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DAILY BRIEFING

A long road to justice

Written by  Maria Julia Pieraccioni, associate 
Edited by David Gaffney, partner
17 March 2021

Good morning,

In 2011, profound civil discontent in northern African countries found a conduit in social media to ignite a series of revolutions, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring.

In the following months and years, regimes were toppled, heads of state replaced, and bloodthirst quenched. But not in Syria. Since then, every head of the conflict’s chimera has been met with the same unblinking vitriol by the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Hundreds of thousands have died, almost as many are missing, and more than half of the 22 million population have been uprooted from their homes.

On Monday, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) updated its Syrian Conflict Tracker, estimating that more than 5.6 million Syrians are registered refugees, most of them fleeing to neighbouring countries, from Lebanon to Jordan. More than 6.2 million people are internally displaced within Syria, according to the UNHCR. To compound these abysmal statistics, the CFR also specifies in its report that a decade later the conflict’s status is still “unchanging”.  The civil war rages on, with no end in sight.

Domestically, a surprising political scenario is being enacted for international viewership. The rise of Asma Assad, the president’s wife, has raised concerns that not only will the regime endure, but in shifting power to Asma – a British-born, King’s College-educated, former City investment banker – the west might even soften to it.

As humans, we become accustomed and apathetic. The daily news cycle triggers short-term reactive emotions in all of us, but the ability to hold onto feelings of dismay and disbelief elude us over time. Which explains why, as the tenth anniversary of the Syrian war came and went this week, we mostly lay dormant, victims to the sense of familiarity that monotony begets.

But within this jumble of international alliances and domestic power-plays, things may, slowly, be shifting. At the beginning of the week, the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into Asma Assad, the president’s wife, over claims she supported and encouraged terrorism. As a British citizen, she could be extradited were she to leave Syria, and face justice in the UK. Separately, the Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok has recently joined the Canadian government to bring a criminal case against Bashar al-Assad, on the grounds that the Syrian government allowed detainment and torture “on an industrial scale”.

Opinions will differ as to whether there is any prospect of achieving justice this way, with sceptics probably having more reasons to justify their position than optimists. However, with Syria confirming it will engage in talks, diplomatic negotiations can now begin and the first tentative steps on what would appear a long road to justice can be taken.

News

Eight people have been killed last night in three different shootings at spas in Atlanta, in the US state of Georgia. Police arrested a 21-year-old man believed to be responsible for all three attacks. No motive has yet been established, however, six of the victims are believed to be Asian women, giving rise to fears that the crime was hate related. A recent surge in hate crimes directed against Asian-Americans is thought by some to have been fuelled by a rhetoric that blames Asian Americans for the spread of Covid-19.
 
Yesterday, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, unveiled a new timeline for easing lockdown restrictions. The decline in infections and rapid vaccination rollout prompted the Scottish government to ease the restrictions on local travel on 2 April, with national mainland travel permitted from 26 April. Many services including gyms, museums, hotels and hospitality outlets will also reopen on that date.
 
Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has defended his government’s foreign policy agenda from critics urging him to take a tougher stance towards China. A 100-page UK government review document, leaked to The Times newspaper on Monday, described China as the “biggest state-based threat” to the UK’s economic security. (£)

Business and economy

After the UK supreme court upheld a ruling last month to classify Uber drivers as workers and not independent contractors, Uber released a statement outlining that as workers, their drivers will be entitled to minimum wage, holiday pay, and a pension scheme. This comes as a significant blow to Uber, after years of pressure from labour activists and transportation regulators calling for greater regulation of the company’s controversial business model.

The US’s central bank the Federal Reserve is set to unveil its new economic growth forecasts. Economists have begun speculating that the Fed’s forecasts will be upgraded, following a faster vaccination rollout and the passing of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, with the key question being whether this might prompt any immediate policy changes. (£)

The Finnish telecommunications group, Nokia, unveiled plans on Tuesday to cut between 5,000 and 10,000 jobs over the next two years. The move has been defended by the group, which asserted that these “savings will offset increases investments” in its 5G network. The company has previously stated it has the capacity to take over the UK’s 5G network, should the opportunity arise.  

Columns of note

Penned by Nicholas Pelham, this week’s The Economist’s spotlight on Syria is a well-crafted analysis of the rise of Asma Assad, wife of the contested president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Asma Assad has emerged from a vicious and sanguinary civil war, as a dangerous political opponent and an unlikely warlord. Her Lady Macbeth-like prowess is said to have seen her hold tight to power, perhaps even more so than her husband. So much so, that the piece concludes with a foreboding realisation: she could be the next president. (£)

On the opposite spectrum of political prowess, this Wall Street Journal piece on Angela Merkel ending her 16-year tenure as chancellor this year, is a piercing commentary on the future of Germany’s political equilibrium. So carefully crafted and fed for almost two decades, the German centre of gravity is slowly shifting, tilting towards centre-leftism. Although the outcome of the German elections is far from certain, the flood of German voters to the polls is a symptom of a political awakening from decades of torpid coalition politics. (£)

Cartoon source: The New Yorker

Markets

What happened yesterday?

The S&P 500 closed lower by 0.2%, after five days in positive territory, while the Nasdaq Composite won a small gain, rising by 0.1%. As the yield on the 30-year bonds gained 0.01 points since Monday’s close, American investors continue to monitor the consequences of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, hopeful it will inject additional liquidity into the US market.
 
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 closed up 0.9%, Germanys Xetra Dax was up 0.7% and the UK’s FTSE 100 gained 0.8%. The outperformance of UK and European indices is likely to be a result of early signs of economic recovery, which tends to favour value stocks and have a heavier weighting in European and Asian indices. In Asia, China’s CSI 300 closed 0.9% higher, a positive trend followed by Hong Kong’s Hang Seng at 0.7% and South Korea’s Kospi at 0.7%. 

What’s happening today?

Finals
Advanced Medical Solutions Group
Advanced Medical Solutions Group        
Dignity           
Empiric
Ferrexpo       
Hostelworld  
Kape Tech.  
Mpac Group Plc
Science Sprt
Tribal Grp.

AGMs
Aura Egy       
Lpa    
Safestore  

EGMs
Oil&gas Regs

Final Dividend Payment Date
Blackrock I&g

Interim Dividend Payment Date
Ideagen        
K3 Capital Gro.

Quarterly Ex-Dividend Payment Date
Yew Grove Reit.

Quarterly Payment Date
Unilever   

International Economic Announcements
(10:00) Consumer Price Index (EU)
(11:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
12:30) Building Permits (US)
(12:30) Housing Starts (US)
(12:30) Retail Sales (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)


 

Source: Financial Times

did you know

Research suggests that antisocial adults have smaller brains than friendlier ones. (Source: Lancet Psychiatry)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral Questions
Wales

Prime Minister’s Question Time

Ten Minute Rule Motion
Education Employment (Accompaniment to Hearings) – Brendan Clarke-Smith
 
Opposition Day Debate
Independence and the Scottish Parliamentary Election – tabled in the name of the Scottish National Party
Brexit Outcomes – tabled in the name of the Scottish National Party
Adjournment
Funding for Transport for the North – Dame Diana Johnson
 
Westminster Hall Debate
Future of passenger boats and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency – Andrew Rosindell
Extension of marine protected areas – Tony Lloyd
Future of research and development funding – Daniel Zeichner
UK voting record at UN Human Rights Council on Israel – Scott Benton
Disposal of unexploded ordnance for offshore windfarm construction – John Nicolson

House of Lords 

Oral Questions
Reports of increased NHS admissions for drug-related mental health treatment since January 2011 – Lord Farmer
Trade Union consultation and publication of the Taskforce on Innovation Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) review into existing employment rights and reform recommendations – Lord Hendy
Government discussions with the UN regarding the detention of Princess Latifa of the United Arab Emirates – Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick
 
Legislation
Fire Safety Bill – consideration of Commons amendments – Lord Greenhalgh
Domestic Abuse Bill – report stage (day 4) – Baroness Williams of Trafford
Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill – report stage – Lord Greenhalgh

Scottish Parliament 

Parliamentary Bureau Motions
 
Member’s Business
The Human Right to a Healthy Environment – Ruth Maguire
 
Portfolio Questions
Justice and the Law Officers
Constitution, Europe and External Affairs
 
Ministerial Statement
ScotRail
Scotland’s Testing Strategy – Update
 
Stage 3 Proceedings
Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill
 
Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Debate
Urgent SPCB Questions
Public Petitions System Changes
Equalities and Human Rights Committee Remit
 
Business Motions
 
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
 
Approval of SSIs (if required)
 
Decision Times
 
Members’ Business
80th Anniversary of the Clydebank Blitz – Gil Paterson

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