By Chloé Meley
On Friday, some celebrated and some mourned as the UK officially left the EU. Various European leaders expressed their sadness at the UK’s departure, and Brussels’ main square was lit up in Union Flag colours on Friday as a farewell, although whether it was sarcastic or heartfelt is up to interpretation. However, the date was more symbolic than a real cut-off point, as there are still months of negotiation ahead of us before the withdrawal is finalised. Having entered a transition period, the UK will still be subject to EU rules and regulations until December 2020. Trade talks will start at the end of February and will determine the terms of exchange between the UK and the European bloc moving forward.
On Monday, Boris Johnson will deliver a speech presenting his stance ahead of negotiations, something that will also be done by the EU once all 27 member states have reached consensus on an approach. Boris Johnson refuses alignment with EU rules, is opposed to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and said he is ready to have customs checks at the UK’s borders in the event of his preferred trade deal being rejected. Johnson is expected to potentially support a Canada-style free-trade deal, which means that no tariffs will be imposed on the majority of goods, but will be on services. As for the EU, they want the UK to continue to conform to EU rules and remain within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. However, this would mean the UK has to follow rules it did not participate in establishing, a state of affairs many view as undesirable. During the transition period, the UK will also begin to reach out to countries such as the US, Japan, and Australia to strike preferential trade agreements with them.
Apart from trade, there are many other things the UK and the EU need to agree on before the transition period is over. For instance, given that the UK no longer sits at the Europol table (the agency that investigates Europe-wide organised crime), coordination on security efforts post-Brexit needs to be discussed. Data-sharing in the context of law enforcement will also become more complicated, which will make it harder for UK police officers to run checks on foreign nationals.
With both the UK and the EU unwilling to make concessions and an extremely tight timetable to come to an agreement and work out the details on many other areas of cooperation, the transition period is likely to be quite eventful. Johnson has also said he will not be requesting an extension to the transition period, which makes matters even more pressing. We will, of course, be keeping you updated on the negotiations as the year progresses.
Unsurprisingly, Trump will be acquitted. On Wednesday, arguments for and against Trump’s removal were concluded, and senators asked questions to both the House prosecutors (who presented the case for impeachment) and the White House Counsel (Trump’s defence team). On Friday, senators voted not to bring new witnesses and evidence forward, which means that former National Security Adviser John Bolton — who apparently detained incriminating information on Trump — will not testify before the Senate. Because such testimony would have potentially fortified the case against Trump, it is no surprise that Republicans were fiercely opposed to it. After all, the whole impeachment process has been fought along partisan lines, and the same is true for public opinion, with Republicans overwhelmingly against and Democrats overwhelmingly in favour of Trump’s removal from office.
Moreover, whilst the impeachment provided a distraction, Trump has taken advantage of the situation to extend his controversial travel ban. Citizens from Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania will now be essentially barred from settling in the country permanently. This measure is expected to hit Nigerians the hardest, who make up the largest population of African immigrants living in the US. The official explanation given by the Trump administration is that Nigeria has failed to cooperate with the US on counter-terrorism efforts and that it poses a threat given the continued power of Boko Haram in the northern part of the country. However, not only is it untrue that Nigeria has not played its role as a counter-terrorism partner but the logic is also flawed: if a terrorist wanted to target the US, he could enter the country on a tourist visa, which will still be granted albeit more rarely. A more obvious explanation is that this latest travel ban is simply the continuation of the 2018 Muslim travel ban, inscribed within Trump’s goal of making America white again.
The coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV, is still spreading. Despite having issued quarantines on various cities in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, the Chinese government has not been able to stall the proliferation of the disease. The World Health Organisation has declared it a global public health emergency and at the time of writing, over 300 people had died.
However, there is no reason to start panicking and buying masks. Of the more than 14,000 confirmed cases, 99% were recorded in China, and more specifically in Hubei province. And for the cases outside China, those were mainly travellers coming back from the country. Therefore, public health experts have argued that if you do not travel to China, your chances of catching the disease are very low. We are not yet faced with a deadly pandemic, and the WHO’s decision to call the outbreak of public health emergency was more of a cautionary measure. Right now, there remains much uncertainty about how lethal the disease will turn out to be is and how to best treat it, but the fatality rate is currently at 2% and going down. The coronavirus is less like the plague and more like the flu, so you shouldn’t be too alarmed. Moreover, there is, as well, no reason to be xenophobic towards Asian people, who have been experiencing subtle or overt discrimination fuelled by ignorance and fear over the past month.