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Is Boris Johnson About to Get a Brexit Deal?

Britain is close to reaching a last-minute agreement with the European Union, but doubts remain.

By , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson comes out of Number 10 Downing Street in London on Oct. 15.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson comes out of Number 10 Downing Street in London on Oct. 15. ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Britain and the European Union appear to be close to a Brexit deal, Hong Kong‘s leader heckled out of legislature, and what to make of Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Britain and the European Union appear to be close to a Brexit deal, Hong Kong‘s leader heckled out of legislature, and what to make of Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Britain and EU Inch Toward Brexit Deal

After major concessions, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be close to reaching a Brexit deal with the European Union in last-minute talks ahead of the EU leaders’ summit on Thursday. If approved, a draft agreement could be published today. (Likewise, the European Union will announce today whether the talks must continue next week.) The British pound jumped to its highest level against the dollar and the euro since May.

The Irish border has been a sticking point in the negotiations. Reportedly, EU and British negotiators have agreed in principle on a customs border in the Irish Sea. A similar proposal was rejected by former Prime Minister Theresa May as unacceptable. “Northern Ireland would de jure be in the UK’s customs territory but de facto in the European Union’s,” a diplomatic source told the Guardian.

Would he have the votes? Johnson will likely need the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to push an agreement through Parliament, but it opposes a customs border in the Irish Sea. Johnson is expected to address Conservative party lawmakers late today after meeting with his cabinet, according to a report by the pro-Johnson Daily Telegraph. He may also need the votes of several pro-Brexit Labour Party members, who are under pressure not to help Johnson’s deal pass in Parliament.

Scotland out? Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon announced she intends to hold a second referendum for independence next year, speaking at party conference on Tuesday. For that to be possible, the British government must grant Sturgeon the powers to do so by the end of this year.

What We’re Following Today

Carrie Lam heckled out of Hong Kong legislature. Hong Kong’s chief executive was forced to abandon her policy address as the city’s legislature reopened after a four month recess. Pro-democracy lawmakers in the chamber chanted and heckled, drowning out Lam’s speech. She left the chamber and delivered a pre-recorded speech on television.

Meanwhile U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley visited the city and warned it risked becoming a “police state.” Lam blasted the Missouri Republican for making “totally irresponsible and unfounded” remarks. Hawley retorted on Twitter: “If Carrie Lam wants to demonstrate otherwise, here’s an idea: resign.”

Impeachment inquiry gathers steam. Today, Michael McKinley, a former senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears for a deposition in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, testimony that could yield information about Pompeo’s involvement in shaping State Department policy toward Ukraine. Lawmakers are also mulling summoning former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify. Those closer to U.S. President Donald Trump are refusing subpoenas: Lawyers for Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday that neither would cooperate with the House’s requests for testimony or documents.

Trump’s foreign policy takes center stage at debate. Twelve U.S. presidential candidates took the stage for Tuesday’s Democratic debate. Questions about Syria and Russia gave them the opportunity to attack Trump’s foreign policy, but there were none about China, arms control, the war in Yemen, or other pressing issues. Sen. Bernie Sanders slammed Turkey for “mass slaughter” of the Kurds and former Vice President Joe Biden reminded viewers that he was the only one on stage to have dealt with the leaders of Russia and Turkey. But the candidates provided few concrete policy proposals—leaving viewers with little insight into the Democrats’ own ideas about the role of the United States in the world.

[FP has rounded up what each of the Democratic candidates has previously said about foreign-policy issues—updated ahead of Tuesday’s debate.]

Backed by Russia, Syrian army moves on key town. Russian and Syrian troops drove through Manbij, a town in Syria’s northeast where until recently the United States had a presence. A Russian news video on Tuesday showed an abandoned U.S. military outpost, underscoring Russia’s boosted influence in the region after the United States’ sudden withdrawal. Meanwhile, Turkey has moved ahead with its offensive in northern Syria, despite threats of increased U.S sanctions. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday to push for a cease-fire.

Keep an Eye On

Separatist protests in Barcelona. Protests continue in Barcelona after Spain’s Supreme Court jailed the leaders who spearheaded a failed Catalan secession bid in 2017. Separatist leaders are pushing for a new referendum, drawing thousands into the streets—with some protesters clashing with police. The independence debate is likely to shape Spain’s national election, set for Nov. 10.

Chinese influence on Western campuses. In recent years, university leaders have turned against Confucius Institutes—centers funded and run by the Chinese state—as they are criticized for promoting propaganda. The institutes extend the Chinese Communist Party’s reach, and it’s time for governments to ban them from campuses, Andreas Fulda argues in FP.

Uganda’s proposed anti-gay bill. Lawmakers in Uganda are planning to submit a bill that would make homosexual acts punishable by death. The bill, condemned by rights groups, would be another setback for LGBT rights in Africa this year. In May, Kenya’s High Court rejected a bid to decriminalize same sex relationships. Gay sex is still criminalized in conservative Uganda.

A chance to end the war in Yemen? In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels have recently taken a step back from all-out war in the wake of the attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure. The change should be embraced by all parties involved as a way to broker a cease-fire before it is too late, April Longley Alley argues in FP.

Climate Check

The European Investment Bank has postponed a meeting over a plan to stop new investments in fossil fuels amid a last-minute push from lobbyists. The holdup has climate activists concerned that Germany and the European Commission are seeking to weaken the proposal, which would be a landmark for the financial sector.

Lebanon is battling its worst forest fires in decades, leading its government to request help from other countries in the region. The blazes, which began in Lebanon’s western mountains, have also spread to Syria, where two forestry workers have died.

Her Power—Women hold only 33 percent of leadership positions on average in the U.S. foreign-policy apparatus—leaving a key talent pool untapped. In the first-of-its-kind Her Power Index, FP Analytics evaluates the status and progress of women’s representation across 15 U.S. government agencies focused on foreign policy.

Odds and Ends

On Tuesday, North and South Korea’s national teams played in a World Cup qualifying match at an empty stadium in Pyongyang, tying 0-0. For North Korean authorities, the risk of possible defeat was too great: Fans and journalists were banned from attending, and the match wasn’t aired on television.

A professor at Oxford University was accused of selling ancient Bible fragments to the U.S. arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby. The company’s Christian evangelical owners helped establish Washington’s Museum of the Bible and, in 2017, Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million for illegally importing ancient Iraqi artifacts. The museum admitted that several antiquities had been “sold illegally” by a “known expert.”

A mayor on the Italian island of Sardinia has blamed Google Maps for the increasing number of lost tourists around the town of Baunei. Local police have put up road signs with the message: “Do not follow the directions suggested by Google Maps,” urging those driving on local mountain roads to rely on paper maps instead. “Unfortunately Google maps does not take people to the places they want to go,” Mayor Salvatore Corrias told the Guardian.

That’s it for today. 

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Amy Mackinnon contributed reporting.

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

Tags: Brexit, EU