The Brexit Wedge

In normal times, news that a prime minister and opposition leader were discussing their differences in a bid to reach compromise would stir hope for progress, and so it may be with Brexit. But the times are nowhere near normal in today's UK, and the extra few months that European leaders gave British politicians this week to sort out their Brexit plan will put extraordinary stress on both of the UK's largest parties—with uncertain consequences.

That's because both parties are divided internally in the Brexit fight with neither unified around a clear path forward. Consider the following:

The Conservative Party's problem: There are deep divisions of opinion within Prime Minister Theresa May's party on what sort of Brexit is best for Britain. Though she has pledged to treat the vote for Brexit as an expression of the people's will, those within her party who support "Brexit by any means necessary" suspect that she's less than fully committed to the cause, particularly because she voted in the referendum to keep the UK within the EU.

May needs Labour votes to pass a Brexit plan, but the hardline skeptics in her party will use any concessions she offers the opposition as proof she has betrayed her party and denied Britons the Brexit they want. In fact, more than 100 Tories preparing to run in local elections next month signed a public warning this week that voters see her willingness to compromise toward a softer Brexit as a "breach of faith."

The Labour Party's problem: Leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, opposed Britain's entry into the EU decades ago and has never argued forcefully that the UK should remain. As with May, this creates mistrust within his party's rank and file, the vast majority of whom supported the remain side in the referendum.

Despite anti-Brexit sentiment within his party, Corbyn knows that about 60 percent of seats his MPs won in the last elections represent constituencies where a majority voted for Brexit. He also knows that to win a majority at the next elections, they must secure even more votes from people who want the UK out of the EU.

Now that May is forced to negotiate with them, the Labour Party's divisions are becoming more important. Earlier this month, 25 Labour MPs signed a public letter opposing a second referendum. But days later, 83 Labour MPs signed a public letter of their own demanding that any deal Corbyn might strike with the government must be ratified by a "confirmatory public vote"—in essence, a second referendum. The authors added that, "It is not Labour's job to rescue Theresa May and usher in her successor."

The bottom line: May's insistence on sticking with her own Brexit plan for so long saved both parties from making truly hard choices, but talk of compromise now pushes us into a new phase of the Brexit crisis. May and Corbyn each face threats of mutiny from within their parties, but changes in leadership alone won't eliminate deep intra-party divisions on the larger Brexit questions.

In short, a few more months of anguish and anger over Brexit might well drive a wedge right down the middle of both of Britain's largest political parties. The implications of that problem, for the UK and its politics, might prove even more consequential—and difficult to predict—than the impact of Brexit itself.

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How close is the United States to war with Iran?

Well who knew that the adult in the room on military action would turn out to be none other than President Trump. His advisers pushing him towards military confrontation. He doesn't want to do it. Still more likely than it has been. Certainly, the potential for escalation leading to accident and military confrontation is greater than we'd like.

What's the biggest thing to watch for at the G20 this week?

It's a big one. It's the big U.S. - China conversation about trade, about North Korea, about Huawei and 5G. It's U.S. and Russia. It's U.S. and Turkey. So many issues where the bilateral relations are more confrontational than they have been historically. And things could get dicey. Big one to watch.

Will Erdogan back down after his party lost the Istanbul mayor's race?

Oh I don't think Mr. Erdogan is going to back down. But he lost big. Almost a million votes which means he wasn't able to actually control the outcome. Doesn't mean he's not going to try to undermine the power of the mayor of Istanbul. But the big thing here is that a lot of people that used to support Erdogan, some of his major members of cabinet and the rest of them, are now going to start their own parties to challenge his AK Party. This is a tipping point in Erdogan's leadership for Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has amassed much power in recent years, but on Sunday he showed some real political superpower alchemy: he turned a narrow defeat into a blowout loss.

Back in March, his preferred candidate, Binali Yildirim of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), lost the Istanbul mayoral election to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu by just 13,000 votes in a city of 15 million people. After forcing through a (highly controversial) rerun of the vote, Erdogan watched his man lose again last Sunday—this time by 800,000 votes – a nine percentage point spread in the final tally.

To lose control of the symbolic and economic capital of Turkey, a city where Erdogan himself once served as mayor, is a heavy political blow for him personally and for his party. He had campaigned vigorously for Yildirim. Imamoglu, meanwhile, styled himself as an alternative to Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian, divisive, and economically ham-fisted politics. The final vote was at least in part a referendum on the president himself.

As the dust settles, there are a few points to consider:

A loss like this puts blood in the water around Erdogan, who has dominated his country's politics for the past 16 years. Opponents both within and outside the AKP will feel emboldened to challenge him more directly on a host of issues, including his handling of the economy and foreign policy. New opposition parties led by former Erdogan allies may now spring up.

You can bet Erdogan will make life hard for Imamoglu. Yildirim and Erdogan both accepted the outcome – with a margin like that how could they not? But Erdogan will want to keep Imamoglu from being too effective as mayor, lest that provide a platform for a national-level challenge. At the same time, Erdogan will have to tread carefully to avoid provoking protests from a city that has very clearly turned against him.

Turkish democracy is more resilient than it's sometimes made out to be. Yes, Erdogan has in recent years pushed his country in a more authoritarian direction – by clamping down on the courts and the media, and purging the bureaucracy of perceived political opponents. But as Imamoglu's win shows (twice!) -- Turkish party politics and elections remain plenty competitive and unpredictable.

The big question: As Erdogan looks towards 2023, the scheduled date for the next national elections (barring a coalition collapse that leads to an earlier ballot) will he moderate his politics at all in order to bounce back from the Istanbul loss? Or will the famously pugnacious president double down on his approach, reasoning that any concessions would simply encourage more challengers? A thwarted would-be autocrat is a dangerous thing.

What was the most interesting thing to come out of the South Carolina Democratic Convention?

Well I think it was that they all kind of got along after a few days of sniping over Joe Biden's comments about segregationist senators. It was mostly all collegiality. I don't think that's going to last into the debates this week Wednesday and Thursday in Miami expect them to go after each other.

Is Mayor Pete naïve on race?

I don't know if he's naive but he certainly has a problem with African-American support. You can't win the Democratic nomination without it. He's got some problems with police and race relations in South Bend. He's really got to do some work here.

Will President Trump carry out ICE raids?

I think he will carry out immigration deportation raids. I don't see a big deal happening with Democrats but not on the scale that he's promised because that's not possible.

The Rant

Finally for The Rant: my rant is on President Trump saying again this weekend that he inherited the family separation policy from Obama.

This is a lie. There were very limited family separations under Obama. The huge crisis at the border and with these detention camps comes from the president's zero tolerance policy. It is all a result of Trump policy.

If the state of California were an independent country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world, according to a fascinating report by The Economist that looks at both that state and Texas as the harbingers of two alternative futures for the United States. That got us thinking – how do the economies of the individual US states stack up against other countries? California's economy is about the size of the United Kingdom's, while Texas's matches up with Canada's. Who's on par with Sri Lanka or the Czech Republic? Our map's got 'em all.