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Brexit and Biden

Joe Biden and Boris Johnson featured on either side of a fractured United Kingdom

On January 1, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, and the process of Brexit will (finally!) be complete. But with just seven weeks to go, the future of their relationship after the formal break remains very much in doubt, particularly when it comes to trade.

UK and EU negotiators have been working for months toward a free trade agreement, but big disagreements remain. The stakes are high, particularly for Britain. Today, nearly half of British trade is with the European Union, and without a deal, the EU can impose tariffs, quotas, and other barriers on British imports that would drive up costs for British companies and consumers.


Time is running out. If there's going to be a deal, it will probably have to come within the next week, because whatever they agree will need approval by British lawmakers and the EU parliament before January 1.

Major sticking points range from "level playing field" rules—Europe's demand that Britain not adopt labor, environmental, taxation and other rules and standards that undermine the competitiveness of EU companies—to how many fish European fishermen are allowed to catch in British waters.

So far, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has played hardball with EU negotiators. His message: We can live very well thank you without an EU deal. He's even threatened to break international law by scrapping an earlier EU-UK agreement that would maintain the current soft border between the Republic of Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

But the US election outcome has suddenly made things harder for Johnson. His hardline approach was more credible when it appeared Donald Trump might win re-election, because Trump had pledged to forge a US-UK trade agreement. Linking the UK more closely to the world's largest single economy gave Johnson leverage with Brussels. But President-elect Joe Biden has made clear that he opposes any move to harden the Irish border and will not cut a trade deal unless Johnson backs down on that position.

Biden's victory, therefore, has weakened Johnson's bargaining position with the EU—and negotiators on both sides of the English Channel know it. The EU side of the table has presented a united front. As European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde told GZERO Media in September, "All members of the European Union have stayed together throughout these last three years. And I don't see any trace of them coming apart."

Johnson also faces intense pressure from members of his own party not to concede too much to the EU, many of them already frustrated with Johnson over his handling of COVID-19 and lockdowns.

The danger for Johnson of alienating Biden, who is intent on improving US relations with Europe, is real and could help drag a UK-EU deal across the finish line. Post-Brexit, a UK wracked by pandemic and its economic fallout can't afford sour relations with the US and EU at the same time.

What will Johnson do? Between the EU's demands, Biden's, and those of hardliners within his own party, Johnson will now have to compromise somewhere – and time is running out.

Dating and debates, music festivals and dance classes, work and education – an increasing amount of our social interactions now take place online. With this shift to virtual venues, ensuring kindness and respect in everyday interactions and encounters is more important than ever.

The digital space has become a fundamental part of the national and international conversation, and has also, at times, become a breeding ground for bullying, trolling and hate speech. There is a clear need for more "digital good" to ensure that online encounters have a constructive impact on everyone involved. To learn more about digital good and what it means, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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As the global vaccination race heats up, the most populous country in the world is trying to do three very hard things at once.

India, grappling with the second highest confirmed COVID caseload in the world, recently embarked on what it called "the world's largest" coronavirus vaccination campaign, seeking to inoculate a sizable swath of its 1.4 billion people.

That alone would be a herculean challenge, but India is also making hundreds of millions of jabs as part of the global COVAX initiative to inoculate low-income countries. And as if those two things weren't enough, Delhi also wants to win hearts and minds by doling out millions more shots directly to other countries in its neighborhood.

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Passport to the Hajj — Saudi Arabia announced that it will require pilgrims to have vaccine passports in order to enter the country for the annual Hajj later this year. Each year, millions of Muslims from dozens of countries travel to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina to fulfill a religious obligation, in an annual event that brings in billions of dollars for the Saudi economy. The vaccine passport requirement may mean that people without means or access to vaccines in their home countries will be shut out of the Hajj this year, but Riyadh is relying on the scheme to help them pull off the event — after last year's event was mainly cancelled amid the pandemic— without fomenting a COVID outbreak.

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26,000: Efforts by the Australian government to keep the pandemic at bay have harmed the country's agriculture sector, which relies on foreign workers to tend to crops and cultivate the land. Australia had a deficit of some 26,000 farmworkers because of entry restrictions in recent months, Agri businesses say, resulting in tens of millions of dollars worth of wasted crops.

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