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The Saturday showdown for Brexit

The Saturday showdown for Brexit

You'd think, being the relatively hopeful person that you are, that the nauseating anguish of Brexit would be more or less over now that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally reached a deal with Brussels on how to extricate the UK from the European Union.


So much for hope. No sooner had Johnson announced a new agreement yesterday morning, than a fresh (and bad) twist came from Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party there, whose 10 MPs are critical for Johnson's majority in the UK Parliament, rejected the deal out of hand.

The new deal would leave Northern Ireland under many EU customs regulations for four years, after which the local Northern Ireland Assembly would hold a simple majority vote on whether to continue with that arrangement. Ireland is in favor. And even Northern Irish nationalists, who oppose Brexit, saw it as the least bad option.

Both Johnson and the EU saw this as an improvement on the earlier so-called "Irish Backstop" which would have left Northern Ireland under EU rules indefinitely.

As a reminder, the gordian knot of Brexit is how to remove the UK (which includes Northern Ireland) from the EU (which includes Ireland) without imposing a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that could reignite sectarian and nationalist tensions on the island.

But the DUP doesn't like the new deal for two reasons. First, because in effect it sets up a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which is unacceptable to staunch unionists like the DUP. And second, because the DUP wants to hold a veto over any future customs arrangements, rather than subject them to regular risky majority votes. The Northern Ireland Assembly is just about evenly split between unionists who favor Brexit and nationalists who don't.

What happens next?
The current deadline for Brexit – deal or not – is 31 October. It looks like the UK Parliament is going to vote on the new deal tomorrow. Without DUP support, Johnson will have a very hard time pulling together a majority in favor. He'll need to rustle up support from hardliners who will still view this deal as too generous to Brussels, as well as former members of his own party whom he recently expelled for not being hardline enough. He's likely betting that general exasperation with Brexit will win people over. We'll see.

If the deal does pass, it would likely be formalized with the EU within weeks and then, yes, Brexit would – knock on wooden heads – be near its end.

If not, Johnson will have to seek an extension from Brussels, and would probably force new elections in order to build a stronger majority in Parliament – in part so he doesn't have to rely on the DUP anymore.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Join us tomorrow at 11 am ET for a GZERO Town Hall livestream event, Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic, to learn about the latest in the global hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Watch here at 11am ET: https://www.gzeromedia.com/events/town-hall-ending-the-covid-19-pandemic-livestream/

Our panel will discuss where things really stand on vaccine development, the political and economic challenges of distribution, and what societies need to be focused on until vaccine arrives in large scale. This event is the second in a series presented by GZERO Media in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group.

Apoorva Mandavilli, science & global health reporter for the New York Times, will moderate a conversation with:

  • Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director, Energy, Climate & Resources, Eurasia Group
  • Lynda Stuart, Deputy Director, Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Mark Suzman, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Gayle E. Smith, President & CEO, ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development

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The long-simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh erupted over the weekend, with more than 50 killed (so far) in the fiercest fighting in years. Will it escalate into an all-out war that threatens regional stability and drags in major outside players?

What's the background? For years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds over the rugged highlands of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies between them. In the dying days of the USSR, the two sides fought a bloody six-year war to control the enclave, which was part of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan but mainly populated by ethnic Armenian Christians.

The conflict ended in 1994 with over 30,000 dead, more than one million displaced, and a fragile truce that left Nagorno-Karabakh as a de facto independent state, recognized and supported by Armenia but not by most other countries, including Azerbaijan. Low-level clashes have persisted ever since — including deadly skirmishes in 2016 — and both governments often use the conflict to stoke nationalist flames at home.

Although the trigger for the latest violence is still unclear, bilateral tensions have been rising since mid-July, when 16 soldiers died in border clashes. That violence sparked an uproar in Azerbaijan, where thousands of Azeris took to the streets calling for the army to "recapture" Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, both sides are accusing each other of throwing the first punch, and have declared martial law.

A war over the enclave would resonate far beyond the region. The South Caucasus, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are located, has enormous strategic importance because it is crossed by two major energy pipelines that carry Azeri oil and Caspian Sea gas to Turkey and Europe.

Two outside players — Turkey and Russia — are on opposite sides of the conflict. Turkey has close relations with fellow Turkic Azerbaijan, and historically there is little love lost between Ankara and the Armenians. Moreover, Azerbaijan is Turkey's main oil supplier. Turkey has denied reports that it has sent 4,000 Syrians to fight on behalf of the Azeri army, but Turkish President Recep Erdogan's moves here merit close attention.

Russia is the dominant player in the region. But although it sells weapons to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Moscow keeps troops garrisoned in Armenia and is, technically, treaty-bound to defend the country. If things escalate further, Vladimir Putin will have to decide whether to honor that obligation. Doing so could quickly put Ankara and Moscow on opposite sides of another nasty war (they already back different sides of the civil war in Libya.)

Finally, Iran also as a stake. It borders both countries, and Azeris are Iran's largest ethnic minority. Although Tehran has traditionally backed Yerevan, and often bickers with Baku over energy and security in the Caspian Sea, the Iranians offered to mediate when the latest tensions began two months ago. Will they try again now?

62: In a referendum over the weekend, nearly 62 percent of Swiss voters said they wanted to preserve freedom of movement between the European Union and Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. The right-wing Swiss People's Party had proposed imposing migration quotas at the border, saying that the current frontier is basically a... (okay, they didn't actually say it's a "Swiss cheese" but still).

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