- 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)
Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion
- Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
- The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
- The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.
Ever Given Still in Egypt
An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.
The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.
The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.
Pushing Back Against The Claim
While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”
“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”
It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.
See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
- The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
- Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
- Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Radioactive or Bad Publicity?
After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”
While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.
According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.
Something Had To Eventually Be Done
Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.
The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.
The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.
Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.
“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.
To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.
Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality
- Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
- “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
- Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
- Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.
The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.
In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.
“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.
“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”
“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.
Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.
“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.
“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.
Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts
According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.
Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.
Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.
Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.
Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.
At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.
On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.