UK

A Syrian flag flies over the clock town in Qusair (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

By James Blitz and Elizabeth Rigby

Senior parliamentarians and government officials in Britain believe it is highly unlikely that the UK will transfer arms to moderate Syrian rebels at some future date because they believe David Cameron has lost the political support needed to make such a move.

For many months, Britain’s prime minister has been the most forward-leaning of western leaders in arguing that the moderate rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime may soon need arms from the west, partly to tilt the battlefield in their favour.

Last week, Mr Cameron’s position received strong support from the Obama administration in the US, which finally announced that it would transfer arms to the rebels. However, any attempt by the UK to support such a move is now so firmly opposed by Mr Cameron’s own Conservative MPs that he would be unlikely to win a vote in the House of Commons, leading politicians have told the FT. Read more

Qusair, in Homs Province (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This has been a week of intense diplomatic and military activity over Syria. At the end of it, anyone analysing the situation has much new detail to reflect on. The Assad regime is making considerable advances on the ground. The EU arms embargo on Syria has been amended, allowing Britain and France to supply weapons to parts of the Syrian opposition at some future date if they wish. Russia seems to be pressing ahead with the provision of the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to the Syrian regime, alarming the Israelis. Meanwhile diplomacy over a planned peace conference to try and bring an end to the civil war presses ahead – albeit with deep scepticism from many diplomats about the chance of success.

What should we make of all these events? After conversations with several western diplomats analysing the situation, one can pick out various strands that help organise one’s assessment of where things stand. Read more

I am pleased that my column on Britain and Europe today has attracted lots of hits and comments. But, inevitably, when you try to deal with such a complex subject in 900 words (give or take), there is a lot you have to leave out. And there was one vital part of the subject that I didn’t deal with – and that is the impact of immigration on the British debate on Europe. Read more

It’s a competition with some questionable talent, scorned for its lack of taste, and yet the Eurovision Song Contest has an audience of 125m and brings pundits out in force to discuss what it says about the state of Europe today. With this year’s final coming up this Saturday in Malmö, Sweden, we give you the best pieces on how it works and why Europeans care, so that you can mingle with confidence at Eurovision parties.

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♦ Energy companies scrambling for reserves in Somalia are at risk of opening up dangerous faultlines.
♦ Janan Ganesh thinks the UK Conservative party has become ungovernable. “Drama is giving way to farce. Having run out of big but rash things to ask for, the demands of eurosceptic backbenchers are now plain odd.”
♦ Germany’s Green party is still coming to terms with its historical links to pedophiles.
On a final note… Are you a fan of statistics guru Nate Silver? Do you love Euro-pop song contests with political undertones? Martin O’Leary, a “recovering pure mathematician”, has set up a model to predict the results of this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest.  Read more

♦ There are doubts over how much longer Latin America will benefit from the “commodity supercycle”.
♦ Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president, has registered for next month’s election, disrupting the Islamic regime’s plans to hand power to a loyal fundamentalist.
♦ Nawaz Sharif has sealed his third term as prime minister of Pakistan. However, the sense of vibrant democracy has been tempered by Taliban attacks. The New York Times bureau chief was also expelled on the day of voting.
♦ Forty years after Watergate, the BBC looks at the legacy of investigative journalism in the UK.
♦ After the news that Bloomberg’s journalists could see more than Bloomberg’s customers would like them to, Quartz takes a look at the culture of omniscience that pervades the organisation and Hilary Sargent (aka ChartGirl) explains how it works in this neat diagram.
On another note… Britain’s approach to Eurovision might need some fine-tuning.  Read more

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

President François Hollande this week published France’s long awaited strategic defence review, setting out what the French armed forces should be aiming to do in the years ahead. The publication of the document – called the “livre blanc” or “white book” – was an important moment for those following European defence.

In recent years, the US has become increasingly concerned that European states are cutting back on defence spending, leaving the US to do more and more of the heavy lifting in Nato. In 2010, Britain, the biggest defence spender in Europe, slashed expenditure by eight per cent in real terms. The big question was whether France was about to do the same.

The good news for France’s allies is that it isn’t taking what might be called the “Cameron approach.” According to Camille Grand, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, France did debate whether to slash defence spending by 10 per cent. “But the French finance ministry lost that argument, much to relief of the service chiefs,” he says. Read more

♦ Martin Wolf argues that the UK industrial revolution shows the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis on debt is not always right.
♦ Frigide Barjot and her fellow protesters have taken the heat off Hollande as people take to the streets to protest over gay marriage rather than the state of the economy.
♦ The planting of sugar cane has exacerbated the effects of the worst drought in more than four decades in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
♦ Critics say that Nelson Mandela’s family members have been using his status for their own enrichment. Two of his grandchildren are involved in a US reality show called Being Mandela and his daughter has launched a wine business called House of Mandela.
♦ FT Alphaville take a typically irreverent look at the ‘tweet retreat’ in their Occupational Indifference series.
♦ The number of people in Britain receiving emergency food rations has more than doubled in the past year as inflation eroded incomes and government spending cuts have pushed hundreds of thousands into crisis.
♦ Jacob Heilbrunn at The National Interest examines Israel’s fraying image and the possibility that US interest in Israel’s fortune could wane: if Israel remains stymied in dealing with the Palestinians… its predicament is likely to intensify. And the range of options for dealing with the country’s mounting problems is likely to expand toward more radical solutions.”
♦ Japanese drivers are getting televisions installed in the front of their cars. “Japanese law prohibits “staring” at a screen while driving, without saying anything about glancing at one.”
♦ The New York Times is debating the usefulness of Nato.

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♦ Cuts to welfare payments in the UK will hit northern communities as much as five times as hard as the Conservative heartlands of the south. Take a look at the FT’s Austerity Audit interactive to see all the research and reporting on the effects of the current government’s radical reforms.

♦ Brazil is grappling with a Congress where “foxes” are often in charge of the henhouse.

♦ The Egyptian armed forces participated in forced disappearances, torture and killings during the 2011 uprising, despite publicly declaring their neutrality.

♦ Mona Eltahawy explains why satire is a serious subject in Egypt: “What is satire if not a marriage of civil disobedience to a laugh track, a potent brew of derision and lack of respect that acts as a nettle sting on the thin skin of the humourless? And what is revolution if not the ultimate act of derision against the established powers.”

♦ Marc Lynch wonders if his initial assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood was wrong: both academics and policymakers need to recognize that the lessons of the past no longer apply so cleanly, and that many of the analytical conclusions developed during the Mubarak years are obsolete.”

♦ Robert Driessen, one of the world’s most successful art forgers, tells his story (from Thailand, out of the reach of European authorities).

♦ Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who plans to run in the 2018 presidential election, will be put on trial next week. Georgy Bovt explains why he will go to jail.  Read more

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Boris Berezovsky in August 2012 (Getty)

Boris Berezovsky in August 2012 (Getty)

Police have found “no evidence” so far that anyone else was involved in the death of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but are retaining “an open mind”, according to one of the detectives working on the case. It’s hardly surprising that questions remain. While one friend told the FT: “In the last few months, he was very depressed, very low. He felt beset by all the issues that surrounded him”, another – Nikolai Glushkov, a fellow Russian exile – told the Guardian’s Luke Harding: “I will never believe in the natural death of Boris Berezovsky.” It may be a while before any certainty is reached [update: police said late on Monday that a postmortem found the cause of death was “consistent with hanging”] – but in the meantime, it’s worth reading up on the life of a man whose influence over his homeland will be felt for a long time to come.

  • Owen Matthews recalls his first meeting with Berezovsky in 1998, at the “luxurious Logovaz Club, a restored prerevolutionary mansion in central Moscow”. In a piece full of pithy assessments (“Yeltsin may have made Russia free, but it was Berezovsky who made it for sale”; “Berezovsky was Dr. Frankenstein, whose monster was a poker-faced little KGB officer”), Matthews paints a vivid picture of the mathmetician-turned-kingmaker whose love of power contributed to his undoing.
  • Writing for the FT, Ben Judah contrasts the Berezovsky of old – “they called him ‘the comet’, because he burnt so bright and talked so fast” – with the “insecure, self-doubting and anguished man” of recent months.

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Lord Paul Boateng, former chief secretary to the treasury and the former UK high commissioner to South Africa, answers questions about his first trip to Davos.

1. Is this your first trip to Davos?

I have to confess that it is. I’ve reached a fairly advanced age without ever having felt Davos was for me. I have been an active participant, however, both as a cabinet minister and a diplomat at the spin offs in Mumbai and Cape Town where the WEF reaches out to the rest of the world.

2. What’s the best thing about going to Davos?

If you’ve got an idea or a product to sell then this is a quite unique market place. There are lots of serious people on the lookout for the next big idea or opportunity. A voracious media circus with the promise of global coverage also helps. Read more

The story of David Cameron’s much-delayed speech on Europe mixes farce with tragedy. The fact that the Algerian terrorist attack has once again delayed the prime minister’s landmark address, must make Cameron wonder whether the whole enterprise is cursed.

The great Europe speech was initially meant to be given before Xmas. It was put off, amidst reports that there were still deep arguments about its contents. Cameron himself attempted to defuse the controversy with a risque joke – likening the extended wait for his speech to Tantric sex. It would be all the better for the long build-up, he assured his listeners. Read more

Britain’s debate about the EU is not just about Europe – it is also about the US.For the fiercest eurosceptics – who want Britain to leave the EU – the US is the promised land across the ocean. They have long insisted that it is a mistake for Britain to tie itself to a sclerotic Europe with an alien political culture. Instead the UK should look to the English-speaking world and, above all, to its “special relationship” with America.

The anti-Europeans’ heroine is Margaret Thatcher. It was Lady Thatcher who said “no, no, no” to ever-closer union in Europe – but “yes, yes, yes” to the US of President Ronald Reagan. The picture of Ronnie and Maggie, tootling around together in a golf buggy, is a powerful, nostalgia-filled image of the “special relationship” at its warmest.

The world news desk brings you the best reads from around the world…  Read more

A bumper edition to take you into the weekend:

While it must be tempting for Cameron to score cheap points off the French government and to lecture the Germans, it is also distinctly ill-advised, argues Gideon Rachman Read more

The artist Lindsey Spinks has created this beautiful illustration to accompany today’s FT analysis on the state of the UK. Read more