Boris Johnson, Miles Davis, and Brexit

Puzzle with printed EU and UK flags

"Time isn't the main thing. It's the only thing." The words of jazz genius Miles Davis are surely resonating with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who flew to Brussels on Wednesday to iron out a post-Brexit trade agreement before the UK formally leaves the European Union — with or without a deal — on January 1.

While it was the first face-to-face meeting between Johnson and European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, since January, it's been four years since UK citizens voted in a referendum to leave the EU. Why has this been so hard to pull off?

As we enter the Brexit homestretch, here's a look at some key sticking points.


What are the outstanding issues?

🐟 Fish . London and Brussels simply can't agree on rules governing fishing rights, which has long been an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when London joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. They complain that non-British boats now draw in more than 60 percent of the value of fish drawn from English waters.

The UK says that its fishing waters should be "first and foremost for British boats," but the EU wants to retain rules that allow its vessels to have full access, threatening that it will block London's "special access" to its single market. As EU boats catch fish worth around £600 million in UK waters every year, Brussels is under huge pressure from fishing communities in dozens of member states not to back down.

Level playing field. EU-wide rules and regulations — the "level playing field" — seek to ensure that no country gains a competitive edge over another. But in exchange for privileged access to the EU marketplace, Europe is now demanding that Britain not adopt new labor, environmental, taxation and other rules that might undermine the competitiveness of European companies. Brexiteers, on the other hand, are furious, arguing that adhering to EU policy and regulations negates the entire Brexit mission altogether.

There was, however, a breakthrough in recent days when the UK backed down on its plan to breach the withdrawal treaty over how it would oversee trade with Northern Ireland.

What's at stake?

For the UK, the stakes are very high. If no deal is reached by January 1, British businesses that have long benefitted from access to the bloc's customs union will find themselves facing massive bureaucratic hurdles and high costs on goods crossing borders.

This is a big deal considering the UK does more than half of all its trade within the EU, which imports 43 percent of all British goods. If no deal is reached in the next few weeks, analysts warn, Britons could soon see some staples pulled from supermarket shelves, stranded transport vehicles with nowhere to deliver goods, and a floundering manufacturing sector.

For the EU, the stakes are high. Decades of free trade with the UK that have been a boon for EU businesses could come to an abrupt end in a no-deal scenario. It could make the GDP of the EU, which has long enjoyed a healthy trade surplus with the UK, contract by 0.5 percent in the near term if European companies have to pay tariffs and meet quotas.

Importantly, the Europeans are also worried that London will cut social and environmental standards, and become a low-regulation economic competitor like China, which continues to flood the bloc's market.

Johnson's gambit. The British PM has long been playing hardball with Brussels, but times are a'changin: popular discontent over Johnson's botched pandemic response has left him with diminished political capital to make painful concessions. (Johnson currently has a net approval rating of -18 percent.)

Johnson wants to have his cake (scone) and eat it too. He is pushing for a post-Brexit agreement that allows London to retain access to the EU single market, while also setting its own rules and regulations. The EU, meanwhile, desperately wants the UK to compromise. Who will blink first?

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

More Show less

China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

More Show less

Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

More Show less

5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal