How Theresa May decided she was willing to accept a no-deal Brexit

Financial Times reports:

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Theresa May made a momentous choice. After a day of acrimonious debate in her cabinet and inner circle, the prime minister decided that she was willing to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.

At Thursday’s European Council meeting in Brussels, EU diplomats wondered whether Mrs May was bluffing, but those close to the prime minister said if she cannot secure her Brexit deal she is determined the UK should embark on a no-deal exit.

Since announcing on Wednesday that she would ask EU leaders for a short extension to the bloc’s Article 50 process — to delay Brexit from March 29 to June 30 — people who have spoken to the prime minister said she is reconciled to the implications of what happens if the UK parliament continues to reject her withdrawal agreement. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

The EU has handed Theresa May two weeks grace to devise an alternative Brexit plan if her deal falls next week after she failed to convince the bloc that she was capable of avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

After a marathon late night session of talks, the EU’s leaders ripped up May’s proposals and a new Brexit timeline was pushed on the prime minister to avoid the cliff-edge deadline of 29 March – next Friday.

Under the deal agreed by May, Britain will now stay a member state until 12 April if the withdrawal agreement is rejected by MPs at the third time of asking.

The government will be able to seek a longer extension during that period if it can both “indicate a way forward” and agrees to hold European elections.

In the unlikely event that May does win the support of the Commons when the Brexit deal goes to MPs again on Tuesday, the UK will stay a member state until 22 May to allow necessary withdrawal legislation to be passed.

“The 12 April is the new 29 March,” an EU official said.

In an address to EU leaders described by one source as “90 minutes of nothing”, the prime minister dramatically failed to persuade the bloc that she had a plan to avoid a no-deal Brexit. [Continue reading…]

Trump gives Netanyahu part of Syria to boost Israeli leader’s flagging reelection campaign

Robert Mackey writes:

With a tweet posted on Thursday, President Donald Trump dismissed five decades of international consensus on the status of the Golan Heights, Syrian territory seized by Israel in 1967 during a preemptive war, declaring that the United States would recognize Israel’s annexation of the region.

Offered without explanation, the move looked to many Israeli, Palestinian and American observers like a transparent attempt to boost the reelection prospects of Trump’s embattled ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges and could be defeated at the polls next month.

In reply to Trump’s tweet, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggested that the American president “might want to consult with your international lawyers.” Trump’s declaration, ElBaradei noted, flies in the face a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted unanimously in 1967, which called for the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied” in that summer’s conflict — including the Golan, as well as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza — and emphasized, “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

It was not lost on some analysts that U.S. recognition of Israel’s right to annex territory it seized by force would also seem to pave the way for Trump to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea. [Continue reading…]

James Comey: What I want from the Mueller report

James Comey writes:

The country is eagerly awaiting the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Many people know what they want it to say — what they feel it simply must say — namely, that Donald Trump is a criminal who should be removed from office. Or that he is completely innocent of all wrongdoing.

But not everyone knows what it “must” say. Even though I believe Mr. Trump is morally unfit to be president of the United States, I’m not rooting for Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that he is a criminal. I’m also not rooting for Mr. Mueller to “clear” the president. I’m not rooting for anything at all, except that the special counsel be permitted to finish his work, charge whatever cases warrant charging and report on his work.

President Trump’s constant attacks on the special counsel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department over the past two years raised the prospect that he would interfere to stop the special counsel’s work. It is deeply concerning that the president of the United States would try to protect himself by torching the institutions of justice. But he hasn’t used his authority to end Mr. Mueller’s work. (That would have been a crisis of a different order — shutting down the investigation, rather than just trying to undermine its credibility.) So we are in a position to wonder and hope about the report’s content. [Continue reading…]

A new age of warfare: How Internet mercenaries do battle for authoritarian governments

The New York Times reports:

The man in charge of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless campaign to stifle dissent went searching for ways to spy on people he saw as threats to the kingdom. He knew where to go: a secretive Israeli company offering technology developed by former intelligence operatives.

It was late 2017 and Saud al-Qahtani — then a top adviser to Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince — was tracking Saudi dissidents around the world, part of his extensive surveillance efforts that ultimately led to the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In messages exchanged with employees from the company, NSO Group, Mr. al-Qahtani spoke of grand plans to use its surveillance tools throughout the Middle East and Europe, like Turkey and Qatar or France and Britain.

The Saudi government’s reliance on a firm from Israel, an adversary for decades, offers a glimpse of a new age of digital warfare governed by few rules and of a growing economy, now valued at $12 billion, of spies for hire.

Today even the smallest countries can buy digital espionage services, enabling them to conduct sophisticated operations like electronic eavesdropping or influence campaigns that were once the preserve of major powers like the United States and Russia. Corporations that want to scrutinize competitors’ secrets, or a wealthy individual with a beef against a rival, can also command intelligence operations for a price, akin to purchasing off-the-shelf elements of the National Security Agency or the Mossad. [Continue reading…]

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump use private accounts for official business, their lawyer says

The New York Times reports:

The chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed information on Thursday that he said showed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner used private messaging services for official White House business in a way that may have violated federal records laws.

The chairman, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, said that a lawyer for Ms. Trump, President Trump’s daughter, and Mr. Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told the committee late last year that in addition to a private email account, Mr. Kushner uses an unofficial encrypted messaging service, WhatsApp, for official White House business, including with foreign contacts.

Mr. Cummings said the lawyer, Abbe Lowell, also told lawmakers that Ms. Trump did not preserve some emails sent to her private account if she did not reply to them.

Democrats have barely been able to contain their frustration at what they see as a dark irony in the findings — and in earlier news reports about the couple’s use of private email accounts. Mr. Trump made Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state a central line of attack in his 2016 campaign for president. Even after the F.B.I. declined to charge Mrs. Clinton for her practices and handling of classified information, Republicans in Congress have continued to pick away at the case. [Continue reading…]

The EU should not ignore the voices of Britain’s Europeans

Timothy Garton Ash writes:

Hundreds of thousands of us will be on the streets of London this Saturday, as some 700,000 of us were last October, demonstrating that we are not merely Europeans, but Europeans strongly in favour of the EU. Last autumn’s People’s Vote march was already the biggest pro-European demonstration in recent European history. Will European leaders simply ignore us?

Next to individual citizens there are the peoples of these islands. Britain is a nation comprised of three nations: England, Wales and Scotland, together with a part of a fourth, Ireland. The 27 other member states of the EU have been impressive in their solidarity with Ireland, against the unforgivable, post-imperial carelessness of English Brexiteers. But what about Scotland, with its 5.4 million people? Scotland voted by a majority of 62% to 38% to remain in the EU. Don’t the leaders of Slovakia and Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia, remember what it’s like to be a small country subordinated to a larger one?

Then there is democracy. One can understand why our fellow Europeans have reacted with disbelief and ridicule to the extraordinary operetta that the Westminster parliament has presented over recent months. While Donald Trump Jr snorts that British democracy is “all but dead’, what happens in Westminster shows the very opposite to be true – unlike what happens in the parliament building that architecturally most resembles it, on the banks of the Danube, in Budapest.

Some may laugh at the Commons Speaker invoking a procedural rule dating back to 1604, but it’s a reminder that since the 17th century the English form of revolution has been to assert the authority of parliament over an over-mighty executive – from Charles I to Theresa the Hapless. Last week, a motion for parliament to take control of the Brexit process lost by just two votes; another such motion is likely to succeed. Do EU leaders really want to spurn a democratic Britain while embracing an undemocratic Hungary?

Last but not least, there’s shared destiny. Macron’s compelling vision of a Europe that has sufficient power to defend our shared interests and values in an increasingly post-western world will be impossible to achieve if British hard, economic and soft power is set to work against, rather than with, the grain of Europe. And continental Europeans should have no illusions: such cross-Channel dissonance, not some harmonious strategic cooperation, will almost certainly be the consequence of Brexit. [Continue reading…]

Federal judge demands Trump administration reveal how its drilling plans will fuel climate change

The Washington Post reports:

A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that the Interior Department violated federal law by failing to take into account the climate impact of its oil and gas leasing in the West.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington could force the Trump administration to account for the full climate impact of its energy-dominance agenda, and it could signal trouble for the president’s plan to boost fossil fuel production across the country. Contreras concluded that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management “did not sufficiently consider climate change” when making decisions to auction off federal land in Wyoming to oil and gas drilling under President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016. The judge temporarily blocked drilling on about 300,000 acres of land in the state.

The initial ruling in the case, brought by the advocacy groups WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, has implications for oil and gas drilling on federal land throughout the West. In the decision, Contreras — an Obama appointee — faulted the agency’s environmental assessments as inadequate because they did not detail how individual drilling projects contribute to the nation’s overall carbon output. Since greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change, the judge wrote, these analyses did not provide policymakers and the public with a sufficient understanding of drilling’s impact, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. [Continue reading…]

Inside the Sunrise Movement: How climate activists put the Green New Deal on the map


Protecting indigenous lands protects the environment. Trump and Bolsonaro threaten both

Deb Haaland and Joênia Wapichana write:

On Tuesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will meet with President Trump at the White House. Both administrations are pushing a host of policies that are detrimental to the rights of indigenous people. As two of the first female indigenous members of Congress in the United States and Brazil, respectively, we are concerned about these policies and the mounting threats facing our communities. We must stand up against toxic rhetoric and brutal attacks on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous communities from Standing Rock to the Amazon are leading the way on protecting our Earth. Recent research has found that indigenous peoples in control of their lands are the most effective stewards of climate-regulating tropical forests. In the United States, Standing Rock was a culmination of indigenous people organizing to protect their resources. More recently, indigenous groups in New Mexico helped prevent the lease sale of Chaco Canyon for oil and gas development, defending sacred lands and heritage from harmful extraction.

Yet indigenous environmental defenders face tremendous risks, encountering pushback and even criminalization for simply protecting critical family resources. We saw it in Standing Rock, when police had confrontations with peaceful protesters. We see it now in Brazil, which is the deadliest country for environmental defenders in the world, with intimidation and lethal violence falling heavily on indigenous peoples and land rights activists. [Continue reading…]

‘Real leaders do exist’: Jacinda Ardern uses solace and steel to guide a broken nation

The Guardian reports:

In the hours after a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in central Christchurch, prime minister Jacinda Ardern called a press conference that set the tone for a grief-stricken country. It has become a seminal moment of her leadership story.

The 38-year-old prime minister has been tested like few New Zealand leaders before, leading the country as it deals with the worst terrorism attack in the nation’s modern history.

Fifty people killed while at Friday prayers. Dozens injured. A once peaceful nation in profound shock. Ardern’s voice wavered slightly as she spoke, but her message of unity and compassion was unflinching.

“You may have chosen us,” said Ardern, referring to the killer, anger in her voice. “But we utterly reject and condemn you.”

By Saturday morning she was on the ground in Christchurch with the majority of her cabinet ministers and opposition leaders. Dressed in a black headscarf trimmed with gold, the prime minister met with members of the Muslim community affected by the tragedy. She held them in her arms as they sobbed, whispering words of condolence, and pressing her cheek against theirs. Video footage of those embraces travelled around the world.

Walking hand in hand with those affected, Ardern’s focus was on grieving and commiserating with the affected community. The alleged killer Brenton Tarrant was not representative of New Zealanders’ values and beliefs, she said. Quite simply he was: “not us”.

“The everyday discourse in New Zealand since the attacks hasn’t been one of hate and anger, it’s been we can do this, we can heal, we can come through this,” says Professor Jennifer Curtin, director of the public policy institute at Auckland University.

“She has shown a quiet, strong leadership, and been very focused on looking after the people who are most affected straight away. The killer has barely been mentioned.” [Continue reading…]