Sheikh Tamim, and the UK's dwindling power in Qatar

The new Emir of Qatar is the latest Middle Eastern monarch from Sandhurst or Oxbridge.

The name "Doha", scholars believe comes from the Arabic ad-dawha, "the big tree". The capital of Qatar was so called, as the idea goes, because "the big tree" was the most significant aspect of the then fishing and pearling village on in the Persian Gulf. It was not all that long ago – perhaps 100 years – when Al Thani built the next significant feature: the Al Koot Fort.

 Today "Doha" means something entirely different. It means Al Jazeera, Qatar Airways, the 2022 World Cup, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Cultural Festival, Qatar Investment Authority and capital of the nation with the world’s highest GDP per capita. But it also means arms for Syria, headquarters of the Taliban, ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and banker to the Arab Spring. 

 In other words, this tiny country, mostly sounded by sea and ruled by a monarchy, has turned financial might into world dominance, notwithstanding a touch of controversy. Familiar? Sounds perhaps a little like the UK a few hundred years ago?

But this is possibly not a coincidence. Today’s announcement by The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to abdicate in favour of his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is of surprising relevance to Britain. Aside from being ruled by Britain until 1971, both Tamim and his father were educated at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and through the Qatar Investment Authority, they own quite a few chunks of the UK: most notably Harrods, The Shard, much of Sainsbury’s, Canary Wharf Group and much of Barclays.

Of all the diplomats trying to win an audience with Qatar’s young new ruler, Tamim, the British will be racing to be among the first. Assuringly, they may find much in common, aside from their thoroughly British educations. The new ruler is thought to have a clear liberalising agenda as chair of the 2030 Vision project. He is also interested in sport, having backed the World Cup in 2022, the failed bid to host the Olympic Games and the purchase of a Paris St Germain football club.

So those questioning the UK’s influence in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring should see Tamim as one of many Middle Eastern rulers inheriting a very British doctrine. He will join Sultan Qaboos of Oman, King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain as one of the remaining monarchs educated at either Sandhurst or Oxbridge. Only this time – less than 50 years later – the tables have turned and Qatar now rules more of the UK, than the UK of it.

Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

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 Commission event. “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 31 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.