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UK’s Brexit bubble spells domestic gridlock

The UK government has spent the past two-and-a-half years in a bubble that has left it paralytic and unable to tackle the domestic problems that haven't magically disappeared into the Brexit vortex. Rob Mudge reports. Given the government's fixation on Brexit, it's almost a surprise the country hasn't come to a standstill. But how long can the government get away with this form of escapism? Emily Andrews, associate director at the Institute for Government in London, a think tank that explores the key challenges facing the government, says the lack of progress is and isn't because of Brexit. "I think we've reached the point where a lot of this is now directly Brexit related. And since the general election [in 2017] the domestic agenda has been really stymied by the fact that the Conservatives are only in a minority government and by the fact that the Cabinet is very divided. Theresa May hasn't had the authority to push forward a united vision for domestic policy." But as Brexit reaches its potential endgame, it's not just the focus that has shifted. "In terms of civil servants we've got loads more people being moved across to think about a no deal [Brexit]," Andrews told DW. And those personnel gaps mean that very often other important policy issues are being dealt with in a cursory manner at best. What's happened to social care? One of the key areas that has ended up on the back burner is social care. A so-called green paper was originally due to be published in autumn 2017. Since then it's been put off repeatedly. Regardless of Brexit, there is no ideal time to deal with such a crucial issue, said Andrews. "Politically, it's a toxic question of how to fund social care in a sustainable manner. Whereas there's been a rise in National Health Service spending, funding for social care has fallen." Indeed, the issue caused problems for the Conservatives at the last election when the opposition accused them of proposing a "dementia tax." The Conservative Party's manifesto at the time set out plans for more pensioners to contribute to the cost of their care. The elderly would have to pay for their own care if their combined savings and property amounted to more than £100,000 (€114,000, $130,000). Under the proposal, people would be forced to sell their homes to pay. The plans were dubbed a "dementia tax" because people with dementia living at home would be forced to pay while people with cancer in hospital would not. Since then there's been little movement. While that can be put down partly to standard political prevarication, the focus on Brexit has stalled any meaningful progress. "Now Brexit is totally in the way and I've got no idea when are we going to have this national conversation about how we fund social care and what that means is that we're probably going to keep seeing this emergency cash being pumped in," said Andrews. Neglecting public services Trying to make public services efficient and cost-effective is difficult at the best of times. In 2010 the coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats presented a plan to cut costs, spend frugally and provide public services that actually work. And for a while, this less-is-more approach paid off, albeit with a caveat. "They didn't do that by making the services cheaper to run. They held down public sector wages through a freeze and then a pay cut. And they cut staff numbers and asked existing staff to do more," said Andrews Now, with Brexit casting its long shadow, neglect to tackle those areas could backfire badly. "It means that public services are going to limp forward and people will notice that. People want better employment, better access to housing, better access to public services. And people are looking for answers to those questions." No progress on 'burning injustices' And they've been looking for a good while. When Theresa May became prime minister in 2016, she stood outside 10 Downing Street and pledged to tackle the country's "burning injustices." But her track record does not reflect her holistic approach. Reductions in public health spending have made access to addiction services much harder, not to mention mental health service reductions. Homelessness has gone up which means more and more people are forced to sleep rough. Another major disappointment is the lack of tangible progress on one her key promises. "One of her big things was a pledge to draw up new legislation to support survivors and victims of domestic abuse. There is now a draft bill, but it hasn't actually been introduced in parliament. And we know of other bills that are just sitting there. There's one that's sat there for two years," said Andrews. Inertia coupled with a lack of transparency are proving to be a major predicament for the government and the country. Getting anything other than Brexit onto the legislative timetable is proving difficult, if not impossible. "And so actually passing any new laws is going to be difficult. And in reality, we don't know what the civil servants who have been moved on to no-deal preparations have been doing beforehand. We don't know what programs have been paused or cancelled precisely in order for the people who are working on them to go and do other things. The government hasn't been transparent about it," said Andrews.

The UK government has spent the past two-and-a-half years in a bubble that has left it paralytic and unable to tackle the domestic problems that haven’t magically disappeared into the Brexit vortex. Rob Mudge reports. Given the government’s fixation on Brexit, it’s almost a surprise the country hasn’t come to a standstill. But how long can the government get away ... Read More »

SPD members begin voting on next Merkel-led German government

450,000-plus Social Democratic party members will decide whether to enter another grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Past referendums have been formalities, but this time the result is anything but assured. The 463,723 party members of the SPD have particularly important pieces of mail in their letterboxes - ballots asking them to decide on the coalition deal the Social Democratic leadership hammered out with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives earlier this month. The Social Democratic rank-and-file have until March 2 to submit their votes, and the result is expected to be announced the following day. Read more: Future German government under Merkel no laughing matter on political roast day The vote is an all-or-nothing affair. If the SPD membership gives the thumbs up, Germany finally gets a new government - six months after the national election last September. If the members say no, the result will either be fresh elections or an uneasy attempt by Merkel to lead a minority government - in any case, further political uncertainty. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union will convene for a party conference in Berlin on February 26, where delegates will be asked to approve the coalition. A clear majority for the deal is expected. Yet SPD approval is not a given. In the past, the SPD membership has approved deals with Merkel by wide margins, but this vote is likely to be very tight. No rubber stamps this time There have been two grand coalitions between the conservatives and the SPD, but neither was even remotely as problematic as this one. In 2005, delegates to a special SPD conference approved the first Merkel government by a wide margin. The coalition took power two months after the national election. In 2013, Social Democrat party members ratified a second coalition with Merkel, with 76 percent of respondents voting yes. The Social Democratic leadership can only dream of a result like that in 2018. At a special SPD conference in January, only 60 percent of delegates voted to authorize their leaders to hold coalition talks with the conservatives. Read more: Refugees vote on German coalition: 'A big step for integration' Former party chairman Martin Schulz had to step down after flip-flopping on the grand coalition and trying to claim the post of foreign minister. The newly designated chairwoman Andrea Nahles and acting party leader Olaf Schulz are struggling to assert their authority with the SPD dropping to historic lows of 16 percent in opinion polls. Meanwhile, the SPD's youth wing, the Jusos, who are led by popular 28-year-old Kevin Kühnert, are continuing to oppose the deal and will be staging events across Germany in the days to come, trying to get members to vote no. SPD enrollment has increased by some 25,000 in recent weeks, and there has been speculation that many new members may have joined specifically in order to oppose the grand coalition. Is the SPD vote even constitutional? Yet even as both the conservative and Social Democratic leaderships seek approval of the coalition deal, there has been criticism among some prominent CDU members of the SPD member referendum. The influential state premier of Rhineland Palatinate, Julia Klöckner, accused SPD leaders of "delegating away" authority by giving the rank-and-file the chance to make the final decision. Read more: Opinion: SPD leader Martin Schulz's political gamble has failed "The SPD leadership should lead instead of causing confusion," Klöckner told a group of German newspapers. Others, including some political scientists, have questioned whether it's constitutional to give SPD members what amounts to a right of veto over the next government. Five complaints have been filed with Germany's Constitutional Court, but the judges have refused to hear them. So, essentially, the SPD's procedure has been deemed legal. The 450,000-plus rank-and-file now have two weeks to fill out and return their ballots, after which all of Germany will learn whether Merkel will able to form a third grand coalition or not.

450,000-plus Social Democratic party members will decide whether to enter another grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Past referendums have been formalities, but this time the result is anything but assured. The 463,723 party members of the SPD have particularly important pieces of mail in their letterboxes – ballots asking them to decide on the coalition deal the Social Democratic ... Read More »

Brazilian president announces major government reshuffle

Dilma Rousseff has announced major changes to her government as part of a cost-saving measure. The move comes as certain elements in the government seek to impeach her. Rousseff revealed details of the re-shuffle on Brazilian national television on Friday, including the decision to eliminate several positions within her Cabinet along with thousands of other government jobs. The president said the move would help Brazil, which has been suffering a recession, "get out of the crisis more quickly," the AFP reported. All in all, eight minister positions were eliminated, leaving Rousseff's Cabinet with 31 members instead of 39. In addition, 30 state secretary jobs 3,000 other governments jobs will be cut, according to German news agency DPA. Rousseff has been facing a possible impeachment by members of Congress and is looking to shore up political support. In addition, she wants to increase her popularity with the public following efforts to introduce divisive economic reforms to counter the recession .

Dilma Rousseff has announced major changes to her government as part of a cost-saving measure. The move comes as certain elements in the government seek to impeach her. Rousseff revealed details of the re-shuffle on Brazilian national television on Friday, including the decision to eliminate several positions within her Cabinet along with thousands of other government jobs. The president said ... Read More »

Egypt’s government resigns amid corruption row

مصر میں بدعنوانی اور نااہلی کے الزامات کی وجہ سے وزیراعظم نے کابینہ سمیت استعفیٰ دے دیا ہے۔ ملکی صدر عبدالفتاح السیسی نے وزیر تیل کو نئی حکومت کی تشکیل کی ذمہ داری سونپ دی ہے۔ مصر کے سرکاری ٹیلی وژن کے مطابق صدر عبدالفتاح السیسی کی جانب سے وزیر تیل شریف اسمٰعیل کو کہا گیا ہے کہ وہ ایک ہفتے کے دوران کابینہ تشکیل دیں۔ اس رپورٹ میں مزید بتایا گیا ہے کہ صدر السیسی نے وزیراعظم ابراہیم محلب اور ان کی کابینہ کے استعفے قبول کر لیے ہیں۔ ساتھ ہی السیسی نے محلب سے درخواست کی ہے کہ جب تک نئے وزیراعظم کا انتخاب نہیں ہو جاتا وزارت عظمی کی ذمہ داریاں وہ نبھاتے رہیں۔ بتایا گیا ہے کہ حکومت کے مستعفی ہونے کا فیصلہ ایک ایسے وقت پر سامنے آیا ہے، جب ابھی گزشتہ ہفتے ہی حکام نے وزیر زراعت صلاح ہلال اور ان کے کچھ ساتھیوں کو بدعنوانی میں ملوث ہونے کے الزام میں گرفتار کر لیا تھا۔ ان افراد پر الزام ہے کہ انہوں نے رشوت کے عوض زرعی اراضی کے حصول کو آسان بنایا تھا۔ اس کے علاوہ محلب حکومت کونا اہلی کی وجہ سے گزشتہ کئی مہینوں سے تنقید کا سامنا بھی کرنا پڑ رہا تھا۔ مصری حکومت کو دہشت گرد تنظیم اسلامک اسٹیٹ کے خطرے کا سامنا ہے۔ حکومت کی پوری کوشش ہے کہ اس مسئلے پر قابو پایا جائے تاکہ بیرون ملک سے سرمایہ کاری کا راستہ کھل جائے اور ملک کی بگڑتی ہوئی معیشت کو سہارا مل سکے۔ 2011ء میں حسنی مبارک کی معزولی کے بعد مصری کی اقتصادیات مشکلات میں گھری ہوئی ہے۔ مقامی ذرائع کے مطابق متوقع طور پر شریف اسمٰعیل ہی ملک کے نئے وزیراعظم ہوں گے۔ وہ پیشے کے اعتبار سے انجینیئر ہیں اور توانائی کے شعبے کی کئی ملکی کمپنیوں میں اہم عہدوں پر فائز رہے ہیں۔ دیگر تمام وزراء کے مقابلے میں ان کی کارکردگی کو بہت بہتر قرار دیا جاتا ہے۔ عرب ممالک میں آبادی کے لحاظ سے مصر سب سے بڑا ملک ہے۔ اگلے ماہ یہاں تاخیر سے ہونے والے پارلیمانی انتخابات ہو رہے ہیں۔ یہ جمہوریت نافذ کرنے کے حکومتی دعوؤں کی آخری کڑی ہے۔ صدر السیسی نے بطور آرمی چیف ملک کے پہلے منتخب صدر محمد مرسی کی حکومت کو 2013ء میں برطرف کر دیا تھا۔ اس کے بعد السیسی سیاسی استحکام اور معیشت کو مستحکم کرنے کے وعدوں کے ساتھ صدر منتخب ہوئے۔ ان کی جانب سے ملک میں سیاسی بے چینی کو ختم کرنے کے لیے ایک بڑی کارروائی شروع کی گئی۔ اس کے بعد معاملات کچھ بہتر تو ہوئے لیکن اس دوران انسانی حقوق کی تنظیموں نے اس آپریشن کو شدید تنقید کا نشانہ بنایا۔

The Egyptian government has resigned nearly a week after one of its ministers was arrested over corruption allegations. Oil Minister Sherif Ismail has been tasked with forming a new cabinet. Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb tendered the Egyptian cabinet’s resignation on Saturday nearly a week after the agriculture minister was arrested over corruption allegations. “The prime minister handed the government’s ... Read More »

Ukraine to unveil new premier, government

KIEV: Ukraine was set to unveil a new prime minister and cabinet on Tuesday as top Western envoys rushed to Kiev to try to find a lasting solution to the crisis rocking the economically-teetering country. Ukraine has appealed to the West for $35 billion in aid to avoid default as the nation tilts away from Russia, following the weekend ousting of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych after days of carnage in Kiev left almost 100 dead. Yanukovych has since been slapped with an arrest warrant for "mass murder", capping more than three months of relentless protests against his rule sparked by his November decision to spurn an historic pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Kiev on Monday as the Ukrainian capital slowly returned to normal, with shops and restaurants in the centre re-opening, and she was due to brief the press at 0930 GMT Tuesday. She met with interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov, who has warned that Kiev will have no alternative but to default on $13 billion in foreign obligations due this year should the West fail to come to the aid of the economically-struggling country. Adding to the diplomatic effort, Washington is sending Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Kiev Tuesday, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague is due to visit Ukraine soon. While Western powers have cautiously thrown their weight behind the overthrow of democratically-elected Yanukovych, Russia has reacted with outrage to the "mutiny" in a country with centuries-old roots to Moscow. The United States has stopped short of endorsing Ukraine´s interim leader and called for a technocratic government to promote early elections. Turchynov has vowed to draw up a "government of the people" and warned Russia that he expects the Kremlin to respect Ukraine´s pivot to the West. On Tuesday, the electoral commission said the campaign for presidential polls set for May 25 had officially kicked off, though who exactly will stand for the top post remains to be seen. Names commonly put forward include protest leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a pro-EU former foreign and economy minister; Yulia Tymoshenko, the freed opposition leader and hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution; Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate baron; and Vitali Klitschko a world heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician. The interim premier and cabinet set to be announced on Tuesday will have the tough tasks of keeping stability in Ukraine ahead of the polls.AFP

KIEV: Ukraine was set to unveil a new prime minister and cabinet on Tuesday as top Western envoys rushed to Kiev to try to find a lasting solution to the crisis rocking the economically-teetering country. Ukraine has appealed to the West for $35 billion in aid to avoid default as the nation tilts away from Russia, following the weekend ousting ... Read More »

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