Category: Public-Health

Brexit-Watch: Friday 12 June 2020

The EU has reason to fear the implications of Britain’s historic Hong Kong connections in negotiations over future UK-EU trade relations   

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 05 June 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

EU: Trade with China Trumps Freedom for Hong KongGatestone Institute

It should by now be clear that, having either deliberately released the COVID19 virus or negligently allowed to it escape (the jury is still out on that one, so take your pick), China intends to take advantage of the rest of the world being both distracted by it and intimidated by its dependency on China for PPE, to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s own agenda.

So far, the UK has reacted honourably to the Chinese threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms by suggesting the grant of a 12-month UK visa, as a ‘pathway to citizenship’, for the roughly 3 million Hong Kong residents who qualify for British National (Overseas) status.  The EU, on the other hand, shows no inclination to do anything which might jeopardise its trade links with China.

The UK must resist any moves by the EU in Brexit negotiations to capitalise on a potential future reduction in UK-China trade by being even more intransigent on future UK-EU trade relations.  The EU has more to lose.  Not only would the arrival in Britain of up to 3 million from one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial economies on Earth be a welcome boost to Britain’s post-COVID19 recovery; the prospect of Hong Kong-style low tax, free market, small-state attitudes growing and thriving only 22 miles off the declining, sclerotic EU mainland would put the fear of God into it. 

 

History will judge Brexit on how the fisheries issue is settledGlobal Vision

This Brexit-Watch series has mentioned on several previous occasions how British commercial fishing has a symbolic, almost talismanic, political status as a proxy for Britain’s surrender of economic and territorial sovereignty since joining the then EEC in 1973, even if that status is out of proportion to the industry’s economic significance.

So the article author Hjörtur Guðmundsson is right to warn that the UK must maintain its stance of refusing to lump fishing in with all other aspects of a UK-EU trade deal – assuming one can be reached at all, which looks increasingly doubtful, though not necessarily harmful – and instead continue to insist that it be treated separately.  UK chief negotiator David Frost has so far also been adamant that EU intransigence on access to UK fishing waters will heighten the risk of the UK walking away from a trade deal, and this pressure too should be maintained.  Playing hardball may be paying off.

The greatest danger here, paradoxically, may arise from Johnson’s reported intention to involve himself more closely in the minutiae of negotiation.  Never a details man at the best of times, the risk that, amid some typically Boris bluff’n’bluster, a disadvantageous trade-off or concession might be made purely to achieve a deal for political purposes but whose baleful effects could reverberate, couldn’t be discounted.  In that case, Brexit would indeed be judged on how the fisheries issue was settled, and Johnson would be in the dock. 

 

No-deal Brexit holds fewer fears for a Covid-ravaged economy – Financial Times (£)

Even the irreconcilably Continuity-Remainer FT tacitly, albeit reluctantly, acknowledges what many have been saying ever since COVID19 first appeared on the horizon.  Set against the costs to the UK economy of the pandemic, or more accurately, the costs of the Government –

  1. putting the economy into the deep freeze;
  2. placing millions on the State payroll;
  3. borrowing upwards of £300 billion; and
  4. restricting civil liberties to an extent unprecedented even in wartime,

all of which it was panicked into taking in response, the costs in comparison of a No-Deal Brexit pale into insignificance.

Not only would the likely scale of the inevitable-in-any-event decline in economic output ameliorate any adverse economic consequences of reverting to WTO terms on a No-Deal final exit, but COVID19-induced unemployment might even be lessened by the recruitment of personnel needed to operate new border controls.

The FT of course quotes the usual anti-Brexit Jeremiahs in abundance, but for it to admit it may not be all doom and gloom is quite something. It’s an ill wind. . . .

 

Free trade with America will see our farmers prosper Centre for Brexit Policy

Considering how the iniquities of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, and the importance of the UK re-acquiring the ability as an independent sovereign nation to conclude trade deals, were among the significant issues aired during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign, it’s sometimes surprising how they appear to have receded in the public mind since then.

Yet, as this article by former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson makes clear, the calls to maintain EU-amenable levels of trade protectionism, particularly as regards agricultural products, have not gone away, merely re-surfaced under ‘animal hygiene’ or ‘animal welfare’ labels.

To end being told by countries, into whose legislatures we have no democratic input, what regulations we must apply domestically is one of the reasons we voted to leave the EU.  Paterson is undoubtedly correct to say that free trade, policed by reputable global organisations overseeing regulatory equivalence rather than imposing regulatory harmonisation, offers us a better chance of benefiting from our decision while improving animal welfare than does the alternative of continued trade-protectionism.

 

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If Not Now, Then When?

How many more instances of the out-of-control BBC’s blatant bias does the Johnson Government need to make it finally resolve to tackle it?

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 02 June 2020   

In an excellent article on 21 May at The Conservative Woman, News-Watch’s David Keighley forensically demolished, point by point, the bias-driven inaccuracies and assumptions in the BBC’s now-infamous 27 April edition of Panorama.  He correctly located the programme firmly within the Coronavirus iteration of Project Fear which the Corporation had been running, and still was – or even still is. 

Anyone who watched it will remember how every failure by the NHS, and even by its semi-autonomous linked agencies, in dealing with the COVID19 pandemic was invariably deemed to be exclusively the fault of the Government – even where it had no direct control or even involvement – in what was in effect a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party

Which makes the Government’s over-timid response, understandably touched on only briefly in David Keighley’s article, all the more deserving of criticism.  It could manage little, if anything, more than a half-hearted squeak of protest delivered by Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden, whom I’ve previously criticised as an ineffectual, paleo-Cameroon careerist, and who increasingly comes across as a twerp to rival even his (politically) late and unlamented namesake Oliver Letwin.

MoS headline Sun 03-May-2020 Dowden-BBC

In the light of subsequent events, it’s worth re-visiting and analysing Dowden’s weak, anodyne and platitudinous admonition to the BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall in more detail.

First, there’s the excessive “Dear Tony” familiarity; at the risk of being stuffy, I’d suggest this is singularly inappropriate in the current circumstances, and does nothing to dispel the impression of what ought to be a formal arm’s-length relationship in the public interest being conducted more like a friendly exchange between fellow-members of the same like-minded elite.

Dowden urges Hall to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality‘.  At the risk, this time, of being pedantic, the use of ‘uphold‘’ here implies that those ‘highest standards of integrity and impartiality‘ are in fact the norm from which the Panorama programme was merely an isolated, uncharacteristic, aberration.  That might come as a surprise to the 69 per cent of respondents to the late December 2019 Savanta-ComRes poll who said they trusted the BBC less even than ITV News on impartiality and accuracy.

Dowden concludes by referring to the need to maintain ‘public confidence‘ in ‘the BBC’s long-standing reputation for fair and balanced reporting‘.  That, in turn, might come as a surprise to the 75 per cent of respondents to the (also late-December) Public First poll supporting abolition of the ‘licence fee’ outright, and the 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment.

As for the Mail‘s headline, Dowden’s pleadings represented, not so much a ‘blast’ as a half-hearted pretence at a gentle rap over the knuckles.  They virtually invited a contemptuous response from the BBC.  It has not been long in coming.

The Corporation remains unapologetic about its practice, especially noticeable in that edition of Panorama but by no means restricted to it, of habitually presenting as ‘impartial’ ‘experts’ people who turn out on closer investigation to be fiercely partisan, hard-Left, committed anti-conservatism activists with a distinct political agenda. Even Sky News has been shamed into improving itself a little on this score; but not the BBC. 

It participated enthusiastically in, almost to the extent of heading up, the media lynch-mob in its witch-hunt against Dominic Cummings.  Acres have already been written on this, to which I don’t propose to add; except to point TCW readers to former BBC staffer Robin Aitken’s excellent Daily Telegraph article. summarising the underlying background.  Two statements, in particular, stand out, and they explain a great deal:

he is the BBC’s single most dangerous opponent, because he is one of the very few people on the Right who clearly understands that the BBC presents an obstacle to everything that conservatives believe in

and

the BBC hold Cummings and the Prime Minister responsible for Brexit, which for an organisation that led the battle to prevent the referendum result ever taking effect (and very nearly succeeded), is a very bitter charge indeed.’

Which brings us to L’Affaire Maitlis. This has also not lacked for apposite comment.  Like David Sedgwick’s at Comment Central, Charles Moore’s analysis at the Daily Telegraph could leave even the most sceptical reader in no doubt that Maitlis’ partisan monologue at the start of Tuesday 26 May’s Newsnight was a gross breach of BBC impartiality, (and so presumably must also have been a gross breach of her contract of employment?)

As Moore suggested, there was a dual purpose to Maitlis’ diatribe, which incidentally can’t be explained away as spontaneous: it was read from a teleprompter, so must have been pre-scripted, which therefore also means it must have been subject to BBC editorial control.  The first aim was simply to hector the audience, but the second, ancillary aim was to virtue-signal to Maitlis’ like-minded professional and social milieux, to reassure them that she too holds the ‘correct’ metropolitan left-‘liberal’ opinions prevalent in their circle.  

Less remarked on, though, was the hint of deception, or at least complicity in deception, by Maitlis’ colleagues and therefore, by inference, the BBC itself.  Remember, Maitlis had signed off from the Tuesday edition with the promise See you tomorrow‘; but, as speculation over the reason for her non-appearance on the following (Wednesday) evening’s edition grew, her Newsnight friend, colleague and Editor Katie Razzall tweeted thus:

But by 9.32.pm on that Wednesday evening, Razzall as Editor must surely have known what we the audience then didn’t, because it emerged publicly only on the Thursday morning: that the BBC, far from ‘suspending’ Maitlis, had in effect surrendered to her imperious demand to be given a night (in the end, two) off, because she was ‘furious’ at it for having the cheek actually to reprimand her, however gently (and inadequately), for her blatant breach of its impartiality requirement as her employer.  Razzall, therefore, looks to have taken the opportunity to appear supportive and principled, but in reality, was arguably just being disingenuous, if not two-faced.

As might have been predicted (and was probably inevitable), the ineffectiveness of the BBC’s excessively kid-gloves response was shown starkly only a few days later when Maitlis, far from being chastised, doubled-down and offered a repeat performance.       

Taking everything into account, the tweet below is hard to find fault with.

When Number Ten is reportedly ‘incandescent’ over Maitlis’ diatribes,  and 40,000 people went to the trouble of lodging a formal complaint about it with the BBC in a mere two days, it’s hard to imagine just how much more provocation Johnson’s Government actually needs before finally resolving to address the BBC question.  Yet, judging by Dowden’s limp reaction earlier in May, the answer seems to be: ‘quite a lot’.

At least on the timing of any action, a decision to keep the powder dry for the moment, looks sound.  It makes sense to keep the file labelled ‘BBC’ in the pending tray, albeit at the top, until COVID19 and Brexit are safely out of the way.  But then. . . .

Tactics, though, are all-important.  It was both misguided and inept of Dowden to restrict his remarks to the issue of lack of impartiality; the ‘bias’ allegation is by definition inherently subjective, and the Corporation has a range of strategies for deflecting and then smothering it, including enticing its critics into an endless ‘he said, but we said’ squabble, which ultimately gets nowhere.  For the Government to try and upbraid the BBC for its political bias is the non-military equivalent of fighting a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing.

Had the hapless Dowden been more astute, and even remotely serious, he would have threatened ‘Dear Tony‘ with immediate decriminalisation of non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, or even an urgent, unscheduled mid-period Charter Review to abolish it.  Instead, his entreaties were all smokescreen and displacement activity.

There is a much better route, and much stronger case, available based on the BBC’s iniquitous compulsory ‘licence-fee’.  It’s true that much of  the UK’s mainstream media, whether broadcast or print, is biased.  But the BBC is uniquely egregious on that score because we are forced on pain of fine or imprisonment to pay for it regardless of whether we want to consume its output or not: unlike, say, Sky News or The Times, where we can simply choose not to purchase their product, or cease subscribing to it.             

The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant hit the nail on the head in linking the two, correctly saying that, unless the BBC rapidly both repudiates and eliminates the shamelessly partisan personal editorialising of the type epitomised by Maitlis on Newsnight, it cannot continue receiving any kind of coercive funding.  

Time, though, is running out.  On Monday 25 May, The Times reported the BBC’s proposal that the wealthy may in future be charged more for their TV licence.  This is outrageous, in the sense that no-one should be coercively charged anything for a product they don’t wish to consume, especially the deceitfully mis-labelled ‘TV-licence’ which is, in fact, a regressive poll-tax; but making ‘the wealthy’ pay more for it both reduces its regressivity and plays to class-envy, thus taking some of the sting out of the criticism of it as a concept.

The Maitlis episode as culmination of ever more flagrant BBC bias has given Johnson ample justification for pushing ahead with decriminalising non-payment of the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence fee’, on the wholly legitimate grounds that people of whatever means should not be forced to pay for this. With trust in the media being significantly lower, rarely can the circumstances have been so propitious.

But so they were, almost as much, over the period of the General Election and then formal exit from the EU in December and January.  Despite all the anti-BBC Boris-bluster then, nothing has actually been done, the ball has been dropped, and it needs to be picked up again. Don’t hold your breath, though. The danger has to be that, once again, the faux-‘Conservatives’ will back down.

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Waitrose or Wuhan?

Note: Longer and updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 25 March 2020

As mainstream and social media reports of selfishly excessive panic buying and empty shelves in anticipation of government restrictions to control the spread of Coronavirus exploded into a major issue in itself last week, the public relations departments of major UK supermarkets were eager to reassure the public about continuity of supply and ease of access for elderly or otherwise vulnerable customers.

However, as stories proliferated of hoarders failing to respect so-called ‘elderly hours’, or clearing the shelves in advance of them unimpeded by supermarket staff, it was hard to avoid the impression that some supermarket chains were making ‘caring’ announcements for publicity purposes, but then doing little either to enforce them or even notify their staff of them.  That certainly appeared to be the case with one alleged ‘elderly and vulnerable only’ queue in Leamington Spa.

'Elderly & vulnerable' queue Leamington Spa

Less obvious was any great detail about the extra precautions they intended to take to prevent the spread of infection on their premises, although Aldi promised to instal clear screens at checkouts to protect employees and customers, and Tesco pledged to introduce distancing methods at checkouts to reduce customers’ infection risk.

Not before time, either: as one writer of a Letter to the Editor of a national newspaper put it, ‘Precisely how can we keep our distance while needing to shop for food?‘  

Costco Thurrock, queues distancing

In addition to that, reports had already been circulating on social media from disgruntled employees about businesses being cavalier, to say the least, about protecting even their own staff.  The example below is graphic, but by no means untypical. Read the entire thread.

So it was not without slight trepidation that, early last Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating a potentially hazardous expedition into dangerous territory, aka the local branch of Waitrose.

Now, as soon as the seriousness of the COVID-19 epidemic first became apparent, a local wine merchants not far from my home had been quick to react.  They emailed their entire customer base to say that, with immediate effect, they would provide mandatory-use hand-sanitiser and hand-washing facilities at the entrance to the store, have all trolley handles disinfected after each use, move temporarily to exclusively non-cash transactions, and hygienically wipe credit card machines after every sale.

Surely, I thought, I could expect similar precautions to be in place at a busy branch of a national, and generally regarded as up-market, supermarket chain?

Nope.  Despite my arriving within 15 minutes of opening time, the Waitrose Head Office-announcedThe first hour of business is now dedicated to elderly and vulnerable shoppers‘ policy was nowhere to be seen.  Neither were any hand-sanitising facilities, nor even requests for customers to use the adjacent washrooms for that purpose, in evidence.  As for trolley handles being sanitiser-cleaned before re-use, forget it.

Notwithstanding all the reassuring corporate PR from Head Office, anti-coronavirus precautions within the store looked almost non-existent – although, in fairness, apart from pasta and rice, the shelves were reasonably well-stocked, and anti-excess-buying measures were visibly being enforced.

But not much else.  At one stage, standing no further than one to one-and-a-half metres away from me and half-blocking the aisle, was a young woman staring vacantly at her phone (and not at a shopping list on it either, because she had a written one) while treating everyone in her immediate vicinity, including her two- or three-year-old daughter perched on her shopping-trolley child-seat, to the sound of her rasping dry cough.

At that point I began to feel seriously relieved at my decision to wear nitrile surgical gloves because of the potential for infection from trolley handles, tins, credit-card machines and the like. Apparently, the virus can linger for up to 72 hours on a hard surface.  OTT, maybe, but why take the risk when it’s there but easily avoided?  Some other customers were wearing surgical gloves too, but we must have been in a minority of 5 per cent at the most.

Which minority, remarkably, evidently did not include the servers at the in-store bakery, delicatessen, butcher and fishmonger.  The server on the cheese counter went to cut me a wedge of whatever cheese it was, unwrapping it with his bare hands, and not wearing gloves at all.  I told him to keep it.

Neither did I see any of the checkout operators using gloves, although the Saturday-job youth on the one which I used looked a touch guiltily at my own, then sheepishly produced a pair of latex surgical gloves from beneath his till and put them on.  Had they, I wondered, been issued to till operators, but no-one was verifying that they were actually being worn?  No problem either, with any cash-and-change transactions there if you wanted, and not a hint of credit-card terminals being hygiene-wiped afterwards.

On reaching home, my outer clothes made it straight into the washing machine.  I made it straight into the shower, despite having already showered before leaving.  The nitrile gloves didn’t even make it as far as home.  On the way from the trolley-deposit bay back towards my car in the car park, they went straight into a (closed) rubbish-bin.  And some answers to questions about how the virus had managed to wreak so much devastation so quickly as it spread outwards from Wuhan, China, were much clearer.

UPDATE: This article was written on the afternoon of Monday 23rd March. On Tuesday (24th), a friend visited a different Waitrose branch in my locality.  In the period from Saturday (21st), they had obviously started to get more organised. There was a one-in, one-out policy in operation to limit the numbers shopping at any one time, free disposable gloves were available, and 2-metre distance-markers had been placed at checkouts, and enforced.  Better late than never, perhaps. 

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