Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. President Barack Obama announced a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. He said 10,000 US troops would pull out this year, with another 23,000 leaving by the end of September 2012 -- just before the presidential election. This will still leave 70,000 troops there, roughly equivalent to pre-surge levels.

Republican presidential candidates rushed to give their views. Here is how they have responded so far.

Tim Pawlenty: "I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning. Look how he phrased the outcome of this war. He said we need to end the war 'responsibly.' When America goes to war, America needs to win."

Rick Santorum: "We cannot let those who've given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we've made thus far."

Mitt Romney: "I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead."

Jon Huntsman: "We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility."

Ron Paul: "Afghanistan was the downfall of the Soviet Union. We must act now so it is not the same for America."

Gary Johnson : "Thanks to our quick and totally justified action in 2001, al Qaeda essentially left Afghanistan nine years ago. We should have done the same."

Herman Cain : "Sadly, I fear President Obama's decision could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops."

2. Sarah Palin has denied reports that her One Nation bus tour has been cancelled. On her Facebook page, she wrote: "The coming weeks are tight because civic duty calls (like most everyone else, even former governors get called up for jury duty) and I look forward to doing my part just like every other Alaskan."

palin

3. Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota representative and White House hopeful, will launch a three-state tour on Monday to formally announce her presidential campaign.

The tour will go through key battleground states for the upcoming primary season. Starting in Bachmann's birth state of Iowa, it will move to New Hampshire on Tuesday and conclude with a town hall meeting in South Carolina on Wednesday.

The Tea Party doyenne's trip to South Carolina will involve stops in five cities, including Rock Hill, an area where former Governor Mike Huckabee drew considerable support during his 2008 run for the White House.

Meanwhile, in Rolling Stone magazine, Matt Taibbi described Bachmann as "one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau", describing her as a "religious zealot" who is "grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy".

4. Herman Cain, another Republican presidential candidate, has hit out at Jon Stewart, claiming that the comedian mocked him because he is a "black conservative."

Stewart had some thoughts about Cain's suggestion that he'd only sign bills that were three pages or under if elected president. "If I'm president, treaties will have to fit on the back of a cereal box," said Stewart. "From now on, the State of the Union address will be delivered in the form of a fortune cookie. I am Herman Cain and I do not like to read."

Speaking at the Iowa Falls Fire Department below, Cain says that "the joke is on him" if he thought it was a serious suggestion, adding "I've been called every name in the book because I'm a conservative, because I'm black."

 

 

5. Jon Huntsman has been busy distancing himself from his former boss, Obama, ever since he officially entered the race for the Republican nomination, having previously described him as a "remarkable leader". But, The Note blog points out, his new logo bears more than a passing resemblance to once we've seen before.

See for yourself -- Huntsman 2012 and Obama 2008:

huntsmanobama

Imitation is the best form of flattery.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Q&A: Would Brexit really move “the Jungle” to Dover?

The 2003 Le Touquet treaty was negotiated outside the EU.

What is David Cameron’s most recent claim about Britain leaving the EU?

The Prime Minister is claiming that Brexit could result in France ending the agreement by which British immigration officials carry out checks on those seeking to enter the UK in France.  

More specifically, Cameron thinks that a vote to leave the EU would give the French government an excuse to revoke the Le Touquet treaty of 2003, and that this would cause refugee camps akin to the Calais “Jungle” to spring up along the English south coast.

What’s the Le Touquet treaty?

In February 2003, Tony Blair went to the northern French resort of Le Touquet to try and persuade President Jacques Chirac to support British and American military action in Iraq. (He failed). 

Blair and Chirac hogged the headlines, but on the summit’s sidelines, Home Secretary David Blunkett and his French counterpart, an ambitious young politician named Nicolas Sarkozy, negotiated a treaty establishing juxtaposed controls at each country’s sea ports.

This agreement meant that British border police could set up and run immigration checkpoints at Calais – effectively moving the British border there from Dover. The treaty also enabled French border police to carry out checks in Dover.

British border police had already been operating at French Eurostar terminals since 2001, and manning the French entrance to the Eurotunnel since 1994.

What’s all this got to do with the EU?

Technically, nothing. The Le Touquet treaty is a bilateral agreement between the UK and France. Both countries happen to be member states of the EU, but the negotiations took place outside of the EU’s auspices.

That's why eurosceptics have reacted with such fury today. Arron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.EU, said the Prime Minister was “resorting to scaremongering”, while Ukip’s migration spokesperson, in a surprising role-reversal, said that Cameron’s argument was “based on fear, negativity, and a falsehood”.

Cameron’s claim appears to be that Brexit would represent such a profound shift in the UK’s relationship with other European states that it could offer France an excuse to end the agreement reached at Le Touquet. That is debatable, but any suggestion that the treaty would instantly become void in the event of a vote to leave is untrue.

Does France actually want to revoke the treaty?

Local politicians in Calais, and in particular the town’s mayor, have been arguing for months that the treaty should be abandoned. Le Monde has also criticised it. The current French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, hinted today that he agreed, saying that a British vote to leave “will always result in countermeasures”.

On the BBC's Today programme this morning, Rob Whiteman, a former head of the UK Border Agency, said that it was “almost certain” that the treaty would end if the UK left the EU. He said that France has benefited less from the deal than it expected:

“I think at the time the French felt there would be an upside for them, in that if it was clear that people could not easily get to Britain it would stop Sangatte building up again. The camp was closed. But history has shown that not to be the case. The French authorities still have a huge amount of pressure on their side.”

That said, the French government receives money from the British to help police Calais and its camps, and various French officials have acknowledged that their ports would receive even more traffic if refugees and migrants believed that it was easier to travel  to the UK than before.

If the treaty ended, would “the Jungle” just move to Dover?

There’s little doubt that because of linguistic and familial ties, and perhaps the perception that the UK is more welcoming than France, many refugees and migrants would come to the UK as quickly as they could to claim asylum here.

Whiteman also said on Today that since the 2003 agreement, the annual number of asylum claims in the UK had declined from 80,000 to around 30,000. So the UK could expect a significant spike in claims if the treaty were to end.

But the British asylum process makes it unlikely that anything like “the Jungle” would spring up. Instead, those claiming asylum would be dispersed around the country or, if authorities are worried they would flee, held in an immigration detention centre.

Why is Cameron saying this now?

This looks suspiciously like one of the Tories' election strategist Lynton Crosby’s dead cats. That is, in an effort to distract his critics from the detail of the renegotiation, the PM has provoked a row about migrants and refugees. Cameron is clearly keen to move the debate on from the minutiae of different European agreements to bigger questions about security and terrorism. Though getting bogged down in competing interpretations of a treaty from 2003 may not be the best way to move onto that broader terrain.