- An estimated one million people came out to protest in London on Saturday to show support for another Brexit referendum.
- The protests come after the European Union granted an extension for the Brexit deadline, which gives lawmakers this week to approve the Brexit deal and leave May 22.
- If the UK does not pass a deal, they have until April 12 to decide what to do next.
Protests in London
Hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets of London on Saturday to demand a second Brexit referendum.
The protest, called “Put It To The People,” was organized by the People’s Vote campaign, which is made up of more than 100 grassroots groups that support a second Brexit vote.
Organizers for the protest estimated that a million people turned out, although there is no way to independently confirm the number.
What is known for certain was that there was a wide variety of people who came out to show their support for a second vote.
British citizens from all over the country came to London to join the protest, and British MPs from all across the political spectrum also attended.
The protest was not limited to British citizens. People from other European Union (EU) countries flew in to join the protest, including from Italy and Ireland.
Brexit Deadline Extended
The protest comes after EU leaders and Prime Minister Theresa May agreed on Thursday to extend the Brexit deadline.
The original deadline for Britain to leave the EU was March 29, and now under the current extension the UK will leave on May 22 if Parliament passes May’s Brexit deal.
That might seem like a simple extension, but there are a lot of different ways this can go. Now, the UK essentially has to decide between passing May’s Brexit deal or opening a whole other can of worms.
Lawmakers essentially have this until the end of week to pass May’s plan, if they wish to leave the EU on May 22.
However, May’s Brexit deal is extremely unpopular with both liberals and conservatives, and it has been voted down by Parliament two separate times.
The first time was in January, when MP’s voted against the deal by a 230 vote margin – the biggest defeat in Parliament’s history.
The second time was earlier this month, when the plan was again defeated by a margin of 149 votes.
Alternatives to May’s Brexit Deal
If May’s Brexit deal does not get passed, MPs will have until April 12 to decide what they are going to do instead.
The UK has four different options if they choose not to pass May’s plan.
The first option is to ask the EU for a longer extension. While this would give them more time to negotiate, including potentially negotiating a new deal, extending negotiations even more would require the UK to hold elections for the EU’s European Parliament in May.
Electing new representatives for the UK to the EU’s Parliament would not make much sense if the UK is planning to then leave the EU.
The second option is a no-deal Brexit, which basically means that Parliament would just accept the situation and move forward with Brexit.
However, earlier this month, Parliament debated and voted to reject a no-deal Brexit.
The third option is invoking Article 50, which would cancel Brexit. An online petition supporting this option went viral and got over 5 million, but Theresa May has ruled out invoking Article 50.
The final option is to hold another referendum altogether, which is the driving force for the protests on Saturday. Again, Parliament rejected an amendment for a second referendum during a series of votes earlier this month.
Parliament has strongly opposed these options, which makes it extremely difficult to see a path forward.
The deadline for Brexit is coming fast, and UK lawmakers have still not come up with a plan that even a majority of Parliament can get behind.
Parliament now has this week to decide if they are going to pass Theresa May’s Brexit plan.
If the deal is voted down again, Parliament could hold a series of votes to see where MP’s agree and disagree. That move could reveal if support for a second referendum has shifted at all given the recent changes to the Brexit negotiations.
While Parliament did vote against a second referendum in the past, there is support for it both among MP’s and the British populous.
Back in February, the Labour Party announced that they officially supported a second referendum.
Labour Party leaders are also considering a plan by two of the party’s members where MPs would vote for May’s deal on the condition that it is then put to a public vote. That move would essentially allow the UK to vote on Brexit again without an official referendum.
While that might seem like a good potential option, it still relies on passing May’s unpopular Brexit deal.
Recent polls in the UK suggest that if there were another referendum, Britain could vote to remain in the EU.
A snap poll last week found that nearly two-thirds of respondents support remaining in the EU over Brexiting with May’s current deal.
If the options were remaining or leaving without a deal, remaining would still win.
Almost half of the poll’s respondents said they would support another public vote.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)
Trump Administration Labels Iran Military Unit a Terrorist Group
- The Trump Administration has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, marking the first time the U.S. has given the designation to a foreign government
- This choice has received criticism from military leaders and the intelligence community, as it could set a dangerous precedent for U.S. foreign relations.
- Iran responded by classifying U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization and promising further retaliation.
IRGC Designated As Terrorist Organization
The Trump administration announced Monday that the United States was designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The unprecedented move marks the first time the U.S. has ever named a part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.
Iran’s IRGC is a military unit that was originally created after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 as security for Iran’s religious rulers. Since that time, the IRGC has become Iran’s most powerful security organization.
The unit has an estimated 125,000 personnel, that compose army, navy, and air units, and includes control of Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programs.
The IRGC owns a huge network of businesses that range from oil and gas to construction and telecommunication, essentially giving the unit unlimited political influence in business, real estate, and other sectors of the economy.
The U.S. blames the IRGC for facilitating the deaths of U.S. service member in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East because they have financed, trained, and given weapons to terrorist networks.
What Does This Mean?
In a statement released by the White House, Donald Trump said, “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”
“This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” said Trump, “This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also addressed the situation in a press briefing, where he further elaborated on the reasoning behind the decision.
“We’re doing because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government,” Pompeo said. “This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.”
Pompeo also said that the designation will allow the IRGC to, “Take its rightful place on the same list as terror groups its supports.”
With the new designation, many are wondering what the label entails.
Much like Trump said, the designation, which is set to go into effect next week, will give the U.S. a huge scope of actions they can take against Iran. This includes imposing significant economic sanctions and travel bans on the IRGC and any organizations, companies, or individuals that might have ties to it.
It will also allow the Trump administration to bring criminal charges against the IRGC and any foreign officials that aid them.
Opposition From Military & Intelligence Officials
While the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization is new, it is something that has been debated for years because it is highly controversial in the military and intelligence communities.
The Trump administration has championed the move as a step forward in cracking down on Iran, but top Pentagon and C.I.A. officials strongly oppose the designation.
They argue that it is too strong of a hardline, and could allow Iranian officials to retaliate and justify dangerous and deadly actions against U.S. personnel abroad, especially Special Operations units and paramilitary units that work under the C.I.A.
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are also concerned that the designation would prohibit all contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel – a move that could severely damage diplomatic relations in the region.
U.S. military and intelligence officials also oppose the designation because it sets a dangerous precedent that other countries could use against the U.S.
Matt Levitt, the director of the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the move could prompt Russia and China to start designating U.S. agencies and use the same actions against them that they are taking against Iran.
Others, including an interagency lawyers group, have said the designation is too vague and broad. Some U.S. officials are saying the terrorist designation could include 11 million people, according to the New York Times.
Due to the fact that the IRGC itself is only about 125,000 of that number, the number of people and organizations that have “ties” to the IRGC under the broad definition could be disproportionately targetted, including U.S. allies.
The Iraq Problem
For example, the designation will likely apply to officials in Iraq, which is a key U.S. ally in the region.
Iraq shares a border with Iran, and the two countries are major trading partners. Senior Iraqi officials are against the designation because it could impose travel bans and sanctions on some lawmakers in the government who have ties to Iranian officials.
U.S. officials are also worried that the move could encourage Iraqi parliamentarians to limit the movements and actions of 5,000 U.S. troops who are based in Iraq. This plan has been proposed before and is very popular in Iraq’s parliament. If Iran’s parliament felt as though the U.S. is unfairly restricting them, they could easily retaliate against U.S. troops in their country.
Additionally, U.S. troops and diplomats could be banned from contact with Iraqi authorities who interact with the IRGC and can give the U.S. important intel. That could complicate and even endanger U.S. operations in the region and will most likely complicate U.S. efforts to stop a resurgence of ISIS.
“This isn’t about taking a tough approach to Iran’s support for terrorism,” Said Jeffrey Prescott, a former senior Middle East director at the White House National Security Council, “Rather, it will put our service members in Iraq and throughout the region at additional risk with nothing to show in return.”
Prescott also argued that the backlash against the U.S. will be way worse than any potential benefits, saying:
“There is a reason that successive administrations have held off designating the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization, and why many of Trump’s own military and intelligence officials are said to be highly opposed to the move: The potential blowback vastly outweighs the benefits.”
Iran has already begun its retaliate against the U.S. designation.
Following yesterday’s announcement, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which is a state-run news source in Iran, reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for Central Command to be deemed a terrorist organization, writing:
“Zarif in its letter referred to the US military forces’ covert and open support for the terrorist groups in the region and their direct interference in terror activities and offered the Supreme National Security Council to enlist CENTCOM in its terror list.”
According to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) declared the U.S. a “terrorist government,” and blacklisted CENTCOM.
Fars also reported this morning that Iran’s parliament ratified a bill that stated:
“All US military, security and intelligence forces active in West Asia and all real and legal persons representing them in West Asia region will be declared as terrorist and any financial, technical, training and service and logistical assistance to this group of forces is considered as collaboration in terrorist acts.”
The bill also aims to strengthen the IRGC.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is also the head of the SNSC, responded angrily to the designation in a televised statement.
“You want to use terrorist groups as tools against the nations of the region,” said Rouhani.“You are the leader of world terrorism.”
Other leaders in the Iranian government have threatened reciprocal action against the U.S. if they actually enforce the designation, including Iran’s Defense Minister and the IRGC General Commander.
The Trump Connection
Some people in both the U.S. and Iran have criticized the move as an effort to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before the Israeli election.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif referred to the move as an “election-eve gift to Netanyahu” in a tweet.
Netanyahu himself seemed to reinforce this idea, thanking Trump for this decision in a tweet.
Additionally, others have criticized Trump for a different reason.
Back in 2017, The New Yorker published an extensive investigative report that discovered the Trump Organization had been involved in building Trump Tower Baku a hotel in Azerbaijan.
According to the report, the hotel never opened, and was found “to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”
Currently, it seems like Iran will take action against the U.S. if the designation does take effect, which is it set to do in about a week.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NPR) (Fox News)
Trudeau Expels MPs From Party, Threatens to Sue Opposition Leader
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal Party and banned them from running in October’s election as Liberals.
- Wilson-Raybould, who previously served as the Attorney General and Justice Minister, accused Trudeau of pressuring her to drop a criminal case against Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and reassigning her when she refused.
- Opposition leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau, threatening to sue him for libel over statements he made regarding the case.
Trudeau Kicks Former Ministers Out of Party
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled two former ministers from the Liberal Party, in a move intended to create unity between members of his party.
Trudeau said Tuesday that former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott are no longer allowed in the Liberal Party.
Trudeau also banned Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from running for the party in the federal election in October.
The move comes as Trudeau has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a huge engineering and construction firm based in Canada.
The criminal case against SNC says the company paid millions in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts between 2001 and 2011, including millions of dollars to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
When Trudeau and the Liberal Party took office in 2015, Wilson-Raybould was given oversight of the case against SNC in her role as Justice Minister and Attorney General.
A Scandal is Born
Then in January, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould to the Veterans Affairs Department, which was considered a major demotion.
On February 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report claiming Trudeau and his aides had tried to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. Wilson-Raybould resigned less than a week after the story was published.
Shortly after that, Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee, and claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”
She said what they did was not illegal, but that it crossed informal lines intended to keep politics and criminal prosecutions separate.
Following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Philpott resigned from her post as Treasury Board president, saying in a resignation letter that she had lost all confidence in the government.
Both women remained as members of the Canadian Parliament in the Liberal Party after they stepped down from their cabinet positions.
Why Were They Expelled?
Trudeau has continually denied any wrongdoing and has said he takes the concerns very seriously.
Trudeau’s decision to eject Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is largely considered part of his broader efforts to do damage control as he faces a federal election in October.
However, it has not been unprompted. Parliamentarians have recently pushed Trudeau to remove both women from caucus on the grounds that they were undermining party unity.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau said in a press conference on Tuesday, “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”
Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Stir the Pot
Trudeau’s decisicion to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott did not come out of the blue.
About two weeks ago, Wilson-Raybould publicly released a secret a recording of a phone call she had in December with Canada’s clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who is Canada’s top civil servant.
In the phone call, she told Wernick that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.” Wilson-Raybould released the records shortly after Wernick announced that he was going to step down from his position before the election.
In addition to continually supporting Wilson-Raybould, Philpott also angered members of the Liberal Party after she gave an interview with MacLeans on March 21.
“There’s much more to the story that should be told,” Philpott said in the interveiw, “I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I’m not free to share.”
Both women can still run for election again, but they would have to run as a different party, which could be challenging. Though neither Wilson-Raybould nor Philpott have said they are going to run for Parliament again in October under another party yet.
Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Respond
Wilson-Raybould responded to Trudeau’s move to expel her in a series of tweets on Tuesday, writing, “I have no regrets. I will speak the truth as I will continue to do.”
In a letter to the Liberal Party, Wilson-Raybould wrote a letter to the Liberal party, in which she stated:
“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess. I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings.”
Philpott also responded to her expulsion in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
“It appears that the caucus is intent on staying the current course, regardless of its short-term and long-term consequences to the party and to the country,” Wrote Philpott, “And it has been decided that there is no place for me in the caucus.”
Trudeau’s move to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott may have come from internal pressures inside the Liberal Party as they inch closer to the election, but this kind of action is largely unprecedented in Canadain politics.
“There’s been resignations on disagreements to government policy, there’s been resignations relating to scandal,” said Chris Cochrane, a University of Toronto politics professor, “There’s never been two resignations in recent memory of people resigning on principle … together.”
Cochrane also said that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s ejections especially come as shock because they represent a change of course for Trudeau, who has continually said that Liberals needed strong legislators with different points of view, and who also campaigned on transparency and government accountability.
“The difference here is that Trudeau explicitly promised in the last election to do business differently than previous governments,” Cochrane told the National Post.
Trudeau is also receiving criticism because he has been championed in the past as a self-described feminist and a supporter of indigenous rights.
Now his opponents have used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman, in order to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.
Trudeau Threatens Lawsuit Against Opposition Leader for ‘Libel’
On Sunday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau’s lawyer on March 31 threatening to sue him for libel.
On March 29, Scheer posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter regarding Wilson-Raybould and the SNC case. According to Trudeau’s attorney, Scheer’s statement was“beyond the pale of fair debate” and “libelous.”
The lawyer also said the statement, “Contained highly defamatory comments about Prime Minister Trudeau.” The letter concludes that it should be taken as a notice for any subsequent action.
Scheer responded to the letter in a tweet, writing, “I stand by every single criticism I have made of Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in this scandal.”
The tweet also included a letter from Scheer’s own lawyer in response to Trudeau’s letter, which called the libel claim “completely without merit,” and claimed Scheer was “performing his constitutional duty to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account.”
Scheer also later tweeted that he welcomed Trudeau’s lawsuit, “Because he will finally be forced to testify under oath.”
Whether or not Trudeau will move ahead with the lawsuit is yet to be known.
See what others are saying: (National Post) (CBC) (The Washington Post)
Australian Law Criminalizes Internet Companies that Don’t Remove Violent Content
- Australia passed a law that would criminalize tech companies who don’t remove violent materials from their social and online platforms.
- The legislation was proposed as a direct response to the attacks in Christchurch, and was passed within a week.
- Tech companies and others are criticizing legislators for passing the law too quickly, and for unintended consequences and complications could arise.
What Does the Law Say?
Australian lawmakers passed legislation that will criminalize internet platforms that fail to remove violent content from their site.
The bill, passed Thursday, states that this new law will, “address significant gaps in Australia’s current criminal laws by ensuring that persons who are internet service providers, or who provide content or hosting services, take timely action in relation to abhorrent violent material that can be accessed using their services.”
The goal is to make sure social media and other sites with user-based content “cannot be exploited and weaponised by perpetrators of violence.”
The legislation was created as a response to the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, which were partially live-streamed to Facebook, and viewed by thousands of people. Since then, Facebook has worked to remove 1.5 million versions of the video.
The attacks are mentioned in the bill, and Attorney General Christian Porter also opened his remarks on the bill by paying tribute to the victims.
“Together, we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purposes of spreading their violent and extreme fanatical propaganda.” he added during his reading. “These platforms should not be weaponised for evil purposes.”
According to the bill, “violent content” ranges from anything containing images or audio of terrorist attacks, to murder or attempted murder, and torture, among other things.
Companies who don’t take down these kinds of materials from their sites could end up with penalty fines of up to 10% of the corporate body’s annual turnover. Individuals found responsible could land in jail for up to three years.
Criticism of the Law
The legislation was first introduced by Australia’s Prime Minister last week, and many are critical of both the content of the bill and the speed in which it was passed.
The Law Council of Australia released a statement saying the bill, “could have serious unintended consequences and should not be rushed through the parliament.”
The council’s president, Arthur Moses, also said it could lead to increased amounts of censorship. “As we know, laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences,” he said.
“Whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities committed around the world because social media companies will be required to remove certain content for fear of being charged with a crime. It could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable.”
Tech company leaders are also taking issue with the law. Sunita Bose, the managing director of the Digital Industry Group Inc., which is an advocacy group that represents companies like Facebook and Google, told the New York Times that a lot of work has to be done to find a solution to this problem.
“With the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second,” Bose said, “this is a highly complex problem that requires discussion with the technology industry, legal experts, the media and civil society to get the solution right — that didn’t happen this week.”