Brexit latest, Ukraine presidential election, Arab League summit
The FT's Claer Barrett previews some of the big stories the FT is watching in the week ahead, including Theresa May's battle to save her fragile Brexit deal, the Ukrainian presidential election, this year's Arab League summit in Tunisia, and first-quarter results from H&M
Presented by Claer Barrett, produced by James Sandy
Here are just some of the stories we'll be watching this week. UK Prime Minister Theresa May battles to save her Brexit deal. Ukrainians go to the polls to choose their next leader. Tunisia will host this year's Arab League summit. And there will be first-quarter results from H&M.
First up, UK Prime Minister Theresa May is set to put her Brexit deal to a third parliamentary vote early this week after EU leaders agreed to delay the UK's departure from the bloc, from March 29 until at least April 12. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has warned he could block a vote, unless the deal is substantially different to the version that was rejected two weeks ago. If the vote is blocked or if the deal is rejected for a third time, MPs are likely to take control of the parliamentary agenda to debate alternatives to Mrs May's plan.
If MPs reject it, we're really in very uncertain territory. We would expect the UK to seek a longer extension, perhaps to have a broader political process around finding a Brexit solution. But Theresa May said that she wouldn't lead that... she wouldn't accept that as prime minister. So would she be overthrown? Would there be a Tory leadership contest or an interim prime minister?
And would there be an EU summit later in the week to discuss any requests for a longer extension? So really instead of what we were expecting two years ago, which was a triumphant exit with a smooth pathway out to the EU, we're very, very uncertain and in a place that even people here in Westminster didn't expect us to be six months ago.
Now to Ukraine, where presidential elections will take place on Sunday. This is the second presidential vote since pro-European demonstrators ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Weeks later, Russian forces annexed the Crimean peninsula and the Russian backed separatists seized power in the eastern Donbas region of the country.
The conflict between the rebels and Ukrainian forces has cost the lives of more than 10,000 people so far. The country has not fallen apart under relentless pressure from Moscow, however, and the Ukrainian economy has actually stabilised in recent years. But the election result is unpredictable, not least because Ukrainians appear fed up with their current president Petro Poroshenko and his inability to root out corruption.
There is Yulia Tymoshenko, twice former prime minister, who is campaigning on an overtly sort of populist stance. But she was leading convincingly in the polls, but has slipped now and it seems to be losing momentum. The great surprise of the campaign is the fact that Vladimir Zelinsky, a comedian who is best known in Ukraine for playing the role of a teacher who becomes president, has surged into the lead and is surfing on popular discontent with all of the established Ukrainian politicians, who to many people represent cronyism and corruption in public life.
Tunis is set to host this year's Arab League Summit on Sunday. Tunisia's foreign minister recently called on the organisation to readmit Syria to its ranks. The league suspended Syria's membership in 2011 after government forces were used to brutally put down those opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Eight years on, President Assad has effectively taken back control of most of the country with help from Iran and Russia. Now, Arab leaders, many of whom backed Syrian rebels during the conflict, are considering whether to invite Assad back to the table in order to counter Iranian and Turkish influence in Syria.
There is kind of regional power struggle been going on for years now with Arab powers trying to push back against Iran's influence in the Arab world. And Syria is one place where the Iranian roles become more embedded, particularly as a result of the conflict because Iran sent in troops to support the Assad regime, it supported foreign proxies, militias like Hezbollah, the Lebanese movement. So whilst the Arabs backed the opposition, which is pretty much been crushed, the Iranians have strengthened their alliance with the Assad regime.
And finally, Sweden's H&M will release its first-quarter results on Friday. The world's second largest retailer disappointed investors at the end of 2018 when pre-tax profits for the fourth quarter fell 11 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier. The family controlled group blamed costs from replacing logistics systems at the time. They also cited actions taken to transform the company in the face of competition from online retailers.
H&M has been on a miserable run of recent. Both its sales and its profits have been falling as it faces ever tougher competition from online sellers. And what it's been doing, is like in the store in Oslo behind me, renovating them, freshening them up, hoping to attract customers back again. And that's what investors are going to be looking out for.
They're going to be wanting to see if there are any signs that H&M's margins, which have been long under that there's some recovery there. And they'll also be hoping that the early signs of this year, in terms of sales, are positive. And that's what the week ahead looks like from the Financial Times in London.