England remains split. The tally from the English local elections are in, and the only thing people can agree on is that the results confirmed whatever they believed about Brexit entering election day. Rather than try to read the tea leaves ourselves, here are the headlines: The ruling, mostly pro-Brexit Conservative Party had its worst showing in a local election since 1995. The opposition Labour Party, with its Rorschach Brexit policy, was mostly stagnant, losing almost as many seats as it had been expected to win. The unambiguously anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and the Green Party saw massive gains. The Brexit Party, whose stance on leaving the European Union you can guess, did not participate, but its forbearer, the UK Independence Party, saw massive losses. The full results are here.
It’s impossible to know how many votes were cast based on the parties’ Brexit policies, but those policies surely were a significant factor. It’s also important not to exaggerate Remainers’ momentum – it is likely that the Brexit Party will do well in European Parliament elections later this month, and public opinion polls continue to show that the population is basically split down the middle. What all this means at the national level is that the two main parties, the Tories and Labour, are under mounting pressure to just do something. While their leaders continue to haggle over what that something is – both party leaders said the message from voters was to reach a Brexit deal and get out of the EU – voter dissatisfaction will continue to grow, and the future integrity of the United Kingdom can only be more in doubt.
North Korea, back at it. For those counting at home, it’s been 522 days since North Korea last conducted a ballistic missile test. Early on Saturday morning, Pyongyang may or may not have broken the drought by launching some sort of barrage into the Sea of Japan. South Korea initially said they were short-range ballistic missiles, but later walked that assessment back, referring to them instead merely as “projectiles.” A White House source told Vox, meanwhile, that the administration is leaning toward thinking it was a multiple rocket launch system – something that would boost North Korea’s already-strong conventional artillery deterrent against invasion from the South. In terms of impact on the stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, neither system would move the needle much, and the test probably wasn’t designed to force the U.S. to rethink its refusal to consider sanctions relief until Pyongyang completes full denuclearization. The North does not appear to have showed off a new capability that could potentially evolve into something that might threaten the U.S. mainland – say, a solid fuel engine that could further development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Nor did it time the test to maximize media exposure in the U.S., as it has routinely in the past, to remind the public how little U.S. President Donald Trump’s signature foreign policy achievement has actually achieved. In the big picture, so long as the North doesn’t test an intercontinental ballistic missile, it won’t cross the U.S. red line on testing. But there are myriad smaller issues yet to be resolved between the North and the U.S. and its allies, and Pyongyang can certainly use these sorts of tests to try to deepen the wedge between the U.S. and South Korea. Notably, the test comes a day after Pyongyang lashed out about a joint U.S.-South Korean training involving the THAAD anti-missile system deployed in the South, and four days after Seoul announced plans to build three new destroyers equipped with Aegis missile defense capabilities.
Washington considers its options in Venezuela. Washington isn’t quite beating the drums of war on Venezuela, but it’s at least banging the bongos of bluster. The U.S.-supported “coup” attempt by the Venezuelan opposition earlier this week appears to have fallen flat on its face, and in response Washington is doing perhaps what it does best: threatening to bring in in the big guns. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, took to Twitter to question why U.S. aircraft carriers haven’t yet shown up off Venezuelan shores. (Open source ship-tracking tools show the USS Harry S. Truman and a logistics support ship heading east out of its home port in Norfolk, but they do not appear to have turned south yet.) On Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said military action is possible if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro doesn’t step down. Also on Wednesday, the Washington Post published a well-sourced report about U.S. national security adviser John Bolton pressing the Pentagon for military options. And Fox News reported that the Pentagon gave Bolton and Pompeo what they wanted yesterday. But unnamed administration officials told Politico this morning that it’s really all for show in hopes of rattling Maduro and undermining his support among the Venezuelan military. We’re partial to this view. This isn’t to say the U.S. won’t ultimately try to resolve the situation by force, just that any attempt to do so won’t be rooted in major U.S. strategic concerns.
Eurozone inflation and the next ECB president. Eurozone inflation in April climbed to an unexpectedly high 1.7 percent, the highest reading since November 2018, just days after eurozone growth came in slightly higher than expected (though still sluggish, at 0.4 percent). On its face, the data would seem to argue against more ultra-easy monetary policy, such as the introduction of a tiered deposit rate, which would reduce the cost for banks to store some of their excess cash at the European Central Bank. At the same time, inflation often experiences a bump around the Easter holiday, so the data doesn’t scream out for monetary tightening as hawkish northern central bankers like Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann might hope. On Thursday, Weidmann remarked that the ECB’s “exceptionally expansive monetary policy orientation” could not be permanent. Weidmann is considered to be among the candidates to become the next ECB president, and in an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper released Friday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Weidmann a “suitable” candidate for the job. Current ECB President Mario Draghi’s term ends on Oct. 31.
- Sudan’s opposition, the Forces of Freedom and Change, and the country’s transitional military council, reached a draft agreement regarding the formation of a sovereign council.
- Beijing has agreed to restructure the debt owed to China by the Republic of Congo, a precondition placed on Congo-Brazzaville by the International Monetary Fund in order to secure a new bailout.
- Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said there would be an increase in the number of U.S. troops in the country once negotiations between Warsaw and Washington wrap up, likely before the end of the year.
- Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who has brought the country’s budget deficit to its lowest level in 45 years, threatened to resign if parliament approves a controversial pay arrangement for teachers.
- Militants in Gaza wounded two Israeli soldiers in an exchange of gunfire on Friday and fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel on Saturday, prompting retaliatory air strike that is believed to have killed two militants.
- The Trump administration imposed new restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities but sustained waivers allowing Tehran to conduct civilian research at three nuclear sites for another 90 days.