Brexit: Enter The Hard Part

Despite last week’s Brexit breakthrough, the road ahead is still littered with obstacles as the UK and EU sit down for the next round of talks this Friday.


Three big problems for British PM Theresa May:

The issues are only getting tougher: May wants to preserve maximal economic integration with the EU while doing away with social and political integration. But the EU more or less insists that the UK can’t have its cake and eat it too — out is out. The next round of negotiations will require genuine tradeoffs.

Her party isn’t fully behind her: May’s own Tory party is split. Last week’s compromise on the Irish border provoked an immediate backlash from pro-Brexit members who viewed it as a capitulation. These Tories won’t accept any final deal that looks too much like the UK is, in fact, still aligned politically with the continent.

The clock is ticking: The two sides have until March 2019 to agree on the future of their economic relationship or else they revert to a very weak level of economic integration mandated by WTO rules — a chaotic outcome which would hit the British economy hard. Are the roughly 500 days between now and then enough? Trade negotiations typically take years, if not decades, to complete.

Why does it matter? Despite last week’s breakthrough, Brexit will remain one of the big geopolitical cliffhangers of 2018.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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