The political week in 5 points
Brief encounters with Karen Bradley
Secretary of State Karen Bradley met with leaders from all of Northern Ireland’s parties at Stormont for 45 minutes on Thursday to brief them on the legislation that passed Westminster last week (see last week’s 5 Points for more on the bill). Alliance leader Naomi Long called it a “pointless exercise,” Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said, “there wasn’t even consensus on what that meeting was,” and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said, “I wish I stayed in Derry.” While most politicians said that the meeting demonstrated how far the relationships had deteriorated and was ultimately unhelpful, Bradley did manage to pull off an remarkable feat in Northern Irish politics: getting all the parties to agree! Writing in the Belfast Telegraph about the reasons for the meeting, Karen Bradley explained, “I was keen to hear the views of all the parties on a route back to a talks process, before deciding on the best way forward.”
Speaking of politicians who fly by night, Brexit minister Dominic Raab visited the Irish border this week. Raab called the visit a ‘fact-finding’ mission, but was criticized for not meeting with politicians, business representatives and some of the press. South Down MP Chris Hazzard accused Mr Raab of “coming in like a thief in the night.”
National Crime Agency and the investigation of Arron Banks
The National Crime Agency has opened an investigation into billionaire businessman (and former UKIP bankroller) Arron Banks. The NCA said that they were looking into a “number of criminal offenses” and that they had reasonable grounds to believe that Banks was “not the true source” of £8m in funding to the Leave.EU campaign. Observer reporter Carole Cadwalladr has uncovered links between Banks, the Brexit campaign and Russia, prompting some speculation that Russia may be the true source of the money.
A new report in the Observer also revealed that former employees from Banks’ insurance companies may have worked on Leave.EU campaign from their company offices, which would be a breach of electoral law. The revelations have renewed calls for the Brexit process to be suspended until investigations have been completed, and for Prime Minister Theresa May to clarify whether she or other ministers had “declined a request from the security services to conduct an investigation” into Arron Banks, amid allegations that May had blocked an investigation into the businessman in 2016. Amidst all this, the BBC decided to invite Banks onto the Andrew Marr show, prompting criticism from some politicians, lawyers and activities. (Although Banks kindly decided to fly back from his vacation in Bermuda in order to respond to allegations that he may have misled MPs).
Businesses call for second vote on Brexit
In other Brexit news, more than 70 business leaders have signed a letter calling for a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit. The letter reads in part:
“Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, the proposals being discussed by the government and the European Commission fall far short of this. . . . The uncertainty over the past two years has already led to a slump in investment. . . .We are now facing either a blindfold or a destructive hard Brexit. . . . Given that neither was on the ballot in 2016, we believe the ultimate choice should be handed back to the public with a People’s Vote.”
The letter comes just before the launch of a new campaign, Business for a People’s Vote. Supporters of the campaign include former Treasury minister and Marks & Spencer chairman Lord Myners, lastminute.com co-founder Baroness Lane-Fox, former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King and John Neill, head of car parts supplier Unipar.
Downing Street responded: “We had a people’s vote, it was in June 2016.”
Mary Robinson appointed chairwoman of the Council of Elders
The first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, has been selected as the first female chairman of the Council of the Elders. The Council of the Elders, established by former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2007, is an organization of senior public officials working towards peace and human rights. Robinson succeeds former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who passed away this year. Robinson said, “Building on the powerful legacies of Archbishop Tutu and Kofi Annan, I am confident that our group’s voice can both be heard by leaders and amplify grassroots activists fighting for their rights.” Robinson will be in Belfast this Tuesday, giving a lecture to the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice (although there is currently a waiting list).
Jair Bolsonaro elected president of Brazil
Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Nicknamed the ‘Trump of the Tropics’, Bolansaro has been criticized for his rhetoric during the campaign, which included misogynistic, racist and homophobic remarks. The campaign was a remarkably violent and polarized one, with Bolansaro himself stabbed in the stomach during a rally last month.
Some commentators have attributed Bolsonaro’s victory to the corruption scandal that engulfed the Worker’s Party. The Workers’ Party governed Brazil for 13 years and their policies helped to lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or ‘Lula’, as he is known, left office as a remarkably popular figure. However, he and many other politicians were caught up in a far-reaching anti-corruption probe called ‘Operation Carwash’. Lula was sentenced to 12 years for corruption and money laundering.
Despite his arrest, Lula was running for president against Bolsonaro until an electoral court in September ruled he was barred from running (his running mate Fernando Haddad then became the Workers’ Party candidate). While Bolsonaro positioned himself as a strongman who can tackle the problems of entrenched corruption, it is unclear how ‘clean’ Bolsonaro himself is. As one commentator said, “The trees keep voting for the axe because they the handle is made of wood, and they think its one of us.”
Originally published at Northern Slant.