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War of Attrition: Understanding the Battle of Aleppo

The Syrian army’s incremental approach to the siege of eastern Aleppo – cutting off the Jihadi fighters from the countryside and building up a comprehensive intelligence picture of their dispositions – is what lies behind their sudden collapse.

Alexander Mercouris

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Latest reports from Aleppo confirm that whatever talks are underway between the Jihadis and the Russians in Ankara, they are having no effect on the fighting in the city.

Yesterday the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo once again reaffirmed their intention to go on fighting.  They also announced that they had agreed a new command structure bringing together all the Jihadi factions in eastern Aleppo. 

Since the Jihadis have already had a unified command structure in the city – one moreover dominated by Al-Qaeda – it is not clear whether this is simply an exercise in public relations – possibly intended to restore morale amongst the Jihadi fighters in the city – or whether it is a genuine reorganisation provoked by the loss of 40% of the Jihadi controlled districts of eastern Aleppo over the course of the week, which must have caused a sharp fall in confidence on the part of the Jihadis in their commanders.  On balance it is more likely to be the first.

The Jihadis also launched a counterattack over the course of yesterday, which appears to have briefly recovered some ground, though the very latest reports suggest they have again been driven back.

This counterattack also looks more like an attempt to restore morale amongst the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo rather than being a serious attempt to reverse the situation there.  Al-Qaeda’s commanders surely know that reversing their losses of the last few days is simply beyond their power.

The priority of the Syrian military command in Aleppo will be to consolidate its sudden gains of this week.  Already there are reports of civilians returning to the Masaken Hanano district, which was recaptured from the Jihadis at the beginning of the week, and of schools reopening there. 

Only once the newly recaptured districts of eastern Aleppo have been fully secured will the Syrian army resume its attack on the rest of the Jihadi held pocket.  Given the extent to which it has now been reduced in size, and its isolation from the rest of the country, it is debatable how defendable it now is, and for how long it can hold out when the Syrian army resumes its advance.

The ebb and flow of the fighting in Aleppo has been the source of much confusion, with the widespread belief that the repeated ceasefires and humanitarian pauses have worked to the advantage of the Jihadis by giving them time to reorganise and re-equip, whilst breaking the momentum of the advances of the Syrian army.

Whilst there is some truth to this, the Syrian army’s lack of a decisive manpower advantage and logistical constraints means that that there has almost certainly been no real alternative but to take this incremental approach, with the Syrian army also needing pauses – like the one underway now – so as to reorganise and re-equip before it can undertake further advances. 

As more and more of the countryside around Aleppo has been brought under the Syrian army’s control – causing the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo to become increasingly isolated – it has become clear that the incremental ‘stop-go’ approach has worked more to the advantage of the Syrian army than to the advantage of the Jihadis.

As has been mentioned on some of the threads to my previous articles, this incremental ‘stop-go’ approach has also made it possible for Russian and Syrian intelligence to acquire an exceptionally detailed picture of the number of Jihadis in eastern Aleppo,  of their command structure and  equipment, and of the location of their bases,supply stations, workshops and strong points.  Indeed the Russians have actually admitted as much, saying that they have an almost complete picture of the situation in eastern Aleppo.

Some of this information has undoubtedly been obtained by human informers or spies – with the civilian population of eastern Aleppo almost certainly playing a much bigger role in this than infiltrators – but the decisive role in this information gathering will have been played by electronic tools – ie. by drones and signals intelligence. 

It is a virtual certainty that the Russians are able to listen to all Jihadi radio and telephone communications – including those which use landlines – and that they have broken all the Jihadis’ codes, and by using drones (some of which are barely visible to the human eye) they are able to check the information they obtain in this way.

At least as important in obtaining information is analysing it properly.  The Russians have some of the best military intelligence analysts in the world, but again it will have taken them several months to process and analyse all the intelligence they have received in order to build up a comprehensive picture of the situation in the city.

In summary, it is precisely because the Syrians and the Russians have taken an incremental approach to the battle of Aleppo that they now stand so close to success, and have moreover managed to achieve it at what seems to be an acceptable cost. 

By contrast a rushed attempt in the spring or early summer to storm the Jihadi held eastern districts of the city before they had become fully isolated from the surrounding countryside and without a proper intelligence picture of the Jihadi forces there would have courted disaster.

Before completing this summary of the current situation in Aleppo, I will touch on a question one of our readers – Simon – on one of our threads

“A genuine question for The Duran analysts and its forum;

The Syrian Govt offer amnesty or evacuation to jihadi terrorists (of Syrian citizenship). Some disagree but I am not questioning that – rather the evacuation option is always and ONLY to Idlib Province.

So has Syria effectively abandoned Idlib ? There are reports that there were jihadi extremists and trouble there many years before the war kicked off in 2011. Is the choice of Idlib just a temporary dumping ground borne by necessity or something more significant long term?”

The answer to this question is that the Syrian government has made it clear that it intends to recapture every inch of Syrian territory, and that of course includes Idlib.  In no sense has it abandoned Idlib. 

Whilst it is true that Idlib – or rather the rural areas around it – are often said to have been penetrated by Wahhabi infiltrators and Wahhabi ideas before the start of the 2011 uprising, Idlib itself was only captured by the Jihadis – after repeated failed attempts – in March 2015, and one should be careful before assuming that most of its people support the Jihadis.  Our contributor Afra’a Dagher, who is Syrian and who writes from Syria, absolutely denies that this is the case.

Idlib and Raqqa are however the two provincial capitals in Syria which are under Jihadi control.  Al-Qaeda controls Idlib and ISIS controls Raqqa.  Since most of the Jihadi fighters in western Syria owe allegiance to Al-Qaeda rather than ISIS, it makes sense when negotiating their surrender in other districts which Al-Qaeda controls to agree for them be evacuated to Idlib.

Though Idlib is an important provincial centre which the Syrian government obviously eventually wants to recapture, it is far less important to the Syrian government than those areas of Syria which make up Syria’s heartland – the countryside Damascus and the countryside around it, the towns of Homs and Hama, Latakia province, and Aleppo – control of which for the Syrian government is an existential issue.  If the price of recovering control of these areas is to let the Jihadi fighters retreat temporarily to Idlib, then it is a price the Syrian government is willing to pay. 

Once the Syrian heartland is fully secured, the Syrian army and security forces can deal with these Jihadi fighters in Idlib at leisure.

Having said all this, it is far from certain that all the Jihadi fighters evacuated to Idlib from the rest of Syria are all actually still there.  It is likely that Al-Qaeda sent many of them to fight and die over in last summer’s and autumn’s counter-offensives aimed at breaking the Syrian army’s siege of eastern Aleppo.  Jihadi casualties in that fighting are known to have been very high, and it is likely that many Jihadi fighters evacuated to Idlib from elsewhere in Syria met their deaths there. 

Back on 17th August 2016 I explained how by becoming a battle of attrition the fighting in Aleppo was working to the long benefit of the Syrian government

“This is not a stalemate.  It is a battle of attrition.  Though the fighting in southwestern Aleppo is very intense with only very small movements achieved by either side in the last 2 weeks, in a battle of attrition such as this is it is the rebels who are losing….In a battle of this sort the only chance the rebels would have had of victory would have been if they had achieved it quickly and decisively. ….The one thing the rebels cannot afford is to suffer heavy losses by battering themselves to pieces at the gates of Aleppo.  With their advance stalled on the outskirts of Aleppo that however is precisely the prospect the rebels are now facing.”

It is precisely because the Jihadis chose to get bogged down in a battle of attrition in Aleppo that they could not afford and which they have now lost that their position not just in Aleppo but elsewhere in western Syria is now collapsing.  I suspect the same will also prove to be true in Idlib when the Syrian army eventually attacks it.

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Fake news media FREAK OUT over Trump and NATO (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 172.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the media meltdown over remarks that U.S. President Trump may have made with regard to NATO, and how neo-liberal war hawks championing the alliance as some sort of foreign policy projection of peace and democracy, are really just supporting aggression, war, and the eventual weakening of the United States.

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Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO, Authored by David Swanson:


The New York Times loves NATO, but should you?

Judging by comments in social media and the real world, millions of people in the United States have gone from having little or no opinion on NATO, or from opposing NATO as the world’s biggest military force responsible for disastrous wars in places like Afghanistan (for Democrats) or Libya (for Republicans), to believing NATO to be a tremendous force for good in the world.

I believe this notion to be propped up by a series of misconceptions that stand in dire need of correction.

1. NATO is not a war-legalizing body, quite the opposite. NATO, like the United Nations, is an international institution that has something or other to do with war, but transferring the UN’s claimed authority to legalize a war to NATO has no support whatsoever in reality. The crime of attacking another nation maintains an absolutely unaltered legal status whether or not NATO is involved. Yet NATO is used within the U.S. and by other NATO members as cover to wage wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable. This misconception is not the only way in which NATO works against the rule of law. Placing a primarily-U.S. war under the banner of NATO also helps to prevent Congressional oversight of that war. Placing nuclear weapons in “non-nuclear” nations, in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, is also excused with the claim that the nations are NATO members (so what?). And NATO, of course, assigns nations the responsibility to go to war if other nations go to war — a responsibility that requires them to be prepared for war, with all the damage such preparation does.

2. NATO is not a defensive institution. According to the New York Times, NATO has “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” This is an article of faith, based on the unsubstantiated belief that Soviet and Russian aggression toward NATO members has existed for 70 years and that NATO has deterred it rather than provoked it. In violation of a promise made, NATO has expanded eastward, right up to the border of Russia, and installed missiles there. Russia has not done the reverse. The Soviet Union has, of course, ended. NATO has waged aggressive wars far from the North Atlantic, bombing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. NATO has added a partnership with Colombia, abandoning all pretense of its purpose being in the North Atlantic. No NATO member has been attacked or credibly threatened with attack, apart from small-scale non-state blowback from NATO’s wars of aggression.

3. Trump is not trying to destroy NATO. Donald Trump, as a candidate and as U.S. President, has wondered aloud and even promised all kinds of things and, in many cases, the exact opposite as well. When it comes to actions, Trump has not taken any actions to limit or end or withdraw from NATO. He has demanded that NATO members buy more weapons, which is of course a horrible idea. Even in the realm of rhetoric, when European officials have discussed creating a European military, independent of the United States, Trump has replied by demanding that they instead support NATO.

4. If Trump were trying to destroy NATO, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Trump has claimed to want to destroy lots of things, good and bad. Should I support NAFTA or corporate media or the Cold War or the F35 or anything at all, simply because some negative comment about it escapes Trump’s mouth? Should I cheer for every abuse ever committed by the CIA or the FBI because they investigate Trump? Should I long for hostility between nuclear-armed governments because Democrats claim Trump is a Russian agent? When Trump defies Russia to expand NATO, or to withdraw from a disarmament treaty or from an agreement with Iran, or to ship weapons to Ukraine, or to try to block Russian energy deals in Europe, or to oppose Russian initiatives on banning cyber-war or weapons in space, should I cheer for such consistent defiance of Trump’s Russian master, and do so simply because Russia is, so implausibly, his so-inept master? Or should I form my own opinion of things, including of NATO?

5. Trump is not working for, and was not elected by, Russia.According to the New York Times, “Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said.” But are anonymous “American officials” really needed to acquire Russia’s openly expressed opinion that NATO is a threatening military alliance that has moved weapons and troops to states on Russia’s border? And has anyone produced the slightest documentation of the Russian government’s aims in an activity it has never admitted to, namely “meddling in American elections,” — an activity the United States has of course openly admitted to in regard to Russian elections? We have yet to see any evidence that Russia stole or otherwise acquired any of the Democratic Party emails that documented that party’s rigging of its primary elections in favor of Clinton over Sanders, or even any claim that the tiny amount of weird Facebook ads purchased by Russians could possibly have influenced the outcome of anything. Supposedly Trump is even serving Russia by demanding that Turkey not attack Kurds. But is using non-military means to discourage Turkish war-making necessarily the worst thing? Would it be if your favorite party or politician did it? If Trump encouraged a Turkish war, would that also be a bad thing because Trump did it, or would it be a bad thing for substantive reasons?

6. If Trump were elected by and working for Russia, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Imagine if Boris Yeltsin were indebted to the United States and ended the Soviet Union. Would that tell us whether ending the Soviet Union was a good thing, or whether the Soviet Union was obsolete for serious reasons? If Trump were a Russian pawn and began reversing all of his policies on Russia to match that status, including restoring his support for the INF Treaty and engaging in major disarmament negotiations, and we ended up with a world of dramatically reduced military spending and nuclear armaments, with the possibility of all dying in a nuclear apocalypse significantly lowered, would that too simply be a bad thing because Trump?

7. Russia is not a military threat to the world. That Russia would cheer NATO’s demise tells us nothing about whether we should cheer too. Numerous individuals and entities who indisputably helped to put Trump in the White House would dramatically oppose and others support NATO’s demise. We can’t go by their opinions either, since they don’t all agree. We really are obliged to think for ourselves. Russia is a heavily armed militarized nation that commits the crime of war not infrequently. Russia is a top weapons supplier to the world. All of that should be denounced for what it is, not because of who Russia is or who Trump is. But Russia spends a tiny fraction of what the United States does on militarism. Russia has been reducing its military spending each year, while the United States has been increasing its military spending. U.S. annual increases have sometimes exceeded Russia’s entire military budget. The United States has bombed nine nations in the past year, Russia one. The United States has troops in 175 nations, Russia in 3. Gallup and Pew find populations around the world viewing the United States, not Russia, as the top threat to peace in the world. Russia has asked to join NATO and the EU and been rejected, NATO members placing more value on Russia as an enemy. Anonymous U.S. military officials describe the current cold war as driven by weapons profits. Those profits are massive, and NATO now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing on the globe.

8. Crimea has not been seized. According to the New York Times, “American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.” Again we have an anonymous claim as to a goal of a government in committing an action that never occurred. We can be fairly certain such things are simply made up. The vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia is commonly called the Seizure of Crimea. This infamous seizure is hard to grasp. It involved a grand total of zero casualties. The vote itself has never been re-done. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single believer in the Seizure of Crimea has ever advocated for re-doing the vote. Coincidentally, polling has repeatedly found the people of Crimea to be happy with their vote. I’ve not seen any written or oral statement from Russia threatening war or violence in Crimea. If the threat was implicit, there remains the problem of being unable to find Crimeans who say they felt threatened. (Although I have seen reports of discrimination against Tartars during the past 4 years.) If the vote was influenced by the implicit threat, there remains the problem that polls consistently get the same result. Of course, a U.S.-backed coup had just occurred in Kiev, meaning that Crimea — just like a Honduran immigrant — was voting to secede from a coup government, by no means an action consistently frowned upon by the United States.

9. NATO is not an engaged alternative to isolationism. The notion that supporting NATO is a way to cooperate with the world ignores superior non-deadly ways to cooperate with the world. A nonviolent, cooperative, treaty-joining, law-enforcing alternative to the imperialism-or-isolationism trap is no more difficult to think of or to act on than treating drug addiction or crime or poverty as reason to help people rather than to punish them. The opposite of bombing people is not ignoring them. The opposite of bombing people is embracing them. By the standards of the U.S. communications corporations Switzerland must be the most isolationist land because it doesn’t join in bombing anyone. The fact that it supports the rule of law and global cooperation, and hosts gatherings of nations seeking to work together is simply not relevant.

10. April 4 belongs to Martin Luther King, Jr., not militarism. War is a leading contributor to the growing global refugee and climate crises, the basis for the militarization of the police, a top cause of the erosion of civil liberties, and a catalyst for racism and bigotry. A growing coalition is calling for the abolition of NATO, the promotion of peace, the redirection of resources to human and environmental needs, and the demilitarization of our cultures. Instead of celebrating NATO’s 70thanniversary, we’re celebrating peace on April 4, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against war on April 4, 1967, as well as his assassination on April 4, 1968.

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Turkey prepared to take Syria’s Manbij, won’t let it turn into ‘swamp’ like N. Iraq

Turkey sees the US-backed Kurdish YPG militias as an extension of the PKK and considers them terrorists as well.

RT

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Ankara has “almost completed” preparations for another military operation in Syria and will launch it if “promises” made by other parties about the protection of its borders are not kept, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Turkey still hopes that talks with the US, Russia and “other parties” will allow it to ensure its security without resorting to force but it is still ready to proceed with a military option and will not “wait forever,” Erdogan said. He was referring to Ankara’s plans for the northern Syrian territories east of the Euphrates River, which it seeks to turn into a “security zone”free of any Kurdish militias.

“We are on our border with our forces and following developments closely. If promises made to us are kept and the process goes on, that’s fine. Otherwise, we inform that we have almost completed our preparations and will take steps in line with our own strategy,” the president said, addressing a group of businessmen in Ankara on Monday.

He did not elaborate on the promises made. However, they are apparently linked to the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia from the Manbij area and the regions along the border with Turkey. “We will never allow a safe zone to turn into a new swamp,” Erdogan said, referring to the northern Syrian territories and comparing them to the northern Iraq, where the militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – an organization that Ankara considers a terrorist group – have been entrenched for decades.

Turkey sees the US-backed Kurdish YPG militias, which form the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as an extension of the PKK and considers them terrorists as well. “Our proposal for a security zone under Turkey’s control aims to keep terror organizations away from our borders,” the Turkish president said.

He went on to explain that Ankara does not seek any territorial gains in its military campaigns in Syria but merely seeks to restore order in the war-ravaged country. “We will provide security for Manbij and then we will hand over the city to its real owners,” Erdogan said. “Syria belongs to Syrians.”

Turkey also seeks to establish a “security zone 20 miles [32 kilometers] deep” into Syria, Erdogan said, adding that he already discussed this issue with the US President Donald Trump. “Those who insistently want to keep us away from these regions are seeking to strengthen terror organizations,” he added.

Ankara has been long planning to push YPG units out of the area east of the Euphrates River. Its operation was delayed by the US withdrawal from Syria. However, Erdogan repeatedly hinted that his patience is wearing thin and he is not ready to wait much longer. He warned Trump against backtracking on his pledge to withdraw some 2,000 US forces out of Syria following a suicide attack in Manbij that killed four Americans. If the US president halted the withdrawal, it would mean that Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) had won, Erdogan argued.

He has also reiterated that Turkey is ready to take over Manbij “without delay.” The US military is currently working on security arrangements with the Turkish forces to create a buffer zone between Turkey and the Kurdish fighters. The Kurds, meanwhile, invited the Syrian government to take over the city and have reportedly begun to leave the area. Turkey has dismissed the reports saying its a “psyop”.

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Political Knives Dull Themselves on the Rock of Brexit Article 50

The invocation of Article 50 was undertaken by an act of Parliament. And it will take another act of Parliament to undo it.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored Tom Luongo via Strategic Culture Foundation:


Theresa “The Gypsum Lady” May went through an extraordinary twenty-four hours. First, seeing her truly horrific Brexit deal go down in historic defeat and then, somehow, surviving a ‘No-Confidence’ vote which left her in a stronger position than before it.

It looks like May rightly calculated that the twenty or so Tory Remainers would put party before the European Union as their personal political positions would be terminally weakened if they voted her out of office.

While there is little stomach in the British Parliament for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, there is less for allowing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister. And that is the crux of why the incessant calls to delay Brexit, call for a ‘people’s vote’ or, in Corbyn’s case, “take a no-deal Brexit off the table,’ ultimately lead to a whole lot of political knife-fighting and very little substantive action.

The day-to-day headline spam is designed to wear down people’s resistance and make it feel like Brexit getting betrayed is inevitable. That has been the British Deep State’s and EU’s game plan all along and they hoped they could arm-twist enough people in parliament to succeed.

But the problem for them now, since the clock has nearly run out, is the invocation of Article 50 was undertaken by an act of Parliament. And it will take another act of Parliament to undo it.

And I don’t see anyone on the Remainer side working towards that end. That should be your clue as to what happens next.

Why? Because they know they don’t have the time to get that act past Parliament. So, the rest of this is simply a PR campaign to push public opinion far enough to allow for an illegal canceling or postponing of Brexit.

But it’s not working.

According to the latest polls, Brits overwhelmingly want the original Brexit vote respectedLeave even has a 5-6 point lead over Remain.

And, I think Theresa May now realizes this. It is why she invited the no-confidence vote against her. She knew she had the votes and it would give her the ammunition to ignore Corbyn’s hysterical ranting about taking a no-deal Brexit off the table.

Whether she realizes that the only negotiating tool she has with the EU is the threat of a No-Deal Brexit, exactly like Nigel Farage and those committed to Brexit have been telling her for two years is still, however, up in the air.

It looks like she’s finally starting to get it.

The net result is we are seeing a similar outing of the nefarious, behind-the-scenes, power brokers in the public eye similar to what’s been happening in the US with Donald Trump and Russiagate.

May has been singularly unimpressive in her handling of Brexit. I’ve been convinced from the beginning that betraying Brexit was always her goal. Negotiating a deal unacceptable to anyone was meant to exhaust everyone into the position to just throwing up their hands and canceling the whole thing.

The EU has been in the driver’s seat the entire time because most of the British establishment has been on their side and it was only the people who needed to be disrespected.

So, after all of these shananigans we are back to where we were last week. May has cut off all avenues of discussion. She won’t commit to taking ‘no-deal’ off the table to tweak Corbyn. She won’t substantively move on any other issue. This is likely to push her deal through as a last-minute panic move.

Corbyn is still hoping to get new elections to take power, and the majority of MP’s who don’t want to leave the EU keep fighting among themselves to cock up the entire works.

All they are doing is expending pound after pound of political capital beating themselves against their own act of Parliament which goes into effect on March 29th.

By the time that date comes around the frustration, shame and humiliation of how Parliament has mishandled Brexit will make it difficult for a lot of Remainers to hold together their majority as public opinion has decidedly turned against them.

In the past the EU has had that façade of democratic support undermining any change at the political level. With Brexit (and with budget talks in Italy) that is not the case. The people are angry.

The peak moment for Remainers to stage a bipartisan political coup against May should have been the most recent no-confidence vote.

With May surviving that it implies that Remainers are not willing to die politically for their cause.

This should begin to see defectors over the next couple of weeks as they realize they don’t have a hand to play either.

And by May refusing to rule out a ‘no-deal’ Brexit it has finally brought the EU around to throw a bone towards the British. Their admitting they would extend Article 50 is just that. But they know that’s a non-starter as that is the one thing May has been steadfast in holding to.

On March 29th with or without a deal the U.K. is out of the EU. Because despite the European Court of Justice’s decision, Britain’s parliament can only cancel Article 50 at this point by acting illegally.

Not that I would put that past these people, but then that opens up a can of worms that most British MP’s will not go along with. The personal stakes are simply too high.

When dealing with politicians, never bet against their vanity or their pocketbook. In May’s case she may finally have realized she could have the legacy of getting Britain out of the EU just before it collapses.

And all she has to do between now and the end of March is, precisely, nothing.

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