- 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)
Countries Consider Loosening Coronavirus Lockdowns as Japan Moves to Declare State of Emergency
- Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to loosen lockdown restrictions, with smaller businesses allowed to open their doors on April 14.
- They are not the only European country with hopeful news regarding the virus. Both Spain and Italy have seen cases grow at a slower rate.
- In China some restrictions have already been lifted, leading to massive crowds in national parks and tourist spots. Some fear this will cause a second outbreak.
- Meanwhile, Japan, which is just now seeing cases surge, is set to announce a state of emergency starting on Tuesday.
Austria to Lift Lockdown
As countries like Austria are poised to loosen lockdown measures, others are just starting to ramp up their efforts to combat coronavirus outbreaks.
Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to ease its lockdown measures. On Monday Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that smaller businesses will be allowed to open up on April 14, and that others can resume on May 1. This, however, is contingent on the fact that citizens continue to practice social distancing efforts. Kurz told Austrians to cancel their Easter plans and stay inside, or else the country could “gamble away what we have achieved in the past few weeks.”
Cases Slow in Spain and Italy
Austria is not the only country feeling an ounce of hope during this ongoing pandemic. In the past 24 hours, Spain has reported a slower increase in both deaths and fatalities. In one day, there were 674 new deaths in the country, which is the lowest increase in fatalities in nine days, according to Fox News. Over the course of the day, confirmed cases went up just five percent, the lowest increase since the outbreak began.
Italy, which is home to one of the worst outbreaks in the world, has also seen cases slow down a bit. While the country might still be miles away from a return to normalcy, options as to how to get people back out are now being discussed. According to the New York Times, politicians are looking at the potential for people who have recovered from the virus to head back to work first.
“Having the right antibodies to the virus in one’s blood — a potential marker of immunity — may soon determine who gets to work and who does not, who is locked down and who is free,” the Times explained. Many researchers are hesitant about this idea, but politicians seem eager to explore it as a potential strategy for when the time comes to resume normal life.
China Sees Crowds After Lockdown Lift
Some places have already begun their lifts on lockdowns, including several areas of China. As cases have slowed in the pandemic’s first home, some places have opened back up and seen massive crowds. National parks and tourist attractions have been packed with people eager to get out after being trapped inside.
According to CNN, on Saturday, one park was so populated that authorities announced that it reached its 20,000 person capacity before 8 a.m.
Major cities also saw crowded streets, despite health experts still warning to avoid crowds. In fact, many experts fear that these crowds could lead to a second wave of the virus in China. One county has already reinstated its lockdown after cases popped up again.
Not everyone is ready to return to normalcy, even if there are signs of positive change. On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced its first daily dip in deaths. The state went from 630 new deaths on Saturday to 594 on Sunday. Still, Cuomo does not believe this is a guaranteed sign of progress.
“We’re not really a hundred percent sure what the significance is, as we’re feeling our way through this,” Cuomo said before calling the dip a potential “blip.”
In fact, the whole of the United States has probably not seen the worst of the outbreak yet. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams spoke to Fox News on Sunday and said that this week is “going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” he added. Currently, the United States has over 357,000 cases and 10,000 deaths.
Japan’s State of Emergency
While many countries are well into their mass responses to the coronavirus, the Prime Minister of Japan has just announced his intention to declare a state of emergency. Compared to many countries, Japan has had a smaller outbreak, with roughly 4,000 cases and 80 deaths. Cases are on the rise though, with capital city Tokyo reporting that infections doubled in just one week.
The state of emergency is set to go into effect on Tuesday and with be in effect at least until May 6. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for citizens to cooperate “to prevent an explosive surge.”
See what others are saying: (Fox News) (Al Jazeera) (CBS News)
Coronavirus-Stricken Cruise Ships Will Dock in Florida
- The Zaandam, a cruise liner holding passengers sick with the coronavirus, has been stranded at sea for weeks waiting to dock.
- Of the 2,000 on the ship, over 200 have reported flu-like symptoms and nine have tested positive for COVID-19. At least four died onboard.
- Officials say the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, its sister ship that was sent for support, will finally be able to disembark in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after initial resistance from local authorities.
- Disembarkation is expected to be completed by Friday evening.
Cruise Turned Nightmare
Two cruise ships that have been stricken by the coronavirus and stuck at sea for weeks will finally disembark at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The decision was reached by multiple local and federal officials including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Homeland Security, the Broward County Commission, and the cruise line, Holland America. Healthy passengers will be allowed to go home while the sick will remain on board.
“It was the right thing to do,” Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr told the Guardian. “We’ve been letting people in and out of this port for 100 years in good times and bad times. I’m proud we could do this.”
The deal comes after a suspenseful back-and-forth that has involved multiple parties and left over 2,000 passengers and crew members waiting onboard for weeks. More than 200 of these people have reported experiencing flu-like symptoms, and nine tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Holland America officials. Many guests are from countries other than the U.S.
The Zaandam cruise liner embarked for a trip along the coast of South America on March 7. The journey was supposed to end in Chile on March 21, but the coronavirus quickly escalated and things went awry.
After the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Holland America suspended its operations. The Zaandam continued to travel north after Chile closed its borders, but more countries denied the ship entry.
Then passengers on the boat started getting sick, exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Last week, Holland America deployed a second ship, the Rotterdam, to meet the Zaandam off of Panama. The Rotterdam was sent with medical supplies, more staff, and coronavirus tests.
Asymptomatic guests were transferred to the Rotterdam as well.
On Friday, Holland American announced that four elderly people on board had died. Carnival Corporation, Holland America’s parent company who owns the ship, said two of the dead had tested positive for COVID-19.
The nightmare has carried on for nearly four weeks now, but an end is finally in sight in Fort Lauderdale.
Back and Forth
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was initially resistant to the idea of allowing those on the ship to embark in his state. Cruise ships have shown to be a cesspool for the coronavirus and there are complications in the repatriation of people who are stranded at sea.
DeSantis has expressed worries about further spread of the outbreak as well as excess strain on medical facilities in the state.
“We view this as a big, big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now,” DeSantis told Fox News.
But those aboard the ships have grown desperate. Family members of those onboard have pleaded for them to disembark. Holland America President Orlando Ashford wrote an open letter urging countries to show support in this “humanitarian crisis.”
President Trump himself offered a compassionate stance on Wednesday night as the situation dragged on.
“They’re dying, so we have to do something, and the governor knows that, too,” Trump said of those stuck on the sister ships. “We have to help the people. They are in big trouble.”
In updates on their website, Holland America outlined a plan for the passengers on the pair of ships. They said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will clear passengers for entry into the country.
The nearly 1,200 guests fit for travel under CDC guidelines will be unloaded onto sanitized coaches. Person-to-person contact will be limited and masks will be worn, and these people will be taken straight from the ship to flights home, the majority on charter flights. Florida residents will return home immediately via private cars.
Holland America said the guests who still have symptoms and are unfit to travel will continue to isolate onboard until they recover. There are currently less than twenty people in need of immediate critical care, and they will be taken to local hospitals for treatment.
It wasn’t until these detailed disembarkation plans started to form that Florida officials softened their resistance against allowing the ship to dock on the state’s ground.
Mayor Trantalis, who was originally against the idea of allowing the ships into Florida, expressed more openness to it after hearing Holland America’s proposals.
“Their tone has completely changed to address the concerns we had,” Trantalis told the Guardian on Wednesday. “I was concerned that they were just going to let these people off to mingle with the people of my city. That would have been a nightmare.”
“But based on the conversation I had with the [Holland America] president, we are much further along in resolving this situation,” Trantalis said.
On Wednesday, DeSantis said the 52 Floridians onboard the ships would “clearly” be accepted and said he hoped a solution for the others was near.
DeSantis showed more of a change of heart on Thursday when he told Fox News that transferring critically ill patients to hospitals was “the humanitarian thing to do.”
“There is no easy solution to this,” the Governor said.
Yet it appears some kind of solution has finally arrived, and many aboard will return home very shortly.
“I look forward to a safe operation that protects the well-being of all involved,” Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine tweeted on Thursday.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (CNN)
Japanese PM Offers to Send Two Masks Per Family, But Won’t Declare Coronavirus Emergency
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is refusing calls from citizens and other lawmakers to declare a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- But on Wednesday, he did announce that the government will send two reusable masks to every household.
- Abe’s announcement was met with heavy criticism, with many people on social media pointing out that most families have more than two members.
- Many even originally took it as an April Fool’s joke.
- The criticism comes as medical experts warn that Japan’s healthcare system cannot handle a massive outbreak.
Abe Offers Masks But Refuses to Declare Emergency
In a move that has drawn an overwhelming amount of criticism, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the government would send each family in Japan two reusable masks, but he ignored repeated calls for him to declare a state of emergency in response to the spreading coronavirus.
While Japan has largely avoided the coronavirus pandemic (minus the disastrous Diamond Princess incident), that luck may soon run out. According to John Hopkins University on Thursday, Japan has only reported 2,384 cases and only 57 deaths; however, on Thursday, Tokyo alone reported 97 new cases, which is it’s highest single-day jump so far.
Currently, museums and schools in Tokyo are closed, but shops are still open. Restaurants are still allowing people to dine in. It’s also cherry blossom season, an event that typically attracts thousands of visitors each year. Despite concerns that people would ignore social distancing guidelines, this year is no different, and crowds have flocked to see the blooms.
Cue urges from both citizens and lawmakers for Abe to declare an emergency across the country. Though not legally binding, it would allow governors in different prefects to send out stronger messages when it comes to telling people to stay at home.
Still, Abe has refused, saying that such a move isn’t imminent. Instead, he opted to send citizens gauze masks that he says “will be helpful in responding to the rapidly increasing demand” for masks as major cities start to see runs on protective gear.
To put it lightly, Abe’s plan was not met with much praise as people worried how to strap two masks onto grandma, grandpa, and the kids all at the same time.
That conundrum was later part of a viral meme where a family of eight is forced to share two masks, with each family member lined up behind the next (just like any self-respecting family, the pet rightly took priority).
Alongside criticisms like that, both #Abe’sMask and #ScrewYourMasks” began trending on Twitter in Japan.
“At last, PM Abe decided to provide something to Japanese people,” one user sarcastically said. “What he provides us is……2 medical masks made of gauze per one family! Thank you Abe-san we can live as long as [we have] a gauze mask! You are really stupid!!!”
“I wish this had been just an April fool[‘s] joke,” another user said.
However, reportedly, many people considered the idea of the government sending only two masks to each family so outrageous that they actually did think it was an April Fool’s joke at first.
Others criticized the move for how long it will take people to even receive their masks. Reportedly, the government won’t begin mailing those masks until the week after next. By then, many fear the situation in the country could be much more drastic.
This is not Abe’s first instance with coronavirus-related criticism. Critics have accused Abe of consistently downplaying the threat of the coronavirus in order to not push back the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics. Abe has denied such accusations.
Medical Experts Warn that Japan’s Healthcare System Could Fail
The announcement comes a week after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told resident to work from home if possible and after she urged people to avoid bars, restaurants, and public gatherings until April 12.
It also comes as medical officials are warning that a surge in coronavirus cases could be disastrous for Japan’s healthcare system. Reportedly, hospitals in several major cities, including Tokyo and Osaka, are already being stretched thin. According to a government panel, “drastic countermeasures need to be taken as quickly as possible.”
“Fundamental responses should be made as early as today or tomorrow,” Shigeru Omi, head of the Japan Community Healthcare Organization, said at a news conference Wednesday night.
U.S. Governments Weigh Telling People to Wear Masks
In the United States where the situation has skyrocketed, there is also concern around masks and who should wear them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently only recommends masks be worn by those who are sick. Notably, if you are not sick, the CDC says there is no need to wear a mask unless you’re caring for someone who is sick. That recommendation is also part of an attempt to ensure masks are saved for healthcare providers and caregivers.
This past week, however, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the agency is looking at potentially changing those guidelines, saying the data around it is, “being aggressively reviewed as we speak.”
This week, Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force has also indicated that it’s discussing potentially updating that recommendation.
“The idea of getting a much more broad community-wide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “The thing that has inhibited that a bit is to make sure we don’t take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them.”
“But when we get in a situation where we have enough masks,” he continued. “I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to coming to some determination.”
Both a city and a county in California have also started to recommend the use of non-medical face coverings even among healthy people while out in public. On Tuesday, officials in Riverside County announced that recommendation and by Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti followed suit.