Brexit’s Risk to the Union Is Becoming Clearer

Alan Crawford
Brexit’s Risk to the Union Is Becoming Clearer

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Far from the arcane drama at Westminster, warning signs are flashing that Boris Johnson’s path to leaving the European Union carries peril for the integrity of the U.K. itself.

The prime minister won a fleeting victory in Parliament last night when MPs indicated their support for his renegotiated Brexit deal, only to balk at fast-tracking it into law.

But Northern Ireland’s unionists are outraged at the deal’s provisions for the province to be treated under a different set of customs rules from the rest of the U.K. The pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party unanimously opposed the accord yesterday.

They’re in rare agreement with the Irish nationalists of Sinn Fein: Both see it as weakening the union and edging Irish reunification closer to reality. Prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson forecast “an organic explosion of anger” if Johnson’s deal is passed.

In Scotland, where a majority voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, the nationalist government is angry at not being awarded the same tailor-made customs arrangement as Northern Ireland. It is redoubling calls for a second referendum on independence.

Johnson will push for an election to try to break the deadlock in Parliament — and the momentum is with him. He may yet win his Brexit, but the price may be losing the union.

Global Headlines

Strained loyalty | Donald Trump’s self-inflicted crises are testing the Republican senators the president will be counting on in an impeachment trial that lawmakers in both parties now see as all but inevitable. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the rare step yesterday of criticizing Trump by name (for his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria) and called the president’s description of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a lynching “an unfortunate choice of words.”

Read about how the acting U.S. envoy to Ukraine’s explosive testimony to House investigators yesterday has damaged Trump’s defense and left Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in a tough spot.

Happening today: Impeachment investigators will hear from Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Competing for influence | Fresh from striking a Syria deal with Turkey, Russian President Vladimir Putin is turning his attention to the contest for geopolitical influence in Africa. He’s hosting leaders of more than 50 African states in Sochi today at Russia’s first summit with the continent. Moscow is trying to regain lost ground in Africa after the Soviet Union’s collapse, though it now trails far behind powers such as China.

Management change? | The Chinese government is considering a plan to replace Hong Kong’s embattled leader next year, a pro-establishment lawmaker said, in a potential strategy shift as demonstrations continue to rock the Asian financial center. Following through would be risky for President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party since there’s no guarantee it would do anything other than embolden the protesters demanding direct elections.

On the outs | Trump has been privately testing the idea of replacing his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. As Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs report, Trump said to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in front of a roomful of staff about a month ago: You have such great ideas, why don’t you be my chief? He has made similar remarks about Chris Liddell, a deputy chief of staff, and asked advisers whether his counselor Kellyanne Conway would be good for the role.

Late last night, Trump responded on Twitter, saying, “Wrong, never even discussed this with Kellyanne Conway or Steve Mnuchin. Just more Fake News!”

Opposition meltdown | Policy splits between white and black leaders and months of infighting have left South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, on the brink of an implosion. As Antony Sguazzin reports, that’s giving the ruling African National Congress breathing room as it attempts to recover its popularity following the scandal-ridden nine-year rule of Jacob Zuma.

What to Watch

Mark Zuckerberg plans to defend Facebook’s Libra project before a congressional panel, saying the cryptocurrency won’t be launched without approval from the U.S. government, even as the social-media giant’s Washington lobbying strategy is faltering. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera unveiled a series of social measures designed to appease protesters who have brought major cities to a near standstill in the past five days. Ethiopian authorities are probing missing funds a military contractor already accused of graft was meant to spend on a showpiece Nile tributary dam that’s raised tensions with Egypt. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Nobel Peace Prize-winning Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed are due to discuss the dispute while in Russia today.

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And finally ... Once known as “America’s toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio isn’t content with being first recipient of a criminal pardon from Trump — he wants his contempt of court conviction thrown out as well. Arpaio, who made a name for himself targeting Latinos in the Phoenix area with traffic stops based solely on the suspicion they were undocumented immigrants, will try to convince a federal appeals court today to throw out his original conviction.


--With assistance from Kathleen Hunter, Brendan Scott and Anthony Halpin.

To contact the author of this story: Alan Crawford in Berlin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Karl Maier at

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