The Political Week in Five Points

The SLDP and Fianna Fáil announced a partnership arrangement between the two parties (they emphasize it’s not a merger) at a press conference on Thursday in Belfast. SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said: “This is about a new partnership, a new way of politics, and it’s genuinely about putting people-centred policies back at the heart of politics, and it’s about breaking this cycle of division and deadlock.”

However, some of the party’s membership is reported to be unhappy about the arrangement. Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan he “didn’t think there was anything for members to fear . . . I don’t see anything in there for party members of ours who wouldn’t see their natural affiliation to be with Fianna Fáil to be worried about.

The British Chambers of Commerce have warned that thousands of British companies have triggered plans to deal with a “no-deal” Brexit, with continuing fears that the UK may be heading to crash out of the EU on March 29. Ford Motors announced that it will cost the company up to $1 billion if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper announced that manufacturers Burberry and Haribo wrote to her warning of the negative impact of a no-deal on the country. Cooper is currently pushing for a Commons amendment (to be voted on this Tuesday!) which would allow Parliament to vote on whether to extend Article 50. “The cross-party bill I’ve put forward does not block Brexit, revoke Article 50 or overturn the referendum result, nor should it,” Cooper said. “It just allows Parliament to decide if we need more time to avoid no deal.”

Meanwhile, the UK military has begun to stockpile food, fuel, and ammunition in Gilbaltar, Cyprus and the Balkans in case of a no-deal Brexit, spending at least £23m on “forward-purchased” goods.

The longest shutdown in United States history ended last week, as US President Donald Trump succumbed to mounting pressure and signed a bill to re-open the government for three weeks. Trump had repeatedly said he would refuse to open the government until the Democrats agreed to several billion dollars for the construction of a border wall. Democrats, under the fearless leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the government had to be reopened before any negotiations could continue and that federal employees should not be held hostage for political purposes.

The aviation industry came under particular strain during the shutdown, as TSA officers and air traffic controllers were not being paid. Last week, several airports experienced extreme delays or even had to shut down flights entirely. After the shutdown, US federal employees who had been furloughed will receive back pay — but not government contractors (including people like janitors, security guards, food service, etc.)

“This was in no way a concession,” Trump said in a tweet. “It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

On Friday, Roger Stone — a longtime Trump associate — was arrested at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. An indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller charges Stone with lying to Congress, obstructing official proceeding, and witness tampering. Prosecutors have said that Stone lied to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign. WikiLeaks hacked the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman’s emails during the campaign, releasing them to the public. The indictment claims that Stone told officials in the Trump campaign that WikiLeaks had damaging documents on Hillary Clinton, and “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton campaign”.

Stone was released on bail on Friday, and promptly went on television to proclaim his innocence. He is due back in court on Tuesday. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that the shutdown was still ongoing during the arrest, so the FBI agents who arrested Stone were likely not being paid. (Something tells me they didn’t mind putting this arrest on the house.)

Venezuela is entering a deepening state of crisis after the Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of the country, after elections that were widely deemed fraudulent showed Nicolas Maduro had won. Maduro, who took power after Hugo Chavez died, has accused the assembly of orchestrating a coup d’etat. Top Venezuelan military officials pledged their support for Maduro, although over a dozen countries (including the US and Canada) refused to recognize him. Maduro has severed US-Venezuelan ties, and the US State Department ordered all non-essential personnel home from the US embassy in Caracas.

Guaidó has urged his followers to stage a mass protest in Caracas next week, as the country continues to suffer from widespread economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis, fueled by falling oil prices and government ineptitude. UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s office said that there are credible reports that Venezuelan security forces have shot civilians during the protests and called for an investigation.

Washington, meanwhile, has called on the world to “pick a side.”

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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