Britain’s Next Prime Minister Steps Forward
Plus: A European maritime mission in the Persian Gulf, talks between the United States and Turkey, and the other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Conservative Party announces Britain’s next prime minister, Europe plans a maritime mission to counter Iran in the Persian Gulf, and the United States seeks to stop a Turkish operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters.
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Boris Johnson Heads to Downing Street
Britain’s Conservative Party announced that Boris Johnson has won the contest to become Britain’s next prime minister. Johnson defeated the current foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, by a large margin of 92,153 votes to 46,656. Johnson, a former foreign secretary and onetime mayor of London, has threatened to proceed with a no-deal Brexit if he can’t reach a deal with the European Union by Oct. 31. He will take office on Wednesday. Read FP’s guide to Johnson’s colorful and controversial career here.
Johnson’s hard-line promise to allow a no-deal departure has already created a political conundrum within his party. Several ministers have indicated they will resign if Johnson becomes prime minister—heading off their dismissal. A Foreign Office minister, Alan Duncan, quit on Monday, calling Brexit a “dark cloud” over the government’s work. With defections, Johnson’s working majority in the House of Commons could fall to just one, Bloomberg reports. Already, there is talk of an early election before the end of the year and Johnson could also face a no-confidence vote in Parliament if opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn chooses to call for one; some members of Johnson’s party have hinted that they may not support him.
What about the Irish border? One of Johnson’s first challenges? In order to receive the parliamentary backing of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is crucial to maintaining the Tories’ narrow majority, he must come up with a solution to the thorny Irish border issue. He said he would ditch the “backstop” agreement negotiated between the EU and Theresa May—an insurance mechanism to prevent the return of a hard border and keep both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland within the EU Customs Union in the event that the U.K. and EU do not reach an agreement—but he has provided no specific alternative.
“If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make frictionless re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border,” Johnson wrote in his likely final column for the Daily Telegraph.
Who picks the prime minister? The Conservative Party chose its new leader based on a postal ballot of around 160,000 party members—a group that is disproportionately male, white, and well-off. Two-thirds of registered Conservative members support leaving the European Union without a deal—no matter the economic damage.
Recession on the horizon. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a leading British thinktank, said on Monday that—given the Brexit uncertainty—the country could already be in a recession, forecasting a downturn in the case of a no-deal departure.
What We’re Following Today
Europe could shift its strategy in the Persian Gulf. On Monday, Britain called for a European-led maritime mission to protect ships in the Strait of Hormuz, indicating a potential shift on the part of the United States’ European allies over military presence in the Persian Gulf. (Europe has been reluctant to increase its military presence in the region amid rising tensions.) The announcement comes after the seizure of an British tanker by Iran last week, which British Foreign Secretary Hunt called “state piracy.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that “The responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships,” added to a sense of urgency in European capitals. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris today.
U.S. envoy in Turkey for talks. The U.S. special envoy on Syria is in Turkey for a second day of talks aimed at avoiding a threatened Turkish military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. The threat marks another escalation in tensions since Turkey purchased a Russian missile defense system. (On Monday, Turkey promised to retaliate if the U.S. imposes sanctions.) The two countries’ tense relations are rooted in decades of misunderstandings, Keith Johnson and Robbie Gramer report.
Spanish PM faces tough confirmation vote. Spain’s parliament holds a vote to confirm Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez today, nearly three months after elections. Sánchez’s Socialists have struggled to form a coalition with the far-left Podemos party, which on Monday called for better government posts in a potential deal. Sánchez is not likely to win an absolute majority today. If he strikes a deal with Podemos, the prime minister would have the support needed to win a simple majority in a second vote on Thursday.
Keep an Eye On
Congo’s Ebola crisis. On Monday, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s health minister, Oly Ilunga, resigned after being excluded from a new team responsible for managing the country’s Ebola outbreak. The outbreak has already infected more than 2,500 people in Eastern Congo and killed over 1,700. Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, has centralized control of the Ebola response under his supervision. He appointed Jean-Jacques Muyambe Tamfum, the director of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa and a member of the team that investigated the first known Ebola outbreak in 1976. Ilunga opposed using a second vaccine to counter the virus, and his departure could mean that it will now be introduced. The World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak an international emergency, backs the new vaccine.
Despite the WHO declaration of an emergency, the World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF)—a finance-driven insurance mechanism funded by investors—has not been triggered yet, effectively blocking the release of an estimated $200 million. In April, the World Bank’s former chief economist, Lawrence Summers, criticized the PEF, calling it “an embarrassing mistake” and a symptom of “financial goofiness” within the World Bank. As a result of the blocked funds, “thousands of people might die in the Ebola epidemic, but never formally trigger release of $200 million before the PEF five-year payout period for investors,” Laurie Garrett argues in FP.
Venezuela’s blackout. A power outage struck more than half of Venezuela’s states on Monday, including Caracas—the first to do so since March. The government has been quick to place blame elsewhere, attributing the blackout to an “electromagnetic attack.” Facing economic crisis, Venezuela has not maintained its power grid for years.
Deadly clashes in Ethiopia. At least 25 people have been killed in southern Ethiopia as activists from the Sidama ethnic group clashed with state security forces. Sidama activists were set to declare a new federal region last week and have accused the government of failing to hold a referendum on the issue as promised.
Huawei’s role in North Korea. Company documents show that Chinese telecoms firm Huawei secretly helped build and maintain a commercial wireless network in North Korea over eight years, the Washington Post reports. Huawei, which has used American technology, may have violated U.S. export controls by supplying parts to North Korea.
Putin’s ploy to stay in power. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current term is set to end in 2024. There’s already plenty of speculation about how he might get around the two-term limit. The latest proposal: changing the constitution to create a new position in parliament that Putin could take over. The question is how the population would respond, Chris Miller writes for FP.
FP Conference Call—FP Editor in Chief Jonathan Tepperman will talk with former French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud and former Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan about the challenges of doing diplomacy in Washington in the Trump era. Join FP’s subscriber-only editorial conference call on July 24 at 10 a.m. EDT to get in on the conversation and ask your questions. Register here.
Odds and Ends
In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the radical pro-Brexit campaign Leave.EU—founded by British businessman Arron Banks—will be allowed to keep its domain name only if it transfers ownership to an EU citizen. The .eu domain was launched in 2006 for organizations with a pan-European identity.
Growing demand for snail slime—thought to have cosmetic benefits—is fueling a boom in Thailand, where dozens of snail farms have popped up in recent years. While snails once plagued Thai farmers, the business now contributes to a global industry worth $314 million.
That’s it for today.