All posts by Francisco Marques Pereira

(BBG) The World Will Pay for Not Dealing With Debt


Inventive policymaking has only made the problem worse, guaranteeing that any eventual restructuring will be all the more painful. By Satyajit Das23 de dezembro de 2018, 00:00 WET

There’s quite a hole to dig out from. Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg

Satyajit Das is a former banker, whom Bloomberg named one of the world’s 50 most influential financial figures in 2014. His latest book is “A Banquet of Consequences” (published in North America and India as “The Age of Stagnation”). He is also the author of “Extreme Money” and “Traders, Guns & Money.”Read more opinionCOMMENTS 51LISTEN TO ARTICLE 5:56SHARE THIS ARTICLE Share Tweet Post Email

Markets, to paraphrase Nobel prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling, often forget that they keep forgetting. That’s especially true when it comes to the intractable challenges posed by global debt.

Since 2008, governments around the world have looked for relatively painless ways to lower high debt levels, a central cause of the last crisis. Cutting interest rates to zero or below made borrowing easier to service. Quantitative easing and central bank support made it easier to buy debt. Engineered increases in asset prices raised collateral values, reducing pressure on distressed borrowers and banks.

All these policies, however, avoided the need to deleverage. In fact, they actually increased borrowing, especially demand for risky debt, as income-starved investors looked farther and farther afield for returns. Since 2007, global debt has increased from $167 trillion ($113 trillion excluding financial institutions) to $247 trillion ($187 trillion excluding financial institutions). Total debt levels are 320 percent of global GDP, an increase of around 40 percent over the last decade.

All forms of borrowing have increased — household, corporate and government. Public debt had to grow dramatically to finance rescue efforts after the Great Recession. U.S. government debt is approaching $22 trillion, up from around $9 trillion a decade ago — an increase of 40 percent of GDP. Emerging market debt has grown as well. China’s non-financial debt has increased from $2 trillion in 2000 (120 percent of GDP) to $7 trillion in 2007 (160 percent of GDP) to around $40 trillion today (250 percent of GDP).

U.S. non-financial corporate borrowing as a share of GDP has surpassed 2007 levels and is nearing a post-World War Two high. Meanwhile, the quality of that debt has declined. BBB-rated bonds (the lowest investment-grade category) now account for half of all investment-grade debt in the U.S. and Europe, up from 35 percent and 19 percent, respectively, a decade ago. Outstanding of CCC-rated debt (one step above default) is currently 65 percent above 2007 levels. Leveraged debt outstanding (which includes high-yield bonds and leveraged loans) stands at around $3 trillion, double the 2007 level.

Today, the world doesn’t have many options left. In theory, borrowers could divert income to pay off debt. That’s easier said than done, given that very little of the debt assumed over the last decade was put to productive uses. As wages stagnated, households borrowed to finance consumption. Companies borrowed to finance share buybacks and acquisitions. Governments borrowed to finance current expenditure, rather than infrastructure and other strategic investments.

A sharp deleveraging now would risk a recession, making repayment even more difficult. Shrinking the pile of public debt, for example, would require governments to raise taxes and cut spending, which would put a damper on economic activity.

In theory, strong growth and high inflation should reduce debt levels. Growth would boost incomes and the debt-servicing capacity of borrowers. It would reduce debt-to-GDP ratios by increasing the denominator. Where real rates are negative (with nominal rates below the level of price increases), inflation would reduce effective debt levels.

Since 2007, however, attempts to increase growth and inflation have had only modest success. Monetary and fiscal measures, however radical, have their limits. They can minimize the effects of an economic dislocation but can also damage long-term growth prospects. Since the 1990s, too, much economic activity has been debt-driven. Credit intensity is rising: It now requires increasingly higher levels of debt to generate the same level of growth. Efforts to reduce that debt risk an economic contraction, rather than a boom.

Finally, where debt is denominated in a national currency but held by foreigners, countries could slash that debt by devaluing their currencies. The problem is that everyone knows this: Since 2007, a multitude of nations have sought to engineer cheaper currencies in order to boost their competitive position and devalue their liabilities. That’s produced a stalemate, constraining this option.

The only other way to reduce debt levels is by default. This can either be done explicitly — through bankruptcy or write-offs — or implicitly, using negative nominal interest rates to reduce the face value of the debt. Default is almost certainly the likeliest long-term option.

In a default, debt investors as well as banks and depositors suffer losses of savings and income. Financial institutions and pension funds may become insolvent. Retirement income and public services that are paid for by household taxes and contributions won’t be delivered. In turn, this will reduce consumption, investment and the availability of credit. Depending on the size of the write-offs required, the economic and social losses could be considerable.

In 2007, policymakers passed up the opportunity to devise a slow, controlled correction because it would have necessitated defaults and creditor losses. That might at least have allowed an equitable sharing of losses, with the most vulnerable protected. Instead, leaders arrogantly gambled that their policy toolbox would make their debt problems disappear. The breathing space they purchased was wasted. Sovereign states used interest rate savings to finance increased expenditures rather than debt reduction.

Now time is working against them. Previous restructurings show that early default helps cauterize the wound, minimize loss and facilitate recovery. The longer the delay, the higher the cost and bigger the adjustment necessary. Not wanting defaults on their watch, policymakers have been less than honest, including with themselves, about the options to deal with unsustainable debt. They’ve effectively transferred the costs to the next generation. One way or another, though, those costs will have to be paid.

(EUobserver) Juncker used private jets for 21 out of 43 official trips


European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, chartered private jets for 21 out of 43 official trips between January and November 2018, a Daily Mail analysis has found. Travel costs for a 13-strong delegation one-night trip to Tunisia amounted to €36,000 and a dinner with world leaders in Finland before the European People’s Party conference cost €26,000. ‘Air taxis’ should only be used when no suitable commercial flights can be found.

(JTA) Portugal’s only rural Jewish community seeks a seat at the table


A view of Pelourinho Square in Belmonte, Portugal. (Filipe Rocha/Wikmedia Commons)ADVERTISEMENT

BELMONTE, Portugal (JTA) — To a casual observer, the weekend routines of the Jewish community of this placid town of about 6,000 in eastern Portugal are deceptively normal.

There are Shabbat services at the local synagogue on Friday night and Saturday morning, and receptions at the local Jewish museum. Once a year, a small Sunday kosher market is held by the approximately 70 members of its Jewish community of Belmonte — the only one in Portugal outside the larger cities of Lisbon and Porto.

But the community here is the only one on the Iberian Peninsula that has retained rituals and other quirky elements of its identity that date back to the Spanish Inquisition, thanks to the sacrifices and commitment of successive generations of crypto-Jews — Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity under the Inquisition but continued to practice Judaism in secret.

This year, the Jewish Community of Belmonte is for the first time seeking from the government equal status and access to funding as those enjoyed by Portugal’s two larger Jewish communities of Lisbon and Porto.

The post-Inquisition Jewish presence in Belmonte was first documented in 1917 by Samuel Schwarz, a Jewish engineer from Poland who was working at a nearby tin mine when he noticed peculiar habits of certain families in the town.

In a 1925 book titled “New Christians in Portugal in the 20th Century,” he chronicled how only three Jewish holidays were observed in Belmonte: Passover, the Fast of Esther — part of the Purim holiday — and Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, Jews would meet to play cards so as not to appear to be worshipping, and they’re still following the custom today.

Belmonte Jews browse the annual kosher market there, Oct. 14, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Shabbat was regularly observed, featuring three daily prayers, Schwarz wrote. On that day, Belmonte’s crypto-Jews did not eat pork. Today, pork is off the menu for most Belmonte Jews, who eat mostly kosher food — some of it even locally produced, including two types of beer and several kinds of cheese.

The food is on display at the annual kosher market during the High Holidays period, where actors dressed in medieval costumes regale visitors with scenes from that period. Some of the enactments show Jews sobbing upon learning of the Inquisition’s arrival in Portugal and Jewish merchants haggling while peddling textiles. The members of the Jewish community don’t seem to mind the humorous approach, playing along with the acts.

“The story of Belmonte’s Jews is like something out of a fairy tale or science fiction series,” Eliyahu Birenboim, a former chief rabbi of Uruguay and the head of Israel’s Strauss-Amiel Rabbinical Seminary, wrote in a 2012 essay detailing his research of the place.

There are darker sides to the community’s strict adherence to centuries-old customs. It’s so old and tight knit that the inmarriage that helped sustain the community at one point has created endemic health problems to many of its members. Many community members suffer from night blindness, among other afflictions. One family has a gravely ill daughter due to genetic complications, said Elisha Salas, a Chile-born rabbi who led the Belmonte Jewish community for eight years before leaving for El Salvador in 2018.

This issue exposes Belmonte Jews to ridicule by some of their coreligionists from elsewhere in Portugal.

“They are all pretty much married to their cousin,” Salas said of his previous congregation.

Actors re-enact scenes from the Inquisition period outside Belmonte’s Jewish museum, Oct. 14, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Then there are the normal challenges of life in a small and remote Jewish community. Belmonte’s rural area offers few employment opportunities, and there are only a handful of Jewish children there, raising concerns about the community’s long-term viability. Several dozen people have left for Israel in recent years.

Salas said the effects of this depletion has deepened the impact that old family feuds have on communal life.

“There are whole families who are not on speaking terms not because of something that went on recently,” but due to fights over unrequited marriage proposals from decades ago, he said.

The Jewish communities in Lisbon and Porto announced last year with a Chabad rabbi the formation of a national rabbinical council, omitting Belmonte. In fact, the community wasn’t even informed in advance of the council’s creation, Salas said.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” said Jaime Henrique Rodrigo, a Belmonte Jew. “Porto and Lisbon are trying to protect their monopoly. They don’t want us taking a seat at the table, so they try to exclude us.”

Belmonte also is not recognized by the state as qualified to vet citizenship applications by descendants of Sephardic Jews. (Portugal passed a law in 2015 that said it will aim to naturalize descendants of Sephardic Jews who can prove their heritage.) This owed to the fact that at the time of the law’s passage, the community had not yet been officially registered with the state for a required minimum period of 30 years. But the community will hit the mandated mark later this year.

It will be at the Justice Ministry’s discretion to recognize Belmonte as vetters once its application is complete; the application is in its early stages.

Rabbi Elisha Salas, wearing kippah, celebrates Tu b’Shvat with Belmonte Jews, Feb. 10, 2017. (Courtesy of Shavei Israel)

When asked, representatives from the communities in Lisbon and Porto would not explain why they excluded Belmonte from the rabbinical council.

Gabriel Szary Steinhardt, the president of the board of directors of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, said JTA’s questions on the matter “do not deserve any response at all.” Meanwhile, the Jewish Community of Porto accused a JTA reporter of working “for proselytizing organizations,” which it did not specify.

The vetting issue is more than about prestige. It has been an unexpected cash cow for the two larger communities, which charge hundreds of dollars for each application, of which there have been hundreds. Salas said the Jewish Community of Belmonte has hired a lawyer and is taking legal action to obtain recognition as a certified vetter.

The dispute underscores the historical differences between the community in Belmonte and those in Lisbon and Porto. While Belmonte Jews are the descendants of those who steadfastly stuck to tradition in secrecy, and against harsh odds, the two others are made up of a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews who immigrated in or after the 19th century, and bnei anusim (or forced converts) who converted back to Judaism as individuals.

Despite the challenges, the Belmonte Jewish community may cheat death yet again, Salas suggested.

The Sephardic citizenship law is bringing dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of Jewish immigrants to Portugal, primarily from Latin America and Israel. At least three Jewish families have bought homes in Belmonte in recent years. There are also hopes that this trend will increase with the completion of the first train station here, connecting it with major cities.

And if Portugal allows Belmonte to vet citizenship applications, its Jewish community would come by a substantial source of income for communal activities and institutions, such as a school, which the community does not have.

“It could go either way for Belmonte’s Jewish community,” Salas said. “But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that it has a pretty good track record of surviving.”

(CNBC) UK government braces for no-confidence vote after Brexit defeat — here’s how it works


  • U.K. leader Theresa May has seen her Brexit withdrawal deal with Europe rejected by the U.K. Parliament.
  • Now her government must face a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday.
  • If May was to lose the vote it would raise the likelihood of a General Election.

David Reid@cnbcdavyPublished 39 Mins

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in north London on January 16, 2019.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP | Getty ImagesOpposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in north London on January 16, 2019.

The U.K. faces yet more political turmoil Wednesday as another vote in Parliament could topple the government and leave a leadership vacuum at a crucial point in the country’s history.

Lawmakers will debate a motion of no confidence in Theresa May’s administration. A vote will follow in the evening which, should the government lose, could trigger a countdown toward a General Election.

The motion was tabled by the main opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who claimed the government’s Brexit deal with Europe was now dead after its overwhelming rejection by politicians on Tuesday.

The vote of no confidence is an attempt by Corbyn to trigger a new General Election which would allow him a chance at seizing power as the next leader of the U.K.

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011, Parliament’s fixed five-year term can only be shortened in two ways.

First, if more than two thirds of the House of Commons vote to call an election — and that means 434 of the 650 lawmakers.

The second is Corbyn’s plan. If his motion of no confidence tonight is passed by a majority, there is then a 14-day period in which to pass an act of confidence in a new government. If no such vote can be passed by Parliament, a new election of the British people must be held.

That election cannot happen for at least another 25 working days.

British Labour party pushing for general election but no second EU referendum

May could lose no confidence vote, Labour Party chair says  1 Hour Ago | 02:00

The forecast is that Labour’s strategy will fail as, despite May’s huge loss on her Brexit vote, enough members of her own party will vote for her government to remain in power.

Aside from Conservative lawmakers returning to the fold, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that props up May’s minority government has also said it will back her.

Apart from the Labour party, those expected to vote against May include representatives of Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties, Liberal Democrat lawmakers and the sole parliamentary representative of the Green Party.

U.K. Labour party Chairman Ian Lavery told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick Wednesday that a General Election was the natural next step for Labour and he argued that Wednesday’s vote of no confidence in the government was not necessarily doomed to founder.

“I think we’ve got a chance you know, because there was 118 Tories (Conservatives) who voted against Theresa May last night,” he said, claiming that not all of those who rebelled against the Brexit plan would fall back into line to support May.

“It is volatile. People are unhappy with the deal, so we think it is the optimum opportunity to put forward a vote of no confidence and call for a General Election.”

We’re heading for a Brexit extension, strategist predicts

We’re heading for a Brexit extension, strategist predicts  1 Hour Ago | 03:08

Gina Miller is an investment manager who rocketed to prominence after she successfully argued in court that the U.K. government could not begin the formal Brexit process without seeking approval from Parliament.

Speaking on Wednesday, Miller told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick that the vote of no confidence would likely fail and allow Parliament to remove one major possible outcome.

“Commentators expect this to not be successful, so at least you can say that a General Election is off the table,” she said.

Miller added that any second referendum on Brexit should be a last option once everything else has been considered and rejected by Parliament.

“If you knock off the table ‘Canada Plus’ and there’s no parliamentary majority for ‘Norway,’ then you are only left with remaining or leaving with no deal,” she said before adding, “you have to go through the parliamentary process first, find out whatever is left, and then you go to the people.”

“Canada Plus” is based on the free trade deal struck between Canada and the EU while Norway is tied to the EU’s internal market without being part of the political union. Both models have been proposed, and decried, as solutions for the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU.

Miller, who is also co-founder of investment firm SCM Direct, said that her firm, and wider markets, were now pricing an extension to Article 50 — the period of time that Britain and the EU had to agree terms of withdrawal.

“Any of the solutions that look likely, require an extension and the markets are being cautious. Even if it is no deal and we go to WTO (World Trade Organization) terms, we don’t have the time to get all the legislation requited by the 29th March,” she said.

(CNBC) China just injected a record amount of money to stimulate its economy


  • On Wednesday, the Chinese central bank injected a net 560 billion yuan ($83 billion) into the banking system, the highest ever recorded for a single day.
  • “At present, it is the peak of the tax period, and the total liquidity of the banking system is declining rather quickly,” the central bank said in a statement on its website.
  • In the afternoon, the yield on the 10-year Chinese government bond fell below 3.1 percent to its lowest in more than two years, according to financial database Wind.

Evelyn Cheng@chengevelynPublished 3 Hours Ago  Updated 2 Hours

People walk past the headquarters of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, in Beijing, China September 28, 2018. 

Jason Lee | ReutersPeople walk past the headquarters of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, in Beijing, China September 28, 2018. 

China’s central bank on Wednesday pumped a net 560 billion yuan ($83 billion) into its banking system — a record amount of money injected in one day — in a sign that the economy may be facing enormous stress.

The yield on the 10-year Chinese government bond fell below 3.1 percent on Wednesday afternoon, its lowest in more than two years, according to financial database Wind. Yields fall when bond prices rise, and a decline in yields typically signals expectations of a slowdown in economic growth.

“At present, it is the peak of the tax period, and the total liquidity of the banking system is declining rather quickly,” the People’s Bank of China said in a statement on its website. The central bank did not immediately respond to CNBC’s faxed request for comment on Wednesday’s record cash injection.

Why foreign investors' view on China is now more positive

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Liquidity — or the ease by which assets can be turned into cash — is particularly important for companies needing to pay taxes while maintaining regular operations. For more than a year, many Chinese businesses have already been struggling with sluggish economic growth, increased financing difficulties and greater obligations to provide benefits for employees. The Chinese New Year holiday, when most companies shut down for at least a week, is also less than three weeks away.

Zhao Bowen, research director at Beijing-based Blue Stone Asset Management, said in a statement to CNBC that enterprises are expected to pay more than 1 trillion yuan in taxes this week, marking the peak period of tax payments. A historically low level of fiscal deposits and the expiration of 390 billion yuan in medium-term lending are also contributing to tighter financial conditions overall, he said.

“At the moment, the government’s position is to push back against the downward pressure on the economy, and take a good first step at that in the first quarter,” Zhao said, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language comments. He added the central bank is also working to loosen overall credit conditions and coordinate its moves with an expected large issuance of local debt.

“At present, it is the peak of the tax period, and the total liquidity of the banking system is declining rather quickly.”-People’s Bank of China

The central bank’s record cash injection of 560 billion yuan into the banking system on Wednesday came through “reverse repurchase agreements,” or buying short-term bonds from some commercial lenders so banks have more cash on hand. Sales of the bonds are called “repurchase agreements” and both measures comprise the central bank’s “open market operations.”

Records from financial database Wind showed the second-highest level of one-day net injections dates back to January 2016, when China’s economy was also experiencing difficulties.

At that time, the central bank gave no explanation on its website for why it was putting so much money into the system. But on Wednesday, it said the move was done “in order to maintain reasonable and sufficient liquidity in the banking system.”

“We do believe the PBoC is stepping up monetary easing, but we should not confuse seasonal (open market operation) moves with long-term liquidity injections,” Ting Lu, Nomura’s chief China economist, said in an email. “This reflects an increasing caution of the PBoC to stabilize interbank rates and bond yields to offset potential liquidity shocks.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced in January that the government is also cutting its reserve requirement ratio — the amount of cash that banks have to hold — later this month. There were four such cuts in 2018.

(MI) Eurozone Industrial Production Declines More Than Expected


(RTTNews) – Eurozone’s industrial production decreased at a faster-than-expected pace in November, preliminary data from the statistical office Eurostat showed on Monday.

Industrial production decreased a seasonally adjusted 1.7 percent from October, when it edged up 0.1 percent, revised from 0.2 percent. Economists had expected a 1.5 percent slump.

Production of capital goods registered a 2.3 percent decline and output of durable consumer goods dropped 1.7 percent.

Intermediate goods output dropped 1.2 and non-durable consumer goods by 1 percent. Energy production decreased 0.6 percent.

On a year-on-year basis, industrial production fell a calendar adjusted 3.3 percent in November after a 1.2 percent increase. Economists had predicted a 2.1 percent slump.

(DB) How Lisbon Went from Backwater to Drowning in Riches


In less than a century, Lisbon went from backwater to center of the world. Uncountable riches poured in as the city went mad with palaces, churches, and exotic animals.

Barry Hatton

01.12.19 9:06 PM ET

Queues are a common sight outside the midnight-blue doors of the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, in the Lisbon riverside district of the same name. Inside this café, some very special pastries are on sale. Only three members of staff possess the secret recipe for the sweet custard tarts produced there since 1837, and they say the bakery in the back produces on average 40,000 of them a day in the peak tourist season. The tarts are called pastéis de Belém or pastéis de nata. They offer light, crispy pastry cupping a silky, vanilla-flavored custard that is slightly charred on top. Each tart comes with miniature sachets of caster sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle over them. And, in their sprinkling, the twenty-first-century customers unwittingly join up more than 500 years of  Portuguese history.The fabulous wealth Portugal harvested during those days of empire was concentrated almost entirely in the capital.

The café lies close to the spot from where, during the Age of Exploration starting in the fifteenth century, Portuguese sailing ships that were among the biggest on the seas were seen off on their sometimes years-long voyages. The Portuguese Discoveries delivered a giddy period of milestones in world history. It was a flush of genius and enterprise never witnessed again in Portugal. The Portuguese, wrote the historian Jaime Cortesão in his 1960s work Os Descobrimentos Portugueses (The Portuguese Discoveries), “set in motion a world revolution” by leading Europe out of the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic and beyond, creating new horizons.

Back in Lisbon, it rained money. At least, it did if you were plugged into the intercontinental trade that to a large degree was run as a monopoly by the Crown. The fabulous wealth Portugal harvested during those days of empire was concentrated almost entirely in the capital. Cosmopolitan Lisbon was the place to be if you wanted news or gossip about what was happening across the globe. Portugal went from European minnow to big fish.

A Portuguese battle fleet that sailed out of the Tagus on 25 July 1415 turned left toward North Africa and its target: Ceuta. The successful attack on that Muslim stronghold was the starting gun for the Age of Exploration. The Portuguese inched down the West African coastline, growing bolder and bolder, until King João II hatched the Plano das Índias (the Indias Plan) later in the fifteenth century. The scope of his ambition was staggering: to divert through Lisbon the trade in lucrative spices from the Orient to Europe. At that time the spices, used by Europeans in cooking and by apothecaries for medicines, came overland to Alexandria and then by sea to Venice, from where they were sold across Europe. This audacious Portuguese monarch wanted to cut out the middle man and bring them from India straight to Lisbon by ship. And he did.Officials told them to come back another day because they didn’t have time to count it all.

Dreaming big paid off, in a big way. By virtually cornering the European market in goods from the East and Africa, the Portuguese kingdom became cash-rich. Pepper cost the Portuguese two cruzados a sack in Cochin, on India’s west coast, and they sold it in Lisbon for thirty cruzados. With that steep mark-up, Lisbon prospered and a degree of euphoria took hold. The Portuguese were, said the 19th-century Portuguese historian Oliveira Martins, “intoxicated by the scale of the wealth.” Damião de Góis, one of Portugal’s outstanding Renaissance figures who by royal appointment chronicled the reign of King Manuel I, reported that he often saw at the riverside Casa da Índia, where the arriving goods were inventoried and stored, “merchants with bags full of gold and silver currency to make payments [but] officials told them to come back another day because they didn’t have time to count it all.”

The flourishing economy propelled Lisbon’s urban expansion. The city dilated, in buildings and population. Plague, drought and hunger drained the countryside, and peasants converged on the capital in hope that the wealth might trickle down. The population swelled from around 70,000 in 1528 to some 120,000 by the end of that century.

It was a time of plenty for the Catholic Church, too. Lisbon  became sown with grand religious monuments.

Convents, monasteries and churches flourished in the city’s soil. By the second half of the sixteenth century, Lisbon had more than a dozen substantial convents and monasteries. The religious orders often grabbed the most prominent hilltop locations, such as Graça, Nossa Senhora do Monte, Santana, Pedreira, São Vicente and Penha de França, and these new buildings gave birth to new neighborhoods in their vicinity. A new architectural scale took hold, exemplified by the immense Hospital Real de Todos os Santos (Royal All Saints Hospital) and the spectacular Jerónimos Monastery.

Vasco da Gama’s 1499 arrival back in Lisbon after two years at sea, during which he found the sea route to India, provided one of the last major royal occasions at St George’s Castle. Caravels went out to meet Gama in the mouth of the Tagus and escorted his two surviving, battered carracks into port. King Manuel and Gama, side-by-side, went on horseback up to the castle as people crowded along the streets and waved from houses.

The castle was their destination, but the king had something else on his mind—something that would change Lisbon forever. He had already set his master plan in motion, clearing land by the river from 1498 onwards. In 1500 construction of a new palace began, and several years later the  monarch moved in.

King Manuel I’s decision to abandon St George’s Castle and switch the court to a magnificent new royal palace by the river was a milestone that reflected Lisbon’s deep political, administrative, economic and cultural changes. The move added momentum to the reshaping of the city by shifting its center of gravity from the hilltop down to the river. The relocation also carried a heavy symbolism, pulling back the curtain on a new era that wedded Portugal’s destiny to the sea. The Portuguese monarch went from being a crusading warrior king who had conquered the castle to a trade king who had conquered international commerce.

With its overseas triumphs Lisbon grew in confidence and burst out of its medieval defensive boundaries, spilling into surrounding land. Not everyone was impressed, however. France’s King François I looked down his nose at Portugal’s commercial success. He sniffily referred to King Manuel as Le Roi Mercier (The Grocer King).

King Manuel’s construction of the new palace, called Paço da Ribeira, set off an urban revolution in the early 1500s. It provided a cue for the riverside area, which had been growing in importance since the previous century, to finally take precedence as the city’s commercial and administrative heart.

The palace was “the richest, the most luxurious, the most stunning Portuguese dwelling ever seen,” according to historian Paulo Caratão Soromenho. The building was rectangular, at a right angle to the river and had a stone bulwark over the water. The opulent rooms were on three floors, with arcades at street level. Over the coming years the palace was improved and stocked with sumptuous riches, including rare jewels, great tapestries, works of art by old Masters, a royal library containing some 70,000 books, and an elaborate royal chapel.

The huge space cleared along the riverfront, in addition to the simultaneous landfill operation that reclaimed land from the Tagus in a major engineering operation, was intended for more than just a big new palace. The palace itself occupied the west side of what became known as the Terreiro do Paço (Palace Courtyard), a public area. This broad square still exists and is known as the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square). The palace’s main entrance, decorated with marble balconies, was on the northern side away from the river. The palace was destroyed in the calamitous 1755 earthquake, which razed much of downtown Lisbon.

The area around the palace came to include the India House, the royal mint, the royal armory, royal warehouses and royal shipyards. King Manuel could admire from his window the evidence of his power. This part of the city was the heart of Portugal’s military-industrial complex and ground zero of Portugal’s imperial might. It bore comparison with the Arsenal of Venice, regarded as the most significant centralized production complex of pre-industrial Europe.

King Manuel could watch from his palace the loading and unloading of the ships after he built the Cais de Pedra, a stone quay jutting out into the river from the vast courtyard. He was also close to the Armazéns da Índia (India Warehouse), located on the opposite, eastern side of the square from the palace, which took care of naval logistics and provisioning.

The nerve center for the India operations was right under the monarch’s nose, in the India House. It was set up on the ground floor of the palace and was in charge of the administration and management of trade throughout the empire. Góis described the Casa da Índia as an “emporium of aromas, pearls, rubies, emeralds and other gems that year after year are brought from India.”

But being wealthy wasn’t enough. In Renaissance Lisbon, you had to be seen to be wealthy, and the monarch was no exception. The showiness and pageantry of the royal entourage was legendary.

The first elephants seen in Europe since Roman times were unloaded in the Portuguese capital in the early sixteenth century. These gifts from India for King Manuel performed tricks, bowing on command and blowing water, and delighted the courtiers and the inhabitants of Lisbon. Other arrivals were an African rhinoceros, gazelles, antelopes, monkeys, parrots and a jaguar.

The animals made up the monarch’s cortège whenever he proceeded through Lisbon. Góis described the procession: it was led by the rhino, followed at some distance by five elephants rigged out in gold brocade, then an Arabian horse, the jaguar, and the king and his entourage accompanied by the beat of drums and the fanfare of trumpets.

The exotic animals were kept on the palace’s ground floor, in barred rooms. The king fancied seeing a fight between an elephant and a rhino, so the two were brought together in an interior patio, with members of the court hanging out of the windows to watch the whimsical spectacle. The entertainment was brief, however. The elephant soon turned and ran, smashing through a door and running into the street, eventually reaching Rossio Square several hundred meters away before it came to a halt.

King Manuel wanted the rest of the continent to know about his affluence. In a flamboyant gesture, in 1514 he sent to Rome a white Indian elephant as a gift for the new pope, Leo X. An elephant was a fitting symbol for Portugal and the pontiff, possessing power, longevity and stoutness. The animal certainly made a splash in Renaissance Europe, hungry for novelties. Transported by ship from Lisbon, it took several weeks for the elephant to be led from the Italian coast to Rome, because so many people crowded around to see it. The first elephant in Rome since Hannibal was a great success. Pope Leo X was enthralled by the animal and very fond of it. He named it Hanno, after Hannibal, and Portugal was the talk of the town.

The following year King Manuel sent a 2-ton rhino called Ganda to Rome. It wore a green velvet collar embroidered with golden roses. The ship had to stop off in Marseille so that King François I, intrigued, could see it. The adventure went awry, however, when the carrack was shipwrecked off the Italian coast and the rhino, chained to the deck, died. When it later washed up on shore, King Manuel had it stuffed and taken to Rome anyway. The German artist Albrecht Dürer never saw the rhino, but his woodcut of it became more famous than the animal itself.

The lavish spending extended to projects that were intended to magnify King Manuel’s accomplishments, emphasize his piety and immortalize his reign. It was also an example of the extravagance that absolute power and mega-wealth invite.

The greatest expression of that temperament was the Jerónimos Monastery, in Belém. It is regarded as a masterpiece of what would later become referred to as the Manueline style of architectural ornamentation. Completed 100 years after it was begun in 1502, the building was the monarch’s biggest prestige project. Having survived the 1755 quake mostly intact, the national monument is one of Lisbon’s signature buildings and one of Portugal’s gems.

After its completion, the Jerónimos Monastery was the city’s most important religious monument. It replaced the monastery at Batalha, about 100 kilometers to the north, as the resting place of royalty.

The building was not intended, as is often claimed, to commemorate Gama’s accomplishments. King Manuel requested the papal bull for its construction in 1495, two years before Gama’s departure for India. The monarch, whose three successive queens were Spanish, named it out of a keenness to bring closer together the neighboring Iberian kingdoms. The Spanish royals were fond of the Order of Jerónimos, and this Lisbon project was intended to be one of twelve Jerónimos Order monasteries in Portugal for which Manuel requested the pope’s blessing. He, like other Portuguese royals, had an elusive dream: a single Iberian country, with a Portuguese monarch at its head.

Belém in those days was little more than a medieval village. The monastery’s scale, muted nowadays by the modern city’s dimensions, was staggering. Artistic renderings of the time show the vast building sitting amid desolate land. Construction began on the symbolic date of 6 January—the Feast of the Epiphany, more commonly known in Iberia as Three Kings’ Day.

Jerónimos was paid for by a generous donation from the Florentine banker and slaver Bartolomeu Marchione as well as a 5 per cent tax levied by the Crown on the trade in spices, gems and gold, known as the vintena da especiariapedraria e minas. An old saying had it that Jerónimos was “built by pepper”.

The monastery and its church stand parallel to the Tagus, so that anyone passing on the river can see a lot of its 300-meter length. It fired a cultural broadside, so to speak, at anyone sailing into Lisbon. Then, as now, it was a look-at-me building, with its south-facing walls of  local limestone reflecting the sun. Jerónimos sent a message. It said, we are very wealthy and very pious.

The ornate and elaborate Manueline style was inspired by Portugal’s associations with the sea. It is intricate and busy— like the times that gave birth to it. Maritime motifs in stone capture, Medusa-like, the paraphernalia of the adventures, featuring ropes and knots, anchors and navigational equipment, as well as religious flourishes. The enchanting Jerónimos cloisters on two floors are richly sculptured, like stone filigree. Statuettes depict great historical figures. In the south portal, for example, Prince Henry the Navigator is portrayed as bearded and wearing armor and holding a sword and shield. The church’s vaulted ceiling, 25 meters high, is dizzying. Octagonal pillars soar up to the webbed dome. The Guia de Portugal says the effect is less like that of a cathedral than of a giant cave punctuated with stalactites. The stained-glass windows are, disappointingly, from the  1930s.

Belém Tower

Equally representative of the Manueline style is the nearby Torre de São Vicente, better known as the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower). This unusual military building rendered in thick blocks of stone was originally 250 meters out into the river and formed part of the Tagus defensive system. Changing currents and sedimentation have filled in the gap to the shore. It is a boxy, odd-looking structure, with two distinct parts: a square tower, in a palatial style with ceremonial rooms and featuring a Venetian-style veranda with river view; and a bulwark with positions for seventeen cannon and a magazine beneath it.

The building, completed in 1521, is utilitarian while capturing in its details a Manueline ornateness, with that style’s Islamic flourishes. Its turrets imitate Koutoubia, the largest mosque in Marrakesh where the man appointed to oversee the Torre de Belém’s construction, Francisco de Arruda, had worked for two years. On the north-west corner, one of the gargoyles is a rhino’s head, thought to represent Ganda.

In sixteenth-century Lisbon, the buzzword among the elite and contemporary authors was “grandeur”. That was the word they wanted associated with the city. After all, what else would a capital of a country with an intercontinental empire merit?

Excerpted from Queen of the Sea: A History of Lisbon by Barry Hatton courtesy of Oxford University Press.

(CNN) A second mysterious repeating fast radio burst has been detected in space


Far outside our Milky Way galaxy, something is causing repeating short bursts of radio waves to be released into space. Scientists have recorded the second repeating fast radio burst to be discovered, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.The finding was also presented at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.These radio bursts are only millisecond-long radio flashes, and such rapid bursts themselves aren’t rare in space.But this is only the second one that has been found to repeat. The mystery about why these bursts happen and where they come from continues, which always spurs believers to think that advanced extraterrestrial civilizations are creating them.The first one, deemed FRB 121102, was discovered in 2015 by the Arecibo radio telescope, and it was revealed in 2018 that the bursts release an enormous amount of energy.

What's sending mysterious repeating fast radio bursts in space?

What’s sending mysterious repeating fast radio bursts in space?This new repeating fast radio burst is called FRB 180814.J0422+73 and was recorded six times coming from the same location, 1.5 billion light-years away.This is one of the very first detections made by the new Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME. The radio telescope was still in its pre-commissioning phase and operating with only a small amount of its full capacity in the summer of 2018 when it detected this and 12 singular fast radio bursts.And although this new detection doesn’t solve the biggest mysteries surrounding the radio bursts, the researchers who recorded it believe that other repeating fast radio bursts will be found — which could allow them to figure out where they originate.”Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there,” said Ingrid Stairs, a member of the CHIME team and an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia. “And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles — where they’re from and what causes them.”

NASA's planet-hunter TESS makes first discoveries

NASA’s planet-hunter TESS makes first discoveriesOne hypothesis is that powerful astrophysical phenomena are causing them. The first repeating fast radio burst was recorded at a frequency of 700 megahertz, but some of the bursts CHIME recorded were as low as 400 megahertz.”[We now know] the sources can produce low-frequency radio waves and those low-frequency waves can escape their environment, and are not too scattered to be detected by the time they reach the Earth,” Tom Landecker, a CHIME team member from the National Research Council of Canada, said in a statement. “That tells us something about the environments and the sources. We haven’t solved the problem, but it’s several more pieces in the puzzle.”

Citizen scientists discover rare exoplanet

Citizen scientists discover rare exoplanetThe low frequency of this new detection could mean that the source of the bursts differ. “Scattering” was detected in the fast radio bursts, which is a phenomenon that helps determine more about the environment surrounding the origin.The CHIME team believes this scattering is indicative of powerful astrophysical objects at the source of the bursts.”That could mean [the source is] in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant,” team member Cherry Ng, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, said in a statement. “Or near the central black hole in a galaxy. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see.”And if CHIME was able to make these detections before it was even fully up and running, the researchers are hopeful that the new radio telescope will help them find answers about these mysterious signals.

(OBS) Viver sem ideias – Rui Ramos


Nenhum regime é apenas o que existe e como tal pode ser descrito. É também o que os seus líderes propõem, as expectativas e a confiança que as suas ideias são capazes de gerar.

O Estado Novo foi uma ditadura, mas também a ideia de que Portugal podia ser um mundo aparte, um Estado intercontinental quando os outros Estados europeus descolonizavam, e um regime corporativo enquanto as outras sociedades ocidentais admitiam divergências e conflitos.

A revolução de 1974-1975 também não foi apenas uma semi-ditadura militar, mas a ideia de que competia aos portugueses tornarem-se, no ocidente da Europa, um entreposto de socialismo terceiro-mundista, com as forças armadas a fazer de “movimento de libertação”.

Tudo acabou quando essas expectativas acabaram, isto é, quando deixou de ser possível escamotear as desvantagens de ser o último império ou a primeira Cuba da Europa ocidental. Até porque havia uma alternativa mais digna e mais próspera — já escolhida, aliás, pelas centenas de milhares de portugueses que, durante uma década, haviam passado legal ou ilegalmente a fronteira em direcção à França ou à Alemanha: ser simplesmente um país como os outros países da Europa ocidental.

O actual regime levantou-se em cima dessa possibilidade. Por isso, não foi apenas uma oligarquia de partidos subsidiados pelo Estado, mas também a expectativa de Portugal, um dia, vir a ser um país com as instituições e a fortuna dos países ricos e livres do norte da Europa.

Eis o que ficou em causa nos últimos anos, quando se tornou notório que o país, sobrecarregado por um Estado endividado e clientelar, não consegue aproveitar a integração europeia para continuar a convergir com a Europa. A partir daí, deixámos gradualmente de acreditar em quase tudo.

A actual maioria das esquerdas demonstrou que ninguém acredita verdadeiramente numa alternativa ao ajustamento orçamental dirigido por Bruxelas, a menos que aceitemos que sacrificar serviços públicos para pagar salários é acabar com a austeridade.

A actual liderança da direita provou, por sua vez, que, apesar de a coligação PSD-CDS ter ganho a eleição de 2015, ninguém acredita numa alternativa ao governo socialista, a menos que se considere que mudar a composição da maioria parlamentar de apoio a António Costa faça diferença.

Como podia ser diferente? Vivemos num dos países mais endividados do mundo, onde a falta do BCE significaria provavelmente uma bancarrota instantânea, e onde a política está reduzida a distribuir rendas entre os grupos de interesses que dependem do Estado e de que os governos dependem para terem boa imprensa e boas eleições.

Em Portugal, não há o Vox da Espanha nem os coletes amarelos da França. Há apenas abstenção, uma espera receosa do fim da actual festa, da última estação deste tempo de vésperas em que os juros baixos e os saldos permanentes disfarçam a perda de rendimentos e a renovação de casas para alojamento local esconde a degradação dos transportes públicos. Aguardamos – não já, como na década de 1990, pelo dia em que o nosso PIB per capita coincida com a média europeia, mas pelo dia em que os juros subam ou os turistas descubram outros destinos, e a nossa vulnerabilidade nos bata na cara.

É nestas condições que nos pedem este ano para votar, isto é, para escolher líderes e optar entre programas, quando sabemos que não há escolha nem opção. Vai ser uma experiência interessante. Em 1871, um jovem poeta impertinente perguntou a um chefe de governo se era possível viver sem ideias. Parece que estamos condenados a fazer regularmente essa pergunta.

(GUA) May faces crushing Brexit defeat despite last-minute plea to MPs


Prime minister urges MPs to give her plan a second look on eve of crunch vote on withdrawal agreement

Theresa May appears to be on course for a crushing defeat in the House of Commons as Britain’s bitterly divided MPs prepare to give their verdict on her Brexit deal in the “meaningful vote” on Tuesday.

With Downing Street all but resigned to losing by a significant margin, Guardian analysis pointed to a majority of more than 200 MPs against the prime minister.

Labour sources said that unless May made major unexpected concessions, any substantial margin against her would lead Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence in the government – perhaps as soon as Tuesday night. But since Conservative MPs are unlikely to offer Corbyn the backing he would need to win a no-confidence vote, he would then come under intense pressure to swing Labour’s weight behind a second referendum.

Cabinet ministers have not yet been told how May plans to keep the Brexitprocess on track if her deal is defeated – and they remain split on how she should proceed. Leavers are convinced that the prime minister should return to Brussels and press for fresh concessions, while remainers hope she will seek a compromise with Labour.

On Monday, May issued one final call to parliament to back her, urging MPs to “take a second look” at her deal and stressing that it was the only option on the table that could deliver an “orderly” exit from the EU.

But there was little evidence of movement after her speech. Few MPs were convinced by clarifications of the withdrawal agreement included in an exchange of lettersbetween the prime minister and the EU council president, Jean-Claude Juncker, published on Monday, which May conceded did not go as far as some MPs had hoped.

With defeat for May all but inevitable, backbenchers led by the former Tory minister Nick Boles were hoping to seize the agenda in parliament and force the government to seek a softer, Norway-style Brexit deal.

And on Monday the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, was forced to bat away questions from loyal Tory MPs suggesting he was willing to facilitate a backbench takeover. “I have no intention of taking lectures in doing right by parliament from people who have been conspicuous in denial of and, sometimes, contempt for it,” he said. “I will stand up for the rights of the Commons and I won’t be pushed around by agents of the executive.”Quick guide

What are the details of Theresa May’s deal?

There is growing speculation at Westminster that whichever course May pursues, she will be forced to announce that she will ask the EU27 to extend article 50. The prime minister refused to rule out doing so categorically on Monday, saying only that she didn’t believe it should be necessary.

“We’re leaving on 29 March. I’ve been clear I don’t believe we should be extending article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum,” May said. “We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that, but I want to do it in a way that is smooth and orderly and protects jobs and security.”

There are increasing fears in Whitehall that time is running out to put in place all the complex legislation necessary either to implement the withdrawal agreement – or, conversely, to prepare for no deal.Quick guide

Commons Brexit vote – the day’s timetable

May addressed MPs of her own party on Monday night at the backbench 1922 Committee. The prime minister gave no indication of any plan B in what was described as a low-key, reflective meeting, but urged her party to support her deal to ensure that Brexit goes ahead and to keep Corbyn out of No 10.

Nadhim Zahawi, a junior minister, said that Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister and remainer, had told MPs that he now accepted the result of the referendum and urged Brexiters in his party, who were on the winning side, to do the same.

Brexiters leaving the meeting said their minds had not been changed. Steve Baker said: “She skilfully engineered her speech to ensure there were laughs in all the right places by not mentioning the deal.”

Just four Labour MPs have declared publicly that they could vote for May’s Brexit deal: Ian Austin, John Mann, Jim Fitzpatrick and Kevin Barron.

Corbyn urged his MPs to hold their nerve, addressing a packed meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on the eve of the vote. The Labour leader said the prime minister had comprehensively failed to scare his MPs into voting for her deal. “Theresa May has attempted to blackmail Labour MPs to vote for her botched deal by threatening the country with the chaos of no deal,” he said. “I know from conversations with colleagues that this has failed. The Labour party will not be held to ransom.”

Corbyn said May would “only have herself to blame” for two years of negotiating with her divided cabinet and backbenchers, rather than opening dialogue with Brussels, trade unions, businesses and parliament. “The Tory party’s botched deal will be rejected by Parliament. We will then need an election to have the chance to vote for a government that can bring our people together and address the deep-seated issues facing our country,” he said.

A Labour source said MPs “won’t have to wait very long” for a confidence vote to be called but that would be the sole decision of Corbyn rather than the shadow cabinet. “Jeremy will choose the moment,” the source said. However, the source said that should the vote be lost, it would not mean an immediate endorsement to campaign for a second referendum.

“The composite identifies a public vote as one of the options; it doesn’t say it’s the preferred option or the default option. Obviously we will judge how to deal with the options and get the best result for the country on the basis of what happens in parliament,” the source said.

The meaningful vote on May’s Brexit deal – what happens next?

 Read more

The Brexit select committee chair, Hilary Benn, was under pressure on Monday night to withdraw a no-deal amendment, tabled before Christmas, that some MPs feared could limit the scale of the government’s defeat.

Downing Street declined to say whether it could support an amendment tabled by the backbencher Andrew Murrison, chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee, aimed at putting a formal end date on the Irish backstop. Such a sunset clause would be likely to run into trouble in Brussels, with the EU27 adamant that the backstop must apply “unless and until” an alternative arrangement is in place that avoids the need for a hard border.

But the amendment’s supporters believe it will strengthen the PM’s hand if she returns to Brussels in search of fresh concessions after Tuesday. They also hope that if it passes, it could help limit the scale of the government defeat.

Governments have been defeated by a margin of more than 100 votes only three times in the last century, according to professor Philip Cowley, of Queen Mary University of London – all of those during the minority Labour administration of 1924.

The House of Lords had its own vote on the government’s Brexit deal on Monday evening, rejecting it by a thumping 321 votes to 152 – a majority of 169. Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Angela Smith, called it “a vote for common sense”.

(SkyNews) Brexit amendments: How are MPs trying to shape the vote on the PM’s deal?


From a second referendum, the Brexit divorce bill to the Irish border backstop – the Commons could hold a series of votes tonight.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
Image:Amendments tabled by MPs could shape the Brexit deal

Ahead of tonight’s big House of Commons vote on Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement, MPs will first decide on a series of attempts to shape the Brexit process.

Tabled as amendments to the main motion on the prime minister’s Brexit deal, a number of MPs will hope to get the backing of a majority of the House of Commons for their plans.

The government could also support – whether explicitly or not – some of the amendments.

A number of amendments were not selected by House of Commons’ Speaker John Bercow to be voted on.

Here’s a list of the four amendments that will be voted on tonight:

Labour frontbench amendment:

:: The House rejects the Withdrawal Agreement because it does not include a permanent customs union and decline to approve leaving the EU without a negotiated agreement.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt for MPs to reject the prime minister’s deal, block a “no-deal” Brexit and instead back Labour’s plans for a customs union with the EU.

Jeremy Corbyn
Image:Jeremy Corbyn wants MPs to support a customs union

SNP and Plaid Cymru amendment:

:: The House rejects the Withdrawal Agreement in line with the views of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and calls on the government to extend Article 50.

Scottish and Welsh nationalists want MPs to match devolved parliaments in Edinburgh and Cardiff by rejecting the prime minister’s deal.

They also want a delay to Brexit by extending the Article 50 period.How your MP is expected to voteThe magic number that the prime minister needs to win the vote is 318. But Sky News data-crunching reveals she is set to fall well short.

Brexiteer amendments:

:: The House notes that the backstop can only be a temporary arrangement and calls on the government to terminate the Withdrawal Agreement by 2022 if no new relationship is agreed.

Tabled by senior Conservatives Sir Edward Leigh and Sir John Hayes, they want a no-deal Brexit if the UK and EU fail to agree a future trade relationship within the next three years.

Theresa May hopes the letter will reassure critics
Image:Theresa May is facing hostility over the backstop arrangement

:: The House will add a condition to the Withdrawal Agreement that the UK must be given the explicit power to terminate the backstop without permission from the EU.

More from Brexit

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  • Theresa May urges MPs to give Brexit deal a ‘second look’ on eve of historic vote
  • Pregnant Labour MP delays birth to vote against Brexit deal
  • Why the Brexit process could still have many months to run
  • What could happen if PM’s Brexit deal is rejected

Tabled by Tory MP John Baron, this is another aimed at giving the UK the unilateral right to exit the backstop arrangement.

(DML) ‘We should deliver for the British people’: Theresa May calls on rebel MPs to back her vision for Brexit in key vote TODAY… or face handing the keys of Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn


  • Theresa May has made last-ditch appeals to Tory rebels to back her Brexit deal 
  • She warned of risks to jobs and of a Labour government unless Tories unite
  • She earlier said it would be the ‘height of recklessness’ to reject her Brexit plan
  • Treasury Minister Mel Stride photographed with ‘no deal’ Brexit document   
  • EU has offered new assurances that the Irish border backstop will be temporary
  • Government whip quit to oppose deal amid fears more resignations could follow 

Theresa May has warned Tory rebels they risk a Jeremy Corbyn government and the break-up of the UK if they reject her Brexit deal in tonight’s crunch vote.

Allies of the Prime Minister acknowledged her plans could be rejected by a majority approaching 200 votes – eclipsing record government defeats of modern times. 

They believe Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will then try to exploit Tory divisions by forcing a formal vote of no confidence in the Government tonight, which could usher in a general election. 

Allies of Mrs May last night indicated she would tell MPs that she will continue to pursue her deal even if it is heavily defeated. 

She acknowledged that the plan was not perfect, but added: ‘When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: Did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union?’ Theresa May pleads with MPs to back her deal ahead of voteLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:22PreviousPlaySkipUnmuteCurrent Time0:22/Duration Time1:53Fullscreen

Speaker John Bercow denies being ‘arbitrary’ after Brexit r…

On the eve of the vote:  

  • One of the Tory whips, Gareth Johnson, resigned saying he could not support the deal; 
  • EU leaders Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk sent letters assuring the government that the Irish border backstop is only intended to be temporary – but insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened; 
  • Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said Mrs May’s deal was ‘the only politically practicable and available means’ of leaving the EU;
  • Former Tory ministers Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan and Sir Oliver Letwin vowed to press ahead with plans to allow Parliament to seize control of Brexit; 
  • Boris Johnson warned that politicians will ‘reap the whirlwind’ if they try to defy the result of the referendum with procedural ‘jiggery-pokery’. 
  • One Cabinet source told MailOnline the crunch vote would be the political equivalent of the FA Cup Final, adding: ‘But there is going to be a replay.’ 

The PM made her stark warnings in a last-ditch bid to drum up some desperately needed support from her backbenchers in the last 24 hours before the historic vote. 

She said the thorny issue of Brexit has divided the Tories for the many years she has been in politics – hinting that her deal could finally put the issue to rest. 

And she warned the SNP will seize on any Brexit disarray to demand another referendum on Scottish independence.

Mrs May told MPs: ‘We have to deliver Brexit – it is the instruction the British people gave us.’

The deal suffered its first official parliamentary defeat last night in the Lords, as peers registered their symbolic opposition to it by 321 votes to 152. 

Mrs May’s eleventh-hour plea came shortly after Treasury minister Mel Stride was pictured leaving Downing Street clutching a sheet of paper bearing the words ‘No food. No Channel tunnel’.

ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said he expected ‘a cascade’ of MPs voting against the deal.

The North Somerset Conservative said: ‘I think there will be a cascade of people going into the lobbies against this bad deal because it denies us the opportunities that will make Brexit a success.

‘Instead we’re tied into a protectionist racket that keeps prices high and makes our economy less efficient, that means the rest of the world is overtaking us and the whole of Europe because it becomes less competitive as it seeks an outmoded, anti-competitive system thinking it can simply protect itself.

‘We risk denying ourselves these extraordinary opportunities and in doing so taking ourselves away from the electorate who we promised to deliver on Brexit for.’ 

How the Commons will vote: Theresa May's deal is expected to lose heavily on Tuesday night, which could lead to a no-confidence motion and potentially a general election 


How the Commons will vote: Theresa May’s deal is expected to lose heavily on Tuesday night, which could lead to a no-confidence motion and potentially a general election 

Mr Corbyn is set to table a no-confidence vote in the Government as early as tonight if thedeal is defeated. 

Asked by his MPs when he would bring the challenge – which could lead to a general election – Labour’s leader said it was ‘coming soon’.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell reiterated his party’s desire for a general election but added MPs may want a ‘public vote’ on a new deal backed by Parliament if this does not take place. 

He said: ‘Tomorrow this deal will go down, so it’s time now to put the mistakes of the past two years behind us, clear away the debris of this deal and the debris of this Government’s failed negotiations.

‘It’s clear to me, to break the deadlock and deliver a clear mandate for that new approach, I believe we need a general election. It’s a time to let the people have their say.’ 

Speaking after Mrs May met with Tory MPs, Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Mrs May also warned of the economic dangers of a no deal Brexit.

He said: ‘She wanted to focus minds that we must deliver Brexit and to keep Jeremy Corbyn as far away from Number 10 as possible, and to do that we have to hang together.

‘And she pointed out that no deal would be a threat to the union with the SNP pushing for a second referendum.’ 

Mr Zahawi said the PM was ‘relaxed’ as she addressed her backbenchers in Portcullis House last night.

He said: ‘She was very relaxed and cracked a few jokes. It was one of her best performances.

‘The room was focused and listening and absorbing and very reflective about what the realpolitik was.’ 

The PM also warned Tory MPs that business is desperate for them to get a Brexit deal and have warned of the risk to jobs and investment if they crash out of the EU.

And in a rare move, Mrs May spoke personally about how the bitter EU debate has divided the Conservative Party for many years.

Mr Zahawi said: ‘She talked about her career in Parliament and how divisive the European issue has been for the country and of course the Conservative Party.’ 

But Brexiteers who were in the meeting were less than impressed and many left early.

EU leaders issue letter saying the Irish backstop will only be temporary but refuse to change the Brexit deal

EU leaders today promised the Irish backstop planwill be temporary as they unveiled their last-ditch plan to help get Theresa May’s Brexit deal over the line tomorrow.

But Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker refused to change the text of the Brexit deal.

They also offered to extend Article 50 to delay Brexit in order to give both sides more time to negotiate. 

In advice published today Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said the EU pledge has some legal force and he thinks it is unlikely the backstop will come into force.

But it was immediately panned by Brexiteers and the DUP who said it is not legally binding, while Remainers dismissed it as a ‘fig leaf’. 

The letter, penned by the Presidents of the EU Council and Commission, was part of a last-ditch scramble to try to peel off Tory rebels ahead of tonight’s crunch vote.

Number Ten fear the PM could suffer the biggest Commons defeat ever when her Brexit plan is voted on by MPs tonight.

As part of an orchestrated bid to drum up desperately-needed support, No10 published the letter to reassure rebels the hated backstop will not be permanent.  

Tory MP and Brexiteer Mark Francois left early and said he thinks her deal will still be rejected by Tory MPs in the crunch vote in 24 hours time. 

A Tory minister was earlier accused of stunting up a picture showing his notes apparently predicting the dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit

Treasury minister Mel Stride was pictured leaving Downing Street clutching a sheet of paper bearing the words ‘No food. No Channel tunnel’.

It led critics to claim Mr Stride had deliberately exposed his notes as part of a scare campaign to get MPs to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, while his allies insisted they were points of discussion – not warnings in themselves.  

Earlier Mrs May warned MPs that ‘history’ will judge them if they kill off her Brexit deal – as she insisted she has won new concessions from the EU.

In a desperate last-ditch plea in the Commons, the Prime Minister said in future people would look back and ask whether politicians had ‘delivered’ on the verdict of the referendum. 

Mrs May hailed the latest ‘assurances’ from Brussels, saying they showed the UK would not be trapped in the Irish border backstop – although she also conceded she had not secured everything she hoped for. 

The impassioned appeal came after a frantically grueling day in which Mrs May gave a Brexit speech in Stoke-on-Trent, before returning to London to face MPs for hours in the Commons. Later she is due to address Tory backbenchers and peers in what promises to be another pressure-cooked session.

But as tensions reached boiling point with just 24 hours to go before a vote that could define the country’s future, Mrs May suffer another resignation from her government – as a whip quit to oppose her deal.

Gareth Johnson said he was putting his ‘loyalty to the country above loyalty to the government’. 

There are fears that the resignation could open the floodgates – with several other ministers and whips thought to be on the brink. 

Addressing MPs last night, Mrs May again urged them to recognise that a no-deal Brexit represented the ‘real threat’ to the unity of the UK, as it would fuel calls for Scottish independence. 

And she cautioned Eurosceptics that killing off her package and trying to force through departure without any agreement could mean the country never leaves the bloc. 

‘When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask, did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union? 

‘Did we safeguard our economy, our security and our Union? Or did we let the British people down?

‘I say we should deliver for the British people and get on with building a brighter future for our country by backing this deal tomorrow.’ 

Mrs May left Downing Street to head to Parliament earlier tonight knowing she is just over 24 hours from learning the fate of her Brexit deal 


Mrs May left Downing Street to head to Parliament earlier tonight knowing she is just over 24 hours from learning the fate of her Brexit deal 

After taking the short drive to Parliament with her Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell (left) Mrs May faced almost two hours of hostile questions about her deal 


After taking the short drive to Parliament with her Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell (left) Mrs May faced almost two hours of hostile questions about her deal 

Gareth Johnson


Mr Johnson said in a letter to the PM that he could not 'in good conscience' stay in government


Gareth Johnson (left) announced his resignation, saying in a letter to the PM (right) that he could not ‘in good conscience’ stay in government

Sources close to Mr Stride said the note was simply a list of topics which had come up in the national conversation which he wanted to raise at a meeting, rather than any kind of prediction


Sources close to Mr Stride said the note was simply a list of topics which had come up in the national conversation which he wanted to raise at a meeting, rather than any kind of predictionWe are leaving the EU: Theresa May says MPs must deliver BrexitLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%00:00PreviousPlaySkipMuteCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time1:35Fullscreen

In his letter to Mrs May this afternoon, Mr Johnson said he believed the package thrashed out with Brussels would be ‘detrimental to the national interest’ and set Northern Ireland ‘apart from the rest of the UK’.

‘I have therefore decided the time has come to place my loyalty to my country above my loyalty to the government,’ he wrote.

Government sources tried to play down the resignation – the 13th for Mrs May over Brexit – pointing out that Mr Johnson represents the heavily Leave-supporting Dartford constituency.   

Earlier, Mrs May had appealed for Tory Eurosceptics to look at the mounting revolt by Remainers, and realise that Parliament is ready to block the country from crashing out.

In a speech in Leave-voting Stoke-on-Trent this morning, Mrs May said it was clear some politicians would use ‘every device’ to stop Brexit happening.

Underlining the dangers of the crisis wracking Westminster, she urged MPs to consider the ‘consequences’ of their actions for people’s faith in democracy.


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Mrs May also pointed to the letter from the EU chiefs, which insists the Irish border backstop – the most controversial part of the Brexit deal – will only be ‘temporary’. 

‘We have secured valuable new clarifications and assurances,’ Mrs May said, while admitting that the commitment ‘did not go as far’ as some MPs wanted. 

Despite her scramble, Mrs May looks to be on track for a catastrophic defeat – with frantic manoeuvring under way over what happens next. 

A dozen Tory former ministers including Boris Johnson have urged wavering colleagues to stand firm against the deal, saying leaving on World Trade Organisation terms would not be a disaster.  

In her speech, Mrs May said she now believes if her deal is defeated, MPs blocking Brexit is more likely than leaving without a deal.

She said failure to pass her package could mean crashing out – but there was a ‘bigger risk’ of not leaving the EU at all. 

Mrs May rejected the idea that alternatives to her Withdrawal Agreement were available.

‘Nobody has yet come up with an alternative Brexit deal that is negotiable and that delivers on the result of the referendum,’ she said.

‘The only deal on the table is the one MPs will vote on tomorrow night. 

How would the Remainer ‘coup’ on Brexit work?

What do the plotters want to do? 

Tory MP Nick Boles has been championing the latest effort to block a no-deal Brexit. No10 believed that former ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve are also deeply involved.   

According to the plan, if Theresa May cannot offer a successful Brexit within three weeks of defeat, senior MPs should take over. 

Mr Boles says this would be the Liaison Committee – 32 MPs who chair all other committees. 

How could they do it? 

The plan will only work if Remain MPs can re-write the rules of how the Commons works. Normally only Government can bring forward new laws – the plotters want to change this.

Normally this is impossible – but John Bercow’s willingness to bend the rules last week has given them hope.

What would it mean? 

Hard to say – but Downing Street has warned it is likely to mean a softer Brexit. This is likely to mean a Norway-style deal, staying in the EU single market – meaning free movement.

Will it happen? 

Nobody knows. May’s deal is very likely to be defeated tonight and there will be a raft of new ideas and plans that might get traction, of which this is just one.  

In a message to Remainer rebels, she said: ‘You can take no deal off the table by voting for that deal. ‘If no deal is as bad as you believe it is, it will be the height of recklessness to do anything else.’ 

Mrs May brushed aside suggestions that the EU might extend the two-year withdrawal process under Article 50 to the summer to allow more time for the UK to settle its position.

‘We are leaving on March 29,’ she said. ‘I have been clear I don’t believe we should be extending Article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum.’  

Mrs May said the letters from the EU carried ‘legal force’ and ‘make absolutely clear that the backstop is not a threat or a trap’.

She added: ‘I fully understand that the new legal and political assurances which are contained in the letters from Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker do not go as far as some MPs would like.

‘But I’m convinced that MPs now have the clearest assurances that this is the best deal possible and is worthy of their support.’ 

The PM again ruled out a permanent customs union with the EU – floated by some MPs as a potential compromise that could command a Parliamentary majority.

‘I have always been clear that we will not be in the customs union, because being in the customs union has with it other aspects which are not what people voted for,’ she said.

Mrs May also offered an olive branch to Labour MPs who might consider backing her deal with an appeal over workers’ rights and environmental standards.

She said: ‘I could not have been clearer that far from wanting to see a reduction in our standards in these areas, the UK will instead continue to be a world leader.

‘We have committed to addressing these concerns and will work with MPs from across the house on how best to implement them, looking at legislation where necessary to deliver the best possible results for workers across the UK.’ 

Mrs May added that while no-deal remained a serious risk, ‘having observed events at Westminster over the last seven days it is now my judgment that the likely outcome is a paralysis in Parliament that risks there being no Brexit’.  Theresa May reassures MPs about the backstop ahead of voteLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%00:00PreviousPlaySkipMuteCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time2:13Fullscreen

Theresa May (pictured on delivering her speech in Stoke-on-Trent today) urged Tory Eurosceptics to look at the mounting revolt by Remainers, and realise that Parliament is ready to block the country from crashing out


Theresa May (pictured on delivering her speech in Stoke-on-Trent today) urged Tory Eurosceptics to look at the mounting revolt by Remainers, and realise that Parliament is ready to block the country from crashing out

A dozen Tory former ministers including Boris Johnson (pictured giving an interview in London today) have urged wavering colleagues to stand firm against the deal


A dozen Tory former ministers including Boris Johnson (pictured giving an interview in London today) have urged wavering colleagues to stand firm against the deal

The letter from EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and council president Donald Tusk insists the Irish border backstop will only be 'temporary'


The letter from EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and council president Donald Tusk insists the Irish border backstop will only be ‘temporary”PM has completely and utterly failed’: says Jeremy CorbynLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%00:00PreviousPlaySkipMuteCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:57Fullscreen

It emerged over the weekend that Remainers from across parties are plotting an extraordinary bid to seize control from the government if it tries to push ahead with a no-deal 

Brexit. Conservative MP Nick Boles today confirmed plans to tear up Commons rules so MPs could propose legislation – something the government currently has power over. 

Ministers fear Speaker John Bercow would help the rebellion. Last week he flouted procedural convention to select an amendment from Tory former minister Dominic Grieve which attempts to speed up the process for the Government to reveal what it will do next if the PM’s Brexit deal is rejected.  

Labour splits deepen as MPs say they will back May’s deal  

Another Labour MP declared he would vote for Theresa May‘s Brexit deal today in defiance of orders from Jeremy Corbyn.

Sir Kevin Barron said the deal was the only way to deliver on the referendum and avoid a no deal Brexit on March 27.

The Rother Valley MP represents one of the strongest Leave-supporting parts of the country and he is among a number of Labour MPs causing a deep split in the party.

Labour’s policy is to push for a general election if the Prime Minister loses the meaningful vote on Tuesday and Mr Corbyn has ordered his side to vote No. 

There will not be enough Labour votes to save Mrs May in the Commons tonight.

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said there should just be a simple vote on the deal, with amendments voted on later to avoid muddying the result. 

But the fledgling revolt was at risk of collapsing after it was dismissed by pro-EU MPs. 

Senior Tory Sarah Wollaston, previously one of the most outspoken anti-Brexit rebels, said it would fly in the face of the constitution.

She pointed out that the Liaison Committee – on which she serves had no role in drafting legislation.

‘Under our constitution, Parliament can either change the government’s mind or change the government,’ she said.

‘It can propose legislation for government to take forward & it can amend or block it but back bench MPs cannot take over conducting a complex international negotiation.’ 

Asked during an LBC radio interview today what would happen, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think the deal goes down. 

‘I think, possibly, some colleagues are being scared by this idea that there might be no Brexit as a result of voting it down. 

‘I think that’s nonsense. Britain will leave in March, absolutely, and that’s the bottom line.’ 

Mr Johnson said that defying the result of the referendum would be ‘playing with fire’. 

‘If we think that by coming up with all sorts of complicated amendments and you know delaying tactics, we’re gonna fool the British public, we’re going to manage to frustrate Brexit, I think we will reap the whirlwind,’ he said.

‘People will feel betrayed and I think they will feel that there has been a great conspiracy by you know the deep state of the UK, the people who really run the country, to overturn the vote of the people.’

A dozen leading Brexiteers – including eight former members of Mrs May’s Cabinet – have written to all Conservative MPs urging them to vote against the Prime Minister’s deal.

Who is Gareth Johnson, the latest Tory to quit the government   

Gareth Johnson was elected to the Commons as MP for Dartford in 2010.

His majority in the strongly Leave-supporting seat was 13,000 last year.

That was up from 10,000 when he first won the constituency.

Since entering Parliament he has kept a fairly low profile, having served on the Science, Justice and Human Rights committees. 

He was appointed an assistant whip, one of the most junior ranks, in November last year.

Sources said he had been ‘desperate’ to get into government, but pointed out that his voters were overwhelmingly Brexit-backing.  

He served just two months before resigning.

In a joint letter sent to every Tory MP, former ministers including Boris Johnson, David Davis and Dominic Raab call upon Mrs May to stage one final attempt to persuade the EU to drop the Irish backstop which threatens to halt Britain’s exit from the custom union indefinitely.

But if the EU fails to comply on agreeing such a deal, the Britain must ‘have the confidence’ to leave on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms on March 29.

The letter is also signed by other former Cabinet members including Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Priti Patel.

They write: ‘It is right to vote down this bad deal and that in doing so we will unlock a better future for our party, our country and its people.’

They add: ‘A managed WTO Brexit may give rise to some short-term inconvenience and disruption, but the much greater risks arise from being locked into a very bad deal.’

Mr Johnson repeated the message in his column in the Daily Telegraph today, where he writes: ‘This deal is still the worst of both worlds, by which we somehow leave the EU but end up being run by the EU. It is still a complete stinker.’

Warning his fellow MPs about trying to force a second referendum, he adds: ‘If they now engage in ludicrous parliamentary jiggery pokery, endlessly tabling amendments designed to frustrate Brexit, they will risk a very serious backlash indeed.

‘The answer is not to leave it to Parliament; the answer is for the executive to do its job, as some of us have been advising for months: to accept that the deal is dead, and to move on.’Jeremy Corbyn asks members of the House to reject May’s dealLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%00:00PreviousPlaySkipMuteCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:42Fullscreen

How will MPs make their decision on May’s Brexit deal and what will they vote on?

MPs will finally give their verdict on the Brexit deal tomorrow night – but how do they vote and what will they vote on? 

What will MPs vote on?  

MPs will be asked to approve or reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The deal is contained in two documents, the Withdrawal Agreement, which is a treaty, and the Future Framework, which is a political statement agreed between the UK and EU. 

But before the main vote, MPs will be asked to say yes or no to a raft of amendments. These are re-writes of the main Brexit deal motion that have been tabled by backbench MPs and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

How many amendments are there and which will be voted on? 

There are currently 12 amendments in front of MPs – and the deadline for tabling more is when the Commons finishes tonight, which could be as late as 2.30am.

Commons Speaker John Bercow will make the decision on which amendments are voted on tomorrow. He can select any number of amendments but does not have to choose them all. 

What do the main amendments say? 

The first amendment is from Jeremy Corbyn. It rejects the deal, rules out no-deal, and instead sets out what Labour policy is instead – primarily a permanent UK-EU customs union with protections for workers rights and the environment. 

Tory MP Hugo Swire has tabled an amendment helpful to the Government – and ministers have agreed to support it. It approves the deal while setting out a series of votes MPs will get in future on using the Irish border backstop. It sets a ‘duty’ on the UK government to get Britain out of the backstop in no more than a year – but does not change the divorce deal, so the solution would have to be backed by the EU.

Labour MP John Mann has tabled another amendment that is backed by ministers. It approves the deal but adds a promise for Britain to mirror EU rules on workers’ rights and environmental protections in future. 

Tory MP Andrew Murrison has an amendment that would agree the deal but also demand it is re-negotiated to put a deadline on the backstop of December 2021. If this is voted for, it would be very unclear if the deal had been approved or not because the EU would have to agree to renegotiate. 

When will the vote happen? 

Votes will begin at 7pm tomorrow night, after the Prime Minister makes the final speech of the five day debate. 

Each ‘division’ of the Commons takes around 15 minutes as MPs have to physically walk through the aye and no lobbies to cast their vote.

This means voting could go on for hours.   

Which order will the votes happen? 

This will not be clear until the Speaker selects the amendments. It is likely amendments that reject the deal will be voted on first, followed by amendments that approve it with caveats.

The final vote will be on the main motion – with whatever amendments have been agreed attached to it. 

Can voting end early? 

This is also unclear but if one of the rejection amendments is accepted, it is likely voting will stop because it will be clear there is no majority of MPs in favour of the deal. 

Is May’s deal already sunk? 100 Tories, the DUP and Labour have come out against – leaving her staring at defeat on December 11

Theresa May’s task of getting her Brexit deal past the House of Commons is looking near-impossible as opposition mounts.

The ‘meaningful vote’ promised to MPs will happen on December 11 and is the single biggest hurdle to the Brexit deal happening – as well as being the key to Mrs May’ fate as PM.

But despite opinion polls suggesting the public might be coming round to her deal, there is little sign of a shift among politicians.

Remainers have been stepping up calls for a second referendum in the wake of Sam Gyimah’s resignation as universities minister over the weekend – while Brexiteers including Boris Johnson have accused Mrs May of betrayal.   

Mrs May needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.

The number is less than half because the four Speakers, 7 Sinn Fein MPs and four tellers will not take part.

The situation looks grim for Mrs May and her whips: now the deal has been published, over 100 of her own MPs and the 10 DUP MPs have publicly stated they will join the Opposition parties in voting No.

This means the PM could have as few as 225 votes in her corner – leaving 410 votes on the other side, a landslide majority 185.

This is how the House of Commons might break down:

Mrs May needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.


Mrs May needs at least 318 votes in the Commons if all 650 MPs turns up – but can probably only be confident of around 230 votes.

The Government (plus various hangers-on)

Who are they: All members of the Government are the so-called ‘payroll’ vote and are obliged to follow the whips orders or resign. It includes the Cabinet, all junior ministers, the whips and unpaid parliamentary aides.

There are also a dozen Tory party ‘vice-chairs and 17 MPs appointed by the PM to be ‘trade envoys’.

How many of them are there? 178.

What do they want? For the Prime Minister to survive, get her deal and reach exit day with the minimum of fuss.

Many junior ministers want promotion while many of the Cabinet want to be in a position to take the top job when Mrs May goes.

How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.

European Research Group Brexiteers demanding a No Confidence Vote

Who are they: The most hard line of the Brexiteers, they launched a coup against Mrs May after seeing the divorce. Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker.

How many of them are there: 26

What do they want: The removal of Mrs May and a ‘proper Brexit’. Probably no deal now, with hopes for a Canada-style deal later.

How will they vote: Against the Prime Minister.

Other Brexiteers in the ERG

Who are they: There is a large block of Brexiteer Tory MPs who hate the deal but have so far stopped short of moving to remove Mrs May – believing that can destroy the deal instead. They include ex Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex minister Owen Paterson.

Ex ministers like Boris Johnson and David Davis are also in this group – they probably want to replace Mrs May but have not publicly moved against her.

How many of them are there? Around 50.

What do they want? The ERG has said Mrs May should abandon her plans for a unique trade deal and instead negotiate a ‘Canada plus plus plus’ deal.

This is based on a trade deal signed between the EU and Canada in August 2014 that eliminated 98 per cent of tariffs and taxes charged on goods shipped across the Atlantic.

The EU has long said it would be happy to do a deal based on Canada – but warn it would only work for Great Britain and not Northern Ireland.

How will they vote: Against the Prime Minister.

Remain including the People’s Vote supporters

Who are they: Tory MPs who believe the deal is just not good enough for Britain. They include the group of unrepentant Remainers who want a new referendum like Anna Soubry and ex-ministers who quit over the deal including Jo Johnson and Phillip Lee.

How many of them are there: Maybe around 10.

What do they want? To stop Brexit. Some want a new referendum, some think Parliament should step up and say no.

A new referendum would take about six months from start to finish and they group wants Remain as an option on the ballot paper, probably with Mrs May’s deal as the alternative.

How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister.

Moderates in the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG) and other Loyalists

Who are they? A newer group, the BDG counts members from across the Brexit divide inside the Tory Party. It includes former minister Nick Boles and MPs including Remainer Simon Hart and Brexiteer Andrew Percy.

There are also lots of unaligned Tory MPs who are desperate to talk about anything else.

How many of them are there? Based on public declarations, about 48 MPs have either said nothing or backed the deal.

What do they want? The BDG prioritises delivering on Brexit and getting to exit day on March 29, 2019, without destroying the Tory Party or the Government. If the PM gets a deal the group will probably vote for it.

It is less interested in the exact form of the deal but many in it have said Mrs May’s Chequers plan will not work.

Mr Boles has set out a proposal for Britain to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) until a free trade deal be negotiated – effectively to leave the EU but stay in close orbit as a member of the single market.

How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.


Who are they? The Northern Ireland Party signed up to a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Conservative Party to prop up the Government.

They are Unionist and say Brexit is good but must not carve Northern Ireland out of the Union.

How many of them are there? 10.

What do they want? A Brexit deal that protects Northern Ireland inside the UK.

How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister on the grounds they believe the deal breaches the red line of a border in the Irish Sea.

Labour Loyalists

Who are they? Labour MPs who are loyal to Jeremy Corbyn and willing to follow his whipping orders.

How many of them are there? Up to 250 MPs depending on exactly what Mr Corbyn orders them to do.

What do they want? Labour policy is to demand a general election and if the Government refuses, ‘all options are on the table’, including a second referendum.

Labour insists it wants a ‘jobs first Brexit’ that includes a permanent customs union with the EU. It says it is ready to restart negotiations with the EU with a short extension to the Article 50 process.

The party says Mrs May’s deal fails its six tests for being acceptable.

How will they vote? Against the Prime Minister’s current deal.

Labour Rebels

Who are they? A mix of MPs totally opposed to Mr Corbyn’s leadership, some Labour Leave supporters who want a deal and some MPs who think any deal will do at this point.

How many of them are there? Maybe 10 to 20 MPs but this group is diminishing fast – at least for the first vote on the deal.

What do they want? An orderly Brexit and to spite Mr Corbyn.

How will they vote? With the Prime Minister.

Other Opposition parties

Who are they? The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green Caroline Lucas and assorted independents.

How many of them are there? About 60 MPs.

How will they vote? Mostly against the Prime Minister – though two of the independents are suspended Tories and two are Brexiteer former Labour MPs. 

(MW) Is Germany already in a ‘technical’ recession? These economists think so


Drop in German industrial production points to second straight quarter of contracting GDP for Europe’s largest economy

It isn’t all about cars.

Investors are worried that a global slowdown led by China could begin to sap U.S. growth, but it’s Europe that’s looking a little sickly at the moment.

Expectations that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, could post a second consecutive quarter of falling gross domestic product were on the rise after a dismal reading on November industrial production last week, which showed a 1.9% fall, defying a forecast for a 0.3% rise.

“Industrial production data was a proper disappointment this month. Our German GDP tracker has deteriorated to minus 0.1% [quarter-on-quarter]. This would be the second consecutive [quarter-on-quarter] GDP contraction, meaning Germany could now be in a technical recession,” wrote economists Evelyn Herrmann and Gilles Moec at Bank of American Merrill Lynch, in a Monday note (see chart below).

Herrmann and Moec are skeptical the weakness will turn into a full-blown downturn, but others were ringing the alarm bells after the November decline, which was the second consecutive fall and followed data that showed a continued decline in manufacturing orders.

Germany’s slowdown is attributable in part to slowing activity in China, the economists said. And concerns about China are certainly on the rise thanks to homegrown headwinds and the continued trade battle with the U.S. The S&P 500 SPX, -0.53%  and Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.36%  were feeling modest pressure Monday after a round of weaker-than-expected trade data out of the country.

On Monday, data showed factory output across the eurozone saw its largest annual decline in six years in November and underscored worries the region’s economy isn’t bouncing back from a weak third quarter.

“The question is, how bad will it be?” wrote Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, in a note. “Industrial production is one of our best advance indicators of how GDP will turn out. A drop of industrial production in any quarter signals an 80% chance that GDP declined, based on historical experience,” he said, with the plunge in Germany’s November industrial production assuring a big contraction for industrial output for the quarter.

Herrmann and Moec argued that half of the November decline in Germany was due to one-time factors, including the aftermath of a sharp drop in car production in the third quarter that appeared to reverberate through the supply chain in the final quarter of 2018. A slowdown in the chemical sector, due in part to cutbacks by BASF SEBAS, -0.44%  as a result of low water levels on the Rhine, and a drop in pharmaceutical exports to Ireland after a sharp but difficult to explain run-up from late 2017 through October 2018, were the other factors that may have played a one-time role in the slowdown.

However, “that still leaves a chunky deterioration in underlying growth momentum, not in Germany, but possibly globally,” they said. After stripping out one-time factors, the economists found the slowdown in German output remained slightly below, but within its usual range, around the signal coming from global momentum, which has weakened and suggests growth very close to zero.

The economists argue that a tight labor market, a slightly looser fiscal stance by Germany’s government, a pickup in nominal wage growth and a very tight labor market could ensure that a “technical recession” doesn’t turn into a “downturn proper.”

“The labor market response in this is key,” they said. “Domestic demand should strengthen into 2019 driven by fiscal policy, nominal wage growth and inflation. This should keep labor market pressures intact and keep a proper recession at bay, even if corporate sector profitability could be dented.”

Economists define a recession as a significant decline in activity that lasts more than a few months and stretches across the economy, affecting everything from industrial production to employment, wages and wholesale-retail trade.

A full-blown downturn would require additional shocks, Herrmann and Moec wrote. While not part of their base case, the known risks include Brexit, cars, trade wars and China, they said.

When it comes to China, a major source of concern over the global growth outlook, “data has to stabilize,” they warned, noting that their China-based colleagues expect data to turn better in the first half of 2019 as policy stimulus measures kick in. That’s a big deal for Germany, they said, estimating that the contribution to German GDP from exports to China moved from minus 30 basis points in mid-2015 to positive 60 basis points in early 2017, before slowing to zero in 2018 — a factor that alone explains a large chunk of growth deceleration, they said.

(P-S) From Yellow Vests to the Green New Deal – Joseph Stiglitz


The grassroots movement behind the Green New Deal offers a ray of hope to the badly battered establishment: they should embrace it, flesh it out, and make it part of the progressive agenda. We need something positive to save us from the ugly wave of populism, nativism, and proto-fascism that is sweeping the world.

NEW YORK – It’s old news that large segments of society have become deeply unhappy with what they see as “the establishment,” especially the political class. The “Yellow Vest” protests in France, triggered by President Emmanuel Macron’s move to hike fuel taxes in the name of combating climate change, are but the latest example of the scale of this alienation.

There are good reasons for today’s disgruntlement: four decades of promises by political leaders of both the center left and center right, espousing the neoliberal faith that globalization, financialization, deregulation, privatization, and a host of related reforms would bring unprecedented prosperity, have gone unfulfilled. While a tiny elite seems to have done very well, large swaths of the population have fallen out of the middle class and plunged into a new world of vulnerability and insecurity. Even leaders in countries with low but increasing inequality have felt their public’s wrath.1

By the numbers, France looks better than most, but it is perceptions, not numbers, that matter; even in France, which avoided some of the extremism of the Reagan-Thatcher era, things are not going well for many. When taxes on the very wealthy are lowered, but raised for ordinary citizens to meet budgetary demands (whether from far-off Brussels or from well-off financiers), it should come as no surprise that some are angry. The Yellow Vests’ refrain speaks to their concerns: “The government talks about the end of the world. We are worried about the end of the month.”

There is, in short, a gross mistrust in governments and politicians, which means that asking for sacrifices today in exchange for the promise of a better life tomorrow won’t pass muster. And this is especially true of “trickle down” policies: tax cuts for the rich that eventually are supposed to benefit everyone else.

When I was at the World Bank, the first lesson in policy reform was that sequencing and pacing matter. The promise of the Green New Deal that is now being championed by progressives in the United States gets both of these elements right.

The Green New Deal is premised on three observations: First, there are unutilized and underutilized resources – especially human talent – that can be used effectively. Second, if there were more demand for those with low and medium skills, their wages and standards of living would rise. Third, a good environment is an essential part of human wellbeing, today and in the future.

If the challenges of climate change are not met today, huge burdens will be imposed on the next generation. It is just wrong for this generation to pass these costs on to the next. It is better to leave a legacy of financial debts, which our children can somehow manage, than to hand down a possibly unmanageable environmental disaster.

Almost 90 years ago, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the Great Depression with his New Deal, a bold package of reforms that touched almost every aspect of the American economy. But it is more than the symbolism of the New Deal that is being invoked now. It is its animating purpose: putting people back to work, in the way that FDR did for the US, with its crushing unemployment of the time. Back then, that meant investments in rural electrification, roads, and dams.1

Economists have debated how effective the New Deal was – its spending was probably too low and not sustained enough to generate the kind of recovery the economy needed. Nonetheless, it left a lasting legacy by transforming the country at a crucial time.

So, too, for a Green New Deal: It can provide public transportation, linking people with jobs, and retrofit the economy to meet the challenge of climate change. At the same time, these investments themselves will create jobs.

It has long been recognized that decarbonization, if done correctly, would be a great job creator, as the economy prepares itself for a world with renewable energy. Of course, some jobs– for example, those of the 53,000 coal miners in the US – will be lost, and programs are needed to retrain such workers for other jobs. But to return to the refrain: sequencing and pacing matter. It would have made more sense to begin with creating new jobs before the old jobs were destroyed, to ensure that the profits of the oil and coal companies were taxed, and the hidden subsidies they receive eliminated, before asking those who are barely getting by to pony up more.

The Green New Deal sends a positive message of what government can do, for this generation of citizens and the next. It can deliver today what those who are suffering today need most – good jobs. And it can deliver the protections from climate change that are needed for the future.

The Green New Deal will have to be broadened, and this is especially true in countries like the US, where many ordinary citizens lack access to good education, adequate health care, or decent housing.

The grassroots movement behind the Green New Deal offers a ray of hope to the badly battered establishment: they should embrace it, flesh it out, and make it part of the progressive agenda. We need something positive to save us from the ugly wave of populism, nativism, and proto-fascism that is sweeping the world.

(BBC) The European capital cobbled with Jewish gravestones


Prague cobblestones

Each year millions of visitors walk through the cobbled streets of Prague’s Old Town – without realising, most likely, that many of the stones below their feet have been looted from what was meant to be sacred ground. The BBC’s Rob Cameron only recently learned their secret.

We stood, blocking the pedestrian traffic, on one of the busiest streets in the Czech capital. A steady stream of people pushed by us muttering as they clutched bags of Christmas shopping and souvenirs and we peered at the ground.

In the distance, at the bottom of Wenceslas Square, crowds congregated around street performers and kiosks selling sausages and beer.

“There,” said Leo Pavlat, the owlish, bearded director of the Prague Jewish Museum, pointing at a thin strip of dark, square cobblestones at our feet. “There! You see? All along there.” He looked up, his eyes following the strip as it ran along the short pedestrianised street.

He delved into a plastic bag and brought out two cobblestones. They were almost identical to those embedded in the ground below us. But these ones you could turn over in your fingers, revealing a single smooth side of polished granite that would otherwise have been hidden face down.

One bore fragments of a date, 1895. The other featured three letters of the Hebrew alphabet – he, vav, bet, the gold paint which lined the chiselled inscriptions glinting in the winter sun.

“What does it mean?” I asked. “Is it part of a name?” Leo frowned. “No idea. It’s not enough to tell. Possibly it’s part of a eulogy.”

Leo Pavlat with his cobblestones made from gravestones

Leo Pavlat has owned these stones for more than 30 years, ever since he slipped them into his pocket one spring morning some time in the late 1980s.

“It must have been shortly before Gorbachev came, because I remember they redid the cobblestones here especially for his visit,” he said.

Later I looked online and discovered that the Soviet leader first visited Prague in April 1987, and the trip had indeed included an hour-long walkabout at the bottom of Wenceslas Square.

But back to Leo and his cobblestones. On that spring morning just over 30 years ago he was on his way to work in the Albatros children’s publishing house, a short distance from where we now stood. He’d passed a sight that’s still familiar in Prague today – piles of new cobbles waiting to be laid by workers in overalls and kneepads.

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Something about them caught his eye, and he bent down for a closer look. They were fragments of Jewish tombstones that had been cut into perfect cubes of granite. Judging by the dates, they’d been taken from a 19th Century cemetery. Shocked, Leo pocketed a few and walked briskly away.

“It wasn’t easy being Jewish back then,” he told me. “I was an active member of the community, though not in the official circles. And I wasn’t a member of the Communist Party.”

Even attending the officially-sanctioned weekly service in one of the few functioning synagogues was enough to prompt a chat with the secret police, he said.

“There were no publications, no education. I think the regime just wanted the Jewish community to slowly die.”

The old Jewish cemetery in Prague, in 1904 (Scheufler collection)
Image captionThe old Jewish cemetery in Prague, in 1904 (Scheufler collection)

Czechoslovakia’s Jewish population of some 350,000 people before World War Two, was reduced to about 50,000 in 1946 – including the few who had staggered back from the concentration camps.

Official anti-Semitism and voluntary emigration followed during the decades of communism. By the late 1980s, the population barely numbered 8,000.

I don’t think it was done deliberately by the Communists, to offend Jews – but it is insensitiveLeo Pavlat, Prague Jewish Museum

And across the country, on the edges of villages and towns, some 600 Jewish cemeteries lay untended and forgotten. The Communist authorities – and, it seems, the leaders of the Jewish community too – saw them as repositories of valuable building material that would otherwise go to waste.

Leo Pavlat couldn’t remember where his stones had come from, but directed me to an article he’d written several years before. His cobbles, it seems, were cut from tombstones taken from a Jewish cemetery established in 1864 in the town of Udlice in North Bohemia.

There’d been a Jewish community there since the 17th Century, with a synagogue, yeshiva (a religious school) and two cemeteries. By 1930, the Jewish population of Udlice had fallen to 13. By the 1980s, when its cemetery was looted, it was – presumably – zero.

After a few minutes’ walk, we reached the end of the granite line, at the bottom of Wenceslas Square. Tourists and locals jostled past us.

The cobbles of Wenceslas Square

I asked Leo what he wanted the city to do.

“It’s not easy. The gravestones can never be put back together, and laying new cobbles would cost millions,” he said.

“I don’t think it was done deliberately by the Communists, to offend us Jews. But it is insensitive.”

He’d like the city to put up a small plaque. A plaque that would remind people, he said, of the once vibrant Jewish life here. And the barbarism of the Communist regime.

You may also be interested in:

Fanny and Raphael Bodin

When Alexander Bodin Saphir’s Jewish grandfather was measuring a high-ranking Nazi for a suit in Copenhagen 75 years ago he got an important tip-off – the Jews were about to be rounded up and deported. Did Denmark’s Nazi rulers deliberately sabotage their own operation?

Anchor Opinion (FT) Liberalism’s most brilliant enemy is back in vogue – Gideon Rachman

Anchor Opinion

Disgusting but not to be ignored in order to be prepared to fight it.

This revival of interest in the ideas of Carl Schmitt, “the crown jurist of the Third Reich”is certainly not a good omen in the strange World with no values we live in. 

As the Medieval Catholic formula for exorcism says,(recorded in a 1415 manuscript found in the Benedictine Metten Abbey in Bavaria), VADE RETRO SATANA!

(Go back, Satan or Step back, Satan)!

Nazis ?

Over my dead body!

Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira

(FT) Liberalism’s most brilliant enemy is back in vogue

Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt appeals to opponents of democracy and the rule of law
Gideon Rachman

P.O. (FT) Juncker makes late bid to avert no-deal Brexit

In the FT:

Juncker makes late bid to avert no-deal Brexit

European president works with May to prevent ‘catastrophic’ vote result


I would argue that the European Union, which has all the ticks of an imperialist dictatorship, should have thought of this, before imposing to the UK a deal, and such an horrible one, that even a child can figure out how bad and unjust it is.

The truth of the matter is that the EU is trying to show how painfull and costly it is to leave the EU…

Just to discourage all the other EU Member States that are flirting with the idea of leaving the Union.

Just look at the pressure the UE has been aplying to Switzerland (which is not a EU Member State, but has a lot of agreements with the EU) over the past few years…

Fortunately Switzerland is a Direct Democracy in which its citizens vote on everything in Sunday referendums.

And when the Swiss citizens vote it’s final!

And you know what…?

Against a Direct Democracy the non elected Eurocrats headed by Mr Junker, known to enjoy alcool a bit too much, can do nothing.

No one can defeat Democracy in the long run.

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

― Winston S. Churchill

Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira

In Wikipedia:

Politics of Switzerland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to navigationJump to search

Switzerland is a semi-direct democratic federal republic. The federal legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Federal Assembly, the National Council and the Council of States. The Federal Council holds the executive power and is composed of seven power-sharing Federal Councillors elected by the Federal Assembly. The judicial branch is headed by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, whose judges are elected by the Federal Assembly.

Switzerland has a tradition of direct democracy. For any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory (mandatory referendum); for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested (optional referendum). In addition, the people may present a constitutional popular initiative to introduce amendments to the federal constitution. The people also assume a role similar to the constitutional court, which does not exist, and thus act as the guardian of the rule of law.

Cantonal and municipal politics vary in the different cantons, which may have different systems. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated Switzerland as “full democracy” in 2016.[1]


Direct representation[edit]

See also: Voting in Switzerland

Switzerland features a system of government not seen in any other nation: direct representation, sometimes called half-direct democracy (this may be arguable, because theoretically, the Sovereign of Switzerland is actually its entire electorate).[2] Referenda on the most important laws have been used since the 1848 constitution.

Amendments to the Federal Constitution of Switzerland, the joining of international organizations, or changes to federal laws that have no foundation in the constitution but will remain in force for more than one year must be approved by the majority of both the people and the cantons, a double majority.

Any citizen may challenge a law that has been passed by parliament. If that person is able to gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days, a national vote has to be scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority of the voters whether to accept or reject the law.[3]

Also, any citizen may seek a decision on an amendment they want to make to the constitution. For such a federal popular initiative to be organised, the signatures of 100,000 voters must be collected within 18 months.[4] Such a federal popular initiative is formulated as a precise new text (general proposal initiatives have been canceled in 2009[5]) whose wording can no longer be changed by parliament and the government. After a successful signature gathering, the federal council may create a counterproposal to the proposed amendment and put it to vote on the same day as the original proposal. Such counter-proposals are usually a compromise between the status quo and the wording of the initiative. Voters will decide in a national vote whether to accept the initiative amendment, the counter proposal put forward by the government if any, or both. If both are accepted, one has to additionally signal a preference. Initiatives (that are of constitutional level) have to be accepted by a double majority of both the popular votes and a majority of the cantons, while counter-proposals may be of legislative level and hence require only simple majority.

Federal level[edit]

Federalism refers to a vertical separation of powers. The aim is to avoid the concentration of power in a forum, which allows a moderation of state power and the easing of the duties of the federal state.

In Switzerland, it is above all a matter of designating the independence of the cantons vis-à-vis the Confederation.

Executive branch[edit]

Main articles: Swiss Federal Council and Federal administration of SwitzerlandSee also: List of members of the Swiss Federal Council and List of Presidents of the Swiss Confederation

The Swiss Federal Council is a seven-member executive council that heads the federal administration, operating as a combination cabinet and collective presidency. Any Swiss citizen eligible to be a member of the National Council can be elected;[6] candidates do not have to register for the election, or to actually be members of the National Council. The Federal Council is elected by the Federal Assembly for a four-year term. Present members are: Doris Leuthard (CVP/PDC), Guy Parmelin (SVP/UDC), Ueli Maurer (SVP/UDC), Ignazio Cassis (FDP/PRD), Simonetta Sommaruga (SP/PS), Johann Schneider-Ammann (FDP/PRD) and Alain Berset (SP/PS).

The largely ceremonial President and Vice President of the Confederation are elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for one-year terms that run concurrently. The President has almost no powers over and above his or her six colleagues, but undertakes representative functions normally performed by a president or prime minister in single-executive systems. The current (As of 2018[update]) President and Vice President are Alain Berset and Ueli Maurer, respectively.

The Swiss executive is one of the most stable governments worldwide. Since 1848, it has never been renewed entirely at the same time, providing a long-term continuity. From 1959 to 2003 the Federal Council was composed of a coalition of all major parties in the same ratio: 2 each from the Free Democratic PartySocial Democratic Party and Christian Democratic People’s Party and 1 from the Swiss People’s Party. Changes in the council occur typically only if one of the members resigns (merely four incumbent members were voted out of the office in over 150 years);[7] this member is almost always replaced by someone from the same party (and often also from the same linguistic group).

The Federal Chancellor is the head of the Federal Chancellery, which acts as the general staff of the Federal Council. The Chancellery is divided into three distinct sectors. The Chancellor is the formal head of the Federal Chancellor Sector, comprising the planning & strategy section, the Internal Services section, the political rights section, the federal crisis management training unit of the Federal Administration, and the Records and Process Management section.

Two sectors are headed by the Vice-Chancellors: the Federal Council sector manages the agenda of the Federal Council’s meeting. This sector comprises the Section for Federal Council Affairs, the Legal Section, the Official Publications Centre and the Central Language Services. The Information & Communications Sector is led by Vice-Chancellor André Simonazzi, this role also has expanded to become the official spokesman for the Federal Council in 2000. This sector includes the e-Government Section, the Communication Support Section and the Political Forum of the Confederation.

The Swiss government has been a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the “magic formula“.[7]

This “magic formula” has been repeatedly criticised: in the 1960s, for excluding leftist opposition parties; in the 1980s, for excluding the emerging Green party; and particularly after the 1999 election, by the People’s Party, which had by then grown from being the fourth largest party on the National Council to being the largest. In the elections of 2003, the People’s Party received (effective January 1, 2004) a second seat in the Federal Council, reducing the share of the Christian Democratic Party to one seat.

Legislative branch[edit]

The Federal Palace, in Bern, hosts the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council.

Switzerland has a bicameral parliament called the Federal Assembly, which is composed by:

  • the Council of States (46 seats, 2 seats per canton, except for six cantons which only have 1), also known as the upper chamber
  • the National Council (200 seats, split between the cantons based on population), also known as the lower chamber

The Federal Assembly convenes to elect the members of the Federal Council. The two chambers are equal (perfect bicameralism). This power-sharing system serves to avoid monopolization of federal politics by more populated cantons to the detriment of smaller and rural cantons.

Members of both houses serve for 4 years and only serve as members of parliament part-time (so-called “Milizsystem” or Citizen legislature).[8]

Political parties and elections[edit]

This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (April 2016)

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Switzerland. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Switzerland.

Switzerland has a rich party landscape. The five parties represented in the Federal Council are generally called the government parties: Free Democratic PartySocial Democratic PartyChristian Democratic PartySwiss People’s Party, and Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland.

As of 2011 only the five government parties were represented in the Council of States. In the National Council the party landscape is more diverse with six non-government parties having at least one seat.Main article: Swiss federal election, 2011

PartiesAbbr.AlignmentIdeologyVotes[9]%+/– (%)Seats%+/– (seats)
Swiss People’s PartySVP/UDCRight wingNational conservatism648,67526.6−2.35427−8
Social Democratic PartySPS/PSSCentre-left/Left-wingSocial democracy457,31718.7+0.84623.0+3
FDP.The LiberalsFDP/PLRCentre-rightClassical liberalism368,95115.1−0.73015.0−1
Christian Democratic People’s PartyCVP/PDCCentre/Centre-rightChristian democracy300,54412.3−2.22814.0−3
Green PartyGPS/PESLeft wingGreen politics205,9848.4−1.2157.5−5
Green Liberal PartyGLP/PVLCentreGreen liberalism131,4365.4+4.0126.0+9
Conservative Democratic PartyBDP/PBDCentre-rightConservatism / Economic liberalism132,2795.4+5.494.5+9
Evangelical People’s PartyEVP/PEVCentreChristian democracy48,7892.0−0.421.0±0
Ticino LeagueLdTRight wingRegionalism / Right-wing populism19,6570.8+0.221.0+1
Geneva Citizens’ MovementMCGRight wingRegionalism / Right-wing populism10,7140.4+0.310.5+1
Federal Democratic UnionEDU/UDFRight wingChristian right31,0561.3±000−1
Party of LabourPdALeft wingSocialism21,4820.5−0.200−1
Christian Social PartyCSP/PCSCentre-leftChristian left6,2480.3-0.100-1
Total (turnout 48.5%)2,442,648200
Source: Swiss Federal Statistical Office (in French) Statistics Switzerland (in German)
Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP/PDC)Christian democracy1513-2
FDP.The Liberals (FDP/PRD)Classical liberalism1211-1
Social Democratic Party (SPS/PSS)Social democracy911+2
Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC)National conservatism75-2
Green Party (GPS/PES)Green politics22±0
Green Liberal Party (GLP/VL)Green liberalism12+1
Conservative Democratic Party (BDP/PBD)Conservatism / Economic liberalismNew1+1

Judicial branch[edit]

Switzerland has a Federal Supreme Court, with judges elected for six-year terms by the Federal Assembly. The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals of cantonal courts or the administrative rulings of the federal administration. Switzerland does not have a Constitutional Court, and the Supreme Court cannot comment on law put forward by the parliament. This role is assumed by the people, which acts as a guardian and can repeal any legislation or constitutional change.

Cantonal level[edit]

Executive branch[edit]

Main article: List of cantonal executives of Switzerland

Legislative branch[edit]

Main article: List of cantonal legislatures of Switzerland

Political conditions[edit]

Political positions of the Swiss political parties based on their referendum voting recommendations, 1985-90 and 2010-14

Switzerland has a stable government. Most voters support the government in its philosophy of armed neutrality underlying its foreign and defense policies. Domestic policy poses some major problems, to the point that many observers deem that the system is in crisis[10] but the changing international environment has generated a significant reexamination of Swiss policy in key areas such as defense, neutrality, and immigration. Quadrennial national elections typically produce only marginal changes in party representation.

In recent years, Switzerland has seen a gradual shift in the party landscape. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), traditionally the junior partner in the four-party coalition government, more than doubled its voting share from 11.0% in 1987 to 22.5% in 1999, rising to 28.9% in 2007, thus overtaking its three coalition partners. This shift in voting shares put a strain on the “magic formula“, the power-broking agreement of the four coalition parties. From 1959 until 2004, the seven-seat cabinet had comprised 2 Free Democrats, 2 Christian Democrats, 2 Social Democrats, and 1 Swiss People’s Party, but in 2004, the Swiss People’s Party took one seat from the Christian Democrats. In 2008 the Conservative Democratic Party split from the SVP, taking both of their Federal Council seats with them. However, the SVP eventually retook both seats, in 2009 and 2015 respectively.[11]

The Swiss Federal Constitution limits federal influence in the formulation of domestic policy and emphasizes the roles of private enterprise and cantonal government. However, in more recent times the powers of the Confederation have increased with regard to educationagriculturehealthenergy, the environmentorganized crime, and narcotics.[citation needed]

The Index of perception of corruption puts Switzerland among the least corrupt nations. In the 2005 survey, Switzerland ranks 7th (out of 158 surveyed), with 9.1 out of 10 possible points, representing an improvement of 0.4 points over the past four years.

Together with seven other European nations, Switzerland leads the 2005 index on Freedom of the Press published by Reporters Without Borders (with a score 0.5 points, zero being the perfect score).

Foreign relations[edit]

Main article: Foreign relations of Switzerland

Switzerland has avoided alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action. In June 2001, Swiss voters approved new legislation providing for the deployment of armed Swiss troops for international peacekeeping missions under United Nations or Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe auspices as well as international cooperation in military training. The Swiss have broadened the scope of activities in which they feel able to participate without compromising their neutrality.

Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as a neutral intermediary and host to major international treaty conferences. The country has no major disputes in its bilateral relations.

Energy politics[edit]

The emergency switch-off button of the Beznau Nuclear Power Plant. In 2011, the federal authorities decided to gradually phase out nuclear power in Switzerland.See also: Energy in Switzerland and Nuclear power in Switzerland

The energy generated in Switzerland comprises 55.2% hydroelectricity, 39.9% from nuclear power, about 4% from conventional sources and about 1% other.

On May 18, 2003, two referenda regarding the future of nuclear power in Switzerland were held. The referendum Electricity Without Nuclear asked for a decision on a nuclear power phase-out and Moratorium Plus asked about an extension of an existing law forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants. Both were turned down: Moratorium Plus by a margin of 41.6% for and 58.4% opposed, and Electricity Without Nuclear by a margin of 33.7% for and 66.3% opposed. The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a federal popular initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes (see Nuclear power in Switzerland for details).

In May 2011, due to the Fukushima accident in Japan, the Swiss government decided to abandon plans to build new nuclear reactors. The country’s five existing reactors will be allowed to continue operating, but will not be replaced at the end of their life span. The last will go offline in 2034.[12]

(FT) Juncker makes late bid to avert no-deal Brexit

European president works with May to prevent ‘catastrophic’ vote result

(BBC) Brexit: What’s next if MPs reject May’s deal?


Theresa May in the House of Commons

I know that, right here, I’ve been writing about, and we’ve been discussing, our prime minister’s and politicians’ Brexit choices for more than two-and-a-half years.

And, yes indeed, there have been many, many times we have reported it is a crunch moment, a crucial day, or a vital moment.

And each mini-drama, each bizarre twist, each day where we have moved further from anything like politics-as-usual, has had meaning.

That’s true of the prime minister’s speech in Florence, the meltingly hot cabinet day out at Chequers, Boris Johnson stalking out of the cabinet, or indeed, the EU saying “non, non, non” at Salzburg, or Gina Miller’s Supreme Court appeal, where on Parliament’s behalf – on behalf of all of us in a sense – she won a bigger say over Brexit for MPs.

Barring an almost incredible-to-imagine second delay to the vote, Tuesday is when MPs get the chance to express that wish – to say yes or no to the deal that’s on the table.

The weird thing about it is that unless, again, something almost impossible-to-ponder happens, we know they are, in large numbers, going to say no.

Parliament taking control

There is precious little jeopardy in saying that, although be sceptical of any predictions about the size of the defeat.

MPs don’t even trust each other on rebellions, let alone always stick to what they may brag about before.

If you take a clear “no” vote as read then, there is a possibility that moves afoot to stop us leaving without a deal, will be taken by parliamentarians who have been studying the rule books very closely.

Gina Miller
Image captionGina Miller’s court case won MPs the right for a bigger say on Brexit

In recent months amid the cacophony, Parliament has steadily been taking more and more control of the Brexit process, if not ownership of the problems.

And it’s likely this week there will be another attempt, maybe even before the vote, to remove the risk that we can leave without a deal. Of course it would need a majority of MPs’ support (always, always, easier said than done).

But remember even if they do, the immediate question will be: for what? At the moment there is no majority in Parliament for any plan that has actually been put on the table.

And some cabinet ministers believe the attempt to snarl up the process in that way could be blocked in any case.

If that’s so, well, several cabinet ministers from different parts of the Tory party, have told me they expect the prime minister will have at least another attempt to get her deal, or something rather like it, through Parliament.

Quick guide: What is a no-deal Brexit?


A “no-deal” Brexit is where the UK would cut all ties with the European Union overnight.

Theresa May’s government, and many others, believe this would be hugely damaging and want a more gradual withdrawal. But if Parliament can’t agree on that, and nothing else takes its place, the UK will leave without a deal.

This would mean the UK would not have to obey EU rules. Instead, it would need to follow World Trade Organization terms on trade. Many businesses would see new taxes on imports, exports and services, which are likely to increase their operating costs. That means the prices of some goods in UK shops could go up.

The UK would also lose the trade agreements it had with other countries as a member of the EU, all of which would need to be renegotiated alongside the new agreement with the EU itself.

Manufacturers in the UK expect to face delays in components coming across the border.

The UK would be free to set its own immigration controls. However some UK professionals working in the EU and UK expats could face uncertainty until their status was clarified. The European Commission has said that even in a no-deal scenario, UK travellers won’t need a visa for short visits of up to 90 days.

The border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic would become an external frontier for the EU with customs and immigration controls, though how and where any checks would be made is not clear.

Some Leave supporters think that leaving without a deal would be positive if the right preparations were made. They say criticism is scaremongering and any short term pain would be for long term gain.

But critics – including both Brexit supporters and opponents – say that leaving without a deal would be a disaster for the UK: driving up food prices, leading to shortages of goods and gridlock on some roads in the South East resulting from extra border checks.

But despite her reputation for secrecy, this week she will have to make something clear.

Will she shift to what many in Parliament want, a closer relationship with the EU, perhaps moving across to some kind of customs union?

Or will she ramp up preparations for no-deal, trying (which many just don’t believe) to show that she really would be willing to walk away with no deal, in the hope that pressure would persuade the EU to crack and make it plain she is not for turning?

Decisions can’t wait

That is likely to be the call she’ll have to make. One cabinet minister told me: “This week it distils into what people truly think – between those who are really scared of leaving without a deal, and those who are really scared of not leaving.”

Even after all this time, the Tories, and this Brexit prime minister, are still faced with the same fundamental choice there always has been – take the risk of going it alone with a dramatic break from the EU, with all the turmoil that might go alongside it.

Or cleave to a closer relationship with the EU, some kind of customs union by another name, that could tear the Tory party apart.

Delay is a tactic that has been used by Theresa May with great effect, arguably keeping her – even if unhappily – in office.

Every route that she might choose has risks, perhaps none of the choices are tempting for Number 10.

But on Tuesday night votes will actually be counted – the numbers, and decisions after they come, just won’t wait much longer.