Morning Brief

Is Britain Really Headed for a No-Deal Brexit?

Plus: Rattled markets in Argentina, Italy’s impending no-confidence vote, and the other stories we’re following today.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Fusion Energy Research Centre  on August 8 in Abingdon, England.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Fusion Energy Research Centre on August 8 in Abingdon, England. Julian Simmonds - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Boris Johnson’s government continues to threaten to go through with a no-deal Brexit, presidential primary results jolt Argentina’s economy, and Italy’s Senate meets to set a date for a no-confidence vote.

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Britain Retreats from Brussels as Boris Prepares for a Showdown

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton begins a second day of meetings today in London, where on Monday he made clear that the United States would continue to support Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit—even intimating that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump would be quick to establish a free-trade deal with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

Johnson remains at an impasse with the European Union over renegotiating Britain’s departure deal, and this week British diplomats are expected to stop attending day-to-day meetings in Brussels. Critics worry their absence will simply leave Britain out of critical EU decisions, the Guardian reports. (There are around 150 diplomats lobbying for British interests in Brussels.)

What is Boris Johnson’s strategy? Since Johnson took office last month, it has seemed as if Britain was barreling toward a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. But the prime minister’s strategy might be counterintuitive, Aleks Eror argues in FP: He could be forcing Parliament to block no-deal so that he can seek another extension of the deadline.

“If Johnson was truly set on pushing through no-deal, he would have shown greater subtlety and gone about his plans more covertly so as to avoid alarming his opponents,” Eror writes. “Instead, he has set out to cause maximum panic, which has had the effect of spurring a cross-party coalition against no-deal into action.”

Can Parliament block a no-deal Brexit? Britain’s Labour Party appears to be making plans to hold a no-confidence vote on Johnson’s government when Parliament returns from recess in early September—what some see as the most viable of several options to stop a no-deal Brexit. But there is no guarantee that the election would occur before Brexit; even if he loses the no-confidence vote and no alternative government can be formed within 14 days under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, it is Johnson’s prerogative to set the election date. His government is preparing for a showdown on Sept. 9.

If Johnson loses the vote, when would the election be held? One of the prime minister’s aides told the Financial Times “We can’t stop them forcing an election but we control the timetable … If there must be a general election, then it will be days after October 31.” Observers believe that Johsnon’s advisor and Brexit guru, Dominic Cummings, is seeking to hold the vote in the first few days after a no-deal departure in order to court voters before any negative consequences of no-deal become apparent. Those consequences could be significant, as Simon Tilford argued last October in FP.

More recently, the former chief executive of the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, told the BBC last week that the country could get by on stockpiles of basic goods for a few days before shoppers feel the impact. “The kind of disruption the government is talking about . . . will lead to gaps on the shelves within a week”—including, among other things, toilet paper.

Holding an election in the first days of November could also help Johnson win over diehard Euroskeptics from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Cummings is no fan of Farage’s nativism, as Sahil Handa explains in an FP profile, and he is seeking to poach those pro-Brexit voters in an effort to neuter the populist right permanently.

But is that legal? Meanwhile the opposition Labour Party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has accused Johnson of an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power,” given that British governments traditionally do not make major policy decisions in the midst of election campaigns. Brexit would qualify as a major decision, argues Corbyn, and he has appealed to the cabinet secretary to clarify the laws surrounding decisionmaking before an impending election.

What We’re Following Today

Argentine peso plummets after surprise primary results. After results from Sunday’s presidential primary showed President Mauricio Macri trailing the opposition, Argentina’s stocks, bonds, and currency have fallen sharply—the largest simultaneous drop since the country’s 2001 economic crisis. While Macri has pledged to recover his political losses by the October election, the primary result has raised fears that Argentina could again default on its sovereign debt. On Monday, the Argentine central bank used $50 million in reserves to bolster the peso in foreign exchange markets.

Italian Senate meets over no-confidence vote. Italy’s Senate meets today to set a date for a no-confidence vote in the government after Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini declared the League party’s coalition with the Five Star Movement unworkable and called for snap elections. If Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte loses the vote, elections would be held within 45 to 70 days. The meeting on Tuesday comes after the political leaders failed to agree to a schedule.

Flights to Hong Kong resume. Hong Kong’s international airport allowed flights to resume to the city today, after service to the airport was disrupted on Monday during a peaceful protest in the arrivals hall. Despite the reopening, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific has cancelled more than 200 flights. Monday’s closure came as China again condemned the anti-government protests, comparing them to “terrorism.” They also worried investors, who fear that the ongoing unrest could cause an economic crisis in the financial hub.

Keep an Eye On

Guatemala’s next president. Alejandro Giammattei, elected president of Guatemala on Sunday, has already pledged to challenge the terms of the migration deal signed with the United States last month. Guatemalans don’t expect Giammattei to solve the systemic problems driving the migration out of the country, Anna-Catherine Brigida reports for FP.

The Syria safe zone. U.S. authorities are in southern Turkey this week to begin preparations for a joint operations center to manage a jointly-patrolled safe zone in Syria. They are proceeding cautiously: Turkey and the United States have disagreed over the plans for northern Syria; the Kurdish YPG militia operating there is considered an ally in Washington but an enemy in Ankara. Turkey wants to extend the safe zone deeper into Syrian territory than the United States. 

Germany’s Greens. Robert Habeck, the leader of Germany’s Green Party is pushing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to take on new debt to finance an expensive climate protection plan. The Greens have newfound political capital as they rise in opinion polls. But as the economy slows, Merkel’s government is also under pressure to keep the deficit low.

New Ebola drugs. Scientists say that a drug trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has increased the survival rate for those infected with Ebola, which was once deemed incurable. The news raised hopes for an end to the epidemic in eastern Congo, where almost 1,800 people have died. The drugs will now be used in treatment centers throughout the country.

Jair Bolsonaro’s son. Federal prosecutors in Brazil have filed an injunction in the hope of preventing President Jair Bolsonaro’s son from becoming ambassador to the United States. The move comes amid accusations of nepotism from the opposition, which is also seeking to block his appointment. Eduardo Bolsonaro has no previous diplomatic experience.

Odds and Ends

The U.S. National Weather Service detected rare lightning strikes within 300 miles of the North Pole over the weekend. Most lightning strikes occur at lower latitudes, where the air is humid and warm enough to form a thunderstorm. “This is one of the furthest north lightning strikes in Alaska forecaster memory,” the NWS said.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is the newsletter editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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