London: The British people, as Prime Minister Theresa May calls them, have just voted in a large tranche of local elections. The results are a reflection of people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo. The Conservatives are down 1,200 Councillors and still counting, Labour are down more than 70, most of the gains at the expense of Conservatives have been made by the Liberal Democrats and a collection of others. Devastating news for the Tories on the 40th anniversary since Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, the message could not be clearer the people want closure on Brexit.

Although the British people never expected to vote in the European Parliamentary election on 23 May, because of the Brexit impasse, candidates have been fielded by all parties, competing for 73 seats. Unsurprisingly Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party is making not just headlines, the former UKIP Leader and charismatic campaigner is topping the voting intention polls at 30%. The Brexit Party has Annunciata Rees-Mogg on their team, sister of Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the ERG, who has found it impossible to accept May’s Withdrawal Agreement. The Conservatives have 71 candidates including Daniel Hannan, lodestar to a pukka Brexit and British Indian Amandeep Singh Bhogal, the Tory’s greatest asset on Twitter, standing in Northern Ireland. Labour has selected Lord Adonis as their celebrity candidate, whose solution is to hold a second referendum with an option to Remain in the EU, a position backed up by Shadow Secretary for Foreign Affairs Emily Thornberry. Jeremy Corbyn enigmatically said Parliament has to resolve the issue.

Theresa May has fired Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson over the leak revealing Huawei’s involvement in setting up UK’s 5G network. Williamson publicly denied that he nor his department is to blame. Presently there are no further investigations underway. Some of the National Security Council, Ministers and MPs have warned the PM of associated security and commercial risks. There is uncertainty and speculation about who exactly owns Huawei. The concern is if there was ever a situation where the Chinese government would benefit from a network failure, would Huawei oblige? It seems the UK government dismisses this idea, claiming their oversight and preventative measures are superior to Huawei’s alleged technological “spying” or potential threatening capabilities. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to visit UK this week and warn of the risks of allowing Huawei into UK’s infrastructure and how this might jeopardise UK-US technology and security partnerships (Five-Eyes?).

It is notable that the PM dismisses Williamson but not a Minister who has wasted government money (Chris Grayling cancelling his dud transport contract with Britany Ferries), does not dismiss Whips who go against her or a Chancellor who frequently contradicts her.

Penny Mordaunt, formerly Secretary for International Development will be the UK’s first woman Defence Minister, and as a reservist in the Royal Navy the first person who has served in the Armed Forces to be Defence Secretary for 27 years.

POLAR NOTES ON SAUDI ARABIA

MP James Gray’s APPG for the Polar Regions have published their Polar Notes on Saudi Arabia’s new era of cooperation with Russia. Including how Saudi state-owned Saudi Aramco should invest in Russia’s Arctic Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) 2 project on the Gydan Peninsula. According to the author of Polar Notes, Dr Duncan Depledge, an expert in polar geopolitics, “Arctic Siberia is emerging as the centrepiece of Russia’s C21st strategy to supply Arctic LNG to South East Asia and the Far East (which jointly make up around 70 percent of increasing global LNG demand). For Saudi Aramco, closer cooperation with Russia on gas represents a major opportunity to meet its objective to be a bigger player on the global gas market, beside its already established position on the global oil market. In February 2018, Saudi Aramco and the Russian gas giant Novatek, which operates Yamal LNG, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a view to becoming LNG partners in the Arctic. Saudi Arabia stepped up its interest last October by announcing it aimed to acquire 30% of the Arctic LNG 2 project, starting with a $5 billion investment. However, Novatek has been exploring a range of possibilities by speaking with companies from South Korea, China and Japan about stakes in Arctic LNG 2. Although Novatek managed to sell 10% of the project to the French energy company Total, Russian energy companies have increasingly had to look beyond the US and European Union for investment in Arctic projects after the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Saudi Aramco’s interest is significant for several reasons. First, it represents an opportunity for Saudi Arabia and Russia to further strengthen their emerging bilateral relationship and jointly increase their influence over global energy markets. Second, it provides a route for Russia to reduce its dependence on China for investment in its energy projects. Third, it will potentially lead to a further internationalisation of Russia’s energy projects. While the sale of 10% of Arctic LNG 2 to the French company Total (which already owns 20% of Yamal LNG and shares in Novatek) arguably undermines the intended purpose of US and EU sanctions, inviting in non-Western state-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and the China National Oil Company circumvents the sanctions directly. There is also a broader benefit to Russia as any further actions by the US or EU to dent Russia’s Arctic energy projects would have to be weighed against the potential for collateral damage to the interests of third parties. Earlier this month, Novatek reported that a deal with Saudi Aramco was close and would be concluded possibly in the coming months. Assuming the deal does go through, it will mark a big step into the Arctic for Saudi Arabia.”

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