Morning Brief

Boris Johnson Seeks a New Brexit Deal

Plus: Wildfires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, political gamesmanship in Italy, and the other stories we’re following today.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a joint press conference following Johnson's arrival at the Chancellery on August 21 in Berlin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a joint press conference following Johnson's arrival at the Chancellery on August 21 in Berlin. Omer Messinger/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to negotiate a new Brexit deal, wildfires rage in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and Hong Kong protesters gather in a symbolic train station.

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France Stands Firm Over Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with French President Emmanuel Macron today in Paris as he seeks to convince EU leaders to renegotiate a last-minute departure deal for Britain, which is due to leave the European Union in 10 weeks. Johnson is using the threat of a no-deal Brexit as leverage to bring the issue back to the table.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met Johnson on Wednesday, seemed to offer a compromise: She told the British leader that he had 30 days to come up with an alternative to the Irish backstop—the mechanism to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which Johnson opposes. “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?” Merkel said.

Macron weighs in. Just an hour after the meeting between Johnson and Merkel, Macron said that the European Union couldn’t work with Johnson’s demands, especially the removal of the backstop. A source in Macron’s office said on Wednesday that the government now believes a no-deal Brexit to be the most likely outcome—and that Germany and France share the same position.

Who next? Johnson will speak with European Council President Donald Tusk on the sidelines of the G-7 summit on Sunday. Tusk, who has already rejected Johnson’s backstop demand, will first meet with the EU Brexit negotiator. Tusk will remain in office through the end of November—past the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

Migration confusion. As Britain says it plans to tighten immigration restrictions after the deadline, its Office for National Statistics revealed on Wednesday that it had underestimated the number of long-term EU immigrants by 16 percent. The error doesn’t inspire much confidence in the country’s tracking system, analysts say.

What We’re Following Today

Wildfires rage in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Researchers in Brazil say that more than 74,000 wildfires have been recorded in the country’s Amazon rainforest this year—an 84 percent increase over last year. Around 4.5 million acres have burned in Brazil’s north, but smoke from the large fires has reached São Paulo, far to the south. Natural wildfires are rare in the Amazon, and most of the current blazes have been set as a result of slash-and-burn agriculture. Deforestation has accelerated under President Jair Bolsonaro, who on Wednesday blamed NGOs for setting the fires to undermine his government—without citing evidence.

Italy’s main opposition party open to Five Star coalition—with conditions. Italy’s Democratic Party (PD) is set to hold talks with the Five Star Movement about forming a new coalition after the collapse of the partnership between Five Star and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s League party. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday amid the crisis, and now President Sergio Mattarella is meeting with party leaders seeking a solution. The PD has laid out a few conditions for a potential coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star, including “loyal membership” of the European Union and a change in migrant policy.

Hong Kong activists demonstrate at site of train attack. On Wednesday, Hong Kong protesters briefly occupied Yuen Long station, where last month a mob, thought to be Triad gangsters, attacked protesters and ordinary commuters. The rally in part was a rebuke to the police: Authorities have not arrested any of the train attackers, and protesters say that Hong Kong’s government has not held the police accountable for violence against demonstrators. Protests are again expected through the weekend.

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Keep an Eye On

Russia’s spot at the G-7. After U.S. President Donald Trump suggested this week that he would consider inviting Russia back to the Group of Seven major economies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have said that it’s too soon to discuss it. Russia was excluded from the group (then the G-8) after it annexed Crimea in 2014. The G-7 will hold its annual summit in Biarritz, France, beginning on Saturday.

Salvini’s war on migrants. After nearly three weeks at sea, the Open Arms migrant rescue ship finally docked in Lampedusa on the orders of an Italian prosecutor on Tuesday. The standoff comes after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini pushed the Senate to pass a security decree barring vessels carrying migrants from Italian waters. If Salvini does manage to win a new election, his stance on immigration would likely become even tougher, Cecilia Butini writes for FP.

Social media protests in Xinjiang. Dozens of videos of people standing silently in front of photographs of loved ones who have disappeared emerged on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, this week. That they emerged on one of the only social media apps available in China’s Xinjiang region suggests they came from within the region—where between 800,000 and 2 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained, Amy Mackinnon reports.

Tourism to Cuba. Data released Wednesday showed that tourist arrivals to Cuba dropped by 23.6 percent in July, following a 20 percent decrease in June. The sharp decline comes after the United States tightened travel restrictions to the island, including banning cruise ships. The trend reverses the Cuban tourism industry’s boom under President Obama’s U.S.-Cuban détente.

The NatSec glass ceiling. Michèle Flournoy, one of the most recognizable names in U.S. national security policy today, is part of a new initiative to bring more women up through the ranks of the Pentagon. The group sees the 2020 election as an opportunity to push for change, and it’s already looking to the candidates to join in, Lara Seligman reports.

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Disinformation in 280 Characters

Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they had banned Chinese accounts spreading disinformation on their platforms, focused in particular on discrediting the Hong Kong protests. Twitter released the details of nearly 1,000 involved accounts. It appears that some of the accounts were purchased from other users, particularly in Russia. They also posted in various languages, as shown above.

Odds and Ends

A city in Germany has responded to a long-running conspiracy theory claiming that it doesn’t actually exist by offering 1 million euros to the person who provides solid proof that it’s true. Officials in Bielefeld say there are “no limits to creativity” in the contest. The theory was first posted online in 1994, and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joked about it.

While U.S. President Donald Trump has canceled his state visit to Denmark on Sept. 2, a balloon replica will be there. Organizers will go ahead with a planned protest in Copenhagen, flying the Trump baby blimp first used in London last year overhead.


Volunteer community mobilizers (VCMs) hold flip charts used for educating parents about polio and other routine immunizations at a health center in Kano, Nigeria, on July 23. Andrew Esiebo/Courtesy of the U.N. Foundation

On Wednesday, Nigeria marked three years since it has reported a new case of polio after decades of eradication efforts in the country. It’s been a difficult fight: Nigeria is one of three countries—including Afghanistan and Pakistan—where polio is officially still a threat. And the stakes of polio eradication remain high: The World Health Organization estimates that if people stop vaccinating, the disease could return to paralyze 200,000 people per year.

In Nigeria, vaccinators have overcome distrust, misinformation, and Boko Haram’s insurgency to reach the three-year milestone. There is still work to be done, FP’s Jefcoate O’Donnell reports from Kano.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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