The political week in 5 points

Against the odds, the UK and EU now have a withdrawal deal on the table, and Theresa May remains in Downing Street. Either of those facts could change, depending on how events unfold over the next few weeks. After a five-hour Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the Prime Minister received collective support for the 585-page agreement on the UK’s terms of exit from the EU. It wasn’t good enough for Dominic Raab and Esther McVey, who both resigned from the Cabinet the following day. They leave behind a ‘gang of five’ Brexiteers — Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt, Chris Grayling and Liam Fox — who are staying in Cabinet to push Theresa May to renegotiate a backstop customs arrangement that enables the UK to unilaterally withdraw. EU leaders will meet at a special summit on 25 November to approve the deal, but have indicated zero appetite to re-open negotiations in the meantime. The Prime Minister’s next challenge will be to get the withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons. At present, the prospect of its passage looks remote. Labour, the SNP, the DUP and Liberal Democrats have all expressed dissatisfaction with the deal, while dozens of MPs in her own party have voiced their visceral opposition. There is a glimmer of hope for Theresa May: while Jacob Rees-Mogg led calls for a new leader to replace her, he has so far failed to convince enough colleagues to trigger a vote of no confidence.

In a seminal moment in Northern Ireland politics, business and farming groups have openly challenged the DUP’s opposition to the UK-EU withdrawal agreement. The Ulster Farmers’ Union, CBI, NI Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses all issued statements expressing cautious optimism. Angela McGowan of the CBI described it as “the only show in town” for local business. “We would support the deal going through and against that background we would ask the DUP to consider voting for this deal,” said Wesley Aston, CEO of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had previously said farmers and businesses were “wrong” to support the deal, suggesting they had not read “the detail” and maintained that the backstop would undermine Northern Ireland’s constitutional status. One of the strongest criticisms of the DUP’s stance came from Bill Wolsey, owner of the Merchant Hotel. Named ‘Personality of the Year’ at the Belfast Telegraph Property Awards on Friday, he said the deal presented an “opportunity” for Northern Ireland to “have a foot in both camps.” Mr Wolsey called on politicians to “grasp that opportunity,” adding, “This is no longer a time to keep our head down.”

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland held its second meeting over the weekend. Its 77 members, all ordinary citizens recruited to broadly mirror the structure of Northern Ireland’s population, met at Belfast’s Europa Hotel to consider the issue of social care for older people. They spent a previous weekend learning about the existing social care system from a range of academics, care providers, relevant charities, and users of the system. This weekend they were tasked with producing a series of specific policy proposals that will be formally presented to Northern Ireland’s Department of Health. They engaged in intensive group discussions, considering the available evidence and weighing up the best way forward for the system. The citizens’ recommendations will be published tomorrow. The initiative was organised by Involve, the UK’s leading public participation charity, and funded by a range of civil society organisations. Tim Hughes, the Director of Involve, said the initiative demonstrates “the role members of the public can play in helping to tackle the challenges that face us.”

Over a week after the US midterms, ballots were finally tallied for several elections that were too close to call on the night. Stacey Abrams ended her bid to be the first black female governor of Georgia in a fiery speech to supporters. She said her opponent Republican Brian Kemp was the “legal” winner, but underscored that she thought there was deliberate interference in an election which highlighted the issue of voting rights. Abrams told CNN that election interference “began eight years ago with the systematic disenfranchisement of more than a million voters. It continued with the underfunding and disinvestment in polling places, in training and in the management of the county delivery of services . . . So yes, there was a deliberate and intentional disinvestment and, I think, destruction of the administration of elections in the state of Georgia.” In Florida’s election for Governor, Andrew Gillum also conceded to his Republican opponent. In positive news for the Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat and former social worker, managed to flip Arizona’s senate seat blue for the first time since 1976. And formerly deep red Orange County in California now has no Republican representatives. So far the Democrats have gained 38 seats in the House of Representatives, and lead the Republicans by eight percentage points in the national popular vote.

Fires continue to rage in both Southern and Northern California, still not contained after over a week of massive destruction of homes and infrastructure. The death toll from both blazes neared 80, with over 2,000 people still unaccounted for. Meanwhile, air in the San Francisco Bay Area is now the most toxic in the world, as smoke and weather conditions combined to cause smoke to settle over the region, prompting many schools and businesses to close after health warnings. (Yours truly can confirm the streets of San Francisco look very creepy with most people walking around using facemasks). President Donald Trump visited California over the weekend, but has criticized the state’s forest management response (although the Trump administration cut the federal budget for forest services and most of the land on fire is federal forest land). President Trump said, “You gotta take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important. . . You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland and he called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem. And when they do, it’s a very small problem.”

Originally published at Northern Slant.

PhD’ing in Politics and International Studies at Cambridge via Queen's University Belfast via Stanford. www.alinautrata.com

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