Tensions Emerge at NATO Summit

Seventy years after the founding of NATO, a military alliance originally meant to protect western Europe from the Soviet Union, world leaders gathered in London with the intent of discussing policy goals. However, tensions between the various leaders overshadowed this plan, as conflicts between leaders became apparent both during speeches given by these leaders and the conversations they had with each other, some of which was captured by a hot mic and circulated online. President Trump, whom the other leaders appeared to criticize in conversations amongst themselves, abruptly decided to cancel a press conference at the close of the meeting, instead returning to Washington prematurely. As justification for the sudden cancellation, Trump cited the fact that he had already spoken with the media for a substantial period of time. Trump’s sudden decision to abandon the summit speaks to the tensions felt between world leaders with respect to the American president, and ultimately represents a failure of world leaders to see eye-to-eye with Trump.

Tensions arose even before the summit began, as French president Emmanuel Macron declared that the organization had become “brain dead” as a result of American indifference to the military alliance. According to Macron, Europe can no longer rely on the United States to defend NATO allies, as the current administration cannot be trusted. Trump responded to Macron’s incisive comments by calling them “insulting” and “nasty.” Later, Macron said that he stood by his comments.

Embed from Getty Images

NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, addressed the tensions over the meeting, making a call for unity and assuring his audience that NATO was strong and agile enough to overcome these tensions. Stoltenberg then described NATO’s goals for North America and Europe, which include continuing the international fight against terrorism, arms control, fighting Russia, and dealing with the rise of China. Referencing the internal divisions between world leaders who are members of NATO, Stoltenberg pointed out that there has always been differences between world leaders since NATO began, such as disputes about the 1956 Suez crisis and the war in Iraq.

While meeting Trump, Prince Charles appeared to subtly give the American president the middle finger

Things only became more tense as the meeting progressed. Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron held a joint press conference, during which Macron criticized the American president for his handling of the conflict in Turkey and the Islamic State fighters in Syria as well as a developing trade dispute between France and the United States. Macron’s criticism of American leadership led Trump to defend NATO, an unusual position for a president who has spoken at length about his opinion that NATO is outdated and obsolete. Macron also fact-checked Trump in real-time; when Trump claimed that the ISIS prisoners being held in Syria are “mostly from Europe,” Macron responded that they in fact come from Syria and Iraq. Trump responded to these criticisms by appearing to threaten to send ISIS fighters to France, causing Macron to say, “Let’s be serious.” Despite the conflict between the two leaders, the joint conference ended up running long, causing Macron to be late for the next event.


Embed from Getty Images

Shortly afterwards, several leaders engaged in a conversation, appearing to gossip about Trump, part of which was captured on a video which generated significant attention online. During this conversation, which included Macron as well as English Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. During the brief portion of the conversation which has become publicly available, Johnson asks Macron why he was late, leading Trudeau to make a comment about Trump’s excessively long press conferences. Apparently referencing Trump, Trudeau commented that “you just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor.” Though Trump’s name was not mentioned during this portion of the conversation, it was clear to many observers that the person these leaders were discussing was President Trump. While Johnson denied having participated in this conversation about the American president, Trudeau confirmed that he had in fact discussed Trump with others, clarifying that his comment about his team’s jaws dropping was a reference to the President’s decision to host the G7 summit at Camp David. After the video circulated online, Trump fired back against Trudeau, calling him “two-faced,” later adding that he thought he was “very dishonest and weak.”

Tensions between the leaders also arose in more subtle ways. While meeting Trump, Prince Charles appeared to subtly give the American president the middle finger, though the gesture may have been unintentional. Trump also left Johnson and Stoltenberg waiting for nearly six minutes on stage at the beginning of the meeting, as he arrived late. And when Macron shook Melania Trump’s hand, he used both hands and lingered for a moment, which was perceived by some as a power play against Trump. Though the interaction between the two is minor, Trump has been known to use somewhat aggressive body language in his interactions with others, leading other world leaders to develop strategies for handling this quirk. While trying to read the intentions of others based on their body language is not entirely reliable, there exist a countless number of examples of how the tensions between leaders of the world right now manifest in various ways, many of which transpired during this year’s NATO meeting.

Man Voting

UK Heads For Polls As Pre-Christmas Election Date Looms

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally got his wish as Parliament waved through a law that will see the country go to the polls on Thursday, December 12. It will be the third General Election in four years.

The US will look on with interest as Conservative Party leader Johnson and his government are already said to be in discussions with President Trump and officials about a new trade deal, if and when the UK finally quits the European Union (EU).

Brexit, which has been rumbling on since 2016 when the country narrowly voted “out” in a Yes-No referendum, looks set to be the biggest issue of the forthcoming election campaign.

By a margin of 438 votes to 20, the House of Commons approved legislation paving the way for the first December election since 1923. Mr Johnson has said the public must be “given a choice” over the future of Brexit and the country.

He hopes the election will give him a fresh mandate for his Brexit deal and break the current Parliamentary deadlock, which has led to the UK’s exit being further delayed to 31 January.

Opposition and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in response: “This election is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country and take on the vested interests holding people back.” He added his party would “launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change that our country has ever seen”.

Embed from Getty Images

But some Labour MPs have expressed misgivings over the timing of the election, believing only another referendum can settle the Brexit question for good. A total of 127 Labour MPs, including Mr Corbyn, supported the election.

Mr Johnson told his Conservative Party colleagues it was time for the country to “come together to get Brexit done”. He stated: “It’ll be a tough election and we are going to do the best we can.”

The UK’s minority parties may have a big say in shaping the next Parliament, with a new Prime Minister set to be named on December 13th. The centrist Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) and the Scottish National Party (SNP) both see the election as a chance to ask voters whether Brexit should happen at all.

The pro-EU leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, has pitched herself as “the Liberal Democrat candidate for prime minister”. She adds: ”It is our best chance to elect a government to stop Brexit.”

For the SNP, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said an election was an opportunity for Scotland to hold another independence referendum. “The SNP is ready for an election. We stand ready to take the fight to the Tories, to bring down this undemocratic government, and give Scotland the chance to escape from Brexit and decide our own future,” she opined. “Scotland has been ignored and treated with contempt by Westminster, and this election is an opportunity to bring that to an end.”

The Scottish Conservatives claimed voting for their party would keep Scotland in the UK.

Embed from Getty Images

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage welcomed the election, tweeting that the deadlock in Parliament had been broken and “Brexit now has a chance to succeed”.

If Mr Johnson’s party wins, it’s expected Brexit legislation can be completed by the beginning of 2020, allowing Britain to leave the EU and be free to set up trade deals outside the European bloc. Negotiations would also then begin with the EU on a new trading relationship with the UK.

However, estimates say a deal currently on the table – which Mr Johnson will use as the central plank of his election campaign – could leave the UK £70bn worse off than if it had remained in the EU.

A study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) concluded that growth would be 3.5% lower in 10 years’ time under the deal. The independent forecaster’s outlook is one of the first assessments of how the economy will fare under the new deal.

But the Treasury said it plans on a ‘more ambitious’ agreement with the EU than NIESR is basing its findings on. A spokesman said: “We are aiming to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which is more ambitious than the standard free trade deal that NIESR has based its findings on.”

NIESR said approval of the Prime Minister’s deal “would reduce the risk of a disorderly outcome, but eliminate the possibility of a closer trading relationship with the EU”. Despite the agreement between the EU and the UK removing uncertainty, customs and regulatory barriers would hinder goods and services trade with the continent leaving all regions of the United Kingdom worse off than they would be if the UK stayed in the EU, NIESR said.

“We estimate that, in the long run, the economy would be 3.5% smaller with the deal compared to continued EU membership,” it added.


Britain and the E.U. Reach Tentative Brexit Deal

On Thursday, the European Union and Britain announced that they had reached an agreement for Brexit, just two weeks in advance of the October 31st deadline for departing the organization. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the multi-country alliance, the result of a 2016 referendum in which a narrow majority of British citizens voted to leave, has plunged the country into several years of chaos and intragovernmental conflict, as various parties within the country’s Parliament argued vehemently about how to conduct the extraordinarily complicated process of withdrawal. Tensions have only continued to escalate within the country’s government since they promised to implement the results of the referendum, eventually leading to the election of the highly controversial Boris Johnson to Prime Minister, who campaigned on a promise to “get Brexit done,” no matter what. 

Embed from Getty Images

While all possible scenarios for Brexit are forecasted to have a strongly negative effect on the European economy, with the country’s decision to leave having already led to an economic downturn, the no-deal Brexit scenario is widely considered the worst possible outcome. As such, Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU by October 31st, with or without a deal, has raised alarms within the government and the passing of legislation requiring the Prime Minister to reach an agreement with the EU before leaving. With today’s news, a major hurdle for Boris Johnson has been overcome, though the deal is not official until it passes a vote in Parliament. As previous proposed deals have failed in spectacular fashion to receive a necessary majority vote from members of Parliament, leading to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Theresa May, the future of Brexit is by no means certain.

That being said, the new deal seeks to account for many of the complaints that members of Parliament had about Theresa May’s deal which led to its failure to get through Parliament. Under the revised deal, Northern Ireland will be a part of the U.K. customs territory, instead of being in a separate customs area from the rest of the country, which lawmakers cited as a reason for rejecting the previous deal. The new deal gives a degree of “democratic consent” to Northern Ireland, a part of the U.K. that voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, as the Northern Ireland assembly will be called to vote on whether to continue this arrangement in the future. 

As the potentially disastrous economic consequences of Brexit become more immediate, however, some U.K. lawmakers are instead calling for a second referendum to hopefully undo the decision to leave the E.U. The Labour party, which opposes the Conservative party led by Johnson, is expected to attempt to force another referendum, under the reasoning that having witnessed several years of governmental chaos has caused a majority of the country to favor staying in the European Union. Public opinion polling has shown that a plurality of U.K. citizens believe, in hindsight, that the decision to leave the E.U. was a mistake, and a second referendum could offer these citizens an opportunity to undo the chaotic results of the previous vote. 

Embed from Getty Images

However, another referendum is unlikely to be conducted before a Parliament vote on whether to accept Johnson’s deal, which is due to be held on Saturday. Though it is difficult to predict the results of Saturday’s vote, members of the opposition party have already publicly criticized the new deal, calling it “a far worse deal than Theresa May’s deal” and raising concerns about its impact on workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protection. The U.K.’s membership in the E.U. has long been deeply integrated into the country’s system of government, and as such, concerns about withdrawal apply not only to the European economy but to the impact it could have on the rights and wellbeing of British citizens.