By Chloé Meley

National Politics:

What’s the next move with Brexit?

On the 9th of January, the House of Commons voted to approve Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill by a majority of 330 (all Conservative) to 231. On the 13th of January, the House of Lords also backed the bill, which primarily covers things that have been repeatedly discussed during Brexit negotiations: the UK’s “divorce” payments to the EU, citizens’ rights, the Northern Irish border, and the planned 11-month transition period — which is when everything else will be determined. Indeed, the 31st of January won’t mark the UK’s exit from the EU, but rather the beginning of a pivotal transition period ending on the 31st of December 2020, during which a trade deal needs to be agreed and ratified.  

Moreover, given that Johnson’s withdrawal bill does not allow for any extension to the transition period, the other option in the absence of a deal is no deal at all, creating the possibility of tariffs being imposed on exports to the EU. The negotiations are likely to be tough, as there is a fundamental contradiction in the UK’s position of wishing to leave the customs union and the single market as well as escaping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, all the while wanting to sell its goods and services to the EU without tariff restrictions. But trade is not all that needs to be discussed during the transition period, with cooperation on security and law enforcement also crucial matters to consider. Formal talks between the UK and the EU are expected to begin in March, with unpredictable twists and major obstacles anticipated, so stay tuned for further updates in the following weekly rundowns. 

International Politics:

What are the updates regarding the impeachment?

Just to recap: back in December, the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On Wednesday 15th of January, the impeachment process moved on to the Senate, where Trump will face trial. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, will determine the format and guidelines of the trial, including the duration, the introduction of witnesses, and the presentation of evidence. The senators will act as both judge and jury, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presiding over the trial to ensure it adheres to the agreed procedure.

Senators will hear from the House prosecutors (who will present the case for impeachment) and the White House counsel (who will defend Trump) as well as any potential witnesses, before they vote on whether to acquit or convict the President. A two-thirds majority is required to convict Trump, which is unlikely to happen as Republicans have a 53 to 47 majority. Although a historic event, the impeachment trial is expected to be quite boring, with a predictable ending and not much room for plot twists. 

What has happened in the ongoing Iran-US saga?

Here is a link to our last rundown if you want to understand in greater detail everything that has happened until now. Last week, Iran launched missiles at two American military airbases in Iraq, a development followed on the same day by the mysterious crash of a passenger plane on the way to Ukraine. After several world leaders demanded answers, it was finally revealed that Iran had unintentionally taken down the aircraft, mistaking it for a missile. On Thursday, the foreign ministers from five countries who had citizens on the plane – Canada, Britain, Ukraine, Sweden and Afghanistan – met in London to coordinate their response. 

Its relationship with the international community increasingly strained, Iran does not have it much better back home. Indeed, anti-government protests, ongoing since last year, are causing unrest across the country. With 82 Iranian citizens killed in the crash, citizens are rightly angry, criticising the government and the military for not immediately telling the truth. Tensions even rose between the military and the government, with President Hassan Rouhani publicly demanding that the military explain the details of the accident. In the meantime, as Iran’s economy struggles under the weight of US-imposed sanctions, the country has rejected the idea of a new Trump-led nuclear deal. Facing mounting pressure both at home and abroad, Iran is experiencing a major crisis, and the consequences that might have on the world at large are not entirely clear yet. 

How is Australia?

With rain finally pouring over the south-east, Australians are allowed some reprieve from the devastating bushfires that have been spreading across the country since September, killing animals and suffocating the air with smoke. But a bit of rain won’t solve all of Australia’s problems. The consequences of continuous exposure to poor air quality are beginning to be felt intensely, notably by athletes competing in the Australian Open in Melbourne, who have experienced difficulties to breathe and coughing fits. 

But tennis players are not the only ones affected. Indeed, asthmatics are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality, and one family in New South Wales is now blaming the death of their teenage daughter last November on bushfire smoke. Right now, we don’t know the extent of the damage caused by the smoke, as the crisis is still unfolding. But the impact of poor air quality on the health of Australians is a growing cause for concern, amid other negative fallouts from the bushfires. 

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