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?

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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