Six months on, Brexit rift among Bri­tons re­mains wide

Italy’s Gen­tiloni races to form a new cabi­net

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

One cam­paigned to leave the Euro­pean Union, the other to stay. Now, nearly six months af­ter Bri­tain’s shock ref­er­en­dum vote for Brexit, two thirty-some­things prove the de­bate is still very much alive, and just as painful. “I’m very, very ex­cited about the fu­ture,” says Chris Men­des, a 31-yearold soft­ware en­gi­neer who sup­ports the anti-EU, anti-im­mi­gra­tion UK In­de­pen­dence Party (UKIP), which helped drive the “Leave” vote.

But Thomas Cole, a 33-year-old po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who used to work at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in Brus­sels, says the fu­ture is still up for play. Since the vote on June 23, many Bri­tons have had to wres­tle with some of the stark and un­set­tling re­al­i­ties of what “leav­ing Europe” ac­tu­ally means. And, for Cole and oth­ers who voted “Re­main”, this jolt gives cause to stay in the fight. “Just be­cause the ref­er­en­dum has taken place doesn’t mean you say, ‘OK, I give up now’,” he says.

Out­wardly sim­i­lar, the two men are pas­sion­ately di­vided on Brexit, re­flect­ing the split that saw Bri­tons vote 52 per­cent to leave the EU and 48 per­cent to stay. In­tro­duced by AFP, they traded views at cafe in Lon­don’s St Pan­cras sta­tion, the gate­way for trav­el­ers ar­riv­ing from and leav­ing to con­ti­nen­tal Europe. Men­des, sport­ing a brown T-shirt and a three-day-old beard, ac­knowl­edges there are chal­lenges to leav­ing the EU, not least pro-Euro­pean MPs seek­ing to de­lay or soften the di­vorce. “There’s ob­vi­ously a clear re­sis­tance to Brexit, there’s no ques­tion about that, but we ex­pected that,” he says.

But Cole, wear­ing a smart jumper and striped scarf tied at the neck, ar­gues that the ref­er­en­dum was “legally not bind­ing”. He came home to cam­paign against Brexit and is a mem­ber of the pro-EU, cen­trist Lib­eral Democrats, who want a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the fi­nal terms of the exit deal. Cole sug­gests that if the exit ne­go­ti­a­tions “be­come com­pli­cated”, then the 2020 gen­eral elec­tion could be ef­fec­tively run as a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. “I couldn’t dis­agree more,” chips in Men­des, ac­cus­ing Cole of a “morally bank­rupt” po­si­tion. Cole hits back: “You have to pass things through par­lia­ment, I think that’s nor­mal.”

Tak­ing back con­trol

Un­der pres­sure from mem­bers of her Con­ser­va­tive party and EU lead­ers, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has promised to be­gin for­mal exit talks by the end of March. But she is fight­ing a le­gal chal­lenge against calls for MPs to take the fi­nal de­ci­sion on trig­ger­ing Brexit, amid con­cerns that par­lia­ment, which over­whelm­ingly wanted Bri­tain to stay in the EU, will try to block it. Mean­while the cabi­net it­self ap­pears di­vided on the key is­sue of whether or not to stay in the sin­gle mar­ket.

Re­main­ers say quit­ting the world’s big­gest trade bloc will de­stroy swathes of Bri­tish jobs. Brexit sup­port­ers say Bri­tain will forge new trade deals with the rest of the world. For Men­des, a prin­ci­ple is at stake. “We want to come out of the sin­gle mar­ket, we voted to take back con­trol of our laws com­pletely, we voted to take back con­trol of our bor­ders com­pletely,” he says.

He re­flects the gov­ern­ment’s out­ward con­fi­dence that it will get the “best pos­si­ble deal” for Bri­tain-even if it has yet to set out how this will hap­pen. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Cole says he would like to stay in the sin­gle mar­ket-and would be un­happy with some of the pro­posed com­pro­mises. One op­tion is for Bri­tain to leave the mar­ket of 500 mil­lion con­sumers but con­tinue to pay for ac­cess, while be­ing un­able to shape its rules. “From a demo­cratic point of view it’s frankly ter­ri­ble,” he says. An up­side of a clean break with Brus­sels is that “you wouldn’t have some­body else telling you what to do. Hav­ing said that, for the econ­omy, would it be good? No.”

“In an ideal sce­nario, I want things to be as they are,” Cole ad­mits, be­fore he is cut off by Men­des, in­sist­ing: “That’s not go­ing to hap­pen.” The dis­cus­sion is lively but good-na­tured, al­though else­where in Bri­tain ten­sions are high, with re­ports of an in­crease in hate crime af­ter the vote, and death threats against lead­ing cam­paign­ers on both sides. Men­des says the na­tional de­bate is “very healthy”, ad­ding: “We have not dis­cussed th­ese things for about 40 yearsand now, for the first time, we are. “The nat­u­ral con­se­quence of that is an ex­plo­sion, a mas­sive clash, a vi­o­lent clash, in­tel­lec­tu­ally speak­ing, of ideas.” Cole agrees, and notes the re­cent elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent. “Ig­nor­ing peo­ple’s con­cerns is es­sen­tially dan­ger­ous,” he says. — AFP

New Ital­ian pre­mier-des­ig­nate Paolo Gen­tiloni raced to put to­gether a cabi­net team yes­ter­day as the mar­ket wel­comed the ap­par­ent rapid res­o­lu­tion of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal and bank­ing crises. Gen­tiloni, 62, was asked by Pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mattarella on Sun­day to form a new cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment that will guide Italy to elec­tions due by Fe­bru­ary 2018, fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of out­go­ing Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties slammed the soft­lyspo­ken for­mer for­eign min­is­ter as lit­tle more than a Renzi pup­pet, but Milan’s FTSE Mib saluted the move, up 1.22 per­cent at 1030 GMT. Sil­ver-haired Gen­tiloni, a one­time stu­dent rad­i­cal from an aris­to­cratic fam­ily, is ex­pected to keep the cabi­net largely un­touched and present his fi­nal list to the pres­i­dent later. He will then seek par­lia­men­tary ap­proval of his new gov­ern­ment today or to­mor­row. The big­gest cabi­net seat to fill is the one left va­cant by Gen­tiloni him­self, that of for­eign min­is­ter.

Po­lit­i­cal watch­ers say it could go to Piero Fassino, a mem­ber of Renzi’s cen­treleft Demo­cratic Party (PD) who has pre­vi­ously held the jus­tice and for­eign com­merce port­fo­lios. In­te­rior Min­is­ter An­gelino Al­fano, who was Renzi’s deputy and heads the New Cen­tre-Right (NCD) party, is also tipped for the post. Should it go to Al­fano, the in­te­rior port­fo­lio could be handed to Domenico Min­niti, the state sec­re­tary with re­spon­si­bil­ity for the se­cu­rity ser­vices un­der Renzi.

An­a­lysts say Gen­tiloni could also keep the for­eign min­is­ter job for him­self, at least in the short term. Pier Carlo Padoan is ex­pected to stay on as fi­nance min­is­ter to re­as­sure Europe that the euro-zone’s third-largest econ­omy is on solid ground. Among the most press­ing is­sues fac­ing the new gov­ern­ment is the fate of Italy’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) bank. The in­sti­tu­tion, the third largest in Italy, had re­quested ex­tra time from Europe to plug a gap­ing hole in its fi­nances, but re­ports on Fri­day that the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank had re­fused, spooked the mar­kets.

But just hours af­ter Gen­tiloni was named as prime min­is­ter, the bank said it could avoid ap­peal­ing for a gov­ern­ment bailout, with BMPS shares up 7.18 per­cent in mid-morn­ing trad­ing yes­ter­day. He is now rush­ing to re­solve the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis sparked by Renzi’s crush­ing ref­er­en­dum de­feat and downfall in time for Italy to at­tend the Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing in Brus­sels on Thurs­day, where the press­ing is­sue of mi­gra­tion is on the ta­ble. Italy is on the front­lines of the mi­grant cri­sis, with a record 175,000 peo­ple land­ing on its shores this year alone.

“The Gen­tiloni-Padoan gov­ern­ment is com­ing to­gether at a su­per speed to pre­vent the im­plo­sion of the Siena bank (BMPS) and to make sure Italy does not turn up at the Euro­pean Coun­cil with an in­com­plete gov­ern­ment,” the Stampa daily said. Renzi may be down and out for now, but an­a­lysts said he had tapped Gen­tiloni to re­place him be­cause he trusts him to keep his seat warm for the next gen­eral elec­tions, which could be brought for­ward to early next year. “Gen­tiloni will be try­ing to main­tain a di­rect line to his friend Mat­teo in or­der to take de­ci­sions to­gether,” the Stampa said. — AFP

BRUS­SELS: Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk (left) walks with Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent Martin Schulz (cen­ter) and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker at the Euro­pean Coun­cil build­ing in Brus­sels. The 28-na­tion EU has been rocked by the Bri­tish exit ref­er­en­dum last year, and ac­ri­mo­nious re­la­tions with some eastern mem­bers on mi­gra­tion and con­sti­tu­tional law. — AP

ROME: Italy’s newly named Prime Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni ar­rives for a press con­fer­ence in Rome. Gen­tiloni was named as Italy’s new prime min­is­ter fol­low­ing re­formist leader Mat­teo Renzi’s res­ig­na­tion in the wake of a crush­ing ref­er­en­dum de­feat. — AFP

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