Britain’s seven Brexit options. Reports surfaced Friday that the British Parliament will hold nonbinding votes on its Brexit options next week if the withdrawal agreement is voted down for a third time as expected. Members of Parliament will reportedly vote among seven options: the existing deal; the deal plus a permanent customs union with the EU; the deal plus a customs union and single market membership; a free trade agreement; a second referendum; no deal; or no Brexit. It’s a flawed process, to be sure. A second referendum would accomplish nothing unless voters elected to remain in the EU. An FTA and the options that include a customs union or single market membership would not change the withdrawal agreement, which has twice been rejected by historic margins; they would only alter the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU. In fact, the Irish backstop – the largest obstacle to the withdrawal agreement’s passage – would still exist in the first four options listed. (It would never kick in, however, were the U.K. to opt to stay in a customs union and the single market, because Ireland and Northern Ireland would then be in customs and regulatory alignment.) Even a no-deal Brexit wouldn’t get rid of the contentious parts of the withdrawal agreement like the backstop – it would only set them aside until London and Brussels resumed negotiations on their trade relationship. And this is the most important point: The U.K. and the EU cannot have a deep trade relationship without settling their differences, and at its core, the seven-choice voting process is not just about how close that relationship should be, but also about how long they are willing to put off reconciliation with reality.
Another big Chinese loan for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka apparently still has an appetite for Chinese infrastructure financing. China’s Export-Import Bank has agreed to provide a $989 million loan to Sri Lanka to finance 85 percent of a new highway that will connect its central tea-growing region to the Hambantota port on its south coast. The Hambantota port is one of the more infamous components in China’s hodgepodge collection of Belt and Road Initiative projects – after obtaining a large loan from China to help construct the port, it struggled to service its debt and, in 2017, gave up effective control of the port to China in the form of a 99-year lease in exchange for a $1 billion debt write down. Sri Lanka has continued to struggle to service its debt, drawing from its foreign reserves to repay a $1 billion sovereign bond in January and borrowing even more money from China to help with its debt obligations. Paying close attention is India, which naturally is concerned about what happens in the Indian Ocean – especially to strategically important ports such as Hambantota.
Iran’s flood. A major flood has hit northern Iran. Some 70 percent of the city of Aqqala is under water, and 21 villages are surrounded by water, according to government-friendly Fars News. President Hassan Rouhani has called for more rescue operations, which Iran’s interior minister is expected to supervise directly from the flooded areas. The flood is believed to be caused by an overflow in two dams in Golestan and Bostan, which appears to be another example of Iran’s climate-related woes. A paper published in February by Scientific Reports, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal, noted that Iran is experiencing greater incidence of both serious floods and extreme drought due to changes in climate patterns. Add this to the list of challenges faced by the Iranian regime, putting ever more pressure on its already stretched budget to handle the crisis.
- Four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who had been captured by the Pakistan-based Sunni militant group Jaishuladi have been returned to Iran.
- The defense ministers of Pakistan and Azerbaijan announced plans to develop closer military and security ties.
- Saudi Arabia is cutting oil exports in an attempt to raise oil prices to at least $70 per barrel. It plans to reduce production to under 10 million barrels per day, which would fall short of its current OPEC target of 10.3 million bpd.
- The commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces laid out two conditions for reconciling with Damascus: that the territory controlled by the SDF in the north remains autonomously administered, and that the SDF be preserved.