Tag: Coronavirus-2020

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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Professor Lockdown: Wholly Hubris or Partly Honey-Trap?

The circumstances of the extra-marital romantic assignations for which the architect of lockdown broke his own recommended social distancing rules are enough to prompt suspicion that initiation of the relationship might have been neither entirely his, nor entirely for purely personal reasons

Note: updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 18 May 2020

Definition of honeytrap

When the scandal of Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson’s breach of the COVID-19 lockdown social-distancing rules for his amorous dalliances with his married mistress Antonia Staats broke, it was not only understandable but also totally justified that the main focus of public attention by far was on his own gross professional and personal hypocrisy.

After all, here was arguably the principal architect of the SAGE advisory group’s ‘expert’ ‘scientific’ advice, which prompted the Government to –

  1. restrict personal freedoms to an extent unprecedented in peacetime;
  1. in effect shut down the economy; and
  1. put half the nation’s entire workforce on the public payroll,

flagrantly doing precisely the opposite of his own recommendations.

The disastrous effects of the Government’s panicked U-turn from mitigation to suppression, so as to follow the SAGE/Ferguson recommendations slavishly, are all too familiar.  The excessively heavy-handed authoritarianism of the Police in enforcing lockdown rules.  The deliberate inducement of the worst recession for 300 years.  A level of budget deficits which will take years to recover from.  They need no more than a brief mention here.

Neither is this the place to debate either the merits or demerits of Lockdown per se, which have been impressively covered elsewhere, or Ferguson’s private morals, which are of no intrinsic concern to us.

However, given the sheer hypocrisy of his personal conduct compared to his professional scientific advice, and the baleful consequences of the Government’s following the latter, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether there are any underlying political factors which influenced Ferguson’s specific choice of paramour?  Or, possibly, which influenced his paramour’s particular selection of him as the object of her attention and beneficiary of her favours?

Primarily on Ferguson’s ‘expert advice’, a formerly-‘Conservative’ Party government has created a weaker, static, travel-shunning society cowed into acquiescent submission by lurid pandemic scaremongering, and a weaker economy dependent on massive State intervention. It’s pursuing policies which wouldn’t be at all out of place in an election manifesto produced jointly by Momentum and Extinction Rebellion.  No wonder the State-Socialists and the Green anti-capitalism eco-totalitarians are crowing that Lockdown has become the new normal.  So what part, if any, might his inamorata have played in influencing that advice?

It didn’t take very long for the Guido Fawkes website to uncover ‘left-wing campaigner’ Ms Staats’ political affiliations, which turned out, with a wearisome predictability, to be eco-socialist, anti-Brexit, and anti-capitalist.  As to Ms Staats’ other links, including to the US-based online globalist-activism Avaaz, these were set out very succinctly by Janice Davis in the penultimate paragraph of her own The Conservative Woman article of Wednesday 13th May; it needs no repetition or elaboration from me, except perhaps to note the allegations of funding connections with the Moveon.org organization funded by George Soros

Antonia Staats 1, 5, & 6

To those of us disinclined to believe in fairies and unicorns, this all started to ring warning bells, and still does.  A hard Green-Left anti-Brexit, globalist, eco-activist, who just happens to have been bedding the very man on whose ‘expert advice’ coincidentally the Government has been inveigled into trying to re-make the economy and society in ways very similar to what the anti-Brexiteers, the far-Left, and extreme-Greens demand?  Can we totally exclude the possibility that Ferguson and Ms Staats connected by some process other than pure chance?

How long has the relationship been going?  Does the apparent willingness to breach the lockdown rules for the amorous assignations – in Ferguson’s case hypocritically so – suggest that it might still be in its first flush of ardour and therefore of comparatively recent origin?  The pair are reported to have hooked up via the match website OkCupid, but which of the two actually initiated it?  Is Ferguson subject to the Official Secrets Act in relation to divulging via post-coital pillow-talk any confidential information to which he might be privy by virtue of his official role?

Now, it must be said that, from Ferguson’s track record, it’s entirely possible to conclude that his recommendations to the Government via SAGE were formed without any external influences.

Professionally, his history of wrong predictions with disastrous consequences has been mercilessly dissected.  The coding on which his modelling is based has been shredded.  With only small adjustments to inputs on his model, very different outputs emerge

In his personal capacity, he has not been notably reticent about his political views, either.  In 2016, he co-authored a paper on the allegedly terrible consequences of leaving the EU.  Immediately after the 2017 General Election, he greeted effusively the capture of the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency by the spectacularly misnamed ‘Liberal’ ‘Democrats’ who, ever since the 2016 EU Referendum, have consistently campaigned on a pledge just to ignore its result and unilaterally overturn it.

Ferguson - Moran

It’s worth reading in detail this article on Ferguson for The Critic by journalist and founder of Lockdown Sceptics, Toby Young.  It’s worth, too, listening to this James Delingpole/Toby Young ‘London Calling’ podcast of 6th May for the Young’s excellent monologue summary (from 06:36) of how Ferguson so egregiously epitomises the dangerous serial failings of the ‘liberal’-left, authoritarian-statist, fiscally incontinent, groupthink-conformist quangocracy.  His apparent assumption that lockdown rules on social distancing were for the little people to follow, but not necessarily himself, could well stem from an elitist hubris that’s entirely self-generated.

So it’s entirely feasible that little, if any, external influence was actually necessary for him to make up his mind in the direction he did.  After all, his recommendations were hardly inconsistent with his previous positions; it was not as if he’d reversed policy direction by 180 degrees.

But perhaps any influence, if influence there was, was of the more subtle kind, in the form of flattery, or validation, which might just have prompted him to strengthen them in a particular direction?  Would it have been akin to gently pushing on an already open door?

Both in reality and fiction, the honey-trap has a long and chequered history.  Betty Pack, as MI6 agent ‘Cynthia’, used her feminine allure to help Britain covertly abstract from the Poles the key to the German Enigma codes.  In Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, a young female OAS agent deliberately becomes the mistress of de Gaulle’s much older security adviser, to inform the would-be assassin of the action being taken in the hunt for him.  Former LibDem MP Mike Hancock employed as his parliamentary researcher, with access to sensitive Defence papers, the Russian spy Katia Zatuliveter, 40 years his junior, with whom he was also having an affair.

We have no reason to assume the practice doesn’t continue.  And in a world populated by many more non-state actors, there is equally no reason to suppose that sexual entrapment, not undertaken for criminal blackmail purposes but with the aim of either obtaining intelligence or exerting influence in a particular policy direction, doesn’t occur outside government agencies, and is never used by either supranational bodies or well-funded NGOs.  Or, indeed, online activist organisations?

It was intriguing how much the initial reaction to the Daily Telegraph‘s exposure of Ferguson’s liaison almost bordered on the incredulous; based on the first, and most glamorous, photograph of Ms Staats which it published to illustrate it, comment along the lines of ‘What on earth did she see in him? She’s a bit out of his league, isn’t she?‘ was frequent.  At the risk of being un-gallant, subsequent pictures may now have, ahem, modified this impression somewhat; but was he possibly, because of his position & influence, selected as a target for some kind of subtle honey-trap operation?

Antonia Staats 2, 3, & 4 comp

One of the few certainties about the whole COVID-19 imbroglio is that there will eventually have to be a mammoth public enquiry.  Are there not sufficient grounds for a full security enquiry to be held within its ambit?  To investigate whether there exist, not merely ‘questions to be asked’ or even ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’, but actually something more than either of those?  Were Ferguson’s lockdown recommendations and his own subsequent flouting of them based entirely on scientific certitude and elitist personal hubris?  Or something more?

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 09 May 2020

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 07 May 2020

Choosing five recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines 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

 

UK bans PPE exports to countries outside the EU, unless on humanitarian grounds – Daily Telegraph (£)

The ban is, reportedly, solely because of rule drawn up in Brussels.  So, disregarding the fact that the EU is increasingly in no position to control what its member-states do anyway, after so many of them have by-passed it in unilaterally taking anti-COVID19 action at individual nation-state level, it sheds an interesting light on Brussels’ much-trumpeted ‘European values’ that ‘humanitarian grounds’ are apparently enough to justify an exemption from its ban on PPE exports outside the EU, while Italy’s earlier requests for face marks and medical gear were met with a stony silence.

Far from being ‘left with no choice’, the UK government could, and should, be ignoring it.  After all, France and Germany ignore EU rules on state aid with impunity, so what sanctions could the EU bring to bear against a UK which did the same?  Become intransigent in trade talks?  It already is, and always has been.  Abandon those talks and end the Brexit Transition early?  Bring it on.

Inasmuch as it applies to Britain, this particular Brussels ban feels more symbolic than real. Ever since the 2016 EU Referendum, Brussels has tried to limit, if not veto outright, Britain’s ability to strike non-EU trade deals until it was entirely outside the bloc, and this latest development should be seen as a mere continuation of that process. 

 

Brussels’ ‘Level Playing Field’: A Strategy of EntanglementBriefings for Britain

Despite the Continuity-Remainer claim, that conceding an ongoing close alignment with EU regulations is only a reasonable condition for getting a trade deal, this approach has long been regarded as just a backdoor means of keeping Britain entangled in the EU.

Just how un-separated from Brussels control that would leave the UK is revealed in this concise but comprehensive briefing note from the former Head of International Trade Policy at the Department of Trade and Industry.  Far from being restricted to trade,  it would cover a swathe of policy areas, from employment law, to mandatory pooling of pension funds, to domestic tax rates.

Writing recently for Global Vision, former Vote Leave campaign director Daniel Hodson suggested that, such are the repeated failures of understanding on the part of the EU machine and its UK Establishment cheerleaders that just one more Brussels negotiating blunder could see Transition end, on schedule, with a clean, WTO-based, Brexit.  The briefing note on how enmeshed in Brussels’ red-tape signing up to the so-called ‘level playing field’ would leave us can only heighten the advantages of that WTO clean-break option. 

 

Firms in EU tax havens cannot be denied Covid bailoutsEU Observer

Considering how vehemently the EU rails against even those so-called ‘tax havens’ – or more accurately, ‘competitively low-taxed international financial centres’ – lying within its own borders, it has so far sadly proved impossible for your humble scribe to stifle a certain degree of schadenfreude on reading this.

At one level, it provides a good example of the perverse contradictions inherent in much of the EU’s attachment to one-size-fits-all regulation: in this case where the free movement of capital comes up against the prohibition (frequently and openly flouted by individual member-states’ national governments) on state-aid.

At a second, it shows why Merkel’s latest initiative, for a Financial Transactions (‘Tobin’) Tax as part of a drive for accelerated pan-EU fiscal harmonisation during Germany’s tenure of the rotating EU Council presidency, is almost certainly doomed to fail, even discounting the innate flaws of the tax itself, which Sweden tried, only to abandon it.

 

UK-US trade talks begin, as COVID19 casts its shadowGlobal Britain

And not before time, either.  Given that Frost and Barnier, after recovering from their own initial bouts of COVID19, were able to resume and continue UK-EU trade-talks via video-link, it remains something of a mystery why the UK-US negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal were ever curtailed at all.

The resumption of UK-US trade talks  is essential for two principal reasons.  First, the USA is Britain’s largest trading partner in terms of export sales, despite the disingenuous practice of anti-Brexiteers trying to pretend otherwise by recording the EU as if it were one country by aggregating our exports to its 27 members.

Secondly, for as long as the UK-EU talks last, it is crucial to demonstrate clearly to Brussels that Britain considers itself an independent sovereign nation with the power to conclude trade deals with whomsoever it chooses across the globe, notwithstanding the EU’s attempt to restrict it in doing so until wholly outside its influence.

 

Northern Ireland tensions threaten to derail long-term EU-UK dealFinancial Times (£)

On the face of it, just why the staunchly pro-EU and anti-Brexit FT should choose now to revive the spectre of Northern Ireland’s status, once Britain has wholly left the EU, potentially wrecking the UK-EU negotiations isn’t immediately apparent.  Until, that is, one remembers that the EU last week not only repeated its demand to retain an official post-Brexit presence in the Province, but also launched what was seen in some quarters as an attempted power grab over the Province’s fishing industry.

The FT appears to assume that the prospect of Britain exiting Transition without an agreement is unthinkable.  But, as other links cited elsewhere in this article suggest, the likelihood of a satisfactory deal is receding, due primarily to Brussels’ inflexibility and intransigence, while the prospect of a clean-break WTO exit from Transition is growing.

Note, incidentally, the FT‘s description of Northern Ireland as ‘British-ruled‘’, as if it was merely the temporarily occupied territory of another country, instead of that part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland sovereign territory which chose to remain so rather than follow the rest of the island of Ireland in seceding from what was formerly the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  Is the Continuity-Remainer FT now so anti-Brexit and pro-EU as to embrace irredentist Irish Nationalist Republicanism, even though the Republic’s claim to sovereignty over the Six Counties was dropped as part of the Good Friday Agreement?

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Brexit-Watch: Tuesday 14 April 2020

Note: article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 14 April 2020

Choosing four recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines 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.)

 

Brexit breakthrough: How Boris Johnson will force Brussels to agree brilliant trade dealDaily Express, 12th April

Well, maybe.  But even when Johnson is eventually discharged from hospital, he is likely to be hors de combat for at least a month in post-recovery convalescence after his attack of coronavirus. In his absence, his de facto stand-in Dominic Raab, albeit for understandable quasi-constitutional reasons, would probably be reluctant to adopt such a hard line with the Brussels negotiators, justified though it would be.

On the other hand, we’re only just approaching the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, so Johnson may well be back in the saddle by the time they resume in earnest with political involvement, although they wisely continue at negotiator level, despite cynical calls from Continuity-Remainers to call them off using COVID-19 as an excuse.

 

The UK has a winning hand: let’s not be bluffed out of playing itCapX, 9th April

The authors correctly make the point that, in contrast to the long-trailed Remainer mantra that ‘the City of London needs to be in the EU’s regulatory framework in order to prosper‘, the boot is now effectively on the other foot, exacerbated by the Eurozone crisis and Germany’s refusal to mutualise EU debt, in defiance of the logic of the Euro’s creation, of which Germany was such an enthusiastic advocate.

With the Brexit-extension lobby currently vocal, it remains a mystery why this advantage is apparently being neither leveraged nor even publicised in response.  That advantage would be maximised if the UK-EU talks were held in parallel with the UK-USA talks, but the latter have just officially been postponed indefinitely.

Clearly, the hiatus in leadership and diversion of Cabinet attention to COVID-19 is a factor in both being allowed to happen; but equally, one can’t discount the possibility of the malign influence of Cabinet Secretary Sit Mark ‘Huawei’ Sedwill.  In a reprise of the worst aspects of Theresa May’s disastrous premiership, Britain possesses a good hand of cards, but is simply refusing to play them. 

 

The coronavirus crisis could blow the EU apartThe Times (£), 9th April

The Eurozone crisis, long simmering on the back burner, is on the verge of boiling over, as Germany resolutely refuses to countenance the fiscal transfers to financially weaker regions of the Eurozone quasi-polity which the currency’s economic logic always demanded, but which political imperatives always precluded.

As author Iain Martin observes, Germany in particular wants for itself all the national, competitive, advantages of the one-size-fits-all Euro, but not the obligations, inherent in a multi-state currency bloc, to support its weaker members.  With the precarious Southern Europe economies, especially Italy, likely to go over the edge from the horrendous direct costs and lost output caused by their own COVID-19 outbreaks, the already dysfunctional European banking system, overhung with debt, might not be far behind.

Britain will not escape the economic fallout from a Eurozone collapse in any event, but the imminent prospect of one ought to put even farther beyond contemplation the idea of a Brexit extension which could see us on the hook for hundreds of billions in Euro bank-bailouts.

 

Italy’s Conte threatens to derail EU summit over CoronabondsPolitico Europe, 12th April

‘European solidarity’ has always seemed a combination of convenient myth for British Europhiles and comfort blanket for their Continental counterparts, but seldom has it seemed more incongruous. Notwithstanding the Eurozone’s latest purported rescue package, the divisions between the bloc’s Germanic/Scandinavian north and Latin south on the subject of so-called Coronabonds – with France as ever straddling the two – looks intractable.

With the attention of Brussels Eurocrats grabbed more and more by the developing crisis in, or even potential collapse of, the Eurozone, the EU can ill afford the luxury of a lengthy, intransigence-driven negotiation with a Britain prepared to walk away.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 04 April 2020

Note: longer version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 04 April 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five 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.)

 

A Brexit delay could last longer than you thinkSpectator Coffee House

Stephen Daisley summarises what are merely some of the latest instances of – purely coincidentally, obviously – predominantly if not entirely Europhile and anti-Brexit opinion attempting to exploit the current coronavirus outbreak ostensibly just to ‘delay’ Brexit.

However, their argument has one major flaw.  Much COVID-19 modelling predicts that the current outbreak will subside, but only to be succeeded by others of (hopefully) lesser magnitude, in which case the world could then be in periodic coronavirus mitigation mode for a decade.  On that basis, the delayers’ ‘only for as long as it takes for us to deal with the current health crisis‘ mantra is exposed as the sham which, considering its sources, it almost certainly is.

One further point needs making.  With global economic activity depressed anyway by COVID-19, the anti-Brexit lobby’s alarmist argument against leaving without a deal because of the alleged adverse economic impact becomes much weaker. Tory MP John Redwood has, rightly, made the point that the complaints being made about disruption to supply chains relating to exiting the EU on either a Free Trade Agreement or a WTO-reversion No-Deal are already being experienced many times over in response to the virus.

A delay must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to happen; both Johnson & Gove must continue to resist siren calls for an extension to the Transition period from Continuity-Remainers desperate to exploit COVID-19 as an excuse to stop Brexit happening at all.

 

Should the UK stay in Erasmus+? – Briefings for Britain

One of the more risibly desperate attempts at anti-Brexit propaganda, during both the EU Referendum campaign and its aftermath, was the claim that even voting to leave the EU signified Britain’s automatic disqualification from participation in its youth-exchange programme, which has long been open to nationals of non-EU countries.

The details, as distinct from the fact, of that participation, fall to be considered as part of post-Brexit Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, not as part of its withdrawal from it.  Despite the Department for Education’s provisional commitment to a continuation, albeit on condition that it remains in Britain’s interests, a combined BrexitFacts4EU and Campaign for an Independent Britain report finds that the scheme is not meeting most UK students’ needs. Our negotiators should therefore be careful not to make too many concessions in other more vital areas merely to secure continued UK participation.

 

Post-Brexit EU to lose 49 million of its population by 2020Global Britain

Obviously, the precise effects of such a population shift northwards and westwards depend on its demographics, but with the major recipients in the population change being countries with relatively more generous welfare systems, it does not seem unreasonable to expect calls for a greater degree of welfare budgets’ centralisation and pooling at European level to intensify.

As it nears the exit, Britain must ensure that any negotiations with the EU r-27 over future migration rights take account of the likely existence of higher-population countries on  Britain’s doorstep, and also that it both restricts and time-limits any ongoing contributions it might concede as the price of obtaining a trade deal.

 

European law will hold sway for years to come, say senior judgesTimes (£)

A misleading headline from The Times, in that the judges themselves made no mention of ‘for years to come‘, but did warn that the power of the European Court of Justice, as distinct from the UK Supreme Court, to rule over questions of EU law, even in disputes between British companies, would continue until Britain’s final exit, which in legal jurisdiction terms, might not be until after the end of Transition.

It does, however, emphasise the importance of Britain’s EU negotiators not conceding any extension of ECJ jurisdiction after the end of the Transition period, in order for Brexit to re-establish fully the sovereignty of Britain’s legal system. It also stresses, once again, the absolute necessity that Brexit should not be delayed, whether by the deployment of COVID-19 as a transparently specious excuse or for any other reason.

 

Brussels parliamentary group calls on UK to seek Brexit extension Financial Times (£)

An entirely predicable demand for a Brexit ‘delay’ from the ultra-Europhile European People’s Party grouping in EU Parliament – from which, remember, Tory former Prime Minister David Cameron was obliged by backbench and grassroots activist/membership pressure to withdraw Conservative Party MEPs – and equally predictably backed by what the FT coyly describes, without naming them, as ‘senior British government officials’.

With the Eurozone crisis, already serious enough anyway before the devastating impact of coronavirus on the stressed economies of the bloc’s weaker southern members, becoming more grave by the day, it is likely to become the near-exclusive focus of Eurocrats and a considerably greater priority than concluding Britain’s exit agreement. This is merely the latest in a line of transparent attempts by those, both on mainland Europe and in Britain, who for varying disingenuous reasons wish to see Britain’s exit from the EU not happen.  The EPP’s demand should be unceremoniously dismissed. 

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 28 March 2020

Note: longer version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 28 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five 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.)

 

Coronavirus: Welsh Government calls for longer Brexit transitionBBC News 

Despite being content to sit in a Welsh Assembly which owes its existence to a devolution referendum won by a margin of only 0.6 per cent, Welsh-Labour, whose 29 Assembly Members comprise all but 2 of the current 31-member ruling coalition, has never really accepted the decision of the Welsh electorate to leave the EU by a margin ten times greater than that.  The call by current First Minister Mark Drakeford for a Brexit delay needs to be seen in that context.

In any event, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Welsh Government, which, on this issue, arguably does not even reflect the decision of the people of Wales who voted 53:47 in favour of Leave, much less represent them.  UK-wide constitutional matters are totally outwith the devolved competencies of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.

In all likelihood, either this is a smokescreen for Drakeford trying to deflect attention from the dire state of the Labour-run Welsh NHS, particularly with Gwent being a COVID-19 hotspot matching Italy in infection rates, or Drakeford is adding his voice to those hoping to stop Brexit by using the Coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to demand its deferral.

 

Coronavirus crisis demands extended Brexit transitionFinancial Times (£) 

Oh dear, they’re never going to give up at the irreconcilably Europhile Pink ‘Un, are they?  Tony Barber is the FT’s Europe Editor; a quick glance at his output on the FT Writers’ Page somewhat gives the game away about where he’s coming from.

Parsing the latest article, his clinching argument for claiming an extension to Transition is necessary is that the head of a Brussels-based think-tank [part-funded by the EU] claims that an extension to Transition is necessary.  However, he then somewhat undermines his own argument by stressing how far apart the two sides are on fisheries, financial services, and business-regulation in general, prompting the question that, if they are indeed that far apart, and likely to remain so given the negotiating intransigence Brussels has consistently displayed hitherto, what is the point of an extension anyway?

In his similarly-themed article of 11 March, Barber labelled anything other than an ultra-soft Brexit-in-name-only as ‘the radicalisation of Brexit‘.  Now he refers to opponents of an extension types as ‘Brexit millenarians‘.  It is hard to see this as anything other than yet more evidence that the COVID-19 crisis is being cynically exploited by Continuity-Remainers as an excuse to ‘delay’ Brexit with the ultimate aim, of course, of stopping it entirely.

 

Brexit in Hindsight: Historial ReflectionsBriefings for Britain

Another magisterial contribution from Professor Robert Tombs, separating two distinct questions which are often conflated: why, generally, did Britain vote to leave the EU, but also why specifically did it vote to do so in 2016?  Professor Tombs has little hesitation in locating the answer to the first question firmly within the very different experience of Britain compared with Continental Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, having neither succumbed internally to totalitarianism nor been militarily defeated and subsequently occupied by it, and therefore not seeing pan-Europeanism in terms of almost existential survival.

The second he sees as lying within the contrast between the pessimistic, lacking-in-confidence Britain of the 1960s which saw European integration as the remedy for economic decline, and the near-reversal of this perception by the early 2010s, in the face of visible and growing evidence of the bloc’s economic sclerosis and pursuit of political integration at the expense of democratic legitimacy.

What this suggests is that the popular determination among 2016 Leave-voters to leave the EU in fulfilment of the 2016 mandate persists at a deeper, more atavistic, level than the purely transactional considerations which Unreconciled Remainers condescendingly assume to be the main drivers of public opinion.  On this basis, the latters’ siren calls for an extension of the Brexit Transition ‘because of Coronavirus’, in the secret hope that Brexit can somehow thereby be diluted or prevented are destined for failure, making any delay superfluous. We should leave on schedule anyway.

 

EU Coronavirus summit exposes fundamental divisionsGlobal Vision

As if the EU’s hesitant response to the Europe-wide Coronavirus crisis – posturing but dithering impotently while sovereign nation-states’ democratically elected governments moved swiftly and unilaterally to meet the need to protect their own citizens – wasn’t bad enough, the third EU Coronavirus summit predictably revealed more discord than harmony.

Rather than micro-improvements such as facilitating the easier exchange of medical information or the freeing-up of supply-chains from bureaucracy, the Council instead proposed yet another comprehensive centralisation package, predicated on a common debt instrument, which has created the usual friction between the fiscally more conservative EU countries and its more fragile economies. The crisis is exposing how little nation-states can depend on an EU so often found wanting when it comes to action, despite all the talk of unity.

 

Downgrade warnings raise fears of European bank nationalisationsTelegraph (£)

Moody’s downgrade alert for banks in no fewer than six EU member-states, based on an anticipated slump in profits but a surge in bad debts linked to the Coronavirus-induced recession, comes on top of the burgeoning credit-crunch from the Eurozone’s bank-debt overhang. The author of the article, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. has also been reporting this week on the cracks appearing in the Eurozone’s institutions, now rapidly coming to a head with a stark choice between strengthening monetary union with fiscal union, with all that that would entail, or risking EMU unravelling.

The danger here for the UK is of an extension to the Brexit Transition leaving us still on the hook for a massive contribution if necessary to stave off a Eurozone banking collapse. There are numerous bad reasons for delaying our exit because of the Coronavirus emergency, and few, if any, good ones.

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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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