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Boris Johnson Strikes Brexit Deal With EU. Will It Move Through Parliament?

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  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to a new Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday.
  • The deal would get rid of the contentious Irish backstop, but it would create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
  • Johnson is expected to hold a vote on the deal in British Parliament on Saturday, but both opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland oppose it.
  • If the deal fails, Johnson will likely need to go back to the EU and ask for an extension to the U.K.’s current Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

Johnson and EU Agree to a New Deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to a new Brexit deal with the European Union Thursday, which notably removes the Irish backstop but adds a controversial Northern Irish-only backstop.

“We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control,” Johnson said on Twitter. “Now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment.”

The new deal comes after Johnson said he would negotiate a better deal than the EU offered former prime minister Theresa May. however, the EU previously said it wouldn’t negotiate a different deal.

All of that happened while Johnson lost his majority in British Parliament, as he kicked out members of his own party, and as parliament voted to prevent him from leaving the EU without a deal.

Notably, removing the United Kingdom from the EU has been one of Johnson’s major promises, and he originally said that would happen by the current Oct. 31 deadline with or without a deal.

What’s in the New Brexit Deal?

The new deal provides several key provisions that Johnson hopes will pass parliament’s scrutiny. First and most notably, the deal scraps the massively contentious Irish backstop.

The United Kingdom is composed of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The controversy surrounding the backstop specifically deals with Northern Ireland, which is on the same island as the independent Republic of Ireland. 

Right now, there is no hard border between those two countries, meaning there are no customs checks for goods crossing between the border. Under May’s deal, that soft border would have remained, but this was actually one of the big reasons her deal failed three times in parliament. Members of parliament believed this backstop would have essentially kept the UK in the EU.

Second, the new deal creates a new Northern Ireland-only backstop, which can become confusing since Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. Basically, the deal sets up a special arrangement where Northern Ireland would still remain subject to certain EU regulations, including agriculture, value-added tax on goods, excise duties, and state aid rules.

That, in turn, would prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but it would result in a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., meaning that there would be customs checks and different regulations between the two which could lead to additional trade costs for the U.K.

Another caveat to the deal would also eventually give Northern Ireland lawmakers the chance to decide on whether or not they want to stay so closely aligned with the EU in the future.

Third, while the U.K. would leave the EU, it would still continue to apply EU rules until the end of next year. That time will be seen as a transition period meant to soften the split, especially since the deal does not look to the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU.

The period is meant to give them time to work out a trade deal, among other provisions, and it could be extended by up to two years if both sides agree they need more time. As far as May’s deal, this aspect is similar to her agreement.

Unlike May’s deal, this deal is non-binding, meaning the EU has the ability to change its mind.

Will the Deal Pass?

One of the major questions following the announcement of the agreement was whether or not the bill can stand against a parliament that has rejected Brexit votes multiple times. 

The removal of the Irish backstop is expected to be a sticking point for a lot of pro-Brexit Conservative MP’s, and a few opposition Labour Party MPs have expressed support. 

Johnson is expected to vote on the deal on Saturday, and if it does pass, the U.K. could actually meet its end of the month deadline.

But, it’s not going to be that easy. Many MPs from other parties have already said they will refuse to back the deal.

“From what we know, it seems the Prime Minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s,” Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

The Liberal Democrats have also said they are opposed to the deal and have echoed Corbyn’s call for a second referendum as to whether the U.K. should even leave the EU. Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage said he’s not voting for the deal, either.

If that’s not enough, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland issued their opposition to the deal, as well. That could make or break the deal’s passage as the DUP is a key ally for Johnson.

“These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union,” the party’s statement reads. 

Specifically, the party is not happy with Northern Ireland functioning as a hard border between the EU and the rest of the U.K.

Johnson’s deal, however, has been well-received outside of Britain among leaders of other EU countries. The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron all expressed support for the deal and moving it forward.

Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister of Ireland, also agreed the deal was fair and said the deal solves the issue with Northern Ireland.

“[It] also creates a unique solution for Northern Ireland recognising the unique history and geography of Northern Ireland, one which ensures there is no hard border between north and south,” he said. 

If the deal ultimately passes through British Parliament, it will need to be approved by EU leaders in the European Parliament to bind them to the agreement.

If the deal fails, Johnson will be forced to ask the EU for an extension until the end of January. Though there’s been a lot of concern over whether he would actually do that, a secretary for Johnson has now said he will comply with the law.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Washington Post) (The Guardian)

International

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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International

Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • 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)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • 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.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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