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DAILY BRIEFING

Border out-of-control

Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate 
Edited by Scott Reid, associate partner
20 May 2021

Good morning,

The European Union’s only land border with Africa along the Strait of Gibraltar may be one of its shortest, but it has a long history.
 
In November 1975, as Francisco Franco lay on his deathbed and the Spanish government in no mood for war, King Hassan II of Morocco ordered 350,000 unarmed Moroccans to simply walk into the Spanish Sahara to claim the territory for himself. Much of the Western Sahara has been Moroccan ever since and the Green March, as it became known, has gone down in history as a symbol of the power that the movement of peoples from one spot of land to the next can have on geopolitics.
 
On Monday, we were reminded of that fact as Rabat once again forced a migration and humanitarian crisis at the border. Objecting to Spain’s decision to allow the leader of the pro-Saharan independence Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, to be treated in a Spanish hospital for Covid-19 as “a humanitarian gesture”, Morocco waved around 8,000 migrants into Spain. Many swam their way into the Spanish exclave of Ceuta before border controls were reinstated less than two days later.
 
In the 36 hours that followed, Madrid responded by deploying extra personnel and sending 5,600 people back to Morocco in a time window some campaigners deem too rapid to “allow for any kind of individual assessment or careful examination of individual circumstances.”
 
Many migrants are said to be returning voluntarily while some 200 unaccompanied children who are already settled in reception centres in Ceuta will be distributed across Spain’s autonomous communities in the coming days.
 
The EU has been quick to back Spain’s response. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said she was standing “in solidarity with Ceuta and Spain”, while the home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, emphasised the bloc’s intention to build relations with Morocco “based on trust and shared commitments.”
 
Morocco isn’t playing ball. Officials disagree with the EU’s support for a negotiated solution to their ongoing conflict with the Polisario Front in the disputed Western Sahara. Against this backdrop, it remains unclear whether the Spanish high court’s summons for a preliminary hearing in a war crimes case against Ghali will help to appease Rabat.
 
Tensions are far from over. We may be 45 years on from the Green March, but the obvious conclusion is that there is still plenty ground left to cover between Spain and Morocco.

News

The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced her new cabinet team yesterday. The list of appointments includes Shirley-Anne Somerville as new education secretary, Humza Yousaf moving from justice to health, and finance secretary Kate Forbes taking on an expanded role that encompasses the economy brief. Meanwhile, the MSP for Edinburgh Central and former SNP leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, has been appointed as the constitution, external affairs and culture secretary.
 
The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that the government has “increasing confidence” that the current Covid-19 vaccines will be effective against all variants, including the Indian strain. Boris Johnson’s comments in the House of Commons came one day after he said there was “nothing conclusive” as to whether step four of England’s roadmap out of lockdown could be pushed back beyond 21 June.
 
As cross-border attacks between Israel and Palestine continue, both sides in the conflict denied on Wednesday that a truce was imminent. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “determined to carry on” until “calm and security are restored to Israeli citizens”. Meanwhile, international calls for a significant de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire are mounting.

Business and economy

The price of Bitcoin fell below £24,030 for the first time in three months yesterday as China imposed bans on the provision of services related to cryptocurrency transactions by banks and payment firms. Other digital currencies such as Ether and Dogecoin lost as much as 22% and 24%, respectively. Bitcoin had already experienced falls of more than 10% last week after Tesla’s Elon Musk said the company would no longer accept the currency.
 
The EU’s 27 member states have provisionally agreed to allow Covid-19 vaccinated tourists to visit the bloc ahead of the summer season. The tentative agreement will ultimately be dependent on the successful launch of a proposed digital vaccination certificate, which is proving difficult to implement. The proposed new rules also give member states discretion to apply an “emergency break” on visits from countries with strains “of concern or interest”, a category into which the UK may fall.
 
UK transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the rail network would be subsumed under a new publicly-owned body responsible for ticketing, timetables, rail tracks, and stations. Rebranded Great British Railways, the new network is aimed at simplifying the organisation of the franchise system and rebuild passenger numbers following the coronavirus pandemic. The trains will still be run by private companies under new ‘Passenger Service Contracts’ set to replace the current franchise arrangements.

Columns of note

Reflecting on the 1998 Belfast accord, Philip Stephens writes in the Financial Times that President Biden could prove instrumental in breaking Northern Ireland’s political deadlock by appointing a special envoy. Stephens argues that the US president should ignore talks of interference coming from Downing Street and give a badly-needed political jolt to negotiations between the UK and EU by lending the authority of his office. (£)
 
Rebecca Harding argues in City AM that tensions over the Australia-UK trade deal are a reflection of the post-Brexit crossroads at which Britain finds itself between the idea of Global Britain and increased protectionism. Harding concludes that while there is a desire to “think big and global”, the UK’s interests and those of its interest groups aren’t the same.

Cartoon source: The Times

Markets

What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed down on Wednesday amid concerns about rising inflation in the UK. The FTSE 100 ended the session 1.19% weaker at 6,950.20, while sterling was down against both the dollar by 0.15% at $1.42 and the euro by 0.1% at €1.16.
 
In the US, Wall Street stocks finished the session lower for the third consecutive day, with the S&P 500 index down 0.3% in New York. The drop followed a weak session in Europe, where the Stoxx 600 closed down 1.5% in one of the benchmark’s biggest daily tumbles this year.
 
In company news:
 
Premier Foods closed flat, as the food manufacturer reinstated its dividend after 13 years and hailed an “outstanding” year underpinned by more at-home food consumption during the pandemic.
 
Ferguson was ahead 2.18%, as the plumbing and heating products distributor lifted its full-year guidance after better-than-expected third-quarter results.
 
John Laing gained 11.25% after the infrastructure group announced it had agreed to a £2bn takeover by US buyout firm KKR.
 
Future leapt 10.69% as the media group said annual results would be well ahead of market expectations after profit more than doubled in the first half.
 
Dunelm advanced 6.16% after the homeware retailer said annual pre-tax profit was set to be “significantly” ahead of analysts’ expectations.
 
Coats Group gained 5.93% as the industrial thread manufacturer reported a return to organic revenue growth and said its full-year performance would be “slightly ahead” of its previous expectations.

What’s happening today?

Finals
National Grid
Qinetiq

AGMs
888 Holdings
Adriatic Metal.
Capital & Regional
Computacenter
Essentra
Fevertree Drk
Gamma Coms
Genuit Grp Plc
H&t Group Plc
Henry Boot
Highcroft Inv.
Impax Asset Management
Kape Tech.
Legal & General
Lloyds
Marshall Motor
Mccoll’s
Mercantile Investment Trust PLC
Network Intl
S & U
Secure Income Reit
Seplat Petrol.
Smart Metering
Team
Telit
Tyman
Venture Life

Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Producer Price Index (GER)
(09:00) Current Account (EU)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

In 1913, Scottish nobleman Kenneth Douglas Lorne MacLaine unsuccessfully attempted to pay his debts by touring America as a bagpipe-playing comedian. (source: @qikipedia)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (including Topical Questions)
 
Attorney General
 
Business Statement
Business Questions to the Leader of the House
 
Ministerial statement
Future of Britain’s Railways
 
General debate
General Debate on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster
 
Adjournment
Transport infrastructure for the North of England

House of Lords 

Oral questions
Impact of their biomass electricity subsidies on deforestation in the USA and elsewhere
 
Introduction of a distributed digital identification protocol for the UK
 
Financial support to help private sector residential tenants clear rent arrears accrued since the introduction of restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic
 
Request by the government of Nepal for two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to tackle the spread of the disease in that country
 
Private Notice Question
To ask the government whether they will publish their internal review of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic
 
Statement
UK Government’s efforts to secure a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza
 
Debate
Remote participation and the hybrid proceedings of the House of Lords
 
Motion
To move to resolve that, subject to the lifting of the remaining COVID-19 related restrictions on 21 June, the normal working practices of the House shall be restored by 6 September at the latest

Scottish parliament 

Parliamentary Bureau Motions
 
Appointment of Scottish Ministers and Junior Ministers
 
Election of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

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