BREXIT BLOWS UP

BREXIT BLOWS UP

A fragile peace within the UK’s governing Conservative Party has been shattered in the past two days, with the fate of Brexit negotiations and Theresa May’s government in the balance.


To put it politely, the prime minister’s Brexit plan was never going to be an easy sell. Here’s a snapshot of the challenges she still faces:

Theresa May leads a party and a nation deeply divided over what sort of relationship they want with Europe. Many who hope to ensure European institutions have no future say in how the UK crafts its laws and controls its borders will never be satisfied with anything less than a so-called “Hard Brexit,” a sharp break from the EU and its rules. On the other side, those who believe the UK must maintain as much continued access as possible to European markets see Hard Brexit as a blind leap from a speeding train.

Since taking over from David Cameron in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, May’s task has been to develop a plan specific enough on the terms of exit to win a green light from EU negotiators and vague enough on the future of UK-EU economic relations to prevent her party from dividing in two. She then needed to persuade her cabinet ministers to publicly back the plan. Then, the proposal would have to pass muster in 27 European capitals and a vote in the House of Commons.

Forty-eight hours ago, it appeared the best argument for her makeshift compromise, a plan that would leave the UK in a temporary customs union with the EU to avoid restoration of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, was the lack of a clear alternative, either to her proposal or her leadership. That may still be the case. But on Thursday, Dominic Raab, her Brexit secretary, became the seventh minister to quit May's cabinet in the past year, igniting an open revolt from some in the Hard Brexit camp. Tensions between May and this faction are likely to spike between now and mid-December, when a vote on the deal is expected in parliament.

What’s next? May, who used a press conference after Raab’s resignation yesterday to appeal directly to the British people, vows to soldier on and advance her plan. Some within her party have called for a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister, and it remains unclear as of Friday morning whether their number is enough to force one.

The ultimate Brexit questions remain:

  • Is it possible to craft any Brexit deal that can win approval both in the UK and across Europe?

  • If not, is the UK doomed to crash out of the UK toward an unknown future?

  • Might Britain be headed instead toward a second Brexit vote?

  • If so, and it produces a different outcome, how can future British governments mind the gap in public and official opinion that Brexit has created?

  • If a second vote were to produce the same outcome, what would come next?

The ongoing political chaos in London suggests we’re no closer to answers.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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