Global Political Calendar: A step towards a Brexit solution?
By John Goodrich
Fresh Brexit votes take place, New Zealand's prime minister visits China, the ninth round of Sino-U.S. trade talks gets underway and NATO marks its 70th anniversary.
No, no, no… compromise?
March 29 – once known as Brexit day – has been and gone with Britain little closer to deciding how to leave the European Union. No-deal, no exit, a softer option, an election? All remain possibilities as another week of high stakes votes lies ahead of the latest deadline, April 12.
Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal deal suffered a third rejection last week, yet she is thought to be contemplating bringing it back for a fourth time in the coming days – and has indicated she may try to force an election if it doesn't pass. The problem is, an election is unlikely to lead to a majority for any party and several of May's Conservative MPs have said they will vote against holding one.
A solution may lie with indicative votes. The first round last week didn't find a majority for any of eight options, but a clear preference for a softer Brexit emerged. Permanent membership of a customs union and a Common Market 2.0 plan as well as a confirmatory referendum are likely to be popular choices when round two is held on April Fool's Day.
A way forward could be a merger of the two – putting the withdrawal deal together with a plan for a softer future relationship, or even pitting May's deal against whatever the favored indicative option is. With such stark divisions and serious consequences to whichever route is chosen, there are no easy answers – but the next few days should at least narrow down the options.
NZ PM in China
Jacinda Ardern makes her first visit to China as New Zealand's prime minister on Sunday, with trade and tourism ties set to be high on the agenda.
Discussions are likely on an upgrade to the Free Trade Agreement signed between the countries in 2008, and the Belt and Road Initiative is expected to feature prominently.
New Zealand was the first developed Western economy to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the BRI, and will be sending a delegation to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in April.
Other dignitaries in China this week include Mongolian Foreign Minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar and Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Negotiations between trade delegations led by Vice Premier Liu He on the Chinese side and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for the U.S. are set to recommence in Washington this week.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization marks its 70th anniversary this week, with foreign ministers from the 29-nation group due for talks in Washington and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg set to give a joint address to the U.S. Congress.
Stoltenberg is also due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been a repeated critic of the bloc. How the U.S. president, who last week suggested bringing Brazil into the alliance, marks the 70 years will be closely watched. He rebuked allies at a NATO summit last year and continues to criticize members for not meeting a goal of spending two percent of GDP on defense.
While the alliance has been in Trump's crosshairs in recent years, the anniversary is expected to draw protests in the U.S. from the left with a peace march and a counter-conference planned.
Monday: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Beijing, Mongolian Foreign Minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar visits China, British MPs hold a second round of votes on Brexit options, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visits Israel, and 2020 presidential hopefuls in the U.S. address the "We the People" gathering of progressive groups.
Tuesday: The 23rd ASEAN Finance Ministers' Meeting begins in Thailand, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras visits North Macedonia, Australia's 2019 budget is announced, and French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish PM Leo Varadkar discuss Brexit in Paris.
Wednesday: Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand begins a week-long visit to China, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the U.S. Congress as the alliance marks its 70th anniversary, Kazakhstan's new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visits Russia, and further Brexit votes could take place.
Thursday: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Ireland, and FBI director Christopher Wray faces the House Committee on Appropriations.
Friday: Foreign and interior ministers from G7 nations meet in France ahead of August's Biarritz summit.