Morning Brief

Will Boris Johnson Seek an Election?

EU leaders consider a Brexit delay after another day of Parliamentary drama.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to speak to the media during a two-day summit of EU leaders on Oct. 17 in Brussels.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to speak to the media during a two-day summit of EU leaders on Oct. 17 in Brussels. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The European Union could issue another Brexit extension, Turkey and Russia reach a deal over Syria, and why Hungary pushed Trump to turn against Ukraine.

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If Brexit Is Delayed Again, What Happens Next?

EU leaders are considering British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s begrudging request for another Brexit extension, on the recommendation of EU Council President Donald Tusk. The move follows another defeat for Johnson in Parliament making it impossible for Britain to leave the European Union with a deal by the Oct. 31 deadline. Tusk said the European Union would respond “in the coming days.” The delay could last until the end of January 2020.

Johnson indicated earlier on Tuesday that he would seek a general election if the European Union granted a three-month extension—a motion that the opposition Labour party would likely back, after withholding support twice last month. Still, the European Union could grant a shorter extension, putting pressure on lawmakers to get a deal ratified before any election can be held. Johnson didn’t mention an election after Tuesday’s votes.

What happened in Parliament on Tuesday? British lawmakers voted 329-299 to to grant preliminary approval to Johnson’s Brexit deal on its second reading—the first time Parliament has voted in favor of any Brexit deal. But his plan to fast-track the deal in order to leave the European Union by Oct. 31 was narrowly struck down 20 minutes later by a 322-308 margin.

Many lawmakers complained that there was not adequate time to scrutinize the new deal. Johnson’s erstwhile allies in the Northern Irish Democtatic Unionist Party played a crucial role; they opposed the prime minister on both votes while some pro-Brexit Labour party MPs backed Johnson on the first vote but rejected the accelerated timetable in the second vote. After the defeat, Johnson announced that he would “pause” the legislation as EU leaders consider the delay. “One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal,” he said.

Ireland waits. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Tuesday that he welcomed British lawmakers’ vote to pass the second reading of Johnson’s Brexit bill, but would now wait to see what happens regarding a possible extension. Any general election in Britain would complicate talks to restore the government in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Johnson’s Northern Ireland secretary faced a grilling on Wednesday morning from angry unionists who feel betrayed by the government.

What We’re Following Today

Turkey and Russia reach deal over northern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a deal on Tuesday allowing Russian and Syrian forces to deploy along the Turkey-Syria border today to remove Kurdish fighters from the area. Turkish and Russian forces will then jointly patrol the “safe zone” Ankara has sought to establish in Syria’s northeast. While the deal effectively ends Turkey’s offensive, it marks another defeat for the Kurds, as it expands Ankara’s control of formerly Kurdish-held territory both west and east of the incursion—including the significant city of Kobani, FP’s Lara Seligman reports.

Why Hungary turned Trump against Ukraine. Depositions in the U.S. House impeachment inquiry continue, as the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump explicitly linked military aid to the country to an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump’s view of Ukraine as hopelessly corrupt may have been reinforced by conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin—and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. That’s because Hungary has its own tensions with Ukraine, and Orban could have fanned the flames when he visited Washington in May, FP’s Amy Mackinnon explains.

Chile’s president announces reforms to quell protests. After days of protests that began over increased public transportation fares rocked the country, President Sebastián Piñera has promised to boost pensions by 20 percent and proposed legislation that would lead to government health care coverage of some expensive medical procedures. So far, 15 people have died and 5,000 have been arrested. Piñera claimed to be heeding the protesters’ message and declared he would now “make up for lost time, pick up the pace and take concrete and urgent steps.”

Botswana votes in close election. Voters in Botswana head to the polls today in what is expected to be the first serious challenge to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) since the country’s independence in 1966. The opposition leader Duma Boko hopes to defeat President Mokgweetsi Masisi on a pledge to transform the economy. (Boko argued in FP earlier this month that the BDP threatens Botswana’s rule of law.) After today’s vote, Botswana could see its first dispute over a close election result.

Keep an Eye On

Iran’s standing in the Middle East. Within a month, unprecedented protests against corruption and a lack of economic reform have erupted in Iraq and Lebanon—both countries with Shiite majorities that Iran has strived to influence. But its proxies are failing to put the food on the table to maintain their base, Hanin Ghaddar argues in FP.

Israel’s Benny Gantz. Today, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will give Benny Gantz—the head of the Blue and White Party—the mandate to form the next coalition government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped back. Gantz isn’t likely to succeed either, leaving open the possibility of a third election within a year.

Compromise in Hong Kong? Months into Hong Kong’s protest movement, the protesters haven’t given up on their “five key demands, not one less,” and Chinese military intervention remains a possibility. But with reasonable compromises on both sides, Hong Kong still has the chance to avert disaster, Derek Grossman argues in FP. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s days might be numbered; Beijing is reportedly planning to replace her with an interim leader next year.

Ballot Box

The government of Bolivia has asked the Organization of American States to conduct an audit of its binding presidential election results. An initial electronic vote count was halted after it showed incumbent President Evo Morales failing to win Sunday’s elections outright and heading to a second round runoff. The halted count led to suspicions of government tampering and prompted mass protests across the country. With Bolivia on edge, the electoral board is still processing ballots; the current count shows Morales just short of the 10 percent lead he needs to avoid a runoff.

In Mozambique, President Filipe Nyusi was projected to be the landslide winner of the election held last week and the main opposition party, Renamo, has already rejected the result, alleging voter fraud. Analysts worry that the results will threaten the peace deal signed between Renamo and Nyusi’s party this year.

While Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won re-election on Monday, the results suggest that the country is more divided country than before. With the Parliament fractured, it seems likely that Canada could see another election sooner rather than later, Justin Ling writes for FP.

Odds and Ends

Engineers in Denmark on Tuesday used hydraulics to move a lighthouse away from a cliff where it had sat for 120 years, after erosion threatened to push it into the sea. The Rubjerg Knude lighthouse near the northern tip of Jutland in Denmark is a popular tourist attraction. The engineers were pleasantly surprised to learn it weighed only 720 tons, not 1,000 tons as they had assumed.

Foreign Policy Recommends

As recent negotiations and Parliamentary stunts have shown, making a prognosis on Brexit is nearly impossible. One thing that has become more clear—whether due to evidence of the British establishment’s contempt toward Ireland or just the shared anxiety uniting a divided Ireland—is that the prospect of a united Ireland is no longer just a vague nationalist dream. In the New York Review of Books, Sadhbh Walshe writes about how Brexit has reignited the possibility of unification and how Northern Ireland’s distinct politics might get in the way. –Colm Quinn

That’s it for today.

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Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

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

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