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How 2 sentences could sink both Brexit deal and U.K. government

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: legal advice on U.K. government Brexit deal triggers backlash; Belgium comes to grips with colonial past and modern racism; scientists are keeping a wary eye on a potentially dangerous volcano near Whistler, B.C.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Demonstrators for and against Brexit protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday as British Prime Minister Theresa May returns to the House of Commons. She has suffered a series of stunning defeats by MPs that threaten her government and could change the course of Brexit. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The legal advice that Theresa May received on her Brexit deal is six pages long, but two little sentences have the potential to sink both the agreement and her government.
  • Belgium is coming to grips with its colonial past and racism that has continued to fester.
  • Scientists are keeping a wary eye on a potentially dangerous volcano near Whistler, B.C.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Brexit stumbling block

The legal advice that Theresa May received on her Brexit deal is six pages long, but two little sentences have the potential to sink both the agreement and her government.

This morning in London, during the second of five days of debate over the U.K.'s impending divorce from the European Union, the British Prime Minister bowed before a historic rebuke from a parliament that had found her government in contempt and released the legal analysis of her draft withdrawal treaty prepared by the country's top lawyer, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox leaves the weekly meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past few days, May had tried to keep his precise advice secret, instead releasing a 43-page "overview."

And now, it's clear why.

Cox notes that a "temporary" arrangement to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic might instead prove to be a permanent entanglement with Brussels, effectively leaving one part of the U.K. inside the European Union.

"Despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place," his advice says. "In the absence of a right of termination, there is a legal risk that the United Kingdom might become subject to protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations."

The revelation is causing fits amongst both the hard Brexiteers within May's Conservative Party, and the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland loyalist movement that the Prime Minister relies upon for her slim majority in parliament.

Both are now threatening to reject the draft deal when it comes to an open vote on Dec. 11, throwing the divorce process into chaos yet again.

A student walks past a Border Communities Against Brexit sign in Newry, Northern Ireland. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has been a contentious issue during the Brexit talks to find an agreement that would avoid a return to a so called 'hard border.' (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

At a hearing before a parliamentary committee this morning, Liam Fox, the U.K.'s pro-divorce trade minister, warned that a natural majority of "remainers" in parliament are trying to "steal Brexit from the British people."

But it appears that it's the hardcore Euroskeptics who pose the biggest challenge to the deal.

Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit secretary when May brought home the deal in November, is calling on his fellow Conservatives to vote "no" on the draft treaty, in hopes of forcing Brussels into better terms.

However, with just 114 days to go before the scheduled pull-out on March 29, 2019, the chances of a no-deal exit seem to be increasing by the hour.

Dominic Raab, former Brexit secretary, is pushing for a 'No' vote on the draft Brexit deal with the EU. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

The EU, now focused on the interests of its remaining 27 member states, has little reason to compromise further, and zero interest in appearing to throw Ireland under the bus.

May, meanwhile, is finding that the task of splitting Britain from the continent isn't just thankless, but suicidal.

A new YouGov poll released this morning found 68 per cent of respondents saying that her government has handled the negotiations "badly," and that just 27 per cent support her draft deal.

The narrow "Leave" victory in the June 2016 referendum — 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent for "Remain" — is also facing a new legal challenge this week. A pro-Europe group is seeking to have the results declared null on the basis that the Brexiteers cheated.

The Independent newspaper reports that an Oxford University professor is set to testify that targeted Facebook ads by Vote Leave in the final hours of the campaign made the difference in the close contest, swinging at least 800,000 people.

It's a potentially important point, given allegations that the Leave forces purposefully circumvented campaign spending limits, even as the Remain side stopped advertising in the final hours because it had hit the legal ceiling.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave flags during a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

All the uncertainty is weighing on British businesses.

Yesterday, a senior Toyota executive told a parliamentary committee that £10 million a day worth of car production will be at risk in the event of a no-deal exit. Not only does the automaker ship in most of its parts from Europe on a daily basis, it does so in strict sequence, so the delay of just one truck could shut down a plant, he warned.

In fact, so many U.K. businesses work on the "just in time" supply chain model that the country is running out of warehouse space as industries seek to stockpile goods and raw materials to carry them through the first few post-Brexit months.

The one bright spot is that there will be plenty to drink.

Last month, Majestic Wine, one of the country's biggest booze retailers, announced that it has imported an additional 1.5 million bottles of wine from EU countries, just in case anyone needs to drown their sorrows.

Confronting racism in Belgium

Belgium is slowly coming to grips with its colonial past and racism that has continued to fester, foreign correspondent Margaret Evans writes.

Until recently, Pierre Kompany was perhaps best known for his famous soccer-playing son Vincent, the current captain of the Manchester City club and a former captain of Belgium's National team, the Red Devils.  

But last month the 76-year-old was sworn in as Belgium's first-ever black mayor, a major milestone in a country that has consistently failed to reflect the diversity of its population in its public institutions.

Pierre Kompany was sworn in last month as Belgium’s first-ever black mayor. (Lily Martin/CBC)

More than a century ago, Pierre Kompany's grandfather worked as a collections agent for a diamond company in the Kasai region of the former Belgian Congo. It's how he came by his name.

"He would collect payments from all the shops in the village that sold European products," Kompany says.

"At the end of the month, people were saying 'Company' is coming. And because he was the chief's son, the name stuck. He was Mr. Company."

Kompany arrived in Belgium as a refugee in 1975, fleeing Congo's post-colonial dictatorship. He worked as a taxi driver before going back to university and eventually engaging in local politics.

Critics say Belgium's failure to address the brutal chapters of its colonial past have allowed racism to fester.   

Central to those claims has been the Royal Museum for Central Africa, just outside of Brussels, a sanitized showcase for the former Belgian King Leopold II's colonial pursuits dating back to 1897. The Museum will re-open its doors to the public this weekend after a five-year renovation, promising a more truthful narrative about the past.

"That the Congo was not the story of bringing civilization," says museum director Guido Gryseels. "That it was a story of brutal capitalism looking for resources, looking for profits."

Guido Gryseels, director of the Royal Museum for Central Africa located just outside Brussels, says the museum is about to reopen featuring exhibits that are a more accurate portrayal of Belgium's colonial past. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Pierre Kompany plans to attend the opening. He says that understanding the past is key to overcoming divisions in the present.  

"When it comes to history there can be no compromise," he says. "Only ignorance."

- Margaret Evans

  • WATCH: Margaret Evans' story about Belgium's efforts to confront its exploitative colonial history and the racism that's still affecting black Belgians, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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B.C.'s 'grumpy' volcano

Reporter Laura Lynch, along with producer Chris Corday, checked out a restless volcano in B.C. that has researchers concerned.

First it was the smoke from the forest fires. Then came the heavy rains and low cloud. For weeks we had been putting other plans on hold, waiting for the right day — the day for an assignment like no other.

We were flying to a volcano northwest of Whistler.

Until recently, I didn't know it was there. But Glyn Williams-Jones, an expert in volcanoes at Simon Fraser University, knew all about it and had mentioned it to me in the course of an interview about the Kilauea volcano that erupted in Hawaii earlier this year.

I followed up with him and asked if I could accompany his team of SFU scientists on their research trip to Mt. Meager.

The research team from Simon Fraser University flies to the Mt. Meager volcano periodically to gather data on how it is changing. Their helicopter is seen in front of a fumarole, a hole in the side of the volcano issuing steam and gases. (Chris Corday/CBC)

It finally happened on a day that dawned bright and cool. Cameraman/producer Chris Corday and I packed our gear as lightly as we could, since there was limited space on the helicopter.

After a breathtaking flight across part of the spectacular B.C. coastal mountain range, we touched down on the glacier — and immediately inhaled the smell of rotten eggs.

Sulfur dioxide was spewing from three holes in the ice.

The footage shows how much ice is melting, and allowing gas and steam to escape from the volcano. 0:52

They were the reason Williams-Jones began researching changes in the volcano and its receding glacier, which he believes are at least partly due to climate change.

Our assignment was unlike any other I have experienced as a journalist. To see a volcano up close, to learn why Williams-Jones and his team expect Mt. Meager will crack open soon (and erupt again sooner or later), to see the majesty of what he describes as a sleeping giant, was exhilarating.

Risky, too.

We had to take precautions: guides preceded our every step, poking the ice to look for dangerous crevasses.

At the opening to a hole — called a fumarole — we were tethered by cables to stakes driven into the ice. The gas could be deadly if we slipped in and became trapped in a small space.

Glyn Williams-Jones, an expert in volcanoes at Simon Fraser University, is tethered for safety as he stands near the edge of a fumarole on Mt. Meager. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Williams-Jones wants the world to see what is happening on Mt. Meager, and to hear his warnings. Though he does not want to be seen as a fearmonger, he says the risk to human life is unacceptable.

He warns that there's an imminent threat that part of the mountain will collapse and trigger a landslide as much as 10 times bigger than the one that occurred there in 2010 — which was the largest ever recorded in Canada. That could damage infrastructure and cause major flooding, endangering those who live in a nearby valley.

Williams-Jones adds that the volcano will also erupt, although he can't say when that will happen. He says there's a real risk of a volcanic explosion like the one at Mount St. Helens in 1980, which could threaten nearby communities such as Pemberton, B.C.

The research team checks one of the openings in the side of the Mt. Meager volcano. They have to be very careful of dangerous gases like hydrogen sulfide issuing from the ground. (Chris Corday/CBC)

He wants the government to fund year-round monitoring equipment to watch what is happening on what he calls this "grumpy" volcano when the scientists are not there.

That's why we were welcomed to come along, to give people a chance to see the volcano for themselves. Chris and I were your eyes and ears — noses too, though the smell is fortunately not part of the story we've put together for The National tonight.

- Laura Lynch

  • WATCH: The story about Mt. Meager tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online
  • READ: Laura Lynch's online feature, with its stunning photography of the volcano courtesy of Chris Corday and other contributors

A few words on ... 

A Canadian perspective of George H.W. Bush.

Quote of the moment

"I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder … zero question. Let me just put it this way. If he was in front of a jury he would have a unanimous verdict in 30 minutes. A guilty verdict."

- Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, after hearing CIA Director Gina Haspel's briefing on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker speaks to reporters after attending a closed-door CIA briefing in Washington on Tuesday about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Jonathan Erns/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Putin threatens arms race if U.S. dumps nuclear treaty (Guardian)
  • Bank of Canada holds key interest rate steady at 1.75 per cent (CBC)
  • UN criticizes Danish plan to house foreign criminals on tiny island (Euronews)
  • Crackdown on Italian mob sees 84 arrests across Europe (CBC)
  • Cubans to get full internet access on their mobile phones (Time)
  • Look up and wave to David Saint-Jacques aboard the International Space Station (CBC)
  • Single workout can boost metabolism for days (Science Daily)
  • Only 15 per cent of the products in the Trump store are made in the USA (Quartz)

Today in history

Dec. 5, 1982: Pay TV comes to Canada

The launch of the Anik C-3 satellite in November 1982 opened up a whole world of entertainment possibilities for Canadians, in the form of U.S.-style pay television. Six channels — four English and two French — went to air in early 1983, but relatively few people were willing to fork out a minimum of $25 a month to watch Cannonball Run, On Golden Pond and George Burns specials. Subscriptions plateaued at about 500,000, half of what the operators had predicted.

A new satellite means Canadians can subscribe to pay TV and watch movies at home. 4:32

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.