeter University, criticised the “democratic deficit” of having such “an important public position which is hereditary”, calling it “surprising and problematic” in a country styling itself as a democracy.

This shadowy power fuels “worries about the ways in which monarchs, although they’re supposed to be neutral, actually end up wielding influence over politics”, he added.

In 2021, the late Queen was accused of lobbying government to protect her private wealth from new transparency laws, while other members of her family have allegedly applied pressure to get financial advantages.

“They are simply preserving their own power”, said Richtie. “We want to see a monarch that is much more transparent.”

When Charles took over the Crown Estate, the 15 billion pound portfolio of land and assets held by his mother, it was not subjected to inheritance tax, prompting widespread criticism in the UK. 

‘We are entering new territory’

By any measure, the British monarchy does not seem like it is going anywhere – even if republican feeling grows stronger.

All of Britain’s major political parties are pro-monarchist, and in a country grappling with strikes, inflation and the fallout from Brexit, the issue remains a low priority.

“The very existence of the monarchy is dependent on publicity and public opinion,” says Ken Ritchie from Labour for Republic. 

“If it wasn’t for that, it would simply be irrelevant and ignored … they’re going to do their best to try and to win back public support.”

Despite the “very chequered past” of King Charles and the recent controversies to rock the Royal Family, Dr Joe Powell, a republican campaigner, was dismayed that public criticism of the was not turning even more against the monarchy.

“You would think that the high level of scandals would make people question what they’re doing and why they’re doing it on our behalf,” he said. 

“But that doesn’t really seem to happen.”



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Liz Truss’ empty ambition put her in power — and shattered her


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Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

Liz Truss resigned as prime minister on the 45th day of her tenure. As I write, the day after, the Tory Party — Britain’s “natural party of government” for two centuries — is polling at 14 percent. They may go lower, and they will not unite behind any candidate. Like alcoholics who cannot stop drinking because they are already insane, the party is beyond the point of renewal. 

But why is Truss, 47, a former accountant, the crucible of apocalypse? 

Many narratives meet in her. Some of it is not her fault, much of it is absolutely her fault. No child looks in the mirror and longs to be a paradigm when grown, but sometimes fate demands it. Her rise was undeserved, and so is the brutality of her fall.  

I met Truss at university, long before she entered real politics, and she mirrors and watches, as if trying to learn a new language. That is why she is stilted and ethereal: that is why she cannot speak easily or from the heart. 

She is at her most expressive on Instagram, a medium both vapid and vivid. There is nothing to her beyond ambition, which explains the need for mirroring, and, I think, rage: the Britain she dreams of is not a kind place. 

Born in Oxford to a mathematics professor and a teacher, she was raised in Leeds in the north of England. Her parents are left-wing and do not share her politics: I sense an oedipal drama there. She went to a good state school, but with her tendency to rewrite her life for advancement, she trashed its reputation during the summer race to lead the Tory Party, though it got her to Oxford University, the nursery for Tory prime ministers. There she studied politics, philosophy and economics, which gives the young politician the appearance, rather than the actuality, of knowledge. 

She was, notoriously, a Liberal Democrat then, and she gave it her all, advocating for the abolition of the monarchy at their party conference in 1994. Whatever line Truss takes, she gives it her all, as compensation, I suspect, for uncertainty within. She smiled as she resigned. I don’t think I ever met a more isolated woman. 

She became a hard right Tory — presumably to distance herself from her youthful Liberal Democracy, and because Margaret Thatcher is the obvious person to mirror in the Tory Party — worked under three prime ministers and spent eight years in the Cabinet. The niceties and collusions of a liberal democracy do not interest her. She notoriously did not defend the judiciary from a powerful tabloid’s “enemies of the people” headline when Britain was puzzling over how to leave the EU and she was lord chancellor, and she prefers to summon Britain’s fantasy of exceptionalism by insisting, for example, that we eat more British cheese. There is something intensely prosaic and unimaginative about Truss: if she were a year, she would be 1951. Nor can she unite people: when she won, she did not even shake Rishi Sunak’s hand, and she largely excluded his supporters from her cabinet. 

A scandal — she had an affair with her mentor, the former Tory MP Mark Field, though both were married at the time — did not damage her reputation or, apparently, her marriage and this is interesting too: the betrayal of her most intimate relationship. (She likewise betrayed Kwasi Kwarteng, her chancellor and closest friend in politics, sacking him last Friday to try to save herself when the markets rejected her unfunded taxation, and her poll ratings collapsed.) Her husband, Hugh O’Leary, stood outside Downing Street as she resigned, but as they went in, they did not touch each other. 

When Boris Johnson fell, two things put Truss in his place: the Tory Party membership, and Johnson himself. Truss was Johnson’s choice — though he did not say so explicitly, leaving his most avid lieutenants to back her — and his sin-eater. She never repudiated him personally, though she tore up his 2019 manifesto and offered tax cuts and public services cuts, the opposite of his promise to “level up” opportunity across the country. Dominic Cummings — Johnson’s chief strategist, who left politics after losing a power struggle with Johnson’s third wife — says Truss is obsessed with optics and has no idea how to be prime minister. He also says that Johnson chose her aware she would self-destruct, and he might plausibly return. That was the first trap.

Then there is the Tory Party membership, largely affluent, male, southern and white. They were offered Sunak and Truss by the parliamentary party, who preferred Sunak. The membership disliked Sunak for destroying Johnson (his resignation was blamed by Johnson acolytes for triggering the former prime minister’s downfall) and raising taxes and loved Truss because she mirrored them. She spoke to their self-absorption, and their desire for low taxes and a smaller state — being affluent, they do not think they need one. She told them mad things which thrilled them, reanimating the empire: she would ignore Scotland’s first minister; she was ready to bomb Russia if she could find it. (She once told the Russian foreign minister parts of Russia were not in Russia.) A long leadership contest enabled her to impress the party membership and, equally, enabled the wider country to despise her. You can only mirror so many people at once. That was the second trap. 

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Then Queen Elizabeth II, a far more experienced and successful mirror than Truss, died. Britain was grieved and unwilling to tolerate Truss’ tinny authoritarianism, avoidable errors, and superficial arrogance: humility was required from Johnson’s successor, especially if she were to tear up his manifesto. When she has no one to guide her, she does not know how to do the simplest things. When she entered Westminster Abbey for the queen’s funeral she smirked, presumably because she had precedence over other living prime ministers. That was the third trap. 

Beyond her obvious inability to do the job, Truss is largely a victim of circumstance and bad actors. I see her as a character in a gothic novel: perhaps the second Mrs. de Winter of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” a nameless girl fleeing through Manderley (the burning Tory Party), obsessed with Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter, who in this conceit is either Boris Johnson or Margaret Thatcher, or both: more powerful ghosts overshadow her. She has no identity and is better understood as a paradigm than an autonomous figure.

She is a paradigm of the Tory Party membership’s distance from the rest of the country, which is an abyss after 12 years in power; a paradigm of the political class’ tendency toward optics above substance; a paradigm of common narcissism, which is thriving; a paradigm of the paranoia, taste for culture war and will to power that Brexit incited in its supporters — Truss was typically a late and fervent convert — when they realized they were wrong. 

All these threads met in Truss in a combustible fashion that has left her — and the Tory Party — in ruins. I think I see hope for our democracy because these are all endings. Truss did not fall: it is worse than that. Rather, and obediently, she shattered. 





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