House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate
Edited by Iain Gibson, associate partner
10 August 2020
“Where’s king Juan Carlos I?” That’s the question Spanish and international media alike have been asking after the scandal-hit former king of Spain made the staggering announcement last Monday that he was leaving the country.
Exile in the Portuguese riviera, a luxurious getaway in the Dominican Republic, or mingling with wealthy friends somewhere in the Middle East? The whereabouts of the man who was Spain’s head of state for almost 40 years have been subject to rife speculation as the palace refused to reveal his location, which has in turn heated the debate about the monarchy’s standing in Spanish public life.
But, though unconfirmed as of yet, we appear to have a winning option (at least for now). A photograph published by Spanish media group NIUS over the weekend seems to show the ex-monarch arriving in Abu Dhabi, where he is reportedly staying in a suite at the Emirates Palace Hotel.
Juan Carlos has left the country amid a series of damaging corruption allegations, and after Swiss and Spanish prosecutors opened an investigation into bank accounts he allegedly held in tax havens.
In his letter to king Felipe VI, the 82-year-old, who abdicated the throne in 2014 after a string of scandals involving a trip to Botswana, mistress in tow, to hunt elephants and his son-in-law’s embezzling activities, cites “the public repercussion that certain past events of my private life are generating” as the reason for his leaving. Juan Carlos’s lawyer, however, has stressed that his client would still be available to help the public prosecutor with its investigation.
The king emeritus was once a popular monarch, praised for his role in leading Spain into democracy by leaving the confines of dictator Francisco Franco’s legal system, and stopping an attempted military coup in 1981. Surely to Juan Carlos’s dismay, what could have been a reign long remembered for his hearty and democratic disposition has now called the future of the institution into further question.
It has also unsettled the coalition government and the constitutional issue in Catalonia. While Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has officially backed Felipe VI’s decision to let his father move outside of the country, his government partner and leader of the Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, has said Juan Carlos I should have stayed to face his country and his people.
Meanwhile, Catalan president Quim Torra has called on Felipe VI to abdicate immediately, arguing that the former king has “fled” Spain with help of the crown and the government, “casting doubt on their commitment to fight corruption.”
Although Spaniards appear to be split on whether the country should be a monarchy (47.5%) or a republic (47%), 62.3% believe there should be a referendum on the form of government. What’s more, the monarchy’s legitimacy has long been viewed as dependent on the crown’s level of transparency and its ability to inspire ethical values. Juan Carlos’s scandalous private life and the palace’s reluctance to inform Spanish citizens about his whereabouts hardly deliver on that.
Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ long-time leader, is set to claim a landslide win in Sunday’s elections, according to a state TV exit poll. The news has sparked clashes between demonstrators and riot police in Minsk, where crowds have been chanting “Go away!” referring to Lukashenko. The opposition, including main candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, had said it expected the vote to be rigged and would keep an alternative count.
The US health secretary, Alex Azar, arrived in Taiwan on Sunday night for a three-day trip seen as strengthening both countries’ ties, amid the escalating clash between the US and China. Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has warned the US president, Donald Trump, that the visit threatens peace and stability in the region. (£)
UK education secretary Gavin Williamson has said there is little evidence showing risk of coronavirus transmission in schools, as he seeks to reassure parents and teachers with an upcoming study supporting the government’s position on the matter. The BBC understands that prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans for future local lockdowns would include the closure of pubs and shops before schools.
Business and economy
Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested under the new national security law imposed on the city by China, facing charges of collusion with foreign forces. Although Lai has been arrested before for his strong ties to Washington and opposition to Beijing, he now faces an offence carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are set to confirm Britain’s economic recession on Wednesday for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. The country is expected to plunge into its deepest slump on record and the worst GDP drop among G7 economies. The ONS measure will be declared as the UK government tries to balance the relaxation of lockdown restrictions and the prevention of a severe second wave of coronavirus infections.
Twitter has reportedly approached TikTok owner ByteDance to express interest of purchase of the video-sharing app’s US operations. Although it remains unclear if the social media platform can afford to buy TikTok and complete a deal ahead of President Trump’s deadline, Microsoft continues to be front-runner in the negotiations.
Columns of note
Writing in The Sunday Times, Kevin Pringle looks at how this year’s exams cancellation in Scotland created a chance to change a system that has failed citizens in the most disadvantaged communities for too long, but has in turn exposed the unequal effects of so-called moderation and highlighted the gap to be filled. Pringle argues for a review of the current system in a way that equalises outcomes and opportunity in the determination of grades. (£)
Alan Finlayson opines in the Guardian that the UK government is working as a “permanent campaigning machine”, with prime minister Boris Johnson and chief adviser Dominic Cummings fixated on opinion polls and gimmicky announcements.
The week ahed
The disruption to the travel industry brought by the coronavirus pandemic is projected to weigh on Marriott International and Royal Caribbean Cruises today. In the UK, average room revenues will be in focus, with Holiday Inn owner InterContinental Hotels reporting on Tuesday and holiday operator Tui, on Thursday.
In terms of economic data, two important figures are expected on Friday in the US – the retail sales report for July and the preliminary figures for the University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment for August.
In China, two key readings to watch this week are the official consumer price index on Monday and retail sales figures on Friday.
Labour statistics are due on Tuesday in the UK, a day before the country is projected to suffer one of the biggest growth contractions in Europe for the second quarter. Elsewhere, GDP readings are out for the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and in economies across eastern Europe, such as Russia, Poland, and Ukraine.
What’s happening today?
UK economic announcements
(09:30) Manufacturing Production
(09:30) Index of Services
(09:30) GDP (Preliminary)
(09:30) Balance of Trade
(09:30) Industrial Production
(09:30) Gross Domestic Product
Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Consumer Price Index (GER)
It takes the average person just 27 seconds to form a first impression.
House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
House of Lords
In recess until 2 September 2020.
In recess until 10 August (with the exception of 30 July and 6 August 2020, on which dates business may be programmed by the bureau)