Sep 5, 2019

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World. Dave is still enjoying his vacation, so I'm back at the helm for today and Monday. (And let's give a round of applause for my colleague, Zach Basu, who held down the fort last week.) Today's edition is 1,159 words — or a 5 minute read.

1 big thing: What's next for Brexit bedlam

Photo: Danny Lawson/AFP/Getty Images

Dave has deemed me Axios' chief Brexitologist, but I promised (promised!) myself that I wasn't going to write about the U.K. in this slot today. Unfortunately, the reality that we've found ourselves in has decided that I be given no choice.

  • Zach did a killer job yesterday summing up the craziness of this week in a piece appropriately headlined "Westminster mayhem."
  • To catch up super quick: Boris Johnson sacked a healthy chunk of the Conservative Party's MPs after they rebelled, the opposition did its best to block a no-deal Brexit and Johnson failed to get a snap election on the books.

It's fanciful to say with certainty how it plays out from here (BuzzFeed News has a fun rundown of all of the possibilities), but here are 3 things that I think are reasonably likely to occur:

1. An election is coming — and soon. Johnson may have failed in his first bid for an early election, but opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will start to feel the heat to take his message — a second referendum! — to the polls.

  • Corbyn is chomping at the bit, but the Labour Party wants the anti-no-deal Brexit legislation enshrined in law before it signs on amid fears that Johnson could use executive power to shift an election date beyond Oct. 31 and force Brexit anyway.
  • Plus, the opposition believes that a pre-Oct. 31 election plays into Johnson's hands, allowing him to woo supporters of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party. James Johnson, Theresa May's former director of polling (no relation to Boris!), says the very act of calling an election could cause voters to quickly pick sides despite fragmented polls.

2. Johnson's humiliations aren't over. If he wants an election and Labour doesn't trust he won't move the date, he may have to head to the EU to request a Brexit extension past Oct. 31, breaking one of his core promises in the process.

  • Another truly bizarre scenario would see Johnson attempt to get an election by calling a no-confidence vote against himself — and daring Corbyn to vote against it.

3. There's a surprise waiting in the wings. There are so many insane — but plausible — things that could happen. Johnson could resign to avoid breaking his extension promise, or he might flat out refuse to ask the EU for an extension, which would be against the law.

  • Did anyone expect Johnson's brother to resign from Parliament this morning, saying he was "torn between family loyalty and the national interest"? That's the kind of September shock we can expect to see repeated.

The bottom line: Pundits will continue their punditry, but we're firmly in uncharted waters here. No one — not even Britain's best and brightest — knows exactly what's coming next.

2. Hong Kong is still hot

Carrie Lam speaks to the media in Hong Kong. Photo: Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam made the decision yesterday to pull a controversial extradition bill that sparked weeks of huge pro-democracy protests in the city.

  • But things are still tense as Lam tried to sow discord among the opposition today, saying "'society' would like 'peaceful demonstrators not to provide a legitimate basis for the really violent protesters,'" per the Wall Street Journal.
  • "Her refusal to authorize an independent inquiry into how police have handled the protests, the opposition camp says, means neither of the opposition forces will be placated."

And zooming out, the Hong Kong struggle could become another proxy in the U.S.-China superpower battle, given China's "deepening conviction that support for democratic rights in Hong Kong is part of a broader effort to undermine the Communist Party," reports the New York Times.

Worth a read: Wang Chaohua, who took part in the Tiananmen Square protests, reflects on how the demonstrations in Hong Kong compare to 1989's pro-democracy push in The Atlantic.

3. Dorian's destruction
A street in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

At least 20 people are dead — with the toll sure to rise — in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian pounded the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, per AP.

  • The islands, home to 70,000 people, now face $7 billion in property losses from the storm, according to one estimate.

One area that saw particular devastation is Marsh Harbour's "The Mudd." A shantytown for Haitian immigrants, "it was razed in a matter of hours by Dorian, which reduced it to piles of splintered plywood and two-by-fours" for miles.

  • "A helicopter buzzed overhead Thursday as people picked through the debris, avoiding a body that lay tangled underneath a tree branch next to twisted sheets of corrugated metal, its hands stretched toward the sky. It was one of at least nine bodies that people said they had seen in the area."
A view of Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
4. The next stop for the Belt and Road?

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The U.S. is already thinking about Dorian's geopolitical impacts, given the national security implications if China rushes to provide billions in foreign aid to the Bahamas, scoops Axios' Margaret Talev.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative intertwines his nation with others worldwide by investing in ports, railways, power grids, gas pipelines, oil pipelines and other massive infrastructure developments.
  • Huawei has already spent years investing in telecom infrastructure and hardware in Caribbean nations, including the Bahamas, and large swaths of the country's wiring has been wiped out and must be restored.

The big picture: Trump administration sources tell Axios it's too soon for detailed conversations on how the China rivalry could play out in Dorian's aftermath, but officials involved in diplomacy, national security and foreign assistance understand that it will be part of the equation after the initial response. 

5. Riots rock South Africa

Plainclothes members of the South African Police Service patrol a Johannesburg neighborhood this week. Photo: Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa is facing boycotts from citizens of other African nations after riots against foreigners this week left at least 5 dead and 189 arrested, per the BBC.

  • "The attacks on foreign stores began a day after South African truckers started a nationwide strike on Sunday to protest against the employment of foreign drivers."
  • "The unemployment rate in South Africa is nearly 28%, the highest since the labour force survey was introduced 11 years ago."

Why it matters: "The country has become a magnet for migrants from other parts of Africa," but this is just the latest spasm of violence against foreigners after similar incidents occurred in 2008 and 2015.

6. Vienna is the place to be
A carriage passes by St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, Vienna is the world's most livable city, according to a survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

  • It scored "a near-perfect 99.1 out of 100, putting it just ahead of Melbourne. Sydney and Osaka fill the next two spots in a top ten dominated by Australian, Canadian and Japanese cities."
  • The other side: "Damascus, the war-torn capital of Syria, has been the lowest-ranking city for the past seven years."

A bright spot: San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the list's biggest mover, jumping 20 spots to No. 69 thanks to "investments in health care and infrastructure after the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Irma and Maria."

7. Stories we're watching

A view of Stage 11 of the Tour de Spain. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

  1. The specter of global disintegration
  2. Despite promises, Trump's trade deficits are only growing
  3. Architect of Trump's Middle East peace plan to depart White House
  4. France extends a $15 billion lifeline for Iran nuclear deal
  5. A fingerprint of Earth from space
  6. Taliban bombing in Kabul kills U.S. soldier
  7. State elections in Germany offer limited relief for Berlin

Quoted:

"Sorry, I don't think the plesiosaur idea holds up based on the data that we have obtained."
— New Zealand scientist Neil Gemmell, whose research indicates that the Loch Ness Monster may actually be a giant eel, per the BBC
Dave Lawler