LONDON (Reuters) – Boxed in by parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s next move on the Brexit chessboard will most likely be played with the ruthless bravura that his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, built his reputation on.
Since Johnson won the top job in July, Britain’s Brexit crisis has spun more furiously, leaving investors and allies bewildered by an array of decisions that diplomats compare to the disorientating style of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Johnson said on Tuesday he would not request an extension to Brexit, hours after a law came into force demanding that he delay until 2020 unless he can strike a divorce deal. Before its suspension, parliament refused his demand for a snap election.
Cummings, the puppet master of Brexit who is cast by enemies variously as an anarchist, Britain’s Rasputin or a political vandal, was serene on Tuesday at the center of the Brexit maelstrom.
When asked what his next move would be on Brexit, Cummings told Reuters: “You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich ‘remainers’.”
Asked if the United Kingdom would leave on Oct. 31, the 47-year-old Oxford graduate said: “Sure.”
If there is a grand strategy, Johnson’s next move will shape the future of the world’s fifth-largest economy for generations; at stake is the fate of the Brexit endeavor, which both sides cast as the United Kingdom’s most significant decision since World War Two.
But the chessboard has several dimensions: Johnson must factor the absence of any majority in parliament and the electoral threat from the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage, which increases if Brexit is delayed beyond Oct. 31.
Ultimately, Johnson has five choices: strike and ratify a deal with the EU in 50 days; renege on his promises to leave the EU on Oct. 31; somehow get around the law; resign to let another leader request a delay; or an election is triggered.
DEAL OR RESIGN?
As sterling markets see-saw on the different Brexit outcomes, Johnson says he can get a deal on the last day of the Oct. 17-18 EU summit.
“There is a way of getting a deal but it will take a lot of hard work. We must be prepared to come out without one,” he said on Tuesday.
Given there is so little time left, any deal would in effect be a modified version of the Withdrawal Agreement that his predecessor Theresa May struck in November.
“Boris will try to ram through a modified Withdrawal Agreement,” said one Brexit-supporting source. “He’ll pivot to trying to get a deal.”
Cummings, though cast as a Brexit extremist by enemies, was a supporter of a smooth exit from the EU as was his political patron, Michael Gove.
Goldman Sachs said its base case was a deal, giving it 55% probability, but cut its no-deal probability from 25% to 20% and lowered its probability of no Brexit from 30% to 25%.
“We think the prime minister will re-engage in Brexit negotiations with the EU, aiming to confront MPs in late October with a binary choice between a Brexit deal and a pre-Brexit general election,” Goldman Sachs said.
But the lack of any majority in parliament has reduced the inclination of the EU to negotiate and even if Johnson did get a deal means he would have trouble ratifying it.
“There is no majority in the House of Commons for anything that Johnson wants,” said one EU official.
“We have no other choice but to see if we can get a deal with them. But so far the UK side has not put anything on the table that would make us think this is really what they are aiming at,” the official said.
There are, though, much more radical options.
“TRUST THE PEOPLE”
Cummings, who alongside fellow campaigner Matthew Elliott, drove Vote Leave to victory in the 2016 referendum is cast by allies as a ruthless strategist who cares little for the conventions of traditional British politics.
He provoked a row inside Westminster when he sacked a 27-year-old adviser to finance minister Sajid Javid. The adviser, Sonia Khan, was escorted by armed police from Downing Street without Javid’s knowledge.
Former Prime Minister John Major cast Cummings as an overmighty “political anarchist” who should be sacked as Johnson’s de-facto chief of staff before he poisoned British politics beyond repair.
Cummings’s response? “Trust the people” – a slogan used by government advisers to cast Johnson’s Brexit-supporting team as the true servants of the people fighting a London political and financial elite that wants to thwart their will.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that the United Kingdom was in dangerous territory as voters were concluding that parliament was hindering Brexit. He said the government would respect the law but that interpretations of the law can sometimes be complex.
“At this point, our view is that resignation is the most likely,” U.S. investment bank JPMorgan said. “In our view, neither seeking to defy the law, nor encouraging the EU not to grant an extension, are likely to succeed.”
The Cabinet Manual, which sets out the laws, rules and conventions on the operation of government, says if the prime minister resigns on behalf of the government then Queen Elizabeth will invite the person who appears most likely to be able to command the confidence of lawmakers to serve as prime minister and form a government.
A Conservative Party lawmaker said he thought Johnson would resign soon after the EU summit, ensuring that he is not blamed for any delay to Brexit.
“The question is: what has Cummings got up his sleeve?” said a former Conservative adviser.
“He is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with. He thinks several steps ahead, thrives on chaos and has sat in a bunker for three years thinking about this: so what is he going to do?”
Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Elizabeth Piper in London; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan
Apples rot in Kashmir orchards, as lockdown puts economy in tailspin
SOPORE, India (Reuters) – It’s harvest time, but the market in the northern Kashmiri town of Sopore – usually packed with people, trucks and produce at this time of year – is empty, while in orchards across India’s Jammu and Kashmir state unpicked apples rot on the branch.
FILE PHOTO: Rotten apples are seen on a tree at an apple orchard, in Sopore, north Kashmir, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
In one of the world’s largest apple growing regions, a weeks-old lockdown imposed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi dramatically abolished the state’s special constitutional status has cut transport links with buyers in India and abroad, fruit growers and traders say, plunging the industry into turmoil.
Modi sold the move as a way to spur growth by integrating the state with the rest of India. But, for now, the unrest that has come in the wake of his government’s action has upended the economy, further fuelling resentment in the Muslim-majority territory where an armed revolt against India rule has ebbed and flowed over 30 years.
At dawn late last week the market in Sopore, a town known locally as “Little London” for its lush orchards, big houses and relative affluence, was deserted, its gates locked.
“Everyone is scared,” a lone trader, rushing to an adjoining mosque for morning prayers, told Reuters. “No one will come.”
Apples are the lifeblood of Kashmir’s economy, involving 3.5 million people, around half the population of the state.
In a surprise move on Aug. 5, just as the harvest season as getting under way, the government abrogated provisions in India’s constitution that gave the Jammu and Kashmir partial autonomy and stipulated only residents could buy property or hold government jobs. Strict movement restrictions were imposed simultaneously, and mobile, telephone, and internet connections snapped.
The government said the immediate priority was to prevent an eruption of violence in Kashmir, where more than 40,000 people have been killed since 1989, and that curbs are slowly being eased, including the opening up of landline phones.
Further out, the government has promised rapid economic development and plans an investor summit later this year to attract some of India’s top companies to the region, create jobs and lure young people away from militancy.
In the short-term, however, farmers and fruit traders say the clampdown is stopping them from either getting their produce to market or shipping it out to the rest of India. Some say they have also been threatened into stopping work by militant groups.
In orchard after orchard surrounding Sopore, apples hung rotting on trees. “We are stuck from both sides,” said Haji, a trader, sitting inside a sprawling two-story house in Sopore. “We can neither go here, nor there.”
Business people who spoke to Reuters say it is not just the fruit industry that is reeling – two other key sectors of Kashmir’s economy, tourism and handicrafts, have also been hit hard.
Shameem Ahmed, a travel agent who owns a houseboat in the summer capital Srinagar, said this year’s tourist season was completely wiped out.
“August was peak season, and we had bookings up to October,” he said. “It will take a long time to revive, and we don’t know what will happen next.”
The near complete lack of tourists has also hit carpet traders such as Shoukat Ahmed.
“When there are no tourists, there are no sales,” he said. “We are also unable to sell across India because communication is down.”
At a major chamber of commerce in Srinagar, some members said the continuing lack of internet and mobile connections had paralyzed their work, including the ability to file taxes and make bank transactions.
Some businessmen have also been among the hundreds of politicians and civil society leaders detained by the authorities since early August to dampen any backlash.
While many of those arrested across the region have since been released, Haseeb Drabu, a former state finance minister from a local party once allied with Modi’s ruling BJP, said outsiders were now balking at doing business with Kashmiris.
“With a few businessmen raided and more under detention, why would anyone from the rest of the country engage with them and subject himself to a possible enquiry of his transaction and opening of his books?” Drabu said.
India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir, which is divided between them but both claim in full, and it remains at the heart of decades of hostility.
In February, the nuclear-armed neighbors engaged in an aerial duel after a deadly militant attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in Kashmir, raising the fear of a broader conflict.
The latest bout of instability has been devastating to the likes of Manzoor Kolu, who runs a five-roomed houseboat on Srinagar’s mirror-calm Dal lake, framed by snow-clad mountains.
Days before Aug. 5, Kolu said police had come asking him to move tourists out of the property, fearing unrest.
“They told me that if anything happens, I would be responsible,” he said. His four guests, all Indian tourists, left shortly after. No guest has come since.
“Now we have to wait until next April. It’s hopeless,” he said, sitting inside the living room of the 35-year-old boat, packed with intricately carved wooden furniture and traditional Kashmiri carpets. “So many times, I’ve thought of selling, but this is my father’s whole life’s achievement.”
Kashmir’s tourism industry has lost momentum in recent years, starting with devastating floods in 2014 and followed by a sustained period of unrest in 2016.
Tourist numbers had begun improving between April and July this year, government data showed, only to drop off a cliff in August. Only 10,130 tourists came last month, compared with nearly 150,000 in July and more than 160,000 in June this year.
In a one-story house in Srinagar’s working-class Zoonimar neighborhood, Abdul Hamid Shah sits beneath a window quietly embroidering a Kashmiri shawl. Each shawl is at least three months’ work, and some take a whole year to complete.
Shah is typically paid 35,000 Indian rupees ($490) per shawl, which he often gets in monthly instalments of around 10,000 rupees. Since August, his payments from a shawl trader he has worked with for a decade have shrunk.
“He’s telling me he doesn’t have money because there is no business,” Shah said.
Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson
C-Section Babies Have More Potentially Infectious Gut Bacteria
Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, the University of Birmingham and their collaborators discovered that whereas vaginally born babies got most of their gut bacteria from their mother, babies born via caesarean did not, and instead had more bacteria associated with hospital environments in their guts. Science Daily reports: The exact role of the baby’s gut bacteria is unclear and it isn’t known if these differences at birth will have any effect on later health. The researchers found the differences in gut bacteria between vaginally born and caesarean delivered babies largely evened out by 1 year old, but large follow-up studies are needed to determine if the early differences influence health outcomes. Experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say that these findings should not deter women from having a caesarean birth.
Published in Nature today, this largest ever study of neonatal microbiomes also revealed that the microbiome of vaginally delivered newborns did not come from the mother’s vaginal bacteria, but from the mother’s gut. This calls into question the controversial practice of swabbing babies born via caesarean with mother’s vaginal bacteria. Understanding how the birth process impacts on the baby’s microbiome will enable future research into bacterial therapies.
New Eco-Friendly Game Packaging Could Save Tons of Plastic Each Year
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Sega and Sports Interactive have announced that Football Manager 2020 will be sold in new eco-friendly package that uses much less plastic, and they’re pushing for the rest of the entertainment industry to follow suit. The new packaging replaces the now-standard plastic DVD case used for most game discs with a folded, reinforced cardboard sleeve made of 100% recycled fiber. The shrinkwrap surrounding that package has also been replaced with a low-density LDPE polyethylene that’s highly recyclable. Even the ink on the cardboard has been changed out for a vegetable-and-water-based version (so it’s technically vegan if you’re desperate for a snack).
The new packaging does cost a bit more to produce — about 20 (British) cents per unit (or 30 percent), according to an open letter from Sports Interactive Studio Director Miles Jacobson. But those costs are somewhat offset by reduced shipping and destruction costs for excess units, he added. And as Spanish footballer Hector Bellerin says in a video accompanying the letter, “if there’s no Earth, there’s no money to spend.” All told, Jacobson says the new packaging will save 55 grams of plastic per unit, or 20 tonnes across a print run of over 350,000. That’s an extremely tiny dent in the estimated 335 million tons of plastic that is produced annually worldwide. But Jacobson hopes it could add up to a sizable dent if the entire industry follows suit for the tens of millions of discs it produces each year. “We’re not the biggest game in the world,” Jacobson said. “Imagine what happens if every other game, every film company, every music company switches to this packaging… So I’m throwing down the gauntlet here to ALL entertainment companies who use plastic for their Blu Ray, DVD and CD packaging.”
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