Blog: British and EU Negotiators Meet in Brussels to Force Brexit Breakthrough – Foreign Policy

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brexit negotiating teams meet today in Brussels, Tigrayan forces strike Eritrea, Peru’s interim president resigns, and the world this week.

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Brexit Negotiations Are Running Out Of Time

The European Union and United Kingdom continue trade talks in Brussels today, following months of stalled debates and stalemate. At this point there have probably been more “pivotal” weeks over the course of Brexit negotiations than there are European Union member states, so what makes this time different?

The most important factor is time, and the lack of it. The so-called transition period for Britain and the EU ends on Dec. 31, bringing in a new era of trade relations. The next few days will decide whether that era is relatively smooth or chaotic in the event of a no-deal outcome. Time also weighs on the European parliament, which ultimately has to read the draft deal (after it’s been translated into the bloc’s 24 official languages) and approve it before that end of year deadline.

Adding more urgency to today’s talks is a new deadline: Thursday Nov. 19, when heads of EU member states meet via videoconference to discuss COVID-19 and have an opportunity to go over a draft deal, if there is one.

A new approach? The departure of senior aides Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings, both fervent Brexiteers, from 10 Downing Street last week has raised expectations that Britain’s approach may soften and a deal may get done quickly. That hope should be tempered by the fact that the membership of Johnson’s cabinet—and indeed his political mandate following last year’s general election—implied an anti-EU direction from the beginning, making a change in tone unlikely.

That was underlined by Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost Twitter thread on Sunday. To Frost, the only deal that’s possible “is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters. That has been our consistent position from the start and I will not be changing it.”

Boris in isolation. European leaders are beginning to show exasperation with Britain’s position, as the two sides continue to hash out a deal on fisheries, state aid, and “regression clauses” that set minimum standards each side must uphold. “We need a clear idea from Boris Johnson now and I think it’s now time for leadership,” Manfred Weber, the leader of the largest party in the European parliament told British radio on Friday.

For now, Boris Johnson will be leading from behind a computer screen, as he is currently self-isolating after a possible coronavirus exposure. (Although Johnson contracted a severe case of the virus earlier this year and fully recovered—meaning he likely has antibodies—he said he would follow government directives, given the lack of certainty about long-term immunity in previously-infected patients.)

After the deal. If a deal is reached, that won’t be the end of the acrimony. Writing in Politico, Emilio Casalicchio outlines what could be next in the relationship between the two sides, including economic warfare.


On Monday, Nov. 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo begins a week of travel with a visit to France to meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French President Emmanuel Macron. He then heads to Turkey to meet with religious leaders, although no meetings with Turkish officials are planned.

A lame-duck session in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate convenes. Caucus leadership elections begin November 18.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Georgia and meets with his counterpart David Zalkaliani, President Salome Zourabichvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II.

Barack Obama’s presidential memoir is released.

On Wednesday, Nov. 18, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Israel. Pompeo is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

A hearing takes place in New York in the case of General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018. Zepeda faces charges of drug trafficking and laundering money while holding public office. 

On Thursday, Nov. 19, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel speak at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

European Union leaders meet virtually to discuss the coronavirus as cases continue to rise across Europe. Discussions on trade negotiations between the U.K. and EU may also take place.

A report looking into possible war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan, led by Justice Paul Brereton, is released.

On Saturday, Nov. 21, Saudi Arabia hosts the annual G-20 summit (held virtually).

On Sunday, Nov. 22, Voters in Burkina Faso elect the country’s president and 127 members to the National Assembly. A referendum on constitutional changes may also take place alongside the election.


What We’re Following Today

Ethiopian fighting goes international. Tigrayan forces under heavy assault from Ethiopian federal forces appear to have opened a new, foreign front in Ethiopia’s civil war after they admitted to firing rockets across an international border at Eritrea’s airport in Asmara. Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and personnel over its southern border into Tigray. Appearing to respond to Debretsion, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted that Ethiopia could fight in Tigray “by itself.” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy has condemned the Tigrayan attack on Eritrea’s airport, calling it “unjustifiable.”

In a wide-ranging dispatch in Foreign Policy, Nizar Manek and Mohamed Kheir Omer report that Eritrea is hosting the Ethiopian military on its territory, although it is unclear whether Eritrean forces are involved in fighting. Ultimately, they argue, it is Sudan—not Eritrea—that will determine the outcome of the war, due to Khartoum’s negotiating leverage on issues crucial to Ethiopia and its ability to cut off supply routes to landlocked Tigray.

Peru looking for third president this month. Peru’s interim president, Manuel Merino, resigned on Sunday after less than a week in charge following the deaths of two people in protests sparked by the impeachment of former President Martín Vizcarra. It is now up the country’s Congress, which had only chosen Merino last Monday, to choose a new interim president. Vizcarra has denied any wrongdoing in a bribery case that led to his ousting, calling his impeachment illegal. His appeal against his removal from office begins today.

Sandu wins in Moldova. Maia Sandu defeated incumbent President Igor Dodon in Moldova’s presidential election on Sunday, according to the country’s electoral commission. Sandu, who favors closer ties to the European Union and who would be the first woman in the country’s history to win the presidency, won a two-way runoff with 56 percent of the vote. The election is a disappointment for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had urged Moldovans to back Dodon for a second term.


Cyprus split? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for Cyprus to be split permanently during a visit to the island over the weekend. Erdogan met with the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, whom he had backed in recent elections in the northern part of the island. Erdogan added that Tatar would soon visit Azerbaijan, which suggests the country could soon join Turkey as only the second nation in the world to recognize the independence of Northern Cyprus. “Ankara has absolutely no respect for international law, European principles and values, and its obligations towards the EU,” the Cypriot presidency said in a statement reacting to Erdogan’s comments.

WFP sounds alarm. David Beasley, the head of the UN World Food Programme has warned that without adequate funding “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021.” According to an analysis by WFP and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 20 countries “are likely to face potential spikes in high acute food insecurity,” with Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso especially vulnerable after years of conflict.

Coronavirus on food. Chinese authorities in the city of Jinan said they have found coronavirus on imported meat and its packaging from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and New Zealand. The detection was part of a new focus on frozen foods after coronavirus was found on the packaging of imported meat in Jiangsu, Shandong, and Wuhan.


Amazon may be powerful enough to get away with a light tax bill, but erasing international borders is likely a step too far, despite the inadvertent efforts of the company’s online customer service team. Replying to a frustrated customer in Northern Ireland wishing to watch a rugby match on Amazon’s streaming service, the helpline unwittingly took a side in one of the world’s longest running geopolitical conflicts and told the customer that the reason he couldn’t see the game was because it was only available for viewing in the United Kingdom. Amazon’s response quickly went viral, causing gleeful Irish nationalists to ask the company to help cancel Northern Ireland’s nearly 100-year-old membership in the United Kingdom, as it had been “automatically signed up.”


That’s it for today.

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