Aung San Suu Kyi set for release

Reports from Burma claim that the pro-democracy leader could be freed as early as Sunday.

After spending 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is set to be released, according to the BBC.

Military authorities have reportedly signed an order authorising the release of the Burmese pro-democracy leader, when the term of her house arrest expires this Sunday.

Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing incarceration has become a cause célèbre in the west. Just last week, Gordon Brown took to Twitter to call for her release.

In Burma, she is an enduring symbol of resistance against the military regime that have controlled the state since 1990, despite the efforts of the Burmese regime to overshadow her. As Ambika Reddy pointed out in last week's New Statesman:

Than Shwe [the leader of Burma's military junta] has devoted himself to constructing an edifice that would loom over Aung San Suu Kyi, rooting the army's claim to power in the nation's traditional iconography. That this is a hopelessly atavistic endeavour goes without saying. It threatens to leave Burma becalmed in a settlement in which the people's demands for the most miserable basics of life continue to be ignored, and in which border wars drag on.

Peter Popham explained in the New Statesman's profile of Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this summer why the military junta fears a woman now of pensionable age:

Three times before - in 1990, 1995 and 2002 - [the junta] made the mistake of underestimating her appeal. The first time, the NLD humiliated the regime's proxy, the National Unity Party, by winning 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. The second time, when she was released from her first spell of house arrest, thousands risked jail every week to squat outside the gates of her home and listen to her speak. The third time, when, after months of delay, she was at last allowed to travel outside Rangoon, peasants walked through the jungle for days for a chance to see her.

Whether or not Aung San Suu Kyi will actually be released remains to be seen. A spokesman for the Burma Campaign UK attempted to dampen speculation.

"There are rumours that the police are outside her house and could be delivering documents connected to her freedom. However, we really don't know. If there are conditions attached to her release she might not agree to it."

The AFP, however, reported sources who claimed: "The authorities will release her. It is certain".

Until she if free, nothing can be guaranteed, particularly in Burma's current state, undergoing a major political transformation."The end of the reigns of Burmese rulers are always moments of uncertainty," explains Ambika Reddy. "The consequences are utterly unpredictable."

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.