Morning Brief

Will There Be a Brexit Breakthrough?

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen are due to speak today on whether there are grounds to continue negotiations.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a statement at the European Commission in Brussels, on Dec. 5, 2020.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a statement at the European Commission in Brussels, on Dec. 5, 2020. JULIEN WARNAND/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: A no-deal Brexit looms as negotiating teams attempt to salvage talks, the U.S. Congress enters “hell week,” and what to watch in the world this week.

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EU and British Teams Enter Last Ditch Brexit Talks

Death, taxes—and disagreements over a level playing field, governance, and fisheries. The list of life’s inevitabilities for EU and U.K. negotiators has grown longer over months of talks that have yet to yield a resolution. With just 26 days before the United Kingdom is due to exit its 11-month transition period from the European Union, those three sticking points have kept talks at a stalemate.

A ray of hope was seen on Sunday, when the Guardian reported that an agreement was reached on the level of access allowed to EU fishing boats in British waters (British officials attempted to swiftly dim any optimism, saying that “nothing new” had been achieved).

Move slowly and break things. In what has been labeled a “negotiating tactic” by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, the British government intends to reinstate its Internal Market Bill before the House of Commons with clauses that would break a previous Brexit deal and that the British government has admitted breaks international law. A previous version of the bill had been amended by the upper House of Lords and the controversial clauses removed.

All eyes will be on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as their phone call, scheduled for this afternoon Washington time, will give the best update on whether talks will press on, or whether a no-deal outcome is imminent. 

A “good” deal? Writing in Foreign Policy on Oct. 14, Joseph de Weck argued that Britain will remain on the back foot in Europe, regardless of how negotiations go. “Deal or no deal, on Jan. 1, 2021, the U.K. will become the European country with the weakest trade links to the 27 EU member states,” de Weck wrote. “The free trade agreement under negotiation does not even come close to the arrangements that Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and even Ukraine have with Brussels.”

The borders COVID built. It’s not just Brexit. The coronavirus pandemic has helped build a sense of internal cohesion among EU members on a philosophical level not seen since the days of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, Caroline de Gruyter writes: “A marked difference between ‘us’ and ‘others’ is slowly emerging.”

The World This Week

On Monday, Nov. 7, Mark Lowcock, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, discusses the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on humanitarian action at the Brookings Institution.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks at an Atlantic Council forum.

French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for talks.

Voters in Ghana go to the polls in presidential and legislative elections.

On Tuesday, Dec. 8, A trade agreement between the U.S. and Ecuador will be signed in Quito, attended by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The White House hosts a COVID-19 vaccine summit with state governors and representatives from pharmaceutical companies ahead of a Food and Drug Administration meeting to authorize the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Liberians vote in Senate elections. The vote includes referendums on reducing the length of presidential and Senate terms and whether to allow dual citizenship.

Alexander Gauland of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) arrives in Moscow at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan begins a two-day visit to Azerbaijan.

On Thursday, Dec. 10, The European Council leaders summit begins.

EU-mediated negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia take place.

On Friday, Dec. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives adjourns. Government funding is also set to expire.

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum begins in Oslo.

On Saturday, Dec. 12, the United Kingdom and United Nations host the Climate Ambition Summit, calling on U.N. members to make stronger commitments to climate action, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate accord.

What We’re Following Today

Congressional crunch time. The U.S. Congress heads into what Politico has described as “hell week” as lawmakers attempt to pass a coronavirus relief act, defense bill, and reach a government funding agreement before a Dec. 11 deadline. A $908 billion coronavirus relief bill, negotiated over the weekend by a bipartisan group, will include a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit, but stops short of reissuing $1,200 checks, last seen in May. Congress is expected to pass a defense spending bill on Tuesday. However, since it does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Act as President Trump has demanded, it may face a presidential veto.

COVID roars back in South Korea. South Korea, one of the early leaders in stopping the spread of COVID-19, is dealing with its largest outbreak of the virus in nine months, with 631 new cases reported on Saturday. Park Neung-hoo, a health ministry official, said the current number of infections is “is exceeding the level that we can control in our hospital system.” With cases rising, South Korea is implementing new restrictions for the next three weeks that include banning gatherings of more than 50 people as well as closing gyms and places of worship.

Romania’s Orban weathers tight election.
Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban is scrambling to form a coalition after shock early election results saw his ruling National Liberal Party slip behind the rival Social Democratic Party. The election was marred by turnout of just 32 percent, the lowest since Communism ended in the country. Despite the results, Orban has declared his party “both the moral winner and the winner at the end of the counting process.” Partial official election results are expected today.

Keep an Eye On

Rules of engagement. A new report by Brown University’s Costs of War Project finds that a 2017 U.S. Department of Defense relaxation of rules of engagement in Afghanistan coincided with a 95 percent increase in the number of civilian deaths caused by U.S. and allied airstrikes compared to the previous ten years. The report also found that 700 Afghan civilians were killed by airstrikes in 2019, the most killed in any year since the war began in 2001.

Iranian tankers to Venezuela. Around ten Iranian fuel tankers are headed to Venezuela in the latest delivery to defy U.S. sanctions on the country. Bloomberg reports that the tankers will also collect fuel in Venezuela for export. The fleet is roughly twice the size of one that traveled from Iran to Venezuela in May. In September, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj and Francisco Rodríguez argued in Foreign Policy that the two isolated and sanctioned states were increasingly helping each other out.

“The simple fact that Iran, which has faced a broad campaign of sanctions for more than a decade, has recently come to the aid of Venezuela, which has been under concerted sanctions pressure for only a few years, suggests a remarkable degree of economic resilience,” they wrote. “When comparing the two economies, the most salient question is not whether Iran will become like Venezuela, but rather whether Venezuela will become more like Iran.”

Turkey sanctions. European Union foreign ministers will discuss whether to impose sanctions on Turkey over its gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean. The European Union maintains that Turkey has been operating exploration and drilling vessels in waters contested by Greece and Cyprus. Greece has offered to negotiate with Turkey on the issue, but has refused to do so as long as Turkish vessels are still working in the area. A Turkish seismic exploration vessel returned to port on Nov. 29 after a 111-day mission that collected 10,995 km of 2D seismic data, according to the Turkish energy ministry.

Israel-Saudi relations. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, a former ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, issued fiery remarks highly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians at an international security conference immediately before Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi took the stage. The comments come as hopes are high for a normalization agreement between the two countries. Prince Turki accused Israel of hypocrisy and lamented the incarceration of Palestinians “in concentration camps under the flimsiest of security accusations—young and old, women and men, who are rotting there without recourse to justice,” he said. “They are demolishing homes as they wish and they assassinate whomever they want,” he added.

Following Prince Turki’s speech, Ashkenazi attempted to defuse the situation. “I would like to express my regret on the comments of the Saudi representative. I don’t believe that they reflect the spirit and the changes taking place in the Middle East,” he said.

Odds and Ends

At a time when government programs to improve people’s lives inevitably come tangled in red tape, a political candidate in the southwestern Indian state of Goa has offered a simple proposition: mandatory siestas for all. Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward party has suggested the policy both as a symbol of Goa’s laidback susegad lifestyle and an answer to outsiders who don’t show the same respect for the culture. “The siesta is part of susegad and susegad is the chilled, easygoing identity of Goa. With outsiders failing to respect the ritual, I want to make it a law. For us Goans, it is the quality of life, not the quantity of money, that matters. We love what we have,” Sardesai said.

Sardesai maintains that science is on his side, and the midday nap helps keep energy levels stable. “The siesta relaxes you. I find that if I skip it, I feel tired, I can’t function. And then I can’t enjoy my evening, so what’s the point?” he added.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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