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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
American readers are no strangers to the notion of a hopelessly divided government or the inevitable result: gridlock. But what if gridlock isn’t an option and consensus is required on an issue of profound consequence?
We’re finding out now in the U.K., and it ain’t pretty.
Axios Chief Brexitologist Shane Savitsky writes that bitter rifts between and within the U.K.'s major political parties have made consensus elusive, or even impossible:
Fran Burwell, who advises global companies on Brexit as a senior adviser at McLarty Associates, tells Axios she fears “the entrenched nature of the factions could lead them to stumble into ‘no deal.’” She puts the odds at 20–25%.
The big picture: As Burwell acknowledges, considerable wrangling will be needed in Westminster and in Brussels to get such an extension, and there’s no guarantee even a year of negotiations could solve the “Irish backstop” dilemma.
I found a sidewalk debate between two older gentlemen in Wales — one "Leave" voter and one "remain" voter — more elucidating than anything coming out of Westminster. Here’s how it ends:
"Why are you afraid of a no deal? What you've got to remember is this country fought a world war. We raised from the ashes. The fear project that they've got, don't worry about it. Britain has got the technology, the ability and the people to rebuild. We don't need Europe."
What's next: May will present her "plan B" to Parliament on Monday. Members will attempt to add amendments and might try to get the government to rule out "no deal" (Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says he won't negotiate until that condition is met). That plan will come up for a vote on Jan. 29.
Go deeper: The pros and cons of a second referendum
Trump at the 2018 NATO summit. Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
A bipartisan group of senators today introduced a bill that would prevent the president from withdrawing from NATO without Senate approval. A similar bill was introduced in the House.
That comes three days after a paragraph from the NY Times sent a shudder through European capitals:
"[S]everal times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set."
Why it matters: U.S. withdrawal from NATO would fatally cripple an alliance that is central to U.S. foreign policy. Even discussing the idea could cause allies to hedge their bets. Needless to say, withdrawal would delight Vladimir Putin.
So can he do it? Foreign Policy's Robbie Gramer investigated:
Worth noting: Some officials from Eastern Europe, where the threat from Russia looms largest, express almost as much dismay about comments from French President Emmanuel Macron and others about the need for a European army, or protection from the U.S., as they do about Trump's NATO skepticism. They fear that kind of rhetoric will only deepen the transatlantic divide.
On patrol in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, during the shutdown. Photo: Zinyange AuntonyAFP/Getty Images
Zimbabweans protesting economic distress and high costs of living this week attempted to enforce a three-day national shutdown by blocking roads and pressuring businesses to close.
The government responded by blocking access to the internet.
The bigger picture: Axios Media Reporter Sara Fischer notes that internet censorship is a major concern ahead of general elections this year in Nigeria, Algeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Botswana.
What to watch: China's global influence could have a profound effect on internet freedom. Per Quartz, China "isn’t just tightening online controls at home but is becoming more brazen in exporting some of those techniques abroad" through "official training, providing technological infrastructure to authoritarian regimes, and insisting that international companies accept its content regulations even outside of China."
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Pedro Gonzalez Castillo/Getty Images
When leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office as Mexico's president, the central question was whether he'd be the revolutionary of the campaign trail or the pragmatist of his time as Mexico City's mayor.
Axios Markets Editor Dion Rabouin reports that, so far, investors like what they see.
What they're saying: "He has met or exceeded expectations," said Jim Barrineau, head of emerging markets debt at Schroders. "We were skeptical that he would be able to balance his desire for social programs with a reasonable fiscal policy. So far it seems like he has."
What it means: The performance of his economic team combined with the president's fiscally austere budget — which still allocated increased spending to programs for the poor, new mass transportation projects and scaled-back banking regulations — have provided López Obrador with a longer leash from the market.
"Tariffs? Who, Me?" Photo: Thomas Peter — Pool/Getty Images
Speaking of markets ... They spiked after a Wall Street Journal report from Bob Davis and Lingling Wei (who have absolutely owned the trade war story) that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been advocating "lifting some or all tariffs" in order "to advance trade talks and win China’s support for longer-term reforms."
The markets gave back some of those gains after a Treasury spokesman denied the report.
Between the lines: Even if this idea goes nowhere, we're seeing signs Trump is (for now) in a dealmaking mood. So are the Chinese, according to Axios contributor Bill Bishop's reporting. Trump's deadline for a deal is March 1.
Paying tribute to Jan Palach, days after his death in 1969. Photo: Gerard Leroux/AFP/Getty Images
A nationwide strike began today in Tunisia "affecting the country’s airports, schools and state media to protest the government’s refusal to raise the salaries of 670,000 public servants," per Voice of America.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic is marking the 50th anniversary of the day student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
"What they have chosen is not possible. Good luck to the representatives of the nation who have to implement a thing which doesn't exist and explain to the people: You have voted on something, we lied to you."— Emmanuel Macron on Brexit
Thanks for stopping by — see you Monday evening!