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Anti-Brexit demonstrators gathered outside the Parliament, waving EU and UK flags, on July 23, 2018. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The latest round of Brexit negotiations kicked off today in Brussels, with just two months to go before October's EU Summit — widely seen as one of the last feasible dates to secure a withdrawal treaty.

Why it matters: Consensus has been reached on about 85% of the deal, per the NYTimes' Steven Erlanger, but several of the most contentious issues, including the Irish border dilemma and the U.K.'s customs and trade relationship with the EU, have yet to be resolved.

What to watch:

  • The original idea for an Irish "backstop," which would allow Northern Ireland to remain in the EU's shared "customs union" and "single market," was rejected by the U.K. in July. Thursday's negotiations will focus on finding an alternative solution to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
  • Friday's talks will seek to clarify the nature of the future trade relationship between the EU and the U.K., after Prime Minister Theresa May's "Chequers proposal" to remain in the EU's single market for goods, but not services, was also rejected.
  • In response to the stifling of the Chequers plan, Britain's new Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has embarked on a tour of European capitals, lobbying the EU for "a change in approach" and warning of the severe market impact of a "no deal" Brexit.
  • The EU's Brexit negotiators reportedly fear that the British secret service has bugged their devices, according to The Telegraph. Regardless of whether that's true, the accusations themselves are a grim indication of the tensions between the negotiating parties.

Go deeper: The U.K. is changing its mind on Brexit.

Go deeper

5 mins ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.

2 hours ago - World

Olaf Scholz sworn in as German chancellor, succeeding Merkel

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is sworn in by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas in Berlin today. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, succeeding Angela Merkel after 16 years and launching a new era of German and European politics.

Why it matters: Scholz, a center-left pragmatist who served as finance minister and vice chancellor in Merkel's last government, will lead Europe's largest economy in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.