If 2018 proved a rollercoaster of a ride in the world of news and current affairs, the ongoing spectres of Brexit and President Trump coupled with the upcoming European Parliament elections means 2019 arrives with no shortage of uncertainty.
But defying philosopher Lao Tzu, who said: “Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge”, The Week is dusting off the crystal ball to make some predictions for 2019.
Brexit means Brexit
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On Brexit the UK remains no closer to knowing the outcome of the meaningful vote in Parliament but we shall stick our necks out and say that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
Despite Theresa May’s and the EU’s consistent pledge that the only options available were May’s deal, no deal or no Brexit - the UK will leave the EU with a deal that places them permanently in the EU Customs Union, that being the only one that can attain support from both the EU27 and the UK parliament.
But of course that model would not see the UK have total control of its immigration policy. “For many, but of course not all, Leave voters, that was the priority in the referendum and it’s potentially therefore deeply problematic to go for such an arrangement,” says the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
It is for that reason that our second big prediction for UK politics in 2019 is the end of Theresa May’s premiership, alongside most probably a general election. Those close to May agree, “Those close to May agree,” says Politico on the prospects for a snap election, “worrying that unless the Tories deliver a clean Brexit, and offer real change afterward, the country’s voters will look for an alternative.”
“It’s 1945,” one former May aide told the website. “You can win the war, that’s fine. But voters don’t thank you for what you’ve done, they want you to answer the next question.”
A Jeremy Corbyn-led government (be it in a progressive coalition or outright Labour majority) looks likely but with it will not come a people’s vote on Brexit. “We stand for a very different Britain after Brexit,” Corbyn says. “So every step of the way, we will seek to build support for the new, close relationship with the EU that most people in the UK want.” In other words, Brexit will still mean Brexit then.
The Trump tide turns
2019 could very well be the year that does for President Trump, with the Mueller probe closing in and his economic advisers “concerned about the impact of a slowdown on their candidate’s re-election chances in 2020”, says The Guardian.
Major firms have been releasing forecasts for 2019 and both Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan see growth slowing in the US to below 2% in the second half of 2019.
For Trump’s prospective reaction to this downturn it’s easy to look to his decision when faced with new home sales slowing in October – “cut interest rates and pump up the economy with even more cheap money”, adds The Guardian.
Alongside this “it seems likely that for the first time in his life, nothing can protect Donald J. Trump from the trouble he’s made, and the sheer scale of it is astonishing”, adds the paper’s Rebecca Solnit. “Justice means there are consequences for your actions,” she writes.
Elsewhere in US politics, 2019 will see a continued push by female politicians, with more than ever before announcing presidential campaigns. “Expect Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand to be in the mix, as well as Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard”, says Fortune magazine.
In many EU countries, the twice-a-decade European Parliament elections have evolved into a protest, a reaction to who’s in charge at home rather than a referendum on how the bloc is managed.
But 2019 will be different - “because in many countries the role of the EU now dominates domestic politics, too,” says Bloomberg, “whether because of the bloc’s role in managing the refugee crisis, controlling government spending, or demanding more respect for democracy.”
All eyes in 2019 will be on Matteo Salvini. Having risen to dominance domestically, the Italian far-right leader “is taking his brand of fiery populism to the continental battlefield, with every intention of overturning the European order”, says Politico.
With Brussels in his sights, Salvini is seeking to unite the continent’s nationalists into a Eurosceptic bloc capable of reshaping the union. “I’d like to have a presence in all countries,” he told the website in an interview. “We’ll be one of the strongest groups,” he predicted.
It’s clear the elections will reveal previously unseen levels of support for anti-EU parties and the EU will face tough questions about how best to protect its interests against President Trump’s trade protectionist impulses, Russia’s rising assertiveness in Eastern Europe and the escalating budget dispute with Italy.
Further fake news fears
Perhaps most worryingly there are claims that the next 12 months will see the release of a highly authentic-looking fake video - a so-called “deepfake” - which could cause damage to diplomatic relations between countries.
Imagine a deepfake video “purporting to show a leading opposition politician talking about committing election fraud, a false declaration of war by a world leader or a feigned assassination of that same head of state (a 21st-century Franz Ferdinand moment?)”, says global innovation foundation Nesta.
Deepfakes not only open the door to conflict, misleading the public and discrediting world leaders, but also “provide these same leaders with plausible deniability about every controversial video, even those that really are true”, the company adds.
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