Well, Northern Ireland, did you miss me?! Yours truly is back for the Political Week in 5 Points, this time from the West Coast of the United States. I’d say “sunny California,” but it sounds like most of Europe had it hotter than we did. Let’s get to it.
Heatwave terrifying example of how the planet is literally burning, politicians continue to do nothing about climate change
Europe experienced a record-shattering heatwave this week, with temperatures hitting above 40C in certain areas. Paris reached a whopping 42C, and Belgium and the Netherlands experienced record-breaking temperatures of 41C and 40C. It was also the second time in recorded history that temperatures in the UK reached above 38C. Europe wasn’t the only place in the world to experience a heatwave this summer: temperatures in India and Pakistan reached over 50C.
While Europe may be relieved the heatwave is moving north, unfortunately the Arctic is literally on fire. Unprecedented wildfires are raging across the Arctic circle, some so big that they can be seen from space. The World Meteorological Organization say the fires have already released 50 megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere (this is more than the total annual emissions produced by Sweden). The heatwave will also be very bad for the melting ice sheets.
There is an increasing consensus that the political steps to address climate change need to be taken in the next 18 months. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and now director emeritus of the Potsdam Climate Institute, said, “The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020.” Prince Charles told a reception for Commonwealth foreign ministers, “I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said last year that the emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5C this century. If you want to be even more thoroughly terrified, you can read David Wallace-Well’s essay: ‘After the Warming’.
Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Well, it was really no surprise to anyone following British politics that Boris Johnson was selected by an internal party vote to be the new leader of the Conservative Party, and thus the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. For my British colleagues who continued to wax eloquent about how outdated and deeply undemocratic the electoral college system is, I would just like to point out that Johnson now has the power to take the UK out of the EU after less than 100,000 people (or 0.13% of the British electorate) voted for him. This clip from MSNBC is pretty savage.
Johnson, who Donald Trump referred to as “Britain Trump,” much like the US President, did not stop “being Boris” just because he is now the leader of a major country. He referred to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as “the awesome foursome” and proclaimed, “Dude, we’re going to energise the country!” Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole has some choice words about one of the most deeply dishonest and incompetent politicians in recent British history.
Johnson has said that he will take the UK out of the EU by 31 October “no matter what.” He has pledged to negotiate a new withdrawal deal. (The EU has said they will not renegotiate.) He has declared that he will get rid of the backstop. (The EU has said they will not get rid of the backstop.) He has also conducted a major purge of Cabinet, getting rid of a number of ministers who supported his challengers and replacing them instead with his supporters and hardline Brexiteers. For a full update of the cabinet re-shuffle, check out the Guardian’s article here. Most people think Johnson’s choices indicate he will call a snap general election soon and that he is attempting to shore up the Brexit vote.
Fun fact: Priti Patel, who quit as International Development Secretary in 2017 after holding unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials and once recommended threatening Ireland with food shortages as a negotiating strategy, is back as Home Secretary! Less than 48 hours after her appointment she has been accused of breaching ministerial conduct once again, this time for taking a consulting position before receiving approval from an anti-corruption watchdog.
By the way, the excellent Netflix Documentary The Great Hack has just been released. Spoiler alert: Brexit features.
Northern Ireland gets a new Secretary of State, former Chief Whip Julian Smith
Well, it’s not often that someone can unite all of Northern Ireland’s political parties. But the departure of Secretary of State Karen Bradley has miraculously resulted in everyone from Sinn Féin to the TUV to Alliance agreeing that they are glad to see her leave. Ah, well — I suppose it’s like an accomplishment.
Johnson’s pick for Secretary of State was Julian Smith, the former Government Chief Whip and MP for Skipton and Ripon in Yorkshire since 2010. He has said, “My responsibility as Secretary of State is to represent and work for every citizen in Northern Ireland and to work equally with every party . . . I’m very clear on both the spirit of that [Good Friday] Agreement and the law.” While visiting Derry this week, the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, activists in favor of same-sex marriage and Irish language legislation demonstrated as he arrived.
Smith met with Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists and Tánaiste Simon Coveney at Stormont, saying, “We have got to get these talks up and running. It has been going on far too long.” (It’s been 923 days since Stormont collapsed, by the way).
Mary Lou McDonald said she presented Smith with a copy of the Good Friday Agreement and he assured the Sinn Féin leader that he had read it already, but was currently re-reading it. So that’s nice, at least.
Robert Mueller testifies in front of Congress, it was sort of disappointing for everyone
After a lot of speculation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III testified in front of Congress about Russia’s interferences in the 2016 elections and potential obstruction of justice by President Trump. (You can read Northern Slant’s own Steve McGookin’s analysis here.) Democrats and Republicans alike were hoping it was going to be a great day for video-clips, but Mueller largely kept to what was already in the report and stuck to the Department of Justice’s instructions not to testify about the redacted bits. The biggest “bombshell” was Mueller’s testimony that the Russians were still interfering in the US’s election system. “They are doing it as we sit here,” Mueller told Congress, “And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”
Mueller’s testimony came the same week the US Senate Intelligence committee released a bipartisan report on election security, finding all 50 US states were targeted by Russia in some way during the 2016 election — much more far-reaching that was previously known. The report states that, “the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against US election infrastructure at the state and local level,” and warns that “vulnerability persists” going into the 2020 campaign. The committee recommended that the US needed to move to secure its elections, including more secured voting machines with a verified paper trail.
However, two bipartisan bills that would address election security were blocked by Mitch McConnell this week, prompting widespread criticism of the Senate majority leader.
Tensions raise in the Strait of Hormuz as Iran seizes British-owned oil tanker
The past few weeks have seen tensions rise in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow strait where nearly 20% of global oil supply sails through (super cool NY Times interactive map here). Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a British-owned oil tanker on Friday, the first global incident for new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to handle.
The seizure is widely believed to be in retaliation for UK actions in helping impound an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar which was believed to be sending oil to Syria, in breach of an European Union embargo. Iran called the seizure “piracy” and attempted to stop another British tanker in the Persian Gulf on 11 July, but a British warship drove them away. The seizure also comes a day after the US shot down an Iranian drone in the region.
The incident occurs against a backdrop of raising tensions between Iran and the US, after the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. The UK has, along with the EU, tried to preserve the 2015 deal despite the withdrawal of the Trump administration, although it is seen as the most sympathetic of the European allies towards the White House. Iran can put pressure on the US and European states by raising tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, which cause oil prices to rise.