Trump Affirms Support for May, U.K. Trade Deal Following Tensions Over Brexit

Leaders meet after president delivered a stinging rebuke in British newspaper interview

Trump Softens Critical Comments About U.K. Prime Minister

Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said they are committed to a post-Brexit trade deal, despite the U.S. president’s earlier criticism of her handling of the U.K.’s Brexit process. Mr. Trump’s visit was met with protests in London. Photo: Getty Images

ELLESBOROUGH, England—President Donald Trump affirmed his commitment to striking a trade deal with the U.K., seeking to walk back earlier comments in which he criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to Brexit and said her plan would “kill” the chances of such a deal.

His softening of his criticism saved Mrs. May some embarrassment at a perilous time for the British leader, as she struggles to hold together a government riven by her plan to closely follow European Union regulations.

But the president, whose visit drew thousands of protesters in London and other places in the country, didn’t back off other comments, made in an interview with a British tabloid, that implicitly criticized Mrs. May. Brexit hard-liners continued to insist his comments would add pressure on Mrs. May to harden her stance in negotiations with the EU. ​

At a joint news conference Friday, Mrs. May said she and Mr. Trump had agreed to pursue an “ambitious” trade deal between the two nations that “works for both countries right across the economies.”

Mr. Trump also said he was open to pursuing a deal once the U.K. leaves the European Union. He signaled an openness to Mrs. May’s approach to Brexit. “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but whatever you do is OK with me,” he said. “That’s your decision.” He said the relationship between the two countries has “never been stronger.”

The exchange was sharply at odds with his interview with the Sun, published late Thursday, in which he said also praised former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who quit the government this week over Brexit. After the interview was published, Mr. Trump said, he told Mrs. May: “I wanted to apologize.” He said she responded: “Don’t worry, it’s only the press.”

The apology was a rare concession for the president, who in the face of criticism is more apt to double down than to walk back his comments, and who often instructs aides to never apologize for their actions.

It also helped to mend the strained relationship between the two leaders. Mrs. May is seeking to strengthen ties with the U.S. as the U.K. turns away from the EU. Mr. Trump is one of the few world leaders who supported Brexit.

Earlier in the day, the two leaders viewed a joint military demonstration by U.S. and U.K. forces and met at Chequers, the U.K. prime minister’s official country house, for a working lunch. Mr. Trump and first lady Melania Trump later traveled to Windsor Castle to meet Queen Elizabeth II, where the queen and the president inspected the Guard of Honour and had tea. In the evening, the couple left for Scotland to stay at one of Mr. Trump’s golf courses for the weekend, before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

The U.S. leader, who was repeatedly questioned by reporters about why he was critical of the prime minister while on U.K. soil, spent much of the news conference heaping praise on Mrs. May, describing her as a “tough” negotiator and calling their relationship “the highest level of special.” While seeking to project unity, the leaders offered divergent views on the value of immigration in Europe. “It’s been very bad for Europe,” Mr. Trump said.

The president arrived in London on Thursday after a contentious North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels, and the extravagant gala dinner hosted by Mrs. May at Blenheim Palace was expected to be a more mellow event. But the evening was upended by the Sun’s interview, published shortly after Mr. Trump departed the dinner.

Mr. Trump on Friday said the Sun didn’t include the positive things he said about the embattled British leader and called the reporting “fake news,” but he reiterated that Mrs. May should take his advice on how to best negotiate with the EU. The Sun posted extensive audio excerpts on its web site but not the full interview.

Downing Street didn’t comment on the interview, but officials and diplomats said they were surprised and angered by the move. The Sun and The Wall Street Journal are both owned by News Corp.


Trump Visits the U.K.: Photos

The president sought to project unity with Prime Minister Theresa May after criticizing her approach to Brexit, and following a tense NATO summit

 President Trump, second right, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, left, talk during a Wednesday NATO breakfast. On the first day, Mr. Trump pressed allies to double their military spending target to 4% of GDP, while questioning NATO’s value and bashing Germany for supporting a gas deal with Russia.
 President Donald Trump meets Queen Elizabeth II as he and first lady Melania Trump arrive for a welcome ceremony at Windsor Castle on Friday.
 The queen, President Trump and the first lady face an honor guard at Windsor Castle.
 The queen and President Trump inspect the Coldstream Guards during the president’s visit to Windsor Castle.
 President Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence in southern England. on Friday.
 President Trump with Prime Minister May prior to the news conference at Chequers.
 First lady Melania Trump and Philip May, the husband of Prime Minister May, stand with schoolchildren during a visit to British military veterans at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in central London on Friday.
 Protesters with a balloon depicting President Trump as an orange baby at Parliament Square in London on Friday.
 Melania Trump, center, tries her hand at lawn bowling during a visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea on Friday.
 President Trump and the first lady, at left, with Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband, Philip, ahead of a dinner with business leaders at Blenheim Palace on Thursday.
 British Prime Minister Theresa May, at right, accompanied President Donald Trump, as their spouses, Philip May and Melania Trump, followed them into Blenheim Palace, near Oxford.
 President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One as they arrive at London's Stansted Airport on Thursday, after leaving the at-times tense NATO summit in Brussels.
 A member of security detail snaps a photo as Air Force One taxis on the tarmac at London Stansted Airport on Thursday. After leaving the NATO summit, President Trump is expected to avoid London as much as possible during his U.K. visit because of protesters.
 President Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and National Security Adviser John Bolton, right, as he addressed an impromptu news conference after the second day of the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday.
 British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, and President Trump stand together as they gather for a group photo during the two-day NATO summit in Brussels Wednesday.
 Emmanuel Macron, right, President Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among other heads of state, at the NATO summit. Mr. Macron said the allies reconfirmed what they had already pledged in recent years, to increase their defense spending to 2% by 2024.
 German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and President Trump met for bilateral talks at the NATO Summit on Wednesday. The following day, Mrs. Merkel told reporters after an emergency NATO session that it had been a ‘very intense summit’ with ‘very serious discussions.’
 Heads of state and government watch a fly-by of NATO aircraft at the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters on Wednesday in Brussels. From left to right, first row: Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump, and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
 President Trump and other NATO leaders at the summit in Brussels.
President Donald Trump meets Queen Elizabeth II as he and first lady Melania Trump arrive for a welcome ceremony at Windsor Castle on Friday.
CHRIS JACKSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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The president’s comment that Mrs. May’s Brexit plan would “probably end a major trade relationship with the United States” came after Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., last week described the president as eager to strike a trade deal between the two nations. “He’s really ready to step up on that the minute we get the go-ahead to do it,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Trump largely traveled by helicopter on his visit, avoiding central London where protesters on Friday inflated a balloon depicting Mr. Trump as an orange baby outside the Houses of Parliament. Tens of thousands of protesters marched against the president in London in the afternoon, and others held demonstrations outside Chequers and Windsor Castle and in other parts of the U.K.

In the Sun interview, Mr. Trump said he had been made to feel “unwelcome” by the protests. “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he said.

One protester in London, Alex Belcher, a 19-year-old student from Essex, said that he understood the U.K. needed to do a trade deal with the U.S., but that there is a limit to the welcome the U.K. should show him. “Rolling out the red carpet like this for someone who has done so many bad things—it’s laughable,” Mr. Belcher said.

Nigel Farage, one of the leaders of the Brexit movement and an ally of Mr. Trump, said Mr. Trump’s comments to the Sun are likely to add pressure on Mrs. May to change course.

“Middle England has been very angry over the past week about what they see as May’s betrayal,” said Nigel Farage, one of the leaders of the Brexit movement.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Jenny Gross at jenny.gross@wsj.com

Appeared in the July 14, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump Affirms Support for May.’

COURTESY: WSJ

Trump blasts Prime Minister Theresa May in interview published during his first official visit to Britain


British Prime Minister Theresa May greets President Trump before a dinner at Blenheim Palace on Thursday. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

 After Prime Minister Theresa May rolled out the red carpet at Blenheim Palace on Thursday night for President Trump’s first official visit to Britain, a London tabloid published an explosive interview in which Trump blasted May’s compromise, pro-business plan to leave the European Union and warned that her approach could imperil any future trade deal between the United States and Britain.

The remarks cast an immediate pall over a visit that included a lavish dinner with business leaders Thursday night and plans to meet Queen Elizabeth II for afternoon tea on Friday. It was the latest international incident to erupt during Trump’s brief sojourn abroad, which kicked off with incendiary comments that upended a NATO summit in Brussels and further strained relationships with longtime U.S. allies.

In addition to attacking May on Brexit, Trump also praised her archrival, Boris Johnson, as a potential future prime minister while attacking London’s mayor as soft on crime and terrorism.

The blunt language and harsh dismissal in Trump’s interview stunned 10 Downing Street.

May’s office did not issue a reply to Trump’s remarks but referred reporters to an earlier statement: “We have come to an agreement at the proposal we’re putting to the European Union which absolutely delivers on the Brexit people voted for. They voted for us to take back control of our money, our law and our borders and that’s exactly what we will do.”

Newspaper editors scrambled to update their front pages. “The ego has landed,” said the Daily Mirror, adding that Trump “embarrasses Prime Minister with attack on her plan for soft Brexit.” On its front page, the Daily Mail said Trump had offered “typically blunt home truths for Britain.”

 0:58
May defends Brexit policy after Trump casts doubt

Responding to President Trump’s remarks on Brexit on the morning of July 12, British Prime Minister Theresa May defended her proposal. 

In the interview, done earlier this week, Trump disparaged May’s Brexit plan: “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

He added: “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one people voted on.”

If May has Britain align its rules and regulations for goods and agricultural products with Europe, following “a common ­rule book” with Brussels, as May puts it, then, Trump said, that could derail a trade deal with Washington.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Sun, which published its splash at 11 p.m. in Britain.

Trump was scheduled to meet with May for talks on Friday.


Activists inflate a giant balloon depicting President Trump as an orange baby ahead of protests in London. (Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

“The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with the Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her,’ ” U.S. press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person.”

The U.S. contingent expected the story to post Friday morning and was startled to leave the dinner Thursday and see it online. Sanders told the British government about the interview but thought it would be somewhat more positive, an official said.

White House officials were scrambling for what to say to May on Friday. “There’s no way Trump will apologize,” a senior U.S. official said. “But we also don’t want to blow everything up.”

A second White House official said Trump had two days of positive interactions with May. But the official also conceded that Trump had talked about her vulnerabilities and criticized her political acumen privately for many months.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

Trump also said to the Sun that he was not spending much time in London on this trip because he did not feel welcome, due to mass demonstrations planned for Friday.

“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he told the paper. “I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”

Trump lashed out at London Mayor Sadiq Khan, too, saying that he’s done a “bad job” on tackling terrorism and crime.

“Take a look at the terrorism that is taking place. Look at what is going on in London. I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism,” Trump said. “I think he has done a bad job on crime, if you look, all of the horrible things going on there, with all of the crime that is being brought in.”

But he spoke glowingly of Johnson, who quit the cabinet this week in protest over May’s plans for a soft Brexit.

“I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me and says very good things about me,” Trump told the tabloid. “I was very saddened to see he was leaving government, and I hope he goes back in at some point. I think he is a great representative for your country.”

Asked whether Johnson could find himself in 10 Downing Street one day, Trump said, “Well I am not pitting one against the other. I am just saying I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Trump did not have public events in Britain on Thursday. Planners have taken great care to keep him from protests.

After his trips overseas to Asia and the Middle East, Trump went on for days about the grandiose treatment — and the Brits were clearly trying to do well by him.

At the dinner, in her remarks, May made her pitch to Trump. She began by noting that “Sir Winston Churchill once said that ‘to have the United States at our side was, to me, the greatest joy.’ ”

Then she moved to the deals she hoped to strike. “Now, as we prepare to leave the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do more. It’s an opportunity to reach a free trade agreement that creates jobs and growth here in the U.K. and right across the United States,” she said.

The prime minister said that Brexit offered the chance “to tear down the bureaucratic barriers that frustrate business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic,” according to an account provided by 10 Downing Street.

An hour later, the interview with the Sun appeared and seemed to dash May’s hopes.

Brian Klaas, a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics, said May is walking a tightrope. She needs Trump to promise fantastic trade deals and help May deliver the “global Britain” she has promised. But she can’t appear fawning.

“Her political base and the broader British public do not like Donald Trump,” Klaas said. “She also wants to show that in a post-Brexit world, Britain can still be a major player, and Trump is central to that narrative.”

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London think tank, said that for May, the Trump visit “was something to be survived.”

Recalling the disaster that struck British leader Tony Blair, in his embrace of George W. Bush and his alliance with Washington in the Iraq War, Niblett said May would be extremely wary of being seen as “Trump’s poodle.”

Organizers of Britain’s nationwide protests are committed to staging some of the largest demonstrations since 2003, when hundreds of thousands hit the streets to oppose war in Iraq.

Organizers said that from the moment Trump landed on British soil to the moment he leaves, he will be met by a “carnival of resistance.” A giant “Trump Baby” balloon will fly over Parliament Square. Protesters plan to shout at Trump at places he will be visiting — Winfield House, Blenheim Palace, Chequers, Windsor Castle and his Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. Others will assemble in  towns and cities up and down the country.

“I’m marching because of the disdain that Trump has shown for Britain and because of his disgraceful treatment of minorities in the United States,” said David Lammy, a leading member in the opposition Labour Party.

“Whenever London experiences a tragedy, it’s also the case that Trump licks his lips and tweets,” he said.

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

Boris Johnson quits as UK Foreign Secretary; Jeremy Hunt announced as replacement

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resigned, becoming the latest Brexiteer to quit PM Theresa May’s Cabinet. It follows May’s attempts to strong arm her Cabinet into accepting a so-called “soft Brexit.”

    
Großbritannien Boris Johnson in London (Reuters/H. McKay)

Boris Johnson on Monday resigned as UK foreign minister, the second resignation from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet in less than 24 hours. Roughly six hours later, Downing Street announced that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt would take Johnson’s place.

The announcement of Johnson’s departure followed a day of confusion, with the minister absent first from a COBRA national security meeting connected to Russia and Novichok, and then from an EU-Balkans summit he was hosting in London.

“This afternoon, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary,” an emailed statement from May’s office said. “His replacement will be announced shortly. The Prime Minister thanks Boris for his work.”

Johnson had been expected as co-host of an afternoon summit on the Western Balkans in London on Monday but did not show up. His resignation was announced around an hour after he was set to open proceedings.

Watch video01:29

UK: Exit of Brexit minister throws May Cabinet into chaos

Johnson and former Brexit Secretary David Davis’ departures underline May’s struggle to unite her Conservative party as negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union enter their crucial phase.

During Friday’s 12-hour Cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s country residence Chequers, May appeared on Friday to have secured approval for a so-called “soft Brexit” — with the UK retaining strong economic ties to the EU after leaving. However, in private, Johnson, a vocal pro-Brexit voice in the government, reportedly criticized May’s plans as “polishing a turd.”

In her letter to Johnson, May said: “I am sorry — and a little surprised — to receive (the resignation letter) after the productive discussions we had at Chequers on Friday, and the comprehensive and detailed proposal which we agreed as a Cabinet.”

Beth Rigby

@BethRigby

May letter to Johnson. Sorry and a little surprised to see him go.

After announcing his resignation late on Sunday, Davis told British media he was stepping down because he did not believe in May’s Brexit plan, claiming it would leave the UK “in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”

Both Davis and Johnson are said to now believe that a “no deal” Brexit would be preferable to May’s plans.

Watch video06:29

Nicola Sturgeon: UK lacks realism in Brexit negotiations

Addressing parliament after Johnson’s resignation in a turbulent atmosphere, May also repeatedly alluded to the prospect of leaving without a deal if necessary. However, she insisted that her Brexit blueprint was the only way to avoid a hard Irish borderand that there was a chance Brussels would move to accept it.

“What we are proposing is challenging for the EU,” May told the House of Commons. “It requires them to think again, to look beyond the positions they have taken so far and to agree a new and fair balance of rights and obligations.”

Johnson: Brexit ‘dream is dying’

In his resignation letter, released later on Monday, Johnson accused the government plan of relegating the UK’s status to effectively that of a colony.

“We are now in the ludicrous position of asserting that we must accept huge amounts of precisely such EU law, without changing an iota, because it is essential for our economic health — and when we no longer have any ability to influence these laws as they are made,” Johnson wrote. “In that respect we are truly headed for the status of a colony …

“The dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt,” he added.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Boris Johnson

@BorisJohnson

I am proud to have served as Foreign Secretary. It is with sadness that I step down: here is my letter explaining why.

Brussels responds to UK Cabinet resignations

Commenting on recent spate of resignations in Westminster, European Council President Donald Tusktweeted “who knows” if the idea of Brexit would not also disappear.

Donald Tusk

@eucopresident

Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for people remain. I can only regret that the idea of has not left with Davis and Johnson. But…who knows?

Earlier, Tusk told reporters that “mess caused by Brexit” was a problem that wouldn’t disappear alongside the political departures. Asked to comment on Davis’ resignation, the former Polish prime minister told reporters in Brussels: “Politicans come and go but the problems they have created for their people remain. And the mess caused by Brexit is the biggest problem in the history of EU-UK relations.”

Asked about his reaction to Johnson’s resignation, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sarcastically remarked that “this clearly proves that at Chequers, there was unity in the cabinet.”

Farage vows comeback if government fails to deliver Brexit

Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), pledged late on Monday that he would return to politics if for whatever reason the UK failed to meet its March 2019 deadline for leaving the EU.

Read more: Nigel Farage addresses Germany’s far-right AfD

“My own red line is that if Article 50 is suspended or delayed, I will have no chance but to resume campaigning in all part of the United Kingdom,” Farage said during his talk show on UK’s LBC radio, adding that he would even consider putting his name forward to once again becoming UKIP leader.

“I never thought I would say that again, but the government’s sell-out leaves me with no choice. The latest Brexit betrayal must be reversed.”

dm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

COURTESY: DW

In Eastern Europe, the E.U. faces a rebellion more threatening than Brexit


An honor guard stands in formation outside the Hungarian parliament in Budapest. (Akos Stiller/Bloomberg News)
 April 5 at 5:00 AM 
It was a continent-wide party to mark the end of history.On a spring night in 2004, a chorus sang in a Warsaw square. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” — the anthem of the European Union — echoed across once-bloody frontiers. Midnight fireworks sparkled along the Mediterranean. The next morning, organizers set a white-tablecloth breakfast on Budapest’s Chain Bridge for revelers still celebrating the dawn of a new era for Europe.

“The divisions of the Cold War are gone — once and for all,” declared then-European Commission President Romano Prodi as he welcomed 10 new members to the E.U., eight from the former communist East.

And yet, 14 years later, new divisions are emerging — many of them following old lines. The triumph of liberal democracy is being attacked from within by E.U. members that openly deride the club’s values, principles and rules. The bloc, meanwhile, has been incapable of fighting back, its weakness a side effect of the optimism with which it grew.

Ground zero for the rebellion is here in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban is running for reelection Sunday with boasts of his illiberalism, swipes at the hostile E.U. “empire” and promises to further tighten his grip on a country dancing ever closer to the edge of autocracy.

 3:10
Is Hungary’s election the country’s last chance to avoid autocracy?

Hungary is in the midst of a divisive election that will decide if the country’s anti-immigrant prime minister gets a third straight term in office. 

Orban’s defiance presents the E.U. with a far different threat than the one it faced in 2016, when Britain voted to exit and speculation swirled over who might go next. It may be more serious than that — a challenge that endangers the character of the union.

“Orban doesn’t want to leave the E.U.,” a senior German official said. “He really wants to change the E.U.”

By some measures, he’s succeeding. Far from being a pariah, Orban has found imitators in Poland and admirers in the Czech Republic, Austria and even at top political levels in Germany.

Orban’s European opponents, meanwhile, have proved unable to curb his behavior. Rather than punish Hungary for its intransigence, Brussels continues to supply the government with billions of euros in E.U. subsidies — money that Orban’s domestic critics say is vital to his survival because it boosts the economy and puts cash in the pockets of favored cronies.

“Orban is waging his freedom fight against the E.U. with huge amounts of E.U. money,” said ­Peter Kreko, executive director of the Budapest-based policy research firm Political Capital. “Lenin said, ‘Capitalists will sell the rope to us with which we’ll hang them.’ Well, the E.U. is not selling. It’s giving it to Orban for free.”

The E.U. never gave itself adequate tools for dealing with a wayward leader such as Orban because it never imagined needing them, even as the alliance spread far beyond its original Western European core to countries with scant experience of democratic governance.

At the start of the millennium, the bloc had just 15 members — none of them east of the old Iron Curtain. But after the fall of communism, East European countries that had been in the orbit of the Soviet Union looked to the E.U. and NATO as institutions that could bind them to the West and keep them out of Moscow’s grasp. Prosperous Western neighbors spotted an opportunity to spread their influence across the continent.

Fireworks over Budapest celebrate the enlargement of the European Union on May 1, 2004. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Everyone assumed that, with time, differences would recede as the new members grew to adopt the values, rules and institutions of the old ones.

“We wanted to believe it. History would go on and we would be on the right side of it,” said the German official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the record. “We never imagined that history could go the other way.”

For Hungarians, too, there were expectations that, in retrospect, look naively optimistic.

“It was a fantastic constellation. We wanted it. The West wanted it. It was back wind in every respect,” said Peter Balazs, a former Hungarian diplomat who was deeply engaged in the E.U. accession process. “And the follow-up was in the fairy tales: They live happily ever after.”

Balazs, who would go on to become the country’s foreign minister, said Hungary spent a decade proving to the E.U. that it was worthy of membership, working assiduously to meet the club’s strict rules for entry.

But once Hungary had joined, the union’s best leverage to keep the country on a free and democratic path evaporated. Meanwhile, no one had seriously planned for what would happen after Hungary and others joined the bloc — a failure that Balazs attributed to parallel illusions.

“A Hungarian illusion that the E.U. would do it, that somebody else would solve our problems,” he said. “And for Europe, the illusion that they would be like us.”

The result was fertile ground for Orban. Since coming to power in 2010, he has simultaneously used the bloc as a rhetorical foil and cash spigot — all without fear of meaningful consequences.

“I have, in fact, more respect for the decency of Euroskeptics who at least say, ‘Well, I don’t like the European Union, and I don’t like the values, and I’ll go out,’ ” Guy Verhofstadt, who was prime minister of Belgium when Hungary joined the E.U., told Orban last year when the Hungarian leader came to speak at the European Parliament. “You want to continue the money of European funds, the money of the European Union, but not the European values.”

Verhofstadt, who is now the leader of a centrist bloc of the European Parliament, has condemned fellow E.U. leaders for refusing to hit Hungary with sanctions.

Orban openly brags of his aim to build “an illiberal state based on national foundations” and cites Russia and China as exemplary models.

He has consolidated his party’s influence over formerly independent arms of the Hungarian state and society, including prosecutors’ offices, government auditors and the media. If he wins reelection, as is widely expected, the 54-year-old Orban has promised to press ahead with legislation that would allow the banning of aid groups that work on behalf of refugees or other immigrants.

On the campaign trail, he delights crowds by lashing out at Brussels, part of a trinity of enemies that also includes Muslim refugees and the Hungarian American investor George Soros.

As recently as 2011, Hungary scored the highest rating possible from Freedom House, an international nongovernmental organization, but it is now the least free of all E.U. members. The corruption monitor Transparency International ranks it the second most corrupt country in the bloc, just behind Bulgaria.

Yet Hungary is also among the greatest net beneficiaries of E.U. funds, receiving 4.5 billion euros (or $5.5 billion) in 2016 — equivalent to 4 percent of the country’s economic output — while contributing less than 1 billion euros, or $1.23 billion.

The money has helped to buoy the Hungarian economy, which has been growing at a healthy clip. It also has found its way into the pockets of friends, allies and family members of the prime minister.

“It’s E.U. taxpayers that feed the system and allow Orban to grow strong,” said Sandor ­Lederer, chief executive of the Budapest-based anti-corruption watchdog K-Monitor. “He’s decided it’s not enough for you to be the political leader. You also have to be the leader of the thieves, and this is the only way you can really exercise power.”

The mayor of Orban’s home village, a gas-fitter by trade, has become one of Hungary’s richest men during his schoolmate’s run leading the nation. Much of his wealth has been fueled by government contracts.

Companies owned or operated by Orban’s son-in-law have also fared well in the competition for government work, winning lucrative E.U.-funded contracts to upgrade street lighting in towns and cities across the nation. In January, the E.U.’s anti-fraud monitor found “serious irregularities” and “conflicts of interest” in the awarding of those contracts, which totaled more than 40 million euros, or nearly $50 million.

But Brussels-based investigators are virtually powerless to do anything about it. Authority to pursue the matter resides in Hungary, with prosecutors who are widely perceived to do the bidding of the ruling party.

That is typical of the E.U.’s dilemma in how to address Hungary’s piece-by-piece moves against the rule of law and democratic norms.

Until recently, the bloc did not even have measures to address rule-of-law violations that fell short of triggering the bloc’s nuclear option — E.U. sanctions that would suspend a country’s voting rights.

In 2013, as a direct reaction to Orban’s moves, the E.U. enacted new rules that gave policymakers in Brussels the power to flag developments in member countries that set off rule-of-law concerns and force a dialogue with national leaders. But the new powers were not retroactive, and Hungary had already enshrined many of its legal changes. The rules also lacked teeth. Although E.U. officials searched for ways to open investigations, they found Orban was an excellent tactician, walking right up to their lines without crossing them.

“We can’t just go in there flippantly,” said a senior E.U. official who is involved in monitoring violations of European treaties and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe backroom discussions.

Meanwhile, the nuclear option — known as Article 7 — has effectively been neutralized. The problem was underlined after the European Commission triggered the article for the first time in December against Poland. But the like-minded governments in Poland and Hungary have vowed to protect one another should either be targeted.

Other countries, too, may have Hungary’s back. Away from the campaign trail, Orban can often be seen joking around with fellow leaders at E.U. summits in Brussels. If they were to move against Orban, it would cost them comity and allies at an already fractious time.

It could also cost them politically at home. Orban’s relentless attacks on refugees and immigrants have been a winning message in Hungary. Others, including Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, have taken notice and adopted similarly hard-line messages, while publicly welcoming the Hungarian prime minister as an honored guest.

Far from fearing the E.U.’s wrath, Orban’s allies see the historical pendulum swinging their way.

“More and more, political leaders in Europe are coming to the same conclusion,” ruling party spokesman Balazs Hidveghi said. “Viktor Orban is right.”

Birnbaum reported from Brussels. Gergo Saling in Budapest contributed to this report.

Cambridge Analytica: Who are they, and did they really help Trump win the White House?

After the claims made by whistleblower Christopher Wylie, some have suggested the company might be all-powerful, but others wonder if it was more master of PR than master of the universe

Two weeks before the US Presidential election, a British businessman with a fondness for Savile Row suits and polo made an extraordinary boast to a reporter from the Washington Post.

Alexander Nix – ‘Bertie’ to his chums from Eton and elsewhere – said his company had developed a psychological model for identifying voters that could “determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.”

And, Bertie seemed to imply, through the power of so-called “big data and psychographics”, his company was going to help Donald Trump win the election.

Of course, everyone knew Hillary was going to win, so no-one really paid any attention to Bertie, or what the Washington Postdescribed as his “little-known company”, Cambridge Analytica.

Until election night.

Three days after Donald Trump became President-Elect of the United States, Cambridge Analytica issued a press release, modestly entitled: “The Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result”.

It began with a quote from veteran pollster Frank Lutz: “There are no longer any experts except Cambridge Analytica. They were Trump’s digital team who figured out how to win.”

Suddenly everybody wanted to know about Cambridge Analytica, the firm which may – or may not – have had links with the Brexitcampaign and whose website (still) promises that it “uses data to change audience behaviour”.

There were sceptics.  One Republican political consultant told The Spectator that Trump had been “played for a rube” by people spouting expensively packaged “nonsense”.  But there weren’t many sceptics.

After being informed by Mr Nix that “Creative-led blanket advertising is being replaced by data-driven individualised advertising”, The Spectator concluded: “Don Draper is dead — replaced by a twentysomething chugging Diet Coke at a laptop.”

christopher-wylie.jpg
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has been described as ‘the data nerd who came in from the cold’ (Reuters)

Now, though, it seems that the useful, computer coding twentysomething has stopped chugging Coke and starting talking, to journalists.

He goes by the name of Christopher Wylie and he’s still only 28, although he started working for Cambridge Analytica in the early days, in 2014.

“The data nerd who came in from the cold,” The Observer called him.

Cambridge Analytica: Chris Wylie tells Channel 4 News data for 50 million Facebook profiles was obtained

The gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool” was how the pink-haired, nose-pierced Wylie described himself.

Cambridge Analytica, Wylie claimed, had been involved in harvesting the personal information of some 50 million Facebook users without proper authorisation.

And now Wylie has given further details to the Washington Post about how he worked with Steve Bannon, who was Cambridge Analytica’s vice-president between June 2014 and August 2016, with Mr Nix as chief executive.

During this time, Wylie admitted, his data mining helped the firm discover how young, conservatively-minded whites responded positively to certain phrases, like “drain the swamp”, or “deep state”.

Independent reporter Jeremy B. White kicked off Facebook campus… for filming a Facebook live

The same groups, Cambridge Analytica found, also liked the idea of a big wall to keep out immigrants.

Bannon, Wylie and the Washington Post made clear, might not have known the detail of how Cambridge Analytica got its data or that it might have been harvested from Facebook.

And, Wylie added, in 2014: “Trump wasn’t in our consciousness.  This was well before he became a thing.  He wasn’t a client or anything.”

steve-bannon.jpg
Steve Bannon went from being vice-president of Cambridge Analytica to chief strategist for Donald Trump (Getty)

But Bannon went on to become the presidential candidates’s chief strategist and, in many people’s eyes, his eminence grise, the controlling intelligence behind Donald Trump’s brute force and ignorance.

Wylie, it seems, watched horrified as those messages become core slogans in the campaign speeches of Donald Trump.

And shortly before Wylie spoke to the Washington Post, it emerged that Bertie himself had been boasting, this time to a wealthy Sri Lankan businessman who turned out to be an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News.

Cambridge Analytica, Mr Nix seemed to be suggesting, could use more than data to change audience behaviour.  Women, the covert recording seemed to reveal him saying, could be hired to entice a political rival into the kind of reputation-destroying honeytrap that could be leaked to the media.

“We could send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” Mr Nix seemingly declared. “We could bring some Ukranians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying? They are very beautiful. I find that works very well.”

Mr Nix, 42, has now been suspended by the Cambridge Analytica board “pending a full independent investigation”.

There has also been a flurry of denials from Cambridge Analytica to every publicly aired allegation.

But those of conspiratorial mind might start to wonder whether the tale of Bertie and his Cambridge Analytica pals suggests that while Old Etonians like David Cameron can be PM until unseated by Brexit, other Old Etonians decide – and keep on deciding – who runs the country.

There is, though, an alternative interpretation, one that requires a look at who Mr Nix and his Cambridge Analytica partners are, and which wonders whether they might be smart, smooth-talking members of the upper class whose PR far outstrips their actual power.

Or, to express the possibility in the rather more colourful languageof a rival, American, Republican data scientist: “They’ve got a Brit wearing Savile Row suits who gives you a great pitch …but with psychographic profiling there’s nothing there. They’re really, really smart people … like a bunch of board-certified doctors who decided to make a lot more money selling snake oil.”

There seems little doubt they made a pile of money.

When Mr Nix was boasting to the Washington Post about the power to determine the personality of every single adult, the newspaper was quoting federal filings showing the Trump campaign’s payments to Cambridge Analytica had come to $5m in September 2016.

It also seems that the people at the top of Cambridge Analytica and its London-based parent company the SCL Group are exceedingly well connected.

Among those who co-founded the group with Mr Nix in 2005 was Sir Geoffrey Pattie, a former defence minister and trade minister under Margaret Thatcher who was also vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in 1990.  Sir Geoffrey, reported by The Timesto have been the group’s founding chairman, resigned from SCL in 2008.

When Cambridge Analytica itself was created in 2013, it was reportedly backed by $15m ($10.7m) from Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire and Republican party donor who until last year had a stake in Breitbart, the “alt-right” news website co-founded by Steve Bannon.

Another co-founder of the SCL Group, who retains a key role in it, is Nigel Oakes, 55.

nigel-oakes.jpg
Nigel Oakes (Flickr/STRATCOM COE)

Mr Oakes, The Independent reported in August 2000, had, like Mr Nix, been to Eton and, again, those who met him spoke of his charm, good manners and immaculate tailoring.

Such attributes may have helped him gain his first brief brush with public attention as the boyfriend, between November 1983 and May 1984, of the minor Royal Lady Helen Windsor, the daughter of the Duke of Kent.

According to The Times, his career prior to the SCL Group also included a spell running a mobile disco called Traitor.

By the time he caught The Independent’s attention in 2000, though, he was working from a very high-tech office in Jakarta as image consultant to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

At least one of his employees thought the suave Old Etonian, with his mysterious working methods, was worthy of comparison with 007.

“We called him Mr Bond,” the employee said, “Because he is English, and such a mystery.”

At the same time, however, The Independent’s correspondent seemed less than impressed with Mr Oakes’ image management, writing: “The use of international PR agencies by national leaders and their governments has become commonplace … But for all his computers and camera equipment, Mr Oakes was hardly in the same league.  His work appears to have been rather limited.”

Mr Oakes, though, does not seem ever to have shared such doubts about his abilities.

In 1992, having started another consultancy business specialising in “behavioural influence”, he told the trade magazine Marketingthat to get people’s agreement on a functional level you had appeal to them on an emotional level, reportedly characterising this approach as: “We use the same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler”.

Mr Nix, Mr Oakes and Mr Bannon, then, were some of the people into whose orbit Mr Wylie entered in 2014 when he accepted Mr Nix’s offer of work, which, according to The Observer, came wrapped in the enticing promise: “We’ll give you total freedom. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.”

Mr Wylie, of course, did not have Bertie or Nigel’s schooling or pedigree.  Diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a teenager, he had left a Canadian school aged 16 without a single qualification.

But he had taught himself to code aged 20, and he was, according to a senior politician who has known him since about that time, “One of the brightest people you will ever meet.”

Aged 24, Wylie was thrilled at the intellectual possibilities presented by Cambridge Analytica and the chance to test “crazy ideas” about developing digital data.

Now, older, possibly wiser, and no longer working for the company, he seems to regard what he did in a different light.

According to a friend who spoke to The Observer, Wylie fears he has helped create the Cambridge Analytica “data Frankenmonster”.

While always insisting there is nothing sinister behind it, Mr Nix has at times seemed to revel in the power of the company’s creation.

Soon after Trump’s victory he was quoted by Switzerland’s Das Magazin as saying: “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven.”

Cambridge Analytica: Dr Aleksandr Kogan denies responsibility for data from Facebook being used in US Presidential campaign

Das Magazin reported that before Trump’s team was able to test 175,000 different variations for his arguments.

From July 2016, the report said, Trump canvassers were provided with an app allowing them to identify the political views and personality type of a given house, and the outline conversation scripts that would work with the inhabitants.

“We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals,” Mr Nix was quoted as saying.

And before the election in America, there was the Brexit vote in the UK.

In February 2016, four months before the referendum, an article with the byline “Alexander Nix” appeared in Campaign, the magazine for the marketing and advertising industries.

“Recently,” the article said, “Cambridge Analytica has teamed up with Leave.EU – the UK’s largest group advocating for Breixt – to help them better understand and communicate with UK voters. We have already helped supercharge Leave.EU’s social media campaign by ensuring the right messages are getting to the right voters online, and the campaign’s Facebook page is growing in support to the tune of about 3,000 people per day.”

Cambridge Analytica: Theresa May addresses government connections at PMQs

This was also four months before Cambridge Analytica was hired by Team Trump.  So the article instead detailed the firm’s role in helping Ted Cruz achieve a “stunning victory” over “bombastic billionaire Donald Trump” in the Iowa Republican presidential primary.

“Cambridge Analytica (CA) worked with the campaign for over a year to develop predictive data models in order to identify, engage, persuade and turnout voters for Cruz,” the article stated.

“CA was able to provide the campaign with predictive analytics based on more than 5,000 data points on every voter in the United States. From there, CA’s team of political consultants and psychologists guided the campaign on what to say and how to say it to specific groups of voters.

“The degree of granularity that can be achieved when you have the right data and the tactical operation to put it into action is incredible

“Ultimately, what made the difference in Iowa was that Senator Cruz used data analytics to gain an in-depth understanding of Iowa voters, and then used every communication tool at his disposal to talk to them directly. Meanwhile, Donald Trump was delivering the same message to an indistinguishable mass of voters who he didn’t really understand – and the rest is history.”

There were some who refused to believe.

Eitan Hersh, a Yale professor and author of Hacking the Electoratewas quoted as saying that Cambridge Analytica’s claim about predicting personality was “basically impossible. . . . You can do better randomly guessing.”

But Hersh said that before the US election, and anyway he is an expert – and as we all know, people have had enough of experts.

Perhaps, therefore, sceptics about the power of psychographics should rely on the word of … er, Mr Nix of Cambridge Analytica.

In late February 2018, as worries about Cambridge Analytica’s influence grew, but before the current set of allegations emerged, the chief executive was questioned by MPs on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.

He was reassurance itself.

That February 2016 Campaign article, he said, the one alleging a link-up with the Brexit campaign and spectacular results on behalf of Ted Cruz: he never wrote it.

Despite it carrying his byline, it had been authored by a “slightly overzealous PR consultant”.

Alas, he added, “We tried to correct the press again and again and again, but unfortunately and somewhat ironically this was an example of fake news that got disseminated and spun out virally.”

Cambridge Analytica might have sought Brexiteer custom, he insisted, but it never got it.  Leave.EU didn’t give them the chance to influence the referendum, said Mr Nix: “We dated each other, we had a couple of dinners, we didn’t get married.”

And despite whatever impressions some people might have formed about Cambridge Analytica, they weren’t the masters of the universe.  They were just a “small technology company”.

“Do you see yourselves as an all-powerful presence with all this knowledge and data that you’ve got?” asked Tory MP Rebecca Pow.

“That’s very flattering that you might suggest people might see us as having these incredible powers,” replied the Old Etonian. “[But] what we’re doing is really no different to what the advertising industry at large is doing across the commercial space.”

“We are a small technology company,” he insisted.  “The science of political campaigning goes back hundreds of years and what we’re doing is a natural evolution to what’s been done before and many other people are doing as well.”

There have been further clarifications since Mr Wylie started talking, not least an insistence that Cambridge Analytica had never claimed it won the election for Donald Trump.

“This is patently absurd,” the company said. “We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.”

In fact, since Cambridge Analytica only joined Team Trump in June 2016, five months before the election, there was a limit to the sophistication of the operation that they could launch – as  the company had explained shortly after the election.

Faced with setting up an entire data operation from scratch, it had relied a lot more than it normally would have done on conventional polling, simply using its cutting edge “psychographics” to get sharper predictions from the conventionally acquired data.

No Facebook data was used, the company said, and there was no personality-targeted advertising for the Trump campaign either.

trump drug prices
Some have questioned Cambridge Analytica’s power to predict – or influence – Donald Trump’s election victory  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In fact, a close re-reading of that press release about “Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result” might suggest that, for all the invincible aura now surrounding Cambridge Analytica, it never straight out said Trump was going to win.

“The firm knew that Mr. Trump had a very solid shot at winning,” is what the press release actually says, along with a quote from Matt Oczkowski, Cambridge Analytica’s Head of Product: “The outcome was very difficult to predict, and we didn’t get every state right, but we saw the trends.”

The Spectator reported that Cambridge Analytica had given Trump a 30 per cent chance of victory as people went to vote – better than nearly every other pollster, but perhaps not quite proof of unassailable predictive power.

Cambridge Analytica itself has been keen to stress that whatever power it does possess is not used exclusively in the service of a particular right-wing ideology.  It might be proud of its work for the Trump campaign, but the company has also insisted: “We work with parties on both the centre-left and the centre-right.”

And, the company adds, without naming the companies involved, “most of our work is for commercial brands.”

As for the alleged sinister harvesting of Facebook data, Cambridge Analytica says this was received from a “seemingly reputable” contractor “in good faith” in 2014.  The company says the data was deleted in its entirety “in co-operation with Facebook” in 2015 “after it subsequently became known that [the contractor] had not adhered to data protection regulation”.

This contractor does have a different take on things, and has spoken of feeling “used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when we thought we were doing everything appropriately.”

There also seems to be a difference of opinion between Cambridge Analytica and Channel 4 News about the context behind what Mr Nix supposedly said to the undercover reporter.

Mr Nix, according to Cambridge Analytica, had been humouring the ‘Sri Lankan businessman’ in order to test his integrity and see whether this was a client he could work with.

A company press release stated: “A senior Cambridge Analytica executive clearly set out the principles which govern its work and said the following to the undercover reporter:

“‘We’re not in the business of fake news, we’re not in the business of lying, making stuff up, and we’re not in the business of entrapment… There are companies that do this but to me that crosses a line.’

“Despite this clear statement, the undercover reporter later attempted to entrap Cambridge Analytica executives by initiating a conversation about unethical practices.

“After several meetings discussing ostensibly legitimate projects, the reporter unexpectedly and suddenly turned the conversation towards practices such as corruption and the entrapment of political figures.”

“Assessing the legality and reputational risks associated with new projects is critical for us,” the press release explained, “And we routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.

“The two Cambridge Analytica executives at the meeting humoured these questions and actively encouraged the prospective client to disclose his intentions. They left with grave concerns and did not meet with him again.”

There was, though, an acknowledgement that Mr Nix might have been a little ill-judged in how he sought to tease out the potential client’s unethical intentions.

“Alexander Nix acknowledges that on this occasion he misjudged the situation,” the press release says.

It includes a statement from Mr Nix himself: “In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.

“I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case. I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.

“I deeply regret my role in the meeting and I have already apologised to staff. I should have recognised where the prospective client was taking our conversations and ended the relationship sooner.”

As for Mr Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica line is that he is “a former contractor who left in 2014 and is misrepresenting himself and the company throughout his comments.”

Mr Wylie, though, has reportedly submitted a dossier of evidence to the UK’s Information Commissioner and is said to have plans to testify to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

It seems Cambridge Analytica, a company imagined by some to be all-powerful, may yet have more to deal with from the once compliant coder.

Courtesy: INDEPENDENT

Britain sees drop in net migration from the European Union

The number of EU citizens leaving Britain has reached its highest level in a decade, while fewer are arriving. It is unclear if concerns surrounding Brexit are a major factor in people’s decision to leave.

Großbritannien Grenzkontrolle (picture-alliance/empics/S. Parsons)

Watch video01:04

David Davis: No Mad Max economy to undercut rivals

Estimated net migration from the European Union to Britain fell below 100,000 for the first time in five years from September 2016 to September 2017, figures from the British Office for National Statistics (ONS)showed on Thursday.

Some 220,000 EU citizens arrived in Britain in this time period, which is down 47,000 from the previous 12 months, while 130,000 left the country — the highest rate since 2008.

The resulting net figure of 90,000 is approximately the same level as in 2012.

“Looking at the underlying numbers, we can see that EU net migration has fallen as fewer EU citizens are arriving, especially those coming to look for work in the UK, and the number leaving has risen,” said Nicola White, the ONS’s head of international migration statistics.

Agricultural workers from eastern Europe (Imago/i Images/A. Parsons)Many farmers in Britain are concerned about an expected lack of seasonal workers from the EU

UK population still growing through migration

Total net migration from all sources was estimated at 244,000. Although that is down 27,000 from the previous 12 months, it is still well above the figure of less than 100,000 pledged by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

According to the ONS, a peak in net migration over the past decade was reached in 2015 (336,000), while in 2012, that figure lay at 154,000.

White said the decrease in net migration from the EU could reflect concerns surrounding Britain’s impending exit from the bloc but said the figures needed to be treated with caution.

“Brexit could well be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK, but people’s decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons,” she said.

Many EU nationals already living in the UK are concerned that their citizens’ rights will be curtailedwhen Britain leaves at the end of March 2019.

DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Watch video04:21

Brexit is worrying Gibraltar

COURTESY: DW

Soros & the £400k Question: What constitutes ‘foreign interference’ in democracy?

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at http://www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Soros & the £400k Question: What constitutes ‘foreign interference’ in democracy?
You’d have to have a real sense of humor failure not to laugh. The news that US billionaire Soros donated £400k to an anti-Brexit group came on the day that YouTube said they found no evidence of Russian interference in Brexit.

Repeat After Me (with robotic arm movements): “Unproven Russian involvement in Brexit – terrible! Impose more sanctions on Moscow! A £400k check from an American billionaire for an anti-Brexit campaigning group – that’s no problem; it’s helping our democracy!”

You don’t have to own a brand new £999 state-of-the art Hypocrisy Detector from Harrods, to pick up on the double standards. Just having a few functioning brain cells and thinking for yourself will do. For months in the UK we’ve been bombarded with Establishment-approved conspiracy theories – peddled in all the ’best’ newspapers – that Russia somehow ‘fixed’ Brexit. Getting Britain to leave the EU was all part of a cunning plot by Vladimir Putin, aka Dr. Evil, to weaken Europe and the ‘free world.’

Even West End musical composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who knows quite a bit about phantoms, seemed taken in by it. “By quitting Europe, I fear that we are hastening Putin’s dream of the break-up of the EU – and with it, potentially, western civilisation,”the noble Lord declared in July.

Never mind that we don’t have a single statement from Putin or other senior Kremlin figures saying that they actually supported Brexit. These Establishment Russia-bashers know exactly what The Vlad is thinking.

And never mind that RT and Sputnik, which we are repeatedly told are “propaganda arms of the Russian government,” ran articles by pro- and anti-Brexit writers. The same people who told us Iraq had WMDs in 2003 were absolutely sure it was those dastardly Russkies who had got Britain to vote ‘leave.’ The irony is of course that there was significant foreign interference in Brexit. But it didn’t come from Moscow.

You’ve got to see the funny side of this: all that hysterical fake news about ‘Russian interference’ in Brexit & here we have one side receiving £400K from a US billionaire who is part of the US political establishment. Is that not ‘interference’ ?!! http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-42984594 

Or Obama actually visiting the U.K. to urge people to vote Remain. Imagine if Putin did the same for Leave!

The US has always wanted Britain to stay in the EU. In April 2016, two months before the Referendum, President Obama made it clear what he wanted when he visited the UK. He warned that if Britain exited the EU it would be “at the back of the queue” for trade deals with the US.

Just imagine if Putin had said that. The Russophobes would have spontaneously combusted.

Then of course there was the backing the Remain camp had from the giants of US capital. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan donated £500,000 each to the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ group, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley – £250,000 each.

Again, repeat after me (with robotic arm movements): “This is not foreign interference… This is not foreign interference!”

You’ve got to see the funny side of this: all that hysterical fake news about ‘Russian interference’ in Brexit & here we have one side receiving £400K from a US billionaire who is part of the US political establishment. Is that not ‘interference’ ?!! http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-42984594 

George Soros

Pro-EU campaign gets £400,000 from Soros

Group fighting against Brexit secures donation from billionaire investor’s foundation.

bbc.com

The point is not whether we are for or against Brexit. Or whether we think George Soros is a malign influence who only acts out of self-interest or an old sweetie-pie with the good of humanity at heart. The point is the double standards that are causing our Hypocrisy Detectors to explode.

Let’s think back to December 2016. Then, the pro-war and fiercely anti-Russian Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told Parliament that it was highly probable that Russia had interfered with Brexit.

Fourteen months on, what have we got? On Thursday, the global head of You Tube’s public policy, Juniper Downs, said her company “had conducted a thorough investigation around the Brexit referendum and found no evidence of Russian interference.”

Twitter meanwhile says it detected 49 (yes, 49) accounts from what it claimed to be a “Russian troll factory,” which sent all of 942 messages about Brexit – amounting to less than 0.005% of all the tweets about the Referendum. Twitter said the accounts received “very low levels of engagement” from users. If the Kremlin had planned to use tweets to persuade us to vote ‘leave,’ they didn’t really put much effort into it, did they?

Finally, Facebook said that only three “Kremlin-linked” accounts were found which spent the grand sum of 72p (yes, 72p) on ads during the Referendum campaign. Which amounts to the greater “interference”? 72p or £400K? Erm… tough call, isn’t it?

You might have thought, given his concern with ‘foreign interference’ in British politics, that Ben Bradshaw would have been urging ‘Best for Britain’ to return George Soros’ donation. Au contraire! His only tweets about it were retweets of two critical comments about the Daily Telegraph, and the BBC’s coverage of the story. Conclusion: Those who rail about ‘Russia meddling in Brexit’ but not Soros’ intervention aren’t concerned about ‘foreign interference’ in UK politics, only ‘foreign interference’ from countries they don’t approve of.

Those who are quite happy peddling ludicrous conspiracy theories about Russians shout “conspiracy theorist” (or worse) at those who report factually on proven meddling from others. The Daily Express hit the nail on the head in their Friday editorial which said: “Just what does George Soros think he is doing pouring £400,000 into a campaign to stop Brexit. For a start he is not actually a resident of this country so it has nothing to do with him.”

That really is the rub of the matter. And Bradshaw and co. have no adequate response except to shoot the messenger.

If we look at the affair with an even wider lens, the hypocrisy is even greater. The US has been gripped by an anti-Russian frenzy not seen since the days of Senator Joe McCarthy. The unsubstantiated claim that Russia fixed the election for Donald Trump is repeated by ‘liberals’ and many neocons too, as a statement of fact. “I don’t know that the public understands the gravity of what the Russians were able to do and continue to do here in the United States. They’ve attacked us. They’re trying to undermine our democracy,” film director Rob Reiner said.

But the number one country round the world for undermining democracy and interfering in the affairs of other sovereign states is the US itself.

While Establishment journos and pundits have been foaming at the mouth over ‘Russiagate’ and getting terribly excited over ‘smoking guns’ which turn out – surprise, surprise – to be damp squibs, there’s been less attention paid to the boasts of former Vice President Joe Biden on how he got the allegedly ‘independent’ Ukrainian government to sack its prosecutor general in a few hours. “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money…”

“I said, ‘I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars,” Biden said during a meeting of the US’ Council on Foreign Relations. “Well, son of a b***h. He got fired.”

Again, just imagine the furore if a leading Russian government figure boasted about how he used financial inducements to get another country’s Prosecutor General to be sacked. Or if a tape was leaked in which the Russian Ambassador and a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson could be heard discussing who should or shouldn’t be in the new ‘democratic’ government of another sovereign state. But we had the US Ambassador to Ukraine and the US Assistant Secretary of State doing exactly that in 2014 – and the ‘Russia is interfering in the Free World!’ brigade were as silent as a group of Trappist monks.

It’s fair to say that Orwell would have a field day with the doublespeak that’s currently on show. The cognitive dissonance is there for all to see. Repeat After Me: Unproven Russian interference – Bad. Proven interference from other external sources – Good. What’s your problem?

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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