In global and astrological terms 2017 is an inauspicious year. That is to say, nothing much is happening because there are no major sporting tournaments or competitions, celebrations of historical events or known natural phenomena. Theoretically it should be a quiet, perhaps even boring year. So, there is nothing much to fear, possibly a great deal to look forward to.
We already know all too well that that is not the case. 2017 is the year of the rooster according to the Chinese zodiac, at least as of 28 January until 15 February 2018. A rooster is the quintessence of loyalty and reliability; however chickens have another symbolic meaning for exorcising evil spirits. Could that mean that we can expect good news when during 2017 UK politicians admit the Brexit campaign was based on lies and hyperbole, beg the forgiveness of the people and expunge the uncertainty hanging over them by not evoking Article 50? So perhaps we have exciting events to look forward to; that is if people can cope with politicians telling the truth and asking forgiveness! I am, needless to say and using the appropriate idiom, not counting my chickens…
We are by no means certain in which order the first significant events will be, however we have the Supreme Court ruling on the government’s appeal against the High Court ruling on the case brought by Gina Miller and other applicants versus the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union who is now the appellant: ‘Does the Government have power to give notice pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, without an Act of Parliament providing prior authorisation to do so?’ and the inauguration of President Trump. On the latter I would sum that up in Douglas Adams’ words in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’: “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” Thus far his cabinet appointments appear to be a predictor for angst or hilarity, perhaps both; there alone 2017 become unpredictable.
January red, white and blue
Donald Trump will become president on 20 January, we have heard predictions of middle to late January for the Supreme Court ruling, but it would be one of those rare overkill news days if both should be at the same time. Editors and their journalists would no doubt dread that eventuality. Being a Friday that would give weekend papers more news than they would normally wish to cope with. If, as it most certainly should, the Supreme Court confirms the High Court ruling we shall be hearing the various government excuses by Messrs Davis and Johnson, the recently silent Fox may have a sentence or two to add, but Theresa May will no doubt go hard on the offensive with a new meme to outdo ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Red, white and blue’. For my part I think I shall enjoy careful examination of the UK press, the Daily Mail and Daily Express and other judgemental media who believe themselves to know better than the most learned judges in the land, advocating the abolition of independent judiciary, recommending a timetable for leaving the EU without evoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, blaming foreigners, especially unelected Brussels bureaucrats for their mysterious powers over unelected Supreme Court justices and all the rest of the doggerel that will stir up the nastier elements of English nationalism. I say English specifically given the presence of the representations and submissions from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales from whence we shall be hearing very early in the year no doubt. The UK begins to not look at all united, on that point alone 2017 promises to be at the very least politically entertaining, if somewhat veering toward the dramatic or even tragic. Fortunately we cannot rule comedy, if as such it may be a tragicomedy, out since even so-called ‘Leavers’ are seeing an unfolding face.
The big question is whether Trump’s elevation to the purportedly most powerful man in the world will be overshadowed by that event or will it occur first and steal some of the thunder. After January the rest of the year ought to be anticlimactic. Well, not entirely. Although being taken to court at present, there is a new legal challenge to Brexit to the Irish High Court to examine whether Article 50 is reversible that will most certainly run on well into 2017. Campaigners say they plan to ask the court to refer the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which is the EU’s highest court. It has been claimed that one or more as yet unnamed member states of the EU appear willing to act as complainants. Furthermore this case will try to solicit an answer as to whether on completion of Article 50 negotiations the UK would also be removed from the European Economic Area or whether an entirely separate process will be required. Given that victorious Brexiters have no plan, that they are apparently now planning a plan, the addition of this case to an already obscuring political fog will make what is at best vague at present totally indistinguishable.
If Article 50 is reversible, something that almost certainly ultimately rests in the hands of the ECJ to decide since it has never before been tested, it would give the UK government significantly more power in negotiations, since it will allow it to reject a deal it considers unsuitable, withdraw Article 50, thus remain a member of the EU. Whatever the outcome, it is an extra headache for Theresa May. Her deadline appears to be becoming a major problem for her. So perhaps we have another and generally unexpected but not unlikely change of prime minister looming. The Conservative right, led by the likes of Jacob William Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and John Redwood appear to be politely losing patience with May. Politeness may turn sour, backbench rebellion lead to pressures that May cannot withstand and see her standing down. That, of course, is pure speculation but politics has lost a great deal of predictability during 2016 that makes 2017 an even more unknown quality. To quote Douglas Adams once again as though said by a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street: “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
If you gotta go…
There was a debate on 7 December with a vote on whether Article 50 should be invoked or not, it is not a binding political act since it is not on the back of a Bill that was debated to produce an Act but merely as an expressed opinion of the House of Commons promoted by a motion from a member of that house. It is what some people call something written on the back of a fag packet. Despite that we are already hearing and seeing repeat performances of the lifting of pro-Brexit voices that heralded the famous 52% majority for leaving over the 48% wishing to remain in the EU that is, in real terms, a margin little bigger than the people excluded who by rights should never have been, anyway representing merely a 72% turnout that was and is not binding, but has been seen as a mandate for Brexit. The debate was not a binding legislative act at all. Some right wing experts are saying Article 50 does not need to be invoked, the UK can just leave anyway. So, the UK catalogue of lies, innuendo, exaggeration and rules made up because people don’t like the ones that were in place will be carried over into the political landscape of 2017. That the other 27 member states of the EU are becoming increasingly fed up with UK antics seems to escape the attention of those who are supposedly managing this fiasco. The greatest benefactor of Westminster politics at this point in time appears to be Private Eye. One might predict their sales soaring in 2017.
So, it remains to be seen what will actually happen. Meanwhile, there is muted interest in the forthcoming elections in France and Germany. 2016 saw Austria not going rightwing whilst polls throughout the EU showing revived support for the union among a number of large populations. The Italian referendum has seen the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resign to be replaced by Paolo Gentiloni by Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella because leaders of opposition parties failed to agree to share responsibilities in order create a coalition government. In short, no change in real terms in Austria or Italy where anti-EU pundits had forecast downfall and replacement by an anti-EU right. Whilst events in Italy may lead to an election, for the time being 2017 promises no political fireworks. Beppe Grillo can temporarily return to comedy. In fact, Europeans are being terrible spoilsports who do not understand that the great British public, at least as certain media tell us so, are always and exclusively right. Why are ‘they’ getting it all wrong?
On the right side?
So, France will hold its two rounds of their presidential on 23 April and 7 May. Former Prime Minister François Fillon has been selected by the rightwing Les Républicains; François Hollande will not stand for Parti Socialiste (PS) however Manuel Valls has declared himself and stood down as prime minister. Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National (FN) is the other frontrunner in the presidential race. Le Pen has a track record of electoral failure whereby although she has been in turn a municipal and later regional councillor she has never reach parliamentary level. She is a serving MEP. In her way she shares a political profile like the UK’s Nigel Farage. The most significant difference there is that he does not have a father and niece as main rivals. He is also, it may shock some people to know, English and a man but not a political immortal. Marine thinks she is the latter. Watch her speeches on TV, the adulation of her audiences and imagine she is anything but immortal. However, her successive failures prove her mortality. For some it is significant because it may see her reaching the second round of the election in May, by way of a protest vote as in the past, but then losing on the second. PS have been dragged down to near obscurity in polls by Hollande, Valls has little chance of success. It appears highly likely Fillon may be the next president. In fact, in many respects he is far more conservative, right wing indeed, than Le Pen except that he does not aspire to see France leave the EU. In fact, a useless piece of doggerel in one newspaper that opposes him but is pro-EU based their view of his position on the fact that his wife is Welsh and that he prefers tea in the afternoon to coffee. Whatever any of that means, it is not going to please the Westminster right wing whose avowed intent appears to be killing off the entire EU rather than simply dragging the UK out. That should be interesting come the time. Whenever that time may be, certainly not 2017, nor probably whatever it is we are supposed to be looking for!
Angela Merkel has announced she will stand for the Chancellorship again in the forthcoming German federal elections. Thus far no date has been set but the latest date is 22 October and the earliest 27 August which is the first Sunday after 22 August, the earliest the election would be allowed. However, recent elections have been held in late September to avoid school holidays, so the Brexit brigade will just have to hold their breath although opinion polls actually show Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU) doing far better than they have for some time, enough to return Merkel and almost certainly see a similar coalition to the present. If German teachers go on indefinite strike after the 2017 summer holidays Brexiters will be so stressed that part of this year’s news may well be a steep climb in the number of nervous breakdowns among opponents of the EU in the UK.
Some gloom but little doom
So, the impending gloomy predictions of the imminent end of the doomed EU so steadfastly insisted on by the right leaning UK media look very disappointing. It is not about to happen in 2017, much to their chagrin. No doubt those newspapers in print and online will eschew the rest of world news, thus earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, famine and war will be relegated to the inner pages somewhere toward the back since there will be nothing to rant about there. For my part, I shall continue to read a wide spectrum of European media, partly for my entertainment, by all accounts expect to enjoy Private Eye particularly, wish Have I Got News For You was weekly rather than in short seasons on TV and feel that Spitting Image would be ideally revived for this year. There is much to be concerned about, but readers may notice I allow myself brevity on all things ‘Brexity’. It is a case of if one did not laugh they would cry, however with the UK government managing to make some of their moves more farcical than meaningful, the appointments of particular cabinet members who enrich the jocular element of the Brexit process and those May ‘mottoes’, what else can one do? Therefore I shall not predict the end of the world in 2017, leaving that to the old stagers at Speaker’s Corner in London, but instead that political sketch writers will be earning more than they have for a long time, thus summing up the reality of the coming year.
Feature image courtesy of Associated Press.