- Former U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was chosen by his Conservative Party to be the new Prime Minister of Britain.
- He now has until Oct. 31 to pass a Brexit deal and has many hurdles to overcome.
- Johnson has promised that the U.K. will leave the E.U. by that date, even if it means a no-deal Brexit.
- Johnson is a polarizing public figure who has made a number of controversial remarks. The news of his election sparked a wide range of responses from Members of Parliament and world leaders.
Boris Johnson Elected as PM
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been elected to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister of Britain.
The decision came nearly two months after May announced she was stepping down from her role amid stalled Brexit negotiations. When a prime minister resigns, their party is tasked with electing a new leader, rather than holding entirely new national elections.
In this case, the Conservative Party held the election, and overwhelming voted for Johson.
According to local reports, Johnson received 92,153 votes – almost twice as many as his opponent, current Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, who received 46,656 votes.
Johnson is set to meet with the Queen Wednesday, who will ask him to form a government with the other parties in Parliament. Once that is complete, he will officially be prime minister.
Though the Conservative Party’s working majority is small, Johnson is still expected to successfully form a government and take over as the leader.
Future of Brexit
The election, which Johnson was expected to win, was the easy part. Now, he has to take charge of Brexit.
After three years of failed negotiations that eventually lead to May’s resignation, Johnson now has just three months to get the deal through by Oct. 31. Johnson addressed the urgency during his acceptance speech.
“I think we know that we can do it, and the people in this country are trusting of us to do to it, and we know that we will do it,” Johnson said, before going on to recite his campaign motto. “Deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn.”
“And that is what we’re going to do,” Johnson added. “We are going to energize the country, we’re going to get Brexit done on October 31, we’re going to take advantage of all the opportunities that it will bring in a new spirit of can-do, and we’re once again going to believe in ourselves.”
Johnson also pointed out that while the task is daunting, he believes he is up for it. It appears that the Conservative Party thinks he is the best person for the job too.
Johnson was one of the leading voices for the pro-Brexit campaign back in 2016 and essentially became its unofficial leader. However, there is still a world of obstacles he has to overcome.
Even though Parliament has a new prime minister, the same old divisions are still there.
Problems With Negotiations
When it comes to Brexit, there are huge divisions both in Parliament and among the Conservative Party itself.
Johnson not only has to unify his party, but he also has to unify a Parliament that voted down May’s Brexit plan three separate times this year.
Parliament is still divided over a Brexit deal. However, May’s original agreement is still the only one that E.U. leaders are offering.
Johnson has said he will renegotiate May’s deal. The E.U. has said that they will not. Additionally, some of Johnson’s plans to get more Members of Parliament on board have already been rejected by the E.U.
Specifically, Johnson has said he wants to get rid of a provision in the current version of the deal known as the Irish backstop.
Currently, Ireland and Northern Ireland have a seamless border where goods and services can flow with few restrictions.
When and if the U.K. leaves the E.U., Northern Ireland would come with while Ireland remains a member. That would make the trade between with Ireland subject to E.U. trade regulations and taxes that the U.K. is not currently subject to as an E.U. member.
The Irish backstop would essentially keep the seamless border, but it would require the U.K. to have a close relationship with the E.U., making the provision controversial with MP’s who do not want such a deep relationship with the E.U.
In fact, the backstops opposition was one of the main reasons May’s deal was voted down all three times. However, the backstop is one of the E.U.’s biggest sticking points, and E.U. leaders have insisted that a Brexit deal needs to have it.
Johnson has also promised that the U.K. will leave the E.U. on Oct. 31, even if there is not a deal, which is known as a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit, however, is highly unpopular, even among some staunch Brexit supporters.
That is because it would be incredibly disruptive to both the U.K.’s economy and the global economy.
Parliament has actually been relatively unified in their opposition to a no-deal Brexit, even voting on nonbinding motions against it.
Johnson as a Controversial Leader
In addition to the more technical aspects of the deal, there are also some questions around Johnson himself and his ability to bring together an already divisive Parliament.
While the Conservative Party seems to overwhelmingly believe that Johnson is their best chance, he is a highly polarizing political figure. Johnson is charismatic and blunt, but he also is known for his controversial views and statements.
He is a populist who supports controlling immigration and more isolationist policies. He is often in the public eye, and his opponents have criticized him for making factually incorrect statements, especially concerning Brexit.
Johnson has also been criticized for making contentious remarks in the past. When he was appointed as Foreign Minister in 2016, a letter he wrote in 2002 circulated where he used racist slurs to describe people in Africa.
Last year, he wrote a column in The Telegraph where he said that while he did not support banning burqas, he did think they were “ridiculous” because they make women look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”
In 2005, he said that Islamaphobia is “natural,” and amid the London bombings, Johnson infamously said, “Islam is the problem.”
Johnson has also made comments about women that many have criticized as sexist. He has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage in the past and has used homophobic rhetoric. He compared homosexual sex to bestiality in his 2001 book Friends, Voters, Countrymen.
Response From MP’s & World Leaders
Members of Parliament and many world leaders had mixed responses to Johnson’s election.
Some expressed hesitant optimism about his leadership, like Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who wished Johnson well in a tweet, but also wondered, “Does he have the courage to deliver?”
The chief EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier said he looked forward to “working constructively” with Johnson.
President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations, adding, “He will be great!”
Speaking at a Turning Point USA event Tuesday morning, Trump complimented Johnson and compared the new prime minister to himself.
“We have a really good man who’s going to be the prime minister of the UK now, Boris Johnson. Good man. He’s tough and he’s smart,” Trump said. “They call him Britain Trump. And people are saying that’s a good thing, they like me over there. That’s what they wanted. That’s what they need.”
Others, however, were less pleased. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister also congratulated Johnson in a tweet and said that she would do all she could to work collaboratively.
“However, it would be hypocritical not to be frank about the profound concerns I have at the prospect of his premiership,” she continued. “I am certain that the vast majority of people of Scotland would not have chosen to hand the keys of No 10 to someone with his views and track record.”
Other’s echoed that sentiment. Labour Party MP Andy McDonald also tweeted, “Boris Johnson is dangerous, reckless, incompetent & can’t be trusted.”
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn told BBC that his party is already planning a vote of no confidence to oust Johnson from office.
See what others are saying: (Vox) (The Guardian) (The New York Times)
US Customs Seize Chinese Hair Products Suspected to Have Come From Forced Labor Camps
- A shipment of hair products from China believed to be made through forced human labor was sized at the Port of New York on Wednesday.
- The products originate from Xinjiang, which is widely criticized for its so-called “reeducation” camps of Uyghurs.
- Though estimates regarding the number of people held at these internment camps range, reports claim it could be upwards of 3 million people who are being held without trial.
- U.S. Officials also believe that much of the hair used for these products came from camp detainees.
U.S. Seizes 13 Tons of Human Hair
United States Customs and Border Protection agents seized a 13-ton shipment of hair products at the Port of New York on Wednesday over suspicions that they were made with forced human labor. The bust is worth about $800,000.
Officials believe that beyond being made by forced human labor, the hair products, which include wigs, are made out of the hair of detainees in Xinjiang.
The region is infamous because much of its native Muslim Uyghur (sometimes spelled Uighur) population is being forced into “reeducation camps” by the Chinese government. China has denied these camps are what the world thinks they are and continues to downplay how many people are held in them.
On June 17, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Detention Order, a command that agents are to stop and inspect all shipments, on products made by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Company. The CBP wants Meixin shipments inspected because the agency had information that “reasonably indicated the use of prison labor with additional situations of forced labor including, but not limited to, excessive overtime, withholding of wages and restriction of movement.”
This is in line with a long-standing law that bans any products made by “convict labor” overseas.
A Detention Order such as this is actually quite rare because tracking supply chains out of the U.S. is extremely difficult for U.S. companies and agencies. Adding to the complexity is where the products originated from; Xinjiang. The region has been difficult to enter for non-natives and Chinese officials for a few years.
Brenda Smith, the executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade said of the bust, “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in U.S. supply chains.”
National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot also raised concerns that the hairs are made from victims of the camps in Xinjiang, saying, “If this highly suspicious, 13-ton shipment of human hair indeed turns out to be linked to the Uighur concentration camps, then this is a new low — even for the Chinese Communist Party — and they will have to answer to the world community for their actions.”
The products in question are to be held until Meixin can prove forced human labor wasn’t involved. Another company, Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories, must do the same after some of their products were seized in the same shipment, although agents found the weaves were made with synthetic fibers rather than detainees’ hair. Hetian was added to the Detetion Order back in May.
The Situation in Xinjiang
Within Xinjiang itself, conditions haven’t improved for the local Uyghurs, and arguably have gotten worse.
For decades, China has wanted to sinicize a lot of minority ethnic groups in the country. Around 2017 it increased its sinicization efforts over the Uyghurs. Tactics include forcing Mandarin as a language that must be used for school and official business, as well as attempts to heavily downplay the importance of Islam in the daily lives on Muslim citizens.
There are also reports of more dire actions, such as accusations that Chinese authorities take children from their families to try and remove cultural and linguistic connections.
The country also alters cultural sites to look more “Chinese.” Efforts include changing mosques to have less Arab-influenced features. However, often cultural sites are just destroyed; such as in the case of hundreds of cemeteries being removed to make way for buildings or empty lots.
China also has an issue with Islam. The country consistently portrays imams in the region as having ties to terrorism, and will often arrest Chinese-Muslims upon returning from the Middle East over fears they’ve been “radicalized.”
Despite these efforts though, the Uyghurs have managed to hold onto their cultural heritage and language. So, 2017 also saw China step up the pressure by introducing the “reeducation camps” in order to “combat extremism.”
China markets the camps as vocational school that are voluntary. Yet most countries simply call them internment or concentration camps. Evidence and interviews with alleged survivors of the camps point out that people at the facilities aren’t there out of their own free will. They are usually held without ever receiving a trial.
Current estimates vary, but there’s believed to be between 1 to 3 million people within these camps, with about 500,000 being minors. Those estimates are partially based on leaked documents the BBC obtained last year that showed 15,000 people from southern Xinjiang were sent to the camps in one week alone.
There’s also evidence that beatings and torture happen at the camps, as well as accusations that they’re used to force Muslims to renounce their faith. Earlier this week, reports surface alleging China is forcing abortions, sterilizations, and other birth control measures against the Uyghur population to cut their birth rates.
Other birth-control methods include monetary penalties against people who have additional children.
In 2019, 22 UN ambassadors signed a letter condemning the camps, and 50 other states condemned China’s counter-terrorism program in the region. More recently, in October of last year, the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.”
In 2020, the U.S. has been adding more and more companies to what’s known as an Entity List. They urge Americans and businesses not to work with these 37 companies because they’re believed to use forced labor out of Xinjiang. Last month, on June 17, President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which opens the door to increased sanctions against China and increases US agencies’ reporting on Xinjiang.
Although the President is still hesitant on actually imposing stricter sanctions, telling Axios, “we were in the middle of a trade deal [with China]. When you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on… we’ve done a lot.”
See What Others Are Saying: (The Guardian) (Axios) (BBC)
First Arrests Made Under China’s New Hong Kong National Security Law. Here’s What You Need to Know
- The text for China’s new national security law has finally been released, laying out new details about what this means for Hong Kong residents.
- Among other things, the law overrides Hong Kong’s Constitution when there are inconsistencies, cannot be interpreted by Hong Kong courts, and allows for closed trials and easily denied bail.
- One provision also states that non-Hong Kong residents can be prosecuted for acts outside Hong Kong, meaning it could jeopardize travel and independent journalism in the city. It could also force Hong Kongers living outside the city to choose between activism and being able to go home to see their families again.
- On Wednesday, Hong Kong police said they had made their first arrests using the new law.
Text of the Law Released
The full text of China’s new national security law against Hong Kong was finally released Tuesday, more than a month after it was proposed and a day after it was formally passed.
The 66-article law includes several broad measures that ban acts like secession, subversion, terrorism, and any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. Though many had hoped the specifics to these four main offenses would be clearly laid out in the full text of the law, they remain vague and contain ambiguous wording that gives Chinese authorities a large scope for targeting pro-democracy activists.
For example, collusion with foreign forces is partially defined as aiding foreign governments in enacting laws or policies that could cause serious obstruction or consequences to Hong Kong or China. Even though what constitutes serious obstruction and consequences is not clearly spelled out, such a definition could target lobbyists asking foreign governments to impose sanctions.
Say one is charged with a crime. The death penalty is off the table but life imprisonment is not. According to the Hong Kong Free Press, “serious” cases can attract penalties of at least 10 years and up to life in prison.
Article 62 of the security law explicitly states that it overrides local Hong Kong law if there are inconsistencies (Surprise, there are!).
For example, one major inconsistency with Article 62 is Article 42, which states that bail will not be granted to suspects “unless the judge has convincing reasons to believe he/she will not continue acts that endanger national security.” Such a rule is at odds with Hong Kong’s Criminal Procedure Ordinance, which presumes innocence and leans in favor of granting bail.
While this national security law also “presumes innocence,” it doesn’t really explain what a person’s protections are, and many have feared that leaves an open door for China to impose some of the same harsh tactics it practices on the mainland.
“As a national security suspect, you can be locked up for as long as six months incommunicado, subject to torture, coerced confession, no access to counsel or family or friends, before the police decide whether to process you for a crime,” New York University law professor Jerome Cohen explained to The New York Times.
According to Article 41 of the law, trials can be closed to the public for reasons such as maintaining state secrets. Whether or not a trial involves state secrets will be decided by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has long been accused of being a puppet for Beijing.
Lam is also able to appoint specific judges to hear national security cases.
The text of the law provides no provisions allowing Hong Kong courts to interpret any of its articles, unlike how courts can with the city’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law.
The law also covers political candidates and officials already in office. If they’re found in violation of the law, they either can’t run or have to step down, respectively. That provision could prove to be a major detriment to a city where a candidate’s beliefs on pro-democracy rights has been a key issue.
Police Powers and the Law’s Impact on Foreign Travel
The full text of the law also reveals more about the new national security office being established in Hong Kong.
That office, which was already known to have the power to oversee education about national security in Hong Kong schools, will not be bound by Hong Kong’s laws. In fact, the Hong Kong government is actually required to cooperate and prevent any obstruction of its work.
In addition to that office, a new National Security Department will be created within the Hong Kong Police Force and is required to keep its operations secret.
Police within that department are also getting a host of broad powers, including: search powers, powers to restrict international travel, powers to freeze and confiscate of property, powers to require services providers to delete information and provide assistance, power to require foreign political organizations to provide information, and the power to conduct secret surveillance and interception of telecommunications,
“All in all, this is a takeover of Hong Kong,” Cohen told The Times.
One of the most audacious articles in the law is Article 38, which states that non-Hong Kong residents can be prosecuted in the city for violating the national security law outside of Hong Kong.
“Oh my god am I reading this right???” Axios reporter for China, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, said on Twitter Tuesday. “Did Beijing just grant itself sweeping extraterritoriality to…everyone on the planet?”
Such a move could have massive implications for tourism, as anyone who has been charged by Beijing for violating its law could be arrested when arriving in Hong Kong or even China. It could also severely threaten independent journalism on the ground in the city.
On a more personal note, those who are originally from Hong Kong but now live outside China may be forced to either: advocate for basic human freedoms but never visit their home again at the risk of being arrested, or keep quiet even outside of China so they can potentially go back home to visit family.
First Arrests and International Response
The Hong Kong Police Force used the new law to reportedly make 10 arrests Wednesday, the first happening after a man displayed a flag reading “Hong Kong Independence.” It was later reported that the flag also had the words “no to” in small letters before the much larger phrase. It’s unclear if the police were aware of those words or if they even mattered considering the larger message.
Police also arrested roughly 370 people after a few thousand began demonstrating in a major commercial district before being forced off the streets. Of those arrests, nine included offenses related to the new security law. One of the people arrested was reportedly a 15-year-old girl who waved a Hong Kong independence flag.
Internationally, countries have continued to speak out against China’s crackdown.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to introduce a new five-year visa in his promise to provide refuge for up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens.
Canada has now updated its travel advisory warning to Hong Kong. That advisory now reads: “You may be at an increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”
Tuesday evening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened further action from the United States, saying first on Twitter:
“The CCP’s draconian national security law ends free Hong Kong and exposes the Party’s greatest fear: the free will and free thinking of its own people.”
“The United States will not stand idly by while China swallows Hong Kong into its authoritarian maw,” Pompeo added in a statement.
See what others are saying: (Hong Kong Free Press) (The New York Times) (South China Morning Post)
Hong Kong Protesters Delete Social Media and Businesses Withdraw Protest Support After China Passes National Security Law
- On Tuesday, mainland China officially passed a sweeping national security law that is set to erode many of the special freedoms granted to the semi-autonomous region, Hong Kong.
- While protests against the mainland have raged for over a year in Hong Kong, the law’s passage prompted a wave of fear, with many pro-democracy protesters deleting their social media accounts and businesses rolling back their support for those protests.
- The law has been condemned internationally, and hours before it passed, United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suspended some special trade exemptions for Hong Kong.
China Officially Passes National Security Law
Pro-democracy Hong Kongers scrambled on Tuesday to erase public displays of dissent against the Chinese government after Beijing officially passed a sweeping national security law.
That law, which was first announced on May 21, will bypass special protections granted to Hong Kong. Those protections were established under the “one country, two systems” framework when the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, after more than 150 years of colonial rule.
Following the passage of the national security law, many in Hong Kong began deleting social media accounts, such as those for Twitter. Businesses began distancing themselves for protesters, many taking down posters and signs showing their support for the movement.
At least one pro-democracy political party has disbanded altogether following the departure of its leaders. A number of other groups supporting Hong Kong independence have now said they’ll cease operation in the city and move abroad.
The moves are a dramatic departure from the last 15 months of protests that have rocked the city and consistently made headlines around the world. Even one of the first major protests following the city’s coronavirus shutdown was in response to this law’s proposal.
“A comment was made today [by the speakers] that the law basically already has had its deterrent effect,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien said. “In the past, Hong Kong has been too free.”
Wu Chi Wai, chair of the pro-democracy Democratic Party, said he held out hope until the last minute that the mainland government might honor its promise to uphold Hong Kong’s autonomy.
But now, “we are not only denied the hope of a democratic political system, we also will no longer have our freedoms of press, speech, expression, protests — all of that will be over,” he said.
Some pro-democracy protesters are expected to hold demonstrations on Wednesday, though they’re expected to be much smaller in number.
“We all understand the price we have to pay is heavier than before, but we have to do it,” one protest leader said.
What Does the Law Actually Do?
The law, which went into effect on Wednesday in Hong Kong (Tuesday for Western countries), is now part of Hong Kong’s de-facto constitution, the Basic Law. Upon its passage and implementation, the full law had still yet to be publicly released.
Even Hong Kong’s top leaders have admitted that they don’t know any more details about the law besides what Chinese state media has aired. Nonetheless, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has promised to support the law.
Despite many still-vague details, several consequences of the law are known. Among them are criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism, and any activies by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. Essentially, the goal is to stamp out dissent, as well as the pro-democracy protests.
Notably, the law will also allow China to implement its own law enforcement offices in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.” Those offices will reportedly also have the power to oversee education about national security in Hong Kong schools.
The state-run newspaper Xinhua also reported that Lam will be able to appoint specific judges to hear national security cases.
One of the other major sticking points of this bill is that in some cases, Beijing will be able to extradite people from Hong Kong to mainland China, which is extremely notable because extradition was the starting point for Hong Kong’s protests in the first place.
Further details of the law were released on Wednesday in Hong Kong. Ironically, that came on the 23rd anniversary of the United Kingdom returning Hong Kong to China.
In the text of that law, crimes such as terrorism and sedition are very broadly defined; however, the punishments for those crimes bring with them harsh sentences, including life imprisonment in many cases.
U.S. Cracks Down on China Over Law
In a promise to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Lam said the law won’t affect Hong Kong’s judicial independence or the “legitimate rights and freedoms of individuals.” She also promised that it wouldn’t be retroactive.
Lam said mainland China will only extradite people in Hong Kong in “rare, specified situations.” Additionally, the death penalty will be off the table for anyone extradited by China from Hong Kong, with life in prison being the maximum punishment.
But if that’s what Lam is saying, that is not what’s being heard internationally. Prior to this law’s passage, Taiwan’s president pledged support for Hong Kong, and some Hong Kongers have already fled to Taiwan in refuge. Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised refuge when he announced that the United Kingdom will accept millions of Hong Kong refugees.
In the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had previously announced that the U.S. now longer views Hong Kong as autonomous, meaning Hong Kong could be subject to the same tariffs that China currently faces.
On Friday, the U.S. restricted visas for Chinese officials deemed responsible for “eviscerating” Hong Kong freedoms. Notably, Beijing then retaliated by announcing visa restrictions for U.S. officials who had “behaved extremely badly” over Hong Kong.
On Monday, just ahead of the news that Hong Kong had passed this law, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suspended some trade benefits over the new law.
“Commerce Department regulations affording preferential treatment to Hong Kong over China, including the availability of export license exceptions, are suspended,” Ross said in a statement. “Further actions to eliminate differential treatment are also being evaluated. We urge Beijing to immediately reverse course and fulfill the promises it has made to the people of Hong Kong and the world.”
That same day, Pompeo announced that the U.S. was ending defense equipment exports to Hong Kong. That includes dual-use technologies, or items that has both commercial and military uses.
“We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the [Communist Party of China] by any means necessary,” Pompeo said.