Any hope that the New Year would bring signs that we are not heading over the Brexit cliff were quickly dashed with the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers. The UK envoy to the European Union became exasperated that the May government had no plan, was guilty of muddled thinking and that the British team to conduct the exit talks was seriously underpowered for the ten year task.
So in this post truth age we neither want to hear from experts or the messengers that bring them. As much as I support a second referendum on the ultimate package, I think our European colleagues would be so fed up with us by 2019 that they would want us out anyway. This must be the year when we try to reverse the process but there is no sign of the centre left coalition that would be needed.
Meanwhile the European Union and the wider world with which we are negotiating could change dramatically in 2017. We are about to see the most unpredictable change of power in America that anyone can remember. Donald Trump is certainly making his mark already. Ford’s decision to cancel a major car plant in Mexico and build it in Michigan shows that American business takes him seriously.
In Europe the question will be whether populism has peaked. They could triumph in Italy and the Netherlands but right winger François Fillon should see off Marine Le Pen and Angela Merkel is likely to see off her opponents in Germany.
In the North we will see the first elected mayors for the city regions of Greater Manchester and Liverpool.
It seems certain that Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram will win but there will be interest in the size of the UKIP vote. The party’s new leader Paul Nuttall needs to show what policies, other than getting out of the EU, the party stands for. Will they develop credible policies on health, housing and crime to woo northern voters from the weak Labour Party. A parliamentary test will come in Copeland where another moderate Labour MP has concluded the cause is hopeless and walked away.
Good luck to Hull in its year as Capital of Culture. Let us hope it is a sign of tangible benefits coming to the Northern Powerhouse. Plans for trans Pennine rail improvements and single public transport ticketing need to move from the drawing boards to reality.
It will be Theresa May’s first full year in power. She is in danger of being completely overwhelmed by the Brexit process even though there are major challenges at home in the NHS, elderly care, housing and immigration. She may lose popularity but her political opponents are weak. Labour is seen as irrelevant by most people. The Lib Dems have only just begun the road to recovery and UKIP are untested on the domestic front.
On the world stage expect ISIS to be weakened but that could mean their battle hardened members returning to the West to inflict more atrocities in our cities. Meanwhile China will be keeping a wary eye on a possible unlikely warming of relations between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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