Talking Points

Novak Djokovic dismantled Roger Federer in Melbourne. PHOTO: Getty
  1. The Australian Open was roiled by upstarts and upsets
  2. The Democratic field gathered for the 2020 Iowa caucuses
  3. The White House sought to quash John Bolton's testimony
  4. Dozens were killed by Brazil's heaviest rainfall in 110 years
  5. And 41 perished when a powerful earthquake struck Turkey
  6. A huge bushfire threatened Canberra, the Australian capital
  7. Kobe Bryant was among 9 dead in a helicopter crash
  8. Teen star Billie Eilish won a swag of Grammys
  9. India marked the 72nd anniversary of Gandhi's assassination
  10. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced her departure

Deep Dive

Winners are grinners. PHOTO: Getty

And so it was, that 1317 days after Britain voted to leave the European Union, it did just that. Now what?

Self-rule Britannia

The last sitting of the European Parliament to include Britain provided a beautiful encapsulation of its own momentous occasion. Arch-Brexiter Nigel Farage and his band of MEPs chuckled amongst themselves as they waved small Union Jacks at their continental colleagues. Having gotten a rise, they then marched out of the chamber, and out of Europe. Not long after they departed, the MEPs representing the remaining countries of the European Union stood shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand, singing 'Auld Lang Syne'.

And now it's done . Prime Minister Boris Johnson has achieved what David Cameron was too cowardly, and Theresa May too inept, to do. At 11:00 British time on Friday night Britain ceased to be a member of the European Union, thereby ending a mutually-beneficial partnership that's lasted half a century. You can reasonably expect the pubs to be full. And why shouldn't they? Brexit has been dragging on since the 26th of June, 2016. It's felled governments , damaged economies , challenged the democratic underpinnings of Britain's institutions, and engendered a marked rise in racism. Isn't it about time Britain moves on?

But February 1st will not offer any immediate sign that Britain has reclaimed its promised destiny. In fact, beyond the worse-than-usual hangovers, there will be no change at all for the average Briton. This is because Britain remains in total alignment with the European Union for the rest of 2020, while both parties' negotiators toil to hammer out a trade deal . So everything will proceed as normal, except that London will be paying into the budget of an organisation of which it is no longer a member and to which it is beholden.

And while British revellers toast each other in pubs late into the night, you can bet that the bureaucrats on whom their future depends will have hailed the early cabs. These lawyers and diplomats face the herculean task of renegotiating Britain's relationship with the bloc between now and December 31st. If they fail, Britain will either have to leave without a deal (an economic disaster) or extend the transition (something Boris Johnson has refused to countenance). European trade experts have stated repeatedly that renegotiating the entire relationship within a year is simply not feasible. The headlines may have been written but the hard work is just beginning

So long, and thanks for all the fish

While there was a genuine feeling of remorse in the European Parliament this week, it should not be mistaken for soft reminiscence. The EU is going to, in the words of one French minister, "protect our interests" . One thorny problem will be fisheries. The EU will demand access to British waters for their fleets, something entirely unpalatable to those wishing to take back control.

But as will soon become clear, London will be negotiating from a position of weakness. This has not stopped Britain from putting some extremely firm 'musts' on the table, such as zero-tariff and zero-quota trade. If Brussels does agree to this they will extract a heavy price: enforcing anti-dumping laws and fair-practice standards on Britain to prevent firms from undercutting those across the Channel. This story is far from over .

And while Britain is emerging battered but mostly-intact after 1317 days of dysfunction, Europe is coming out smelling of roses. Britain may just prove to be the €12 billion loss that Brussels needed. This real-time case-study on the price of going it alone has sucked the air out of Grexit, Frexit, and any number of blended-noun nativist movements. And if Scotland's planned tilt at another referendum goes ahead, you can bet that will put a sword in the argument.

One study on the demographics of Brexit voters found a strong correlation between those reporting lower-levels of life satisfaction and voting Leave. We hope, for their sake, that the receding influence of Brussels will engender a rise in their satisfaction levels. Because the chlorinated chickens certainly won't.


A hospital rises out of nothing in Wuhan. PHOTO: Arek Rataj / AP

Hitting the big red button

Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) had decided not to declare the coronavirus outbreak a global public-health emergency. Since then the number of confirmed cases has risen by a factor of 10 and that, according to the WHO, will just about do it. The peak global health body will now institute procedures to align and coordinate an international response to the SARS-like virus. Much to Beijing's chagrin, other countries have hastened the evacuation of citizens from Hubei province. What little corporate and tourism traffic in and out of China remains will dwindle further as international airlines cancel flights. Despite the relatively low mortality rate, panic over the outbreak was exacerbated by the announcement that the roll-out of a vaccine is at least a year away .

At ground-zero two purpose-built hospitals are taking shape. Huoshenshan and Leishenshan will be completed early next week, adding thousands of extra beds to Wuhan's teeming hospitals. That two sizeable medical facilities can be erected in just over a week is a testament to the power of centralised authority. But while impressive, this is nonetheless a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis that has quickly overwhelmed China's healthcare system (though you'll notice the WHO was careful to avoid acknowledging this). Another 42 people died in Hubei province overnight on Thursday, marking the deadliest day of the outbreak so far. At time of writing 212 people had lost their lives.

Not quite a warm reception in Palestine. PHOTO: APA Images / News Pictures

Dealing to the right

From the outset, claims that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was going to negotiate a peaceful future for Israel and Palestine had prompted scepticism and laughter. Could a wealthy scion with limited experience and no subject-matter expertise really succeed where Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat had failed? As it happens: no. US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were all smiles at the unveiling of Trump's Middle East plan . That there was no Palestinian leader standing at Trump's other shoulder should tell you everything you need to know about the fruits of Kushner's labour. It must've be quite a document to elicit smiles from Trump and Bibi considering one was facing impeachment and the other was indicted for fraud that very morning.

What was in the plan, you ask? Well, in short the document countenances Israel's annexation of the Jordan Valley, historic East Jerusalem, all its illegal settlements, and a great deal of the remaining productive land in the West Bank. In return Israel will stop the construction of more illegal settlements for four-years and hand over some worthless desert in the Negev. The incentive for Palestinians to hand over the land central to their national, religious and cultural identity is the promise of 'limited autonomy' and their own state. But as you may have guessed, it would be a state in name only , comprising a series of dislocated bantustans under Israel's military control. As a sweetener, Israel would also build tunnels and bridges linking those bantustans together, but only if Palestinians play nice for four years.

The terms 'peace treaty' and 'peace accord' were bandied about despite being categorically incorrect (both require signatories from both parties). Even terms of surrender have historically usually been more generous than this. Trump himself calls the plan the 'deal of the century', and if one reads it as a deal between Israel and the United States, rather than Israel and Palestine, then it quite possibly is.

The Best of Times

Uprooting invasive practices. PHOTO: ABC

Do not try this with the naked eye

Hawaii's Inouye space telescope has captured this breathtaking image of what lies beneath the plasma corona of the sun . What you're look at are the undulating foothills of magnetic fields on the surface of our star – each speckle of gold is roughly the size of France. It's a balmy 6,000°C on the surface there.

The most powerful woman in London

British Vogue's trailblazing editor Audrey Withers cut quite a figure: stepping through the rubble of homes at the height of the Blitz in a pair of heels. This is a sterling piece on what it looks like to use your platform well. Give it a go, because as she said, "It is simply not modern to be unaware of or uninterested in what is going on all around you".

The Worst of Times

Tens of thousands on the move in Idlib. PHOTO: AFP / Getty

Resistance and futility

The Syrian advance into Idlib province, announced by relentless airstrikes, has precipitated yet another spike in displacement. Jihadist fighters have ceded the Ma'arat al-Nu'man , a strategically vital city on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Nearly a decade – a decade – after popular protest movements blossomed across Syria, one of its last restive provinces is about to be bought to heel. Spare a thought for those caught between jihadist rule and Russian explosives.

No margin for error

If you were curious how fast Australia's bushfires can travel: watch this .

Weekend Reading

Quote of the week

"He took all the risks. He's suffered because he was inspired by a feeling that his data needed to be published in order to understand all the gloomy and corrupt practices in the football community."

– French lawyer William Bourdon explains why his client Rui Pinto can't help but hack Europe's football industry, and how his quest led him to uncover Angola's missing millions.

Headline of the week

''Pasta is now a vegetable in American schools under Trump guidelines" The Independent .

Special mention

We're awarding our special mention to that most-esteemed species, the Bolivian Cochran frog, which has stepped back out onto the scene after 18 years of being missing-presumed-dead. Just look at them !

And in a regrettable first, we have officially rescinded Yusaku Maezawa 's special mention. The Japanese billionaire lost our interest when he cancelled his reality TV show challenge to find a girlfriend to accompany him to the moon.

Some choice long-reads

Tom Wharton