The political week in 5 points
The earth’s climate continues to meltdown
In case you were wondering, the earth — and life on it — is still facing a catastrophe. This July was the hottest month in recorded history and Arctic sea-ice coverage reached a near record low. The recent European heatwave saw average temperatures between 1.5°C and 3°C higher because of climate change. “We are now getting very close to some dangerous tipping points in the behaviour of the climate,” Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment said. “As this latest leaked report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s work reveals, it is going to be very difficult to achieve the cuts we need to make to prevent that happening.”
The recent Committee on Climate Change report for the UK found that the UK infrastructure, businesses and citizens are not prepared for even a 2°C temperature rise. A new poll shows that 71% of British citizens believe the climate crisis is more important than Brexit and six in ten think the government isn’t doing enough to prioritise climate change.
16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who has been leading worldwide climate emergency demonstrations by young people, made headlines for her decision to take a sailboat to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. (For a look at how flying impacts the environment, check out this Vox article here.)
Boris Johnson goes on “awesome foursome” tour — it does not go awesomely
After assuming the premiership, Boris Johnson this week went on a tour of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He was greeted by protestors in all three places — and the video of Johnson and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon went viral. It showed Johnson being greeted by booing protestors and then Sturgeon batting the Prime Minister’s hand as he attempted to usher her into her own residence. (Johnson left Bute House by the back door.) Sturgeon said that Johnson did not have the “guts” to face the Scottish people.
Johnson’s visit to Wales did not go too much better — sheep farmers warned of civil unrest if a no-deal Brexit caused tariffs to be imposed on meat exports, which could drive businesses to collapse and prompt mass slaughter of herds. Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakefield said Johnson demonstrated a “deeply concerning lack of detail” and Johnson largely kept a distance from the Welsh media during his visit.
Johnson saved the best for last, arriving in Belfast on Wednesday. Many Northern Irish leaders were similarly unimpressed with the Prime Minister. Mary Lou McDonald tweeted, “We spelt out the realities to Boris Johnson. Bluster & bravado can’t mask the utterly destructive Brexit route he is taking. He is on course to upend our peace & prosperity with his eyes wide open. Time for all of us to stand together, to face this Tory belligerence down #Brexit.” Although Johnson has promised to do everything in his power to restore Stormont (930 days, BTW), SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said Johnson had “a limited understanding of the complexities and fragilities of this place.”
One party, however, did not have harsh words for the new PM. Johnson had a private dinner with Arlene Foster on Tuesday, whose party is still propping up his slim majority in Parliament. The DUP must be especially excited now that Johnson has publicly disavowed the backstop, saying he refuses to speak with European leaders until they drop it.
Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, said, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if no deal (Brexit) ends being looked at by historians as the event that breaks up the UK.”
By the way, 27 bodies in Northern Ireland — including Women In Business, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions — issued a joint statement on Friday opposing a no-deal Brexit, saying no-deal would be “hugely detrimental for Northern Ireland’s economic, social and political well-being.”
Boris bounce falls flat, Lib Dems win by-election
The Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, narrowing the Prime Minister’s majority in Parliament to one vote. The by-election was prompted after Conservative MP Chris Davies plead guilty to two charges of making false expenses claims. The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Jane Dodds, beat Davies by 1,425 votes. Dodds said, “My very first act as your new MP when I get to Westminster will be to find Mr Boris Johnson, wherever he’s hiding, and tell him to stop playing with the future of our community and rule out a no-deal Brexit. . . I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit and offer an alternative, positive vision for a richer, greener and safer future.”
Plaid Cymru and the Green party had agreed to not contest the by-election as to avoid splitting the Remain vote. It was a particularly bad night for Labour (when is it not?), as they came in fourth behind the Brexit Party. The Liberal Democrats now have 13 MPs.
(By the way, Fintan O’Toole published an interesting proposal for using Sinn Féin’s seats in Parliament to avert a hard Brexit.)
Harland and Wolff protests call on British government to re-nationalise shipyard
Workers at Harland and Wolff are protesting to avoid a closure of the historic shipyard. Norway’s Dolphin Drilling, the current owners, put H&W up for sale last year as part of a re-structuring — last month they filed for bankruptcy. MJM Marine, a Northern Ireland-based company, had reportedly been in talks to buy the yard, but they recently broke down. Union leaders told workers on Monday that the yard has only days left unless a new owner is secured, sparking the start of the protest.
Since Monday, workers have locked themselves inside the gates and called on the new Prime Minister to re-nationalize the shipyard. They point out that new British Ministry of Defence contracts for Royal Navy ships are due soon, which would not only save the existing 130 jobs but allow for additional recruitment. The British government on Tuesday offered sympathy to the workers, but said that ultimately it is a commercial issue.
Paul Beattie, a worker at the shipyard, told the rally that, “there is nowhere in Northern Ireland that he [Boris Johnson] can hide from us. . . . If he wants to go about waving the Union flag and saying ‘UK jobs for UK workers’, we will be saying, ‘Well, Boris, you are about to close one of the biggest facilities shipbuilding-wise in the UK, and we are not going to stand for it.”
Jackie Pollock, a senior Unite union official, said, “If this place closes, and there is every possibility [of that happening], or goes into insolvency, it will be on [DUP] watch and it won’t be forgotten at the ballot box in the next election.” He also had some choice words for the new Prime Minister: “Get your ass down here and save this place.”
Belfast celebrates Pride weekend
Thousands of people came out for Belfast pride. (I sincerely apologise for the pun.) The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also attended the event. He said that Northern Ireland’s biggest parade is now not orange or green, but rainbow-coloured.
For the first time, the rainbow Pride flag was flown from Belfast City Hall. Maybe it’s the San Francisco in me, but I don’t think City Hall has ever looked so good.