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DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

Michel's minsk misgivings

Written by Ralitsa Bobcheva, researcher
Edited by David Gaffney, partner
19 August 2020

Good morning,

Today, the 27 EU leaders will attend an emergency video conference to discuss escalating tensions in Belarus, chaired by Charles Michel, the president of the European Council.

“The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader. Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed,” Michel tweeted on Monday

The decision to call the summit comes after a contested election in Belarus proclaimed the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, the winner of a sixth term just over a week ago. The days and nights since that result was announced have seen protests of unprecedented scale on the streets of Belarus, police brutality in response, and mass arrests. 

The EU has not recognised the election result. Some member states have called for a new ballot and Lukashenko’s main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the election – has stated she is ready to “take responsibility and act as a national leader”.

Tensions have escalated further since Sunday, when Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia stands ready to provide military support to Lukashenko in the event of any external threats. This is despite long-running disputes over imports and gas supply prices between Belarus and its closest ally Russia, which has put the two countries at odds in recent years and had raised hopes that Moscow would not intervene unless its own national security was at stake. 

To some extent, the current situation echoes the events of the 2010 presidential election, when Lukashenko won with nearly 80% of the vote. Raising concerns of suspected electoral violations, the vote led to mass protests and a subsequent police crackdown on demonstrators, with the EU condemning the violation of civic and political rights and imposing sanctions against Belarus officials. 

This time around, however, Lukashenko’s sporadic relationships with both the EU and Russia means that the country is not firmly in either camp. As Ioulia Shukan notes in Le Monde diplomatiqueBelarus goes it alone, up to a point. Lukashenko has accused Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine of orchestrating the protests in his country and is said to have mobilised the military on his country’s western borders, putting his forces on high alert for action.

With Putin warning the EU against meddling in Minsk on one hand, and some critics arguing that the bloc does not deal firmly enough with autocrats on the other, the situation is delicately and dangerously poised both inside and outside Belarus as EU leaders convene today to debate the most appropriate response.  

News

Joe Biden was formally nominated as the Democratic nominee for US president during the party’s virtual convention last night. Biden was endorsed by two former US presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, with Clinton saying in a speech that Donald Trump had brought “chaos” to the Oval Office.

Thousands of students are still in the dark over whether they can secure places on university courses, after the UK government’s U-turn on A-level grades. The revised grading system means many are now theoretically able to apply to their first-choice institution. However, the admissions service UCAS had still not received any of the teacher-predicted grades from exam boards, and therefore has been unable to share that information with universities. 

A poll by Unite Scotland found that NHS workers in Scotland are suffering under staffing shortages and heavy workloads, with more than half feeling undervalued in their jobs. According to the new survey, more than 80% of NHS workers experienced staff shortages, while four in five have also had to work over and above their contracted hours as staff were forced to adapt to new ways of working in the months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Business and economy

New UK job vacancies rose significantly in July and August, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Employment Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity. The data shows that new vacancies rose more than 50% in July, while more than 169,000 vacancies were placed in the first week of August. Nevertheless, there are still nearly half a million fewer vacancies than at the start of the coronavirus crisis in March. 

English councils are facing an additional £2bn funding shortfall this financial year amid severe pressures on council budgets created by the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The leading thinktank warns of the prospect of imminent cuts in services unless the central government increases the generosity on top of the bailouts it had already provided to councils. (£)

According to the UK Treasury, more than 35 million claims have already been submitted to the government as part of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with more than £180m claimed back by businesses. The scheme, which runs until the end of the month, gives diners 50% off up to £10 a head on meals bought at participating outlets on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Columns of note

Writing in The Guardian, Catherine Fletcher argues that many non-Russell Group universities will find it hard to survive as a result of the U-turn on A-level grades, which will see the most popular universities fill their places. This would affect both the higher education sector and the economy more widely, she argues, as universities are major employers.  

In the Financial Times, Tony Barber emphasizes that the mass protests in Belarus are neither pro-Western nor anti-Russian but pro-civic rights. Interestingly, he draws parallels between the 1989 communist revolutions across central and eastern Europe and the mass protests that are currently taking place in Belarus. (£)

Cartoon source : The Telegraph

Markets

What happened yesterday?

The S&P 500 ended the session up 0.2%, eclipsing its last record high in February. The Nasdaq Composite also climbed 0.7% to 11,210.84 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average lagged, going down 0.2%, to 27,778.07 as Home Depot and Walmart tumbled in spite of strong earnings results.

London stocks closed lower on Tuesday, amid growing tensions between the US and China as President Trump tightened restrictions on Huawei.  As a result, the FTSE 100 went down 0.83% at 6,076.62, and the FTSE 250 was 0.84% weaker at 17,623.02, while sterling was stronger both against the dollar by 0.96% at $1.3229 and the euro by 0.41% at €1.1084.

In terms of bonds, the yield on 10-year treasuries went down two basis points to 0.66%, while Britain’s 10-year yield jumped less than one basis point to 0.219%.

Meanwhile, gold rose 0.8% at $2,001.59 an ounce and silver climbed 2.2% to $28.01 per ounce.

In company news: 

Pizza Express will shut 73 of its UK restaurants with the potential loss of 1,100 jobs. Earlier this month, the company was put up for sale by its Chinese owners, Hony Capital, and said it was considering the closure of 15 of its UK sites. (£)

British housebuilder Persimmon announced it would reinstate its dividend even as its pre-tax profits for the six months to the end of June slipped 43% to £292m. The firm reported a rise in weekly sales of almost 50% in July as house prices climbed. (£)
 

What’s happening today?

AGMs
Albion Venture
Braemar Shipping
Gore Street En.

UK. economic announcements
(07:00) Retail Price Index
(07:00) Producer Price Index
(07:00) Consumer Price Index

Int. economic announcements
(09:00) Current Account (EU) 
(10:00) Consumer Price Index (EU)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US) 
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

Pineapples were a sign of wealth in 18th century England. They were so expensive that you could rent them by the night and take them to parties with you as a status symbol. 

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

In recess until 1 September

House of Lords 

In recess until 2 September 2020.

Scottish Parliament 

Parliamentary Bureau Motions

Preliminary Stage Debate: Solicitors in the Supreme Courts of Scotland

Ministerial Statement: Health

Ministerial Statement: Scotland’s Redress Scheme for Survivors of Historical Child Abuse in Care

Business Motions

Parliamentary Bureau Motions

Approval of SSIs (if required)

Decision time

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