The Washington Post - 29.08.2019

(Joyce) #1

A12 EZ RE THE WASHINGTON POST.THURSDAY, AUGUST 29 , 2019


Merkel felt Johnson was ready to
depart on the October deadline if
no politically feasible deal materi-
alizes i n the meantime, s enior offi-
cials said.
Short-circuiting debate on
Brexit could push lawmakers,
even skeptics, to vote for any new
deal Johnson comes up with, just
to avoid a no-deal departure.
But the officials said they think
Johnson was setting an impossi-
ble task by demanding changes to
the deal that would cross E.U. red
lines, a nd t hey pegged the c hances
of a fresh compromise as low.
karla.adam@washpost.com
michael.birnbaum@washpost.com

Birnbaum reported from Brussels.
Jennifer Hassan in London and
Quentin Ariès in Brussels contributed
to this report.

doesn’t want. At present, he has a
working m ajority o f just one. E ven
if he loses a confidence vote, it is
not clear that Corbyn or anyone
else would be able to form an
alternative government, and
Johnson could campaign in a new
election on a staunch anti-E.U.
platform, analysts said. He faces
pressure from both flanks because
the Brexit Party has been growing
its s upport.
During a week of negotiations
with other E.U. leaders, including
over the weekend at the G-7 sum-
mit, Johnson left his counterparts
feeling that he would prefer to exit
with a deal, according to officials
briefed on the conversations who
spoke on t he c ondition of a nonym-
ity to discuss p rivate assessments.
But leaders including Macron
and German Chancellor Angela

history?”
A petition launched o n the Brit-
ish Parliament’s website calling
for t he government n ot to suspend
the body quickly exceeded
100,000 signatures, the number
needed for it to be considered for
a parliamentary debate. The tally
neared 1 million Wednesday night
and was rocketing skyward, al-
though a ny s uch debate would n ot
lead to legislative action.
Johnson’s move infuriated
some Conservative lawmakers
who have sought to avoid a no-
deal Brexit.
“This is pretty unprecedented,”
said Dominic Grieve, a Conserva-
tive lawmaker. He described it as
“tantamount to a coup.”
Grieve said he would consider
voting against his own party if a
no-confidence vote i s called.
Johnson appears to be gam-
bling that those who are against a
no-deal exit won’t be able to orga-
nize quickly enough to mount an
effective opposition.
“By using the political devices
at hand, Boris has compressed ev-
erything into such a tight window
that those who want to block a
no-deal Brexit have a mountain of
a task,” said Scott Lucas, a politics
expert at the University of Bir-
mingham, adding that h e believed
Wednesday’s move “sharply” in-
creased the chance of a no-deal
withdrawal.
Many observers say Johnson is
ramping up for a possible early
general election, which he says he

been looking f or, & will p rove t o be
‘a great one!’ ”
Opposition leaders had talked
earlier about forcing a vote of no
confidence in Johnson’s govern-
ment sometime before late Octo-
ber. Wednesday’s maneuver, if suc-
cessful, would drastically narrow
their window to next week or im-
mediately b efore Britain drops out
of the bloc.
They c ould also t ry t o pass a law
mandating that Johnson seek a
Brexit delay.
But g iven how badly the o pposi-
tion forces are fractured, it is un-
clear whether they have the votes
for either option. And they have
precious little time.
“Unless MPs come together to
stop him next week, today will go
down in history as a dark one
indeed for UK democracy,” tweet-
ed Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the
Scottish National Party.
In the rest of the European
Union, leaders are bracing
for Britain to leave without a deal.
But there was anger — and some
shock — that it could apparently
happen with minimal input from
Parliament.
“We could see a no-deal Brexit
coming. N ow i t’s a no-debate B rex-
it that’s looming,” tweeted Nath-
alie Loiseau, a member of the Eu-
ropean Parliament and an ally of
French President Emmanuel Ma-
cron. “What disease is British de-
mocracy suffering from to fear a
debate before making one of the
most important decisions in its

unheard of — it happens most
years in connection with the
queen’s speech, often in May or
June. But the five-week gap this
time is the longest break since


  1. Recent suspensions have
    been m easured in days, not weeks.
    Johnson told reporters
    he asked the queen to give her
    usual annual speech outlining the
    country’s legislative agenda in
    mid-October, effectively suspend-
    ing Parliament between Sept. 11
    and O ct. 14.
    The British pound swooned
    nearly 1 percent against the euro
    after t he a nnouncement b efore re-
    covering s lightly.
    Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor-
    byn promised t o fight the move.
    “Boris J ohnson’s attempt t o sus-
    pend parliament t o avoid scrutiny
    of his plans for a reckless No Deal
    Brexit is an o utrage a nd a threat t o
    our democracy,” he wrote on Twit-
    ter. “Labour will work across Par-
    liament to hold the government t o
    account and prevent a disastrous
    No D eal.”
    The controversy drew the a tten-
    tion of Trump, who has gravitated
    toward Johnson as a fellow na-
    tionalist and goaded Britain to be
    more aggressive about Brexit.
    Trump and Johnson met over the
    weekend at the Group of Seven
    summit in Biarritz, France.
    “Would be very hard for Jeremy
    Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s La-
    bour Party, t o seek a no-confidence
    vote,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
    “Boris is exactly what the U.K. has


jor test of the White House’s skep-
ticism of multilateral institutions
and trade b locs.
In B russels, diplomats said they
are increasingly convinced that
Johnson will pilot Britain off the
cliff without the safety net of a
deal. European lawmakers ex-
pressed astonishment that he
would so brazenly tie the hands of
Parliament, in which a majority
opposes a no-deal B rexit.
The Conservative prime minis-
ter d enied claims t hat Brexit is the
reason he sought the new timeta-
ble, telling reporters he wants a
new session of Parliament so he
can lay o ut the government’s “ very
exciting agenda.”
He added that there would be
“ample time” for lawmakers to
debate Brexit.
But few in Britain, even among
Johnson’s allies, accepted his ex-
planation of why he had decided
to ask Queen Elizabeth II to
“prorogue” — or suspend — Parlia-
ment. The queen, who is on holi-
day at her Scottish estate of Bal-
moral, approved the request, as is
customary.
A “constitutional outrage,”
John B ercow, speaker of the H ouse
of Commons, said in a state-
ment. “ However it is dressed up, it
is blindingly obvious that the pur-
pose of p rorogation n ow would be
to stop Parliament d ebating B rexit
and p erforming i ts d uty.”
Proroguing Parliament is not


BRITAIN FROM A


BY CHICO HARLAN


AND STEFANO PITRELLI


rome — After weeks of shifting
alliances and political jockeying,
Italy is close to minting a new
governing coalition: a union of
two long-adversarial parties
aligned in their aim to thwart the
far right’s rise to power.
The leaders of the anti-estab-
lishment Five Star Movement
and the mainstream center-left
Democratic Party said Wednes-
day that they had reached a deal
to form a government. They still
need the blessing of President
Sergio Mattarella, who is expect-
ed Thursday morning to give a
formal mandate to Prime Minis-
ter Giuseppe Conte to work
toward the formation of the co-
alition.
The deal still faces several
hurdles, including negotiations
over the cabinet. Five Star, as is
its custom, will put the deal to an
online vote of party insiders.
But the agreement taking
shape is the unlikely outcome of
a month of political upheaval in
Rome — a period in which na-
tionalist League party leader
Matteo Salvini pulled the plug on
his testy coalition with Five Star
and tried to orchestrate an elec-
tion in a bid to become prime
minister. His gambit backfired
spectacularly as other parties
negotiated to form a majority
and forestall his rise.
Over the past year, President
Trump has spoken admiringly of
Italy’s government — including
its tactics against migrants, an
approach originated by Salvini,
who is the minister of the interi-
or. But on Tuesday, Trump gave
Conte an endorsement, writing
on Twitter that Conte “loves his
country greatly & works well
with the USA. A very talented
man who will hopefully remain
Prime Minister!”
Under the new coalition, Con-
te would be prime minister, as he
was during the 14-month
League-Five Star government.
But the government he repre-
sents would be significantly re-
cast — probably being less nativ-
ist, less interested in anti-mi-
grant rhetoric and more willing
to cooperate with the European
establishment. What remains to
be seen, though, is whether a
government composed of two
weakened and internally divided
parties can win over Italians and
last long enough to address the
country’s deep-rooted economic
problems.
“This is a weak, messy, fragile
solution — with a very weak
democratic legitimacy,” said Gio-
vanni Orsina, a professor of his-
tory at L UISS Guido Carli Univer-
sity in Rome. “These are parties
that for a year now have been
losing [regional and local] elec-
tions.”
Even by the standards of a
country that has had more than

60 governments since World War
II, the recent weeks have been
jarring. In early August, Salvini
seemed poised to become prime
minister and turn Italy into the
most solidly far-right country in
Western Europe. Instead, Italy is
on the verge of having a much
different government: one that
doesn’t include the country’s
most popular party.
The prevailing parties are tak-
ing considerable risks in working
together. The Five Star Move-
ment made its name as a rebel-
lious outsider for the Internet
age, attacking the Democratic
Party as c orrupt a nd out o f touch.
The Democratic Party long de-
nounced Five Star politicians as
incompetent novices with a pen-
chant for conspiracy theories.
For weeks, they have debated
over the shape of a possible new
government — with Democratic
Party chief Nicola Zingaretti
backpedaling on opposition to
Conte.
“We love Italy and think it
worth to try this experience,”
Zingaretti told reporters
Wednesday. “We mean to put an
end to the season of hate, rancor
and fear.”
If the two parties form a
coalition and can put their ani-
mosity behind them, they will
have the opportunity to govern
through the end of the legislature
in 2023. That prospect would
leave Salvini out of power for
years, potentially diminishing
the momentum of a politician
who had remade Italian politics
in his image and become the face
of the far right in Western Eu-
rope.
It was that popularity that
Salvini had been hoping to lever-
age when he said in early August
he called for a no-confidence vote
against Conte. “Let’s quickly give
the choice back to voters,” Salvini
said at the time.
Conte resigned before facing
the vote. But on his way out, he
took some damaging jabs at Sal-
vini. He said Salvini was “obses-
sive” about hard-line immigra-
tion policy and was “constantly”
focused on increasing his own
support. In recent weeks, sup-
port for Salvini’s League has
dropped to 34 percent from 39
percent in late July, according to
a poll published by the newspa-
per Sole 24 Ore. Polls show Conte
is Italy’s most trusted politician.
Salvini said Wednesday that
Five Star and Democratic Party
members would “stop at nothing
to keep their posts,” and he
accused Five Star of branding
itself a populist revolutionary
party but forming a government
with the “maximum defenders of
the system.”
So far, financial markets have
welcomed the idea of the new
coalition under the assumption
that its leaders will be likelier to
hew to European financial rules
and have a better rapport with
regulators in Brussels. Salvini
had made a point of pushing
back against the bloc’s edicts,
and though Five Star members
also tend to be euroskeptical,
those views will be leavened by
the Democratic Party.
chico.harlan@washpost.com

New Italian coalition


sidelines far-right party


With populist thwarted,
some hope for friendlier
relations with E.U.

Johnson moves to suspend Parliament


BEN STANSALL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Britain’s Boris Johnson said he wanted a new session of Parliament
only so he could lay out the government’s “very exciting agenda.”

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