President Newt Gingrich?

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives sees unlikely poll surge after gaffes from Cain a

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and White House hopeful, has been considered a dead loss in the Republican field -- until now.

With just seven weeks to go until the state caucuses in Iowa (the first seat to select the Republican presidential candidate), the latest poll has put Gingrich in the lead with 28 per cent. This compares with 25 per cent for former businessman Herman Cain, 18 per cent for front-runner Mitt Romney, and 6 per cent for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. A CNN poll released on Monday showed similar results, putting Gingrich just two points behind Romney, with 22 and 24 points respectively.

The sudden hike has come after both Cain and Perry appeared unable to remember their own policies in extraordinary gaffes. Cain, in particular, was already struggling after a series of sexual harassment allegations. All of this has apparently made Gingrich look like the only viable alternative to Romney -- the former Massachusetts governor who has failed to excite Republicans. Several pundits have suggested that Gingrich's sudden rise is due to an "anyone-but-Romney" mindset.

The televised debates -- the downfall of Michele Bachman, Perry, and Cain -- have allowed Gingrich to shine, mocking the press, refusing to attack other candidates, and (crucially) having a clear grasp of domestic and foreign policy. Generally, Republicans perceive Gingrich as the candidate who will most effectively take the fight to Obama in televised debates.

He's certainly an unlikely winner: he is the only Speaker of the House ever to be disciplined for ethics violations, and has admitted being unfaithful to two of his three wives. He also has a reputation for arrogance (so much so that New York Magazine has posted this excellent slideshow of Gingrich looking at people condescendingly). His high self-regard can be seen in his assessment of his own campaign:

Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I'm such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I'm trying to do.

While Gingrich is clearly confident, however, it's important not to read too much into this survey. As Mike Smithson points out at Political Betting, at this stage last year, Rudy Guiliani was way ahead in the polls, with the eventual winner, John McCain, trailing in third place.

The overwhelming impression from the polls remains that Republican voters are not particularly enthused about any candidate. "Things can change very rapidly," Gingrich said of his sudden turnaround in the polls at a campaign stop in Sheffield, Iowa. "In my case, a lot of news media said I was dead in June and July." In a race defined so far by gaffes and scandals, a lot could still happen between now and January.

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

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.