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Thursday, December 31, 2020

The EU holds all the power

As it happens the headline to this post can be read literally, as according to the Independent, the EU has secured the ability to shut off gas and electricity supplies if the UK tries to seize control of disputed fish stocks in future.

The paper quotes the Institute for Government, who believe that this sanction – which would hike prices and possibly trigger blackouts – makes a mockery of the prime minister’s claim to have “taken control” of British waters in his trade agreement:

The little-noticed clause in the vast 1,255-page text allows Brussels to kick the UK out of its electricity and gas markets in June 2026, unless a fresh deal is agreed.

The date set is – deliberately – the same as for the review of fishing rights, when Mr Johnson has insisted the UK will finally grab a large share of stocks, having failed to do that in his agreement.

The Institute for Government said Brussels had been determined to secure a connection “between energy and fish” in the negotiations that finally concluded on Christmas Eve.

“It seems that, in the weeds of the deal, they’ve succeeded,” Maddy Thimont Jack, the IfG’s associate director, told The Independent:

“By including annual negotiations on energy from 2026, it would be very easy to leverage access to the EU’s energy market in the annual talks on fish – also starting in 2026.

“This is just another reason why the UK will likely struggle to take back control of any more of its waters in the years to come.”

Losing power supplies could have a significant impact on the UK, which brings in about 8 per cent of its demand through huge power cables under the Channel.

It has previously been suggested that costs could rise by £2bn and that it would be difficult to find replacement supplies to prevent blackouts at times of peak demand.

So not only has the Prime Minister broken the promises he made to fishermen in the agreement but he has signed away any hope of recovering the position for them in the future. Nice one, Johnson.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Brexit hits the Post Office


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Fifteen talking points on Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

Over at the Mirror there has been some further analysis of the 1200 pages of the deal the Prime Minister signed with the EU. Some of it may appear trivial but all of it is actually very important for our future relations with the world's biggest free trade bloc. This is what they discovered:

1. British farmers face a sausage ban on selling into the EU

British chilled mince and sausages will be banned from being exported into the EU after January 1, with government guidance to British businesses, updated on December 28, bluntly saying "you will not be able to export" chilled mince, chilled raw sausages, ungraded eggs or some unpasteurised milk into the EU.

2. Fishing boats are facing 'betrayal'

The Prime Minister boasted his 1,246-page pact would make Britain an “independent coastal state with full control of our waters”. He said it would hand around 25% of the value of the EU’s current catch in UK waters back to UK fishermen by summer 2026. But the small print of his deal reveals changes in quotas vary dramatically depending on which species is being caught in which part of the sea. The UK share of cod West of Scotland will soar from 69.8% to 81.2% by 2026 - taking back 38% of what EU boats currently catch in the area. But the UK will only take back 4% of the EU’s catch of sole in the Western Channel, off the coast of Cornwall

3. The whole deal could come crashing down after four years

A No10 spokesman said: "If the UK or EU does not believe the system is working fairly, either side will have the ability to bring the agreement on trade to an end. “The UK and EU would then trade on Australian-style terms.” This means having no Brexit deal at all. There are several ways the deal could be terminated. Those include if either side decides to terminate the agreement on fishing, the rest of the trade elements of the pact would come crashing down as well.

4. Erasmus is coming to an end

The UK has quit the Erasmus student exchange programme after Brexit, complaining it is too “expensive”. The scheme allows UK university students to study abroad in one of 32 participating nations. Some can get a “large contribution” to their tuition fees back in the UK as well as a grant of up to €350 a month.

5. You'll still need travel insurance - despite a health deal

Brits have been warned they must still get full travel insurance for trips to the EU from January 1 - despite the deal. The 1,246-page agreement says Brits can continue to get emergency healthcare while on holiday, like they can under the European Health Insurance Card. People’s current EHICs will continue to be valid until they expire. They will then be replaced with a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). 

But despite this, Brits are being warned they must get comprehensive cover anyway if they are planning a trip to the continent. The Brexit deal doesn’t cover Brits who travel to an EU country “with the purpose of receiving” healthcare - except for a limited number of exemptions.

6. Car plants face a 'tight' future

Britain's car plants have been saved in the short term by the Brexit deal - which stops car exports to the EU being hit with 10% tariffs. It also guarantees car makers can use parts from within both the UK and EU without triggering extra tariffs. However, there will be limits on how many parts a factory can source from outside Europe completely. If a car was assembled in Sunderland but made of 80% Japanese parts, it would count as Japanese and be hit with the 10% tariff.

Under the Brexit deal, these "rules of origin" will be phased in. So the UK's hybrid cars for example will only need a minimum of 40% local content at first to avoid tariffs, but this will rise to 45% from 2024 and 55% from 2027.

7. And there's a four-year paper trail

There will be hefty audit rules for car makers and other businesses who have to prove the origin of their parts. This could add costs and bureaucracy to businesses which, in some cases, are already struggling. The Brexit deal says exporters who've declared the origin of their goods will keep copies of all records "for a minimum of four years".

8. Financial services are in the dark

There are unanswered questions when it comes to the City. The trade agreement is mostly about rules for goods crossing the border - it is less clear when it comes to the trade in services. The deal contains a commitment to work to build closer arrangements, but it hasn't secured the same level of access as pre-Brexit. For many British companies, this will prove a major headache with the true extent of how difficult or not the deal will be for services set to play out in the coming years.

Prof Sarah Hall of the UK in a Changing Europe think thank warned: "UK based financial services firms will either have to comply with the different requirements of individual member states or rely on equivalence decisions. "Neither is a like for like replacement for the EU wide common access facilitated through passporting. "Seeking permissions on a state by state basis would add complexity and hence costs for financial services firms."

9. Trade talks are far from over

There is a long list of things that haven't yet been resolved. Jill Rutter of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank warned: “This is not a final done deal in many respects. There are lots of details still outstanding or to be filled in.” It contains the bare bones for a forum to hold talks between the UK and EU - a "Partnership Council" which "will supervise the operation of the Agreement at a political level”. So while Brexit might soon be over - talks between the UK and EU will not be for many years. They'll just happen behind the scenes.

10. And customs checks will put a 'burden' on firms

While the deal prevents expensive tariffs on UK goods, it doesn't stop all disruption due to Brexit. This is because we're leaving the EU's single market and customs union, so firms need to fill out a host of new declarations. Pages and pages of the Brexit deal are devoted to the minutiae of customs rules between the two territories.

And while there will be measures to make things easier - like co-operation at Dover and Holyhead and the sharing of import/export data - not all of these will come on January 1. Some will only be in "pilot" form.

11. We could still end up slapping each other with tariffs

The ‘level playing field’ was a big sticking point. This means a set of common rules and standards to ensure fair competition. This stops businesses in one country with one set of laws (the UK) gaining an advantage over those in other countries with other laws (the EU). Under these rules, each side will be able to take action “as sovereign equals” if the other side undercuts their industry. This means the EU will be able to slap tariffs on UK exports if the UK is seen to undercut EU rules - and vice versa.

12. The EU will work with the UK on security - but only if the Tories behave on human rights

A big issue in negotiations - and one where both the EU and UK were keen to work together - was on security, and tackling cross border organised crime and terrorism. And the deal is an ambitious one with clear rules on the sharing of fingerprints, DNA and other forensic data. The EU said the deal "builds new operational capabilities, taking account of the fact that the UK, as a non-EU member outside of the Schengen area, will not have the same facilities as before".

However, Brussels has set a major condition on this agreement - the Tories must observe their commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Commission said: "The security cooperation can be suspended in case of violations by the UK of its commitment for continued adherence to the European Convention of Human Rights and its domestic enforcement." It comes after the Conservatives confirmed that they were launching a review of the Human Rights Act which gives the ECHR force in UK law.

13. There’s a special clause to avoid wine price rises

A special provision in the deal has been written to protect the flow of on wine to our shores. It means Spanish or French wine exporters need only "simplified certification, documentation, labelling and packaging requirements" in order to be imported into the UK. This basically just means the price of wine might not rise as much as some other European luxury goods.

14. The European Parliament won’t get a vote before the deal starts

The deal has to be ratified by 27 EU leaders and the UK and European Parliaments. But it’s come so late, the European Parliament won’t get a vote before it takes force. Instead it will enter force as a “matter of special urgency”, provisionally until 28 February 2021, to avoid EU rules ending abruptly at 11pm on New Year’s Eve.

15. And finally… it’s still not as smooth as being in the EU

As if to make all that UK citizens are losing painfully clear, the EU has released a brutal graphic showing the impact Brexit will have on people in the UK. It points out we will need a visa for visits of more than 90 days, and will no longer benefit from "frictionless trade”. By comparison, a string of green ticks show the benefits of EU membership for those living in member states.

So while EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen went to great pains to point out that the deal was "fair", clearly the EU want it to be clear they believe the UK will be worse off after Brexit.

MPs will debate the deal this week with virtually no time to read it in full nor look at the bill that will enable it. Seems par for the course.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Deal will erode workers’ rights and environmental protections

It is a few days now since Boris Johnson sold the UK down the river with his Brexit deal and as people and organisations start to digest the 1200 page document more details are emerging of exactly what the new 'independent UK' will have to content with in the post-Brexit world.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have contributed to this discussion with a paper that warns workers’ rights and environmental protections can be watered down easily under the Brexit trade deal.

As the Independent reports, the IPPR suggests that the so-called “level playing field” safeguards the EU believes it secured – one of the key clashes that threatened the agreement – will be “difficult to enforce”:

“The protections it offers on labour and environmental standards are surprisingly weak and appear to leave considerable scope for a UK government to weaken EU-derived protections,” warned Marley Morris, its associate director.

“This leaves protections for workers, climate and the environment at serious risk of being eroded.”

The Christmas Eve agreement forced the UK to accept an independent dispute resolution process if labour, consumer and environmental protections are diluted, to prevent unfair competition.

However, a breach will only be committed if the panel rules a lowering of standards has actually affected trade and investment, rather than simply taken place.

The IPPR said the compromise meant the commitments “are considerably weaker than expected” and that a breach “would be difficult to prove”.

Furthermore, the requirement for the UK to keep pace with improvements in protections across the Channel – the so-called “rebalancing mechanism” – was even weaker.

Any assessment of the impact of divergence must be based on “reliable evidence” and not mere “conjecture or remote possibility”, the agreement states.

And proposed “rebalancing measures” – sanctions in the form of tariffs, designed to compensate one side for an unfair disadvantage – would be referred to the “complex arbitration system” first.

As a result, the IPPR paper said, “rebalancing measures are only likely to be used in a rare number of scenarios”.

The other interesting feature of the agreement is the way it replaces open and transparent European mechanisms and systems, which maintained the free trade area, and which all the Brexiteers railed against as bureaucratic and undemocratic, with a complex bureaucratic web of opaque committees and standing bodies carrying out the same job behind closwd doors with no accountabilty. 

So much for taking back control and sovereignty.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Labour enabling the Tories again

The one enduring trend of the last four and a half years is the willingness of the Labour Party to prop up the Tories in their pursuit of Brexit, even to the extent that Keir Starmer is prepared to abandon the six tests he laid down in March 2017, and vote for Boris Johnson's deal anyway, even though the 1200 word document fails every one of them.

It is little wonder that the Labour Leader is facing a revolt from Labour frontbenchers over his decision to back the government’s Brexit trade deal.

The Guardian reports Starmer has been warned that shadow ministers are poised to resign and defy a three-line whip when the House of Commons votes on the deal on Wednesday:

Labour MPs had urged Starmer to abstain in the vote, saying he would be unable to hold the government to account for its economic consequences if Labour had supported it.

Others, including some of those who refused to vote to trigger the article 50 process of leaving the EU, would like Labour to vote against.

Sources confirmed that several frontbenchers are preparing to step down over the vote, while many others will support Starmer’s position while wishing he would abstain.

“We seem to be making a stand over a Conservative project. It is deeply uncomfortable for some MPs,” said one source.

Shadow cabinet members – including the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson, and the shadow international trade secretary, Emily Thornberry – are known to have expressed concerns about the idea of supporting the deal, though they are expected to abide by collective responsibility.

Those who may stand down are believed to be shadow junior ministers, not from the shadow cabinet.

Dodds tweeted on Thursday that the agreement would have a “major negative impact” on GDP and pointed out that it would not have the “exact same benefits” as EU membership – a promise that Starmer included as one of his “six tests” of Theresa May’s deal when he was the shadow Brexit secretary.

Starmer argues that his position is in the national interest, despite the deal being far inferior to the one we have at present, yet he and his party must bear some responsibility for that inadequacy.

Throughout the whole four and a half years, including the referendum itself, Labour have sat on the sidelines and refused to do their job of scrutinising and opposing the government. They have been Tory-enablers and the rest of us are having to pay the price.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Brexit deal will penalise young people

There are a lot of issues with Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, many of which have not even been aired yet as people work through its 1200 pages, but what is obvious so far is that red tape for businesses will increase, the so-called 'hard-won gains' will prove largely illusory, the service sector in particular will suffer from being overlooked, we will be less secure as a country, people's ability to travel in Europe will be curtailed, fisheries have been sold down the river, the deal is nowhere near as good as we have now, and some key European programmes will be discontinued.

One of these programmes is Erasmus, which is a Europe-wide student exchange scheme and one of the big successes of the European Union. Back in January of this year the Prime Minister promised that this scheme would be saved, however he has now jettisoned it, to be replaced by a new scheme named after the British computing pioneer Alan Turing and which we are told will be world-wide.

So far we have no details of this new scheme, leaving students high and dry, but what seems certain is that the so-called world-wide emphasis is designed to weaken links between the UK and Europe as we strive to cut ourselves off from any proper international links.

The Guardian says the omission of Erasmus from the UK-EU deal ends a scheme that had offered student exchanges as well as school links, work experience and apprenticeships across Europe since 1987. Under the latest version of the scheme, Erasmus+, around 200,000 people have taken part including around 15,000 British university students each year. As Lord Mayor of Swansea I saw the value of this scheme in the links it fostered with our twin town of Mannheim, Those links may now be lost.

Ironically the Tories ended this scheme as they believed it cost the UK too much money. However, in doing so they failed to account for the loss of real cash benefits to the higher education sector in particular, which are unlikely to be replaced. The new scheme is not expected to fund students coming to the UK, as Erasmus does now, which suggests British universities will miss out on a source of income. A report earlier this year said ending Erasmus membership would cost the UK more than £200m a year.

This is another short-sighted decision that will diminish our standing in the world.

Friday, December 25, 2020

How Boris Johnson's Brexit deal compares with what we have already

Source the European Union Website. The circle indicates that there are specific provisions in the agreement but not like for like replacement.

According to the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility this deal will leave Britain facing a 4 per cent loss of potential gross domestic product over 15 years compared with EU membership

Update: This summary by Bloomberg is worth reading as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Does it matter who donates money to political parties?

If a political party can be defined by its membership, its leadership and its policies, then it can also be damned by association with those it chooses to take money from.

Politics in the UK is underfunded and as a result all the parties, without exception, do what they can to attract donors to get their messages across and to campaign on key issues. Most are wary of the background of these donors, but on occasion the temptation to accept large donations proves too much and a political party walks into controversy.

One such donation is referred to in this Guardian article. They say that a major shareholder in Arconic, the company that made Grenfell Tower’s combustible cladding, donated nearly £25,000 to Boris Johnson and the Conservative party. The most recent donation was recorded in 2017, the year in which Arconic’s plastic-filled panels were the main cause of the rapid spread of fire that killed 72 people:

The bereaved and survivors on Tuesday night called on the prime minister to return the money to Elliott Advisors UK, the British arm of a US private equity company that has a 10% holding in the $14bn (£10.4bn) annual turnover business.

They said the “cosy relationship” undermined trust in the government’s efforts to get to the truth about the disaster.

Witnesses from Arconic, based in France, are refusing to give evidence to the inquiry despite having been called to do so next month. They have cited an obscure French law in justification, though the French government said it did not apply.

The bereaved and survivors have been lobbying the UK government to put pressure on the French authorities to ensure the Arconic witnesses testify. On 15 December, the inquiry said Claude Wehrle, who used to work for Arconic, and Gwenaëlle Derrendinger, who still does, were still refusing to attend. The inquiry is in discussions with Peter Froehlich, another former employee in Germany, about whether he will appear.

“The Conservatives and the prime minister should return this money,” said Karim Mussilhy, the vice-chairman of the survivors’ group Grenfell United, who lost his uncle, Hesham Rahman, in the fire.

“How can we trust this government to deliver truth, justice and change when they themselves, including the prime minister, take donations from one of Arconic’s major shareholders. Right now Arconic is getting away with not cooperating fully with the inquiry and the government appears not to be doing enough. Is this cosy relationship one of the reasons?”

As the Conservative spokesperson says: “Donations to the Conservative party are received in good faith and are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.". That is going to be scant comfort to those who lost loved ones in the Grenfell fire, however.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

More audacity from Johnson

Does Boris Johnson know where to draw a line? The House of Lords is already the second largest upper chamber in the world, there is cross-party agreement to reduce its membership to 600 over time, and a growing demand to properly democratise it so it ceases being a retirement home for failed and retired politicians and party donors, and yet none of that appears to have captured the Prime Minister's attention.

Instead, he has nominated a further batch of peers, bringing his total to 52 for this year, and taking membership of the Lords to 830. Further he has defied the advice of the Lords Appointments Commission and given a peerage to a former Conservative party co-treasurer.

As the Guardian says, Peter Cruddas, a businessman, philanthropist and Tory donor, was one of 16 people on a list of newly created political peerages. He resigned as Conservative co-treasurer in 2012 after the Sunday Times claimed he was offering access to the prime minister for up to £250,000. A year later Cruddas won £180,000 in damages in a libel action, although that was subsequently reduced to £50,000 after aspects of the original allegations were upheld when the paper appealed.

The paper adds that this appointment came only a month after Johnson essentially ignored the findings of another Whitehall standards regulator when he decided to keep Priti Patel as home secretary despite Alex Allan, his adviser on ministerial standards, concluding she had engaged in behaviour that could be seen as bullying. Allan resigned instead.

And of course, earlier in the year, Johnson was also accused of cronyism when he defended his then chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, after Cummings took his family out of London in what was widely seen as a breach of lockdown rules.

The other bizarre appointment is former Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, who has spent his career railing against unelected and unrepresentative parliamentary bodies. Now he is a member of one.

The main reason why we don't now have a properly reformed and elected second chamber is because that would mean party leaders could no longer so easily reward their pals by making them Lords. Boris Johnson's actions yesterday have once more proved that to be the case.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Another missed government target

It is another day and yet another Government target scheduled to be missed. This time it is around superfast broadband with the telecoms sector telling a Parliamentary select committee that it has “no genuine belief” the government will be able to meet its broadband targets despite those targets having been cut just weeks ago.

The Guardian reports that in its national infrastructure strategy, published in late November, the government announced plans to connect 85% of the country with ultrafast gigabit broadband, which usually requires a fibre-to-the-home connection, by 2025:

That target was a downgrade from a previous goal, affirmed as recently as October, to connect 100% of the country by that date. “There is no genuine belief that it is achievable,” one witness told the DMCS select committee about the nationwide goal.

But despite the reduced ambitions, the committee has warned that the government still risks missing the new target unless it improves management of the infrastructure plan.

“It would not be acceptable having abandoned one unrealistic target, for the government to fail to meet a second, less ambitious, target through lack of effective planning or inadequate investment,” the committee writes in the final report from its inquiry into the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

“The government should outline … how it settled on the new gigabit-capable broadband target of 85% coverage by 2025, a full assessment of how likely it considers it to be met, and the detail of how it plans to deliver it,” the report adds.

The committee was also doubtful that the government’s belated shift to a “technology-neutral” approach would help achieve the target.

Whereas the initial focus had been on securing full-fibre connections, running fibre-optic cables to the doorstep of every home in the UK, the new strategy takes into account other modes of delivering ultrafast broadband, including the latest technology underpinning Virgin Media’s cable TV network, and the fastest varieties of 5G.

While the shift makes sense, the committee reported, “the government must not let it come with a trade-off in performance or longevity: any technologies used to deliver gigabit connectivity must be future-proof.

“Moreover, fibre will be a significant component of other gigabit-capable technologies, such as 5G, and therefore the challenges of rolling out a truly nationwide full-fibre network must not be underestimated.”

The committee also warned that the funding from the government, a £5bn pledge to bring broadband to the hardest to reach fifth of the country, was not enough.

“It is difficult to see how £5bn will be enough to meet the government’s aim [and] it is therefore disappointing that over the next four years, the government will make available only 25% of the £5bn it had committed,” the report finds.

So not only has Boris Johnson wrecked the economy by taking us into a fantasy-land-Brexit, and turned the UK into an international pariah and caused countless deaths through his mishandling of the Covid pandemic, but his failure to invest in modern technology could leave is lagging behind the rest of the world in broadband speeds with all the implications for jobs and investment associated with that. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Covid, Chaos and Brexit

Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, the five mile queue of lorries on the M20 has now run into a 48-hour ban from crossing the channel by the French authorities and most of the rest of Europe too, as they seek to protect themselves from the mutant virus running riot in the South East of England.

As a result, prime minister, Boris Johnson, is to chair a Cobra meeting today that will address “the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK”, a number 10 spokesperson said, amid expected significant disruption at ports in the south-east.

Of course nobody can blame the Tory government for a rampant virus causing disruption to trade, but we can blame them for a tardy reaction to a new strain of the disease that has been known about since September, their late u-turn on Christmas, oh, and the five mile queue that was there in the first place because of their inability to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

Omnishambles seems to kind a word to describe the mess that Boris Johnson and his cabinet of no-talents has got us into. Anybody expecting any improvement in the situation after the emergenct Cobra neeting will be sorely disappointed.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Inhumane treatment of refugees by Tories

If it wasnt bad enough that refugees fleeing war, famine, torture and the devastating effects of climate change were being herded into 'prison camps' by this Tory government, the Mirror reports on a new low for the Home Secretary.

The paper says that Priti Patel plans to dump 300 cross-Channel refugees in a “prison camp” with no drainage, mains water or sewage and little health care:

The Home Secretary is using special powers to bypass planning regulations to get the camp up and running in a Hampshire village by January 1, when Brexit transition ends.

Local Tory MP and former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes branded the scheme “inhuman”.

And shadow Immigration minister Holly Lynch added: “This is an unworkable half-plan leaving incredibly vulnerable people in limbo.”

The asylum seekers, all single migrant men, will be housed on 9.6 acres of derelict Ministry of Defence land near the village of Barton Stacey.

Water will have to be tankered in and power provided by generators.

Ms Nokes said: “It will be like a prison camp and conditions will be appalling. There are no plans to provide healthcare services on site, which will add to the strain on local GPs. I am shocked anyone could think this is a good idea.”

The EU agreement, in which the UK removes refugees to the first safe European country where they arrive, expires when Brexit transition ends.

Stephen Hale, of Refugee Action, said: “The way we currently treat people seeking asylum is becoming a stain on our national conscience.”

The way this government treats refugees is a disgrace and must surely be contravention of human rights legislation.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Five mile lorry queue in Kent and we havent even left the EU yet

The Huffpost reports that huge queues of lorries have continued to stack up in Kent amid Christmas stockpiling and intensifying Brexit uncertainty.

With the UK now less than two weeks away from the end of the Brexit transition period, which comes to a close at midnight on December 31, a long line of HGVs stretched up to five miles on Saturday morning along the M20 as freight drivers headed for the Eurotunnel:

Businesses, in a bid to avoid cross-Channel disruption in January, are stockpiling goods before the new year, in addition to the usual Christmas rush.

On Saturday morning the queue along the left-hand lane of the motorway started in the Ashford area and stretched several miles to the Eurotunnel entrance at Folkestone.

There were also long lines of HGVs along the M20 between Capel-le-Ferne – the site of the Battle of Britain memorial on the White Cliffs – to the port of Dover.

A deal has yet to be struck between the UK and the EU, which has led to uncertainty among traders and fears that as many as 60% of Kent businesses are not prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

Lorries without the proper paperwork could be turned away from the border from January 1.

A report published on Saturday warned that businesses are being “held back” by the continued lack of a trade deal with the EU.

The document, published by the House of Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, said: “While we welcome the government’s attempts to communicate to businesses the changes that will take place on 1 January, results appear patchy at best.

“Little time now remains and, in making their preparations, businesses continue to be held back by restrictions imposed to control the spread of Covid-19, a lack of detailed guidance and continued uncertainty over the final terms of the UK-EU future relationship.”

Yet another fine mess Boris Johnson has got the country into.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Most disgraceful Parliamentary contribution of 2020 (and the bar was pretty low to start with)

Jacob Rees Mogg managed to achieve one of the low points of the 2020 Parliamentary year yesterday when he used the House of Commons chamber to accuse Unicef of “playing politics”, alleging that the UN agency should be “ashamed of itself” after it offered funding to help feed children in the UK for the first time in its history.

The Independent reports that the international organisation announced on Wednesday that it would support charities tackling child hunger in the UK due to the “unprecedented impact” of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen rates of poverty and food inequality soar, but this intervention set the Leader of the House off on a rant which must rank as one of the most disgraceful parliamentary contributions of the year, claiming that the action was a “political stunt of the lowest order”:

“I think it is a real scandal that Unicef should be playing politics in this way” Mr Rees Mogg said, “when it is meant to be looking after people in the poorest, the most deprived, countries of the world where people are starving, where there are famines and where there are civil wars, and they make cheap political points of this kind, giving, I think, £25,000 to one council. It is a political stunt of the lowest order.”

He added that “Unicef should be ashamed of itself”.

The reality is of course that rates of hunger in the UK have surged across the pandemic, with one study from the Social Market Foundation suggesting almost two million children have been left short on food since the it began.

The Trussell Trust, the nation’s largest foodbank charity, says its sites alone handed out 1.2 million emergency food parcels between April and October this year:

Responding to the comments Anna Kettley, Unicef UK’s director of programmes and advocacy, said the one-off response of over £700,000 to community groups was in response to the effects of the pandemic during a period of crisis.

“Unicef will continue to spend our international funding helping the world’s poorest children. We believe that every child is important and deserves to survive and thrive no matter where they are born," she added.

If the Tories do not like this arrangement then I have a suggestion for them; why doesn't the government feed these kids instead?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

New travel restrictions to apply to pets

The Guardian reports that dog, cat and ferret owners will have to follow new rules if they wish to travel to the EU or to Northern Ireland with their pet following Brexit.

From 1 January, people travelling from Britain with pets and assistance dogs will need to ensure they have an animal health certificate (AHC) instead of a pet passport no earlier than 10 days before travel, the UK government said on its website.

British pets required only a passport while their country was part of the EU. Only vets officially allowed to inspect animals for export can issue the certificates. The same rule will apply for taking animals from England, Scotland and Wales to Northern Ireland.

The change is because the UK will have part 2 listed status under the EU Pet Travel Scheme. Owners will also have to ensure their animal is microchipped, and protected against certain diseases.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said dogs, cats and ferrets will need to be vaccinated against rabies 21 days before travelling, and dogs must be treated against tapeworm if they are travelling to some countries.

Pets and assistance dogs will also need to enter the EU through a travellers’ point of entry, which includes all the major French ports such as Calais, Caen and Dunkirk.

There will be no change to the current health preparations or documents for pets entering Great Britain from the EU or Northern Ireland.

Owners have been advised to check the government website for guidelines.

The closer we get to leaving the more red tape is generated. So much for taking back control.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Are the Tories about to embrace fake news?

In many ways the question is moot, as the Tory Party, as with most political parties have specialised in fake news since politics began, however nobody in the UK does it on a Trumpian scale or as well as Trump. Now, just as he is about to be cast out of the White House, Tory activists are being urged to try and replicate the soon-to-be-ex-President's style.

As the Independent reports a party newsletter has urged Tory activists to campaign like Donald Trump by “weaponising fake news” and talking “nonsense” if it works:

The bulletin sent out to members in Northamptonshire says “there are lessons that we can learn from Trump”, adding: “A lie can go round the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

It also vows to “fight woke-ism”, attacking Labour’s landmark Equality Act, designed to stamp out prejudice in the workplace and public services – arguing it “legalises discrimination based on gender”.

The newsletter, issued in Peter Bone’s constituency of Wellingborough, sparked a protest from one local Conservative, who says he was then dropped from the candidates' list for the seat.

Jack Summers told The Times, which revealed it, that he had received threatening phone calls warning him that his political career was over if he did not fall into line.

“I'm not willing to go along with what's being instructed,” he said.

“This is an attack on democracy. The Conservative Party has changed. It's not what I joined – it seems more like an English nationalist party than the Conservative Party.”

The newsletter says campaigners should view fake news as a technique that “crowds out genuine news” and allows “honest politicians” to be “pushed off the front pages”.

“You say the first thing that comes into your head,” it reads, adding: “It’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.

“You may get a bad headline saying that you spoke something silly, but you can live that down. Meanwhile your opponent is knocked off the news-feed”

Activists are also told that the lesson of the defeated US president is that “he Weaponises Fake News”.

“If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough, honest speakers are overwhelmed. If someone tweets ten dubious claims per day and it takes you a week to disprove each one, then you are doomed,” it says.

“Trump uses this tactic to dominate the news and to crowd out legitimate politicians.”

And, urging them to “fight Woke-ism”, it reads: “Positive discrimination and other forms of officially tolerated racism infuriate many voters.

“An example of the “deep state” woke-ism is the 2010 Equalities Act [sic].

“It actually legalises discrimination in politics based on gender. (Labour put this into the Act because they wanted to discriminate and didn’t want to break their own Law!)”

Well, now we know.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Mixed messages will undermine Covid fight

Here in Wales, where the infection rate is running at over twice that of the worse region of England, the Welsh Government have taken the decision to close down schools to try and arrest the spread of Coronavirus. 

In England, where they have just put a huge section of the population into Tier three measures in an effort to control the virus in the run-up to Christmas, not only are they not closing schools but where headteachers and governors have taken the decision to close for public safety reasons Ministers are going to court to stop them.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has issued a “temporary continuity direction” to Greenwich council, demanding the immediate withdrawal of a letter issued to headteachers over the weekend advising them to close schools early and switch to remote learning amid rising Covid infection rates in the capital.

Greenwich and Islington councils had advised schools to close, except to the children of key workers and those classed as vulnerable, and switch to online lessons in the last few days of term to help slow the spread of the virus. The government has not yet launched legal action against Islington.

The problem with Ministers being at odds with perfectly reasonable decisions by local authorities is that it sends mixed messages to the public, a significant minority of whom have apparently abandon basic precautions anyway. This heavy handed approach by the education secretary is more likely to lead to a greater spread of the virus, rather than help suppress it.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The deepening food crisis

While government ministers are warning about shortages in supermarkets in the event of a no deal Brexit, a much more serious food crisis continues to develop in the UK.

The Independent reports that middle-class graduates are among those queueing for food from charities this winter as the hunger crisis deepens in the pandemic – with one organisation saying members of the typically well-off social group make up around one in 10 of their service users.

The paper says food poverty is cutting a wider and deeper swathe across the country at the end of 2020 than ever before:

Ishraq Bhatti, co-founder of the Bounds Green food bank, said the trend was clear. “It is a new phenomenon but almost 10 per cent of the households we feed are now educated middle class.

“We launched our food bank in May and support 450 households a week, which equates to about 1,200 people, which is five times the numbers we helped when we started.”

Our reporter watched as the queue formed around half an hour before opening time, with people standing in a line that snaked for 100 metres down the side of the church building, across the front and down the other side, shuffling to keep warm.

They included young mothers with babies in prams, who had come to pick up fresh fruit and veg, supplied by The Independent’s Help The Hungry charity partner, The Felix Project.

Ms Lewis, 46, said: “I spent five years studying for a degree. I’m a graduate, I never expected to be standing next to people who have such hard circumstances.

Ted, 58, added: “I have been an ambulance driver for 15 years. I demanded better PPE to protect us but none was forthcoming so I resigned.

“I never thought I’d be a candidate for the food bank but I’ve met all sorts, including former police officers.

“I came today because I don’t have enough food to feed the kids beyond dinner tonight. If it weren’t for these wonderful people, I would have gone out of my mind.”

Anthy Orphanou, the food bank’s day coordinator, said they were seeing lots of people like Ted who never used food bank’s before. “One lady said to me, ‘All these years I’ve donated to food banks and now I am using one’. Every week the queue gets longer. People arrive at 10am to be first in the queue at 2pm. One lady brings her own chair.”

Shaun, 58, a self-employed driver, said: “I’ve worked all my life and never had problems supporting myself, so I find it embarrassing to stand in a queue and worry that one of my neighbours might drive past and see me. Covid has brought me to a tough place.” 

Other north London food banks, also supplied by The Felix Project, told The Independent they were seeing a sharp rise in people never dependent on food banks before. 

 Anna Maughan, vice chairman of Finchley Food Bank, said: “We help 110 households a week, up from 30 prior to Covid. You can see they are hungry. They look like they have lost weight, their skin is hanging a bit. The last thing they want is a handout.”

Helen Shannon, co-founder of North Finchley Food Bank, said: “About 10 per cent of our users are middle class. People are mortified to find themselves in this position. But this is London in 2020.”

This is not just a London phenomenon. Food poverty has grown massively during the last year, partly as a result of the pandemic but also due to the stuttering economy. If we go into 2021 with out a Brexit deal then it could well get worse.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

And now Johnson has put the supermarkets on a war footing

And so it begins. First, the UK Government lets it be known that they will be deploying 'gunboats' against EU fishermen, and now Boris Johnson has advised supermarkets to go on a war footing by stocking food. Surely, rationing is the next step.

The paper says that in anticipation of shortages prompted by a no-deal, ministers have told supermarkets to start stockpiling goods:

“There was a conversation a week ago when ministers said prepare for no-deal. This weekend the message is that it’s no-deal,” a senior consultant to one of the big supermarkets told the paper.

The consultant added: “Supermarkets and ministers are hugely worried about panic-buying. They saw what happened over Covid when people started hoarding toilet rolls and now how quickly it can go wrong.”

Food producers have warned supplies of fresh vegetables will be worst hit if tariffs were imposed on goods in the event of a no-deal. They say shortages could last for at least three months.

The government has also told suppliers of medicines, medical devices and vaccines to stockpile six weeks’ worth at secure locations in the UK.

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, insisted the UK has “enough diversity of supply” of medicines in the case of a no-deal.

Asked if he could guarantee the flow of medical supplies to the UK, Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Well of course, with things like vaccines and more generally medical supplies the NHS and DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) already have a widespread programme of stockpiling and security of supply.

“So I actually think – you know, there may be shifts – but we’ve got enough diversity of supply.”

He also appeared to confirm a separate report in the Sunday Telegraph that the government has drawn up plans for a bailout worth billions for farmers and food producers in the event of a no-deal.

Asked if the government planned to spend £8bn bailing out farmers, Raab said: “We’ll always look, as we’ve shown through coronavirus, that we want to support those vulnerable communities.”

Meanwhile, there continued to be reports of long delays and tailbacks on motorways at the port of Dover as hauliers blamed the queues on stockpiling.

The great utopian dream of Brexit is unravelling in front of our very eyes, but it will not be those responsible for getting us into this mess who will pay the price, most of them have taken their profits and fled to a tax haven somewhere. It is those who were conned with false promises, lies and propaganda into voting to leave the EU who will be hit the hardest.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Johnson declares war on the EU

If we were worried before about the UK entering splendid isolation after Brexit then things may have deteriorated markedly from such a scenario as Boris Johnson puts the British navy on a war footing to repel the hordes of European fishermen determined to infiltrate our waters and steal our fish. Why he has not thought of branding each fish with the union jack, as with the Pfizer Covid vaccine I do not know.

The Guardian reports that the government have ordered four Royal Navy patrol ships to be ready from 1 January to help the UK protect its fishing waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in a deployment evoking memories of the “cod wars” in the 1970s, and we all remember how well that turned out.

They say the 80-metre-long armed vessels would have the power to halt, inspect and impound all EU fishing boats operating within the UK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which can extend 200 miles from shore - right up to the French coast then.

Naval sources have told the paper the deployment had been long planned, and of course the navy has always patrolled our territorial waters, but this is not a routine operation. The Guardian say Conservative ministers quietly doubled the total fleet of patrol ships from four to eight, partly in case of a crisis caused by a no-deal Brexit, and of course the fact that this story is headline news in most newspapers today is no accident. Johnson wants to let it be known that he has declared war on the EU in retaliation for him not getting his own way.

The European President is not backing down: Speaking at the end of Friday’s European council meeting of EU leaders, Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president, said: “We understand that the UK aspires to control its waters. The UK must, on the other hand, understand the legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets built on decades and sometimes centuries of access.”

The scene is set for confrontations in the waters around the UK followed by lurid headlines in all the tabloids and Sun journalists autographing missiles as happened in the Falklands. Nobody has yet explained though to whom the fish caught in British territorial waters by British fishermen will be sold. A huge amount of this catch is sold to EU countries, will they be so keen to buy it if their own fishermen are being penalised?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Blundering Boris Johnson faces legal challenge over Home Secretary

Having blundered into a one-on-one dinner with the European President unprepared, dressed like an old Etonian scarecrow and with nothing but his threadbare and unconvincing wit to fall back on, Boris Johnson has returned to London to face a challenge of a different sort.

According to the Guardian a legal challenge has been launched against the Prime Minister’s decision to clear Priti Patel of bullying despite advice that she had breached the ministerial code.

The paper says that lawyers for the FDA union have sent a pre-action notice to Downing Street accusing the prime minister of acting unlawfully when he chose to stand by his home secretary and overrule his independent adviser:

The letter, first reported in the Times, accuses Johnson of “setting a damaging precedent which gives carte blanche to the kind of unacceptable conduct which the home secretary was found to have committed”.

The union hopes the letter is the first step towards a judicial review of Johnson’s decision. The government has so far refused to make public the full Cabinet Office investigation led by Sir Alex Allan, which concluded that Patel’s actions amounted to bullying.

The government is expected to fight any legal challenge against Johnson’s decision.

The move comes after Jonathan Evans, the chair of the committee for standards in public life, launched a review of probity rules, which will include the ministerial code.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, told the Guardian: “The prime minister’s decision has laid bare the inadequacies of the ministerial code as a mechanism for dealing with the conduct of ministers when it comes to their civil servants. The code provides no commitments or rights to the civil servants who were bullied by the home secretary nor any mechanism for challenge.

“Unless this perverse decision by the prime minister, ignoring the evidence provided to him, can be challenged in the courts, it essentially deprives civil servants of the very protection against ministerial misconduct which the code is meant to ensure.”

Allan resigned last month after Johnson reportedly tried to persuade him to tone down the report.

Johnson is a man who has lived his entire life as if the rules do not apply to him, an attitude he is now applying to the Uk in its talks with the EU. It will be a refreshing change if that misconception finally catches up with him in this instance.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Air pollution back on the rise

The Guardian reports air pollution in many towns and cities across the UK now exceeds pre-pandemic levels, exacerbating the risk of Covid-19 and putting the health of millions of people at risk.

They say a study published on Thursday has concluded that although air quality improved dramatically in the first half of the year as the country went into lockdown, pollution now meets or exceeds pre-Covid levels in 80% of the 49 cities and large towns that were analysed:

There is growing evidence that exposure to toxic air increases the risks from Covid-19 and the authors of the study say their findings underscore the need for local councils to do more to reduce car use and improve air quality by prioritising walking and cycling.

Andrew Carter, the chief executive of the Centre for Cities thinktank, which carried out the study, said toxic air contributed to the deaths of thousands of Covid-19 victims this year and, even after the pandemic ended, would remain a big threat to public health – particularly for those living in urban areas.

“City leaders can reduce the threat of air pollution, but it will take political will,” said Carter. “Discouraging car usage will be unpopular in the short term but, if coupled with the necessary improvements to public transport, the long-term benefits to public health and the economy will be huge and our cities will become better places to live in. Now is not the time for politicians to delay on this.”

The study’s findings, based on an analysis of the latest data from Defra, reveal that while the spring lockdown reduced nitrogen dioxide levels by 38% on average across 49 cities and large towns, pre-pandemic levels had been reached or exceeded in four-fifths of the places studied during the second half of 2020.

The authors say the surge in toxic air has been driven by a rise in the use of private cars and has happened even though 98% of the country remains under significant Covid-19 restrictions. This raises concerns that as those measures are eased in the new year, air quality will worsen even further, with dire consequences for public health.

Since the pandemic hit, many local authorities have tried to encourage walking and cycling by building cycle lanes and creating low-traffic neighbourhoods to stop drivers “rat-running” through residential areas.

But these efforts have faced vocal opposition from the pro-car lobby and some disgruntled drivers. Some councils have already backed down, pulling up new cycle lanes, while others shelved long-term plans to install low-emission zones, arguing that pollution levels had already fallen due to the lockdown.

We can not afford to let our guard down on this agenda, the gains during lockdown were always going to be temporary. Now is the time to step up intitiatives to install on-street charging points for electric vehicles in particular, to phase out the internal combustion engine altogether.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Another Brexit failure: Another cost to the taxpayer

At the moment there is a continuing flood of Brexit stories underlining the failure of the UK Government to appreciate the enormity of the task they have taken on, or the complete failure to deliver on ridiculous promises made during the referendum and afterwards, that were always rather far-fetched anyway. The latest, and one yet to appear on the side of a bus, is the judgement by the National Audit Office that the Home Office’s failure to deliver a new digital border system to monitor the movement of people and goods into and out of the UK will cost the taxpayer an additional £173m.

Apparently, border force staff will instead have to rely upon 26-year-old technology to decide who is allowed into the UK until the scheduled delivery of the Digital Services at the Border [DSAB] programme in 2022. The Guardian says the extra cost has been disclosed in a report released today, which catalogues the Home Office’s repeated delays over 17 years as officials tried to digitise the management of entry to the UK via ports and airports:

It has been released amid deepening scrutiny of the UK’s borders, with Border Force officers braced for problems at UK ports on 1 January. With a month to go until the end of the post-Brexit transition period, there is still no clarity about exactly how they will operate when it comes to trade with the European Union.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee, said the Home Office had “utterly failed” to learn from the mistakes with past failed attempts to update systems.

“The Home Office once again lost sight of the programme’s core purpose, trying to add more and more features like baubles on a Christmas tree.

“The department plunged ahead without a delivery plan and didn’t address risks. Failure was inevitable,” she said.

A plan to digitise the UK’s borders was first launched in 2003 and was originally due for completion in 2011, at a cost of £600m. It was supposed to help staff manage the watchlist of suspected criminals, search facilities and “identify and assess threats”.

After repeated problems and delays, the Home Office launched its DSAB programme in 2014, which would allow border force staff to make decisions about people crossing the border and to track goods entering and exiting the UK.

Auditors found the Home Office “did not deliver improved digital border systems to its planned timetable of March 2019” which has “increased costs by £173m and means it continues to rely on legacy technology”.

The report also reveals that the Home Office plans to remove all data from Schengen Information System II (SIS II), the EU’s police and security database, on 31 December.

“While it plans to mitigate the loss of access to SIS II, the implications of replacing this key data source for the programme’s stakeholders are yet to be worked through,” it said.

As Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee says, such a decision would leave the UK open to people who may be a security threat:

“This decision has serious implications for border checks as it means that Border Force will overnight on 31 December cease to have access to any of the 40,000 alerts from SIS II on dangerous wanted criminals across Europe,” she said.

Auditors said the rollout of the new digital system has been pushed back to the end of March 2022 and cannot be guaranteed to be on time or within budget.

Without it, Border Force staff will rely upon a 26-year-old system to check whether suspects and persons of interest are trying to enter the country, while another system which analyses passenger data is 16 years old, auditors said.

If it wasn't for Covid then this would be far bigger news than it currently is. We shall have to see what transpires next month when we officially enter the post-Brexit chaos.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

The extra red tape that Brexit will impose on business

Having been sold the idea of leaving the EU on the basis that we will be able to cut the red tape of an out-of-touch and unaccountable Brussels bureaucracy, those who voted for this nonsense may be shocked to discover that any post-Brexit deal with the EU will subject us to rules and regulations we will have no say over, and that no matter what deal is struck (or even if no deal is agreed), UK businesses will become overwhelmed with additional red tape.

As the Independent reports, the man in charge of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has warned that British businesses face an “administrative burden” cost of £7.5bn a year in filling out customs paperwork after the Brexit transition period:

Highlighting the additional bureaucracy facing UK firms next year, Jim Harra said HMRC’s estimate of the cost from 2018 “still stands”, with millions of extra customs declarations being made after the transition period.

As London and Brussels continue attempts to thrash out a free-trade agreement with just weeks remaining, Mr Harra reiterated the extra red-tape will apply regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.

Due to the UK leaving the bloc’s customs union and single market, thousands of businesses trading with the EU after the transition period in January will be required to fill in customs declarations for the first time.

The first permanent secretary and chief executive at HMRC said he expected 265 million customs declarations made in the UK each year when the new system is phased in – an increase of 211 million on the number of declarations made in 2017.

Appearing at a session of Westminster’s Treasury Committee, Mr Harra said: “This is largely unaffected by the outcome of negotiations with the EU about free trade agreements because whether there is or not a free trade agreement customs declarations will have to be made when we leave the customs union and therefore the costs, by and large, will apply in either scenario.”

Pressed on reports in the Financial Times earlier this year that the cost of declarations will reach £7bn a year, Mr Harra told MPs: “That is a figure I recognise.”

He added: “My department published figures towards the end of 2019 in which set out what we expected the administrative burden to be of completing additional customs declarations. I don’t think we published any further update to that.

“The figure still stands and that from recollection is about £7.5bn for the cost of the UK side of completing declarations.”

“In 2017 there were 54 million customs declarations made in the UK. At the end of the transition period we would expect that to group to 265 million. That won’t apply straight away because import controls are being staged in over six months, but that’s the rate we expect to see them from July.”

Another fine mess Boris Johnson and his buddies have got us into.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Minister admits that no deal Brexit will hit price of food in shops


Boris Johnon's cabinet may becoming more and more comfortable with the no deal scenario that is looming over us as talks with the Eu falter but not all Ministers are delusional about the consequences of such an outcome.

As the Times reports, one cabinet minister admitted yesterday that a no deal will see food prices rise, with beef and pork hit the hardest:

George Eustice, the environment, food and rural affairs secretary, insisted the increases would be “modest” but conceded that travel to EU nations would become more complicated and Britons with less than six months’ passport validity faced being denied entry.

He acknowledged that free healthcare could not be guaranteed for UK visitors to EU countries next month without a trade deal and that drivers would have to show proof of insurance.

The paper adds that a government contingency document produced in September warns that medicine supplies could drop to between 60 and 80 per cent of normal for three months after a no deal Brexit.

The document, leaked to ITV News, is entitled “reasonable worst case scenario planning assumptions to support civil contingencies planning for the end of the transition period”. A government source said that the document still informed contingency planning. Other warnings include on public disorder and local fuel disruption:

Mr Eustice also conceded that it “won’t be as easy” to take pets to EU countries. Instead, he said he expected that owners would have to get a certificate from a vet confirming that their pets’ rabies vaccinations were up to date before travelling.

However, he indicated that UK owners should avoid more onerous restrictions, which would have meant obtaining a blood sample and sending it to an EU-approved laboratory at least three months in advance.

The government had applied for the UK to be in part one of the EU pet travel scheme, which would have meant little change to the current arrangements. Mr Eustice said it was more likely to be in part two. “We’re likely to be listed in the EU’s annex two, the sort of second category, which means whereas in the past you might have had a pet passport, in future you’d need a certificate from the vet instead of the passport,” he said. “It won’t be as easy as having the passport because you’d need to go to the vet prior to leaving rather than have the passport that shows your rabies vaccines are up to date.”

Under the part two rules, owners have to visit an official vet no more than ten days before travelling to get an animal health certificate confirming their pet has been microchipped and vaccinated against rabies.

Blanche Shackleton, of Guide Dogs, said the charity was “extremely disappointed” and that travel to Europe would become “far more disruptive and difficult” for people with sight loss.

“Guide dog owners could face restrictions on their travel to Europe, including only being able to leave and re-enter the UK through a limited number of routes, and having to navigate a complex certification process for their dog every time they travel,” she said. “As well as travel to Europe, we urgently need clear information on whether there will be changes to the process of travel to Northern Ireland from other parts of the United Kingdom.”

So much for all those promises made during and after the 2016 referendum.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Another chum appointed

Apparently, the awarding of contracts and the allocation of jobs within the government to friends and allies of Conservative ministers has an official name, it is a 'direct appointment process'.

According to the Guardian, the latest person to benefit from this largesse is Nimco Ali, who is reportedly godmother to the son of Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson, and who was appointed adviser on tackling violence against women and girls in October, a role that was not publicly advertised:

Information released under the Freedom of Information Act to The Critic magazine revealed that she was hired via a “direct appointment process”, without open competition or advertisement for the job.

It appears the role may have been created for Ali, with no mention of it before her appointment. She is paid £350 a day and works two days a month.

Ali is a prominent campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM), which she was subjected to at the age of seven.

She arrived in Britain as a four-year-old refugee from Somalia and went on to co-found the non-profit Daughters of Eve, and later the Five Foundation – a global campaign to end FGM. She was made an OBE in 2019 in recognition of her work.

Following her appointment to the advisory position, she said more needed to be done to combat violence against women.

Although she stood as a candidate for the Women’s Equality party in 2017, Ali has campaigned for the Conservatives in recent years, becoming a close friend of Carrie Symonds and a vocal supporter of Boris Johnson.

Actually, from the information available Nimco Ali looks well-qualified for this role. A Home Office spokesperson is quoted as saying she: “has a strong track record of campaigning on violence against women and girls’ issues, raising awareness and educating people about female genital mutilation. She brings a huge amount of experience and passion to this role, providing independent advice to help inform government policy and challenge the status quo."

Which is fine, but why then arouse suspicion by failing to follow a proper appointment process, thus undermining her work and that of the role she is filling? 

This is especially so when so many other jobs and contracts have seemingly been awarded without the same merit or justification. This action just adds to the impression of a chumocracy, a failure of transparency and accountability that is now plaguing the UK government.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Snatching chaos from the jaws of sanity

It is Marina Hyde in this morning's Guardian column who comments on the ability of Ministers to dig themselves into a hole through lies about Britain's role in the development of the first authorised vaccine, who suggests that some touchy-feely Downing Street apparachit should ring up every offending minster and scream: “You’re only supposed to dead-cat BAD NEWS, you absolute braindead amateurs!” I know how she feels.

As the Independent points out Ministers have been accused of risking an increase in vaccine hesitancy among the public by making “wildly inappropriate comments” about the “brilliance” of Britain in becoming the first west country to approve a Covid-19 jab:

Independent Sage also criticised the government for “snatching chaos from the jaws of sanity” with distracting rows over erroneous claims that Brexit allowed UK regulators to approve the Pfizer/BionNTech vaccine more rapidly.

In a briefing on Friday, the group – set up to shadow the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – urged for greater transparency and a public health campaign from the government to combat “vaccine hesitancy” and questions over the rollout.

While praising an “authoritative” No 10 briefing fronted by medicine regulators and virus experts on Wednesday, Deenan Pillay, a professor of virology at University College London and member of Independent Sage, criticised the political response to the approval.

He said: “Within a few hours, government ministers were making wildly inappropriate comments about the brilliance of the UK, how we were ahead of the rest of the world, and even that we could only do this because of Brexit.

“Unsurprisingly, there was an immediate response from the European Medicines Agency, European ministers of health and even Anthony Fauci in the US saying that this was not a race, and that time was needed to ensure the safety of vaccines and future vaccine recipients.

“It seemed actually once again the UK was snatching chaos from the jaws of sanity and in the process merely potentially adding to vaccine hesitancy.”

His comments came after Matt Hancock, the health secretary, faced criticism for boasting that the authorisation process was faster in the UK than in the EU because Britain was no longer a member – only to be contradicted hours later by the medicines regulator.

Alok Sharma, the minister responsible for overseeing the rollout of vaccines, also provoked a backlash from the German ambassador to London for suggesting that the approval will be remembered in years to come “as the day the UK led humanity’s charge against this disease”.

And on Thursday, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, was accused of “jingoistic nonsense” after he claimed in a radio interview that Britain secured approval of the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of European countries and the US because it is a “much better country”.

Why is it that even in the face of good news, Government Ministers have to make it all about them? Why is nobody in the UK Cabinet capable of opening their mouth without inserting their foot first?

Friday, December 04, 2020

UK Government to press ahead with law-breaking agenda

if we are not yet up to the wire on completing a post-Brexit deal with the EU then we must surely be only days away from it, sp what exactly is Boris Johnson's government playing at?

Well according to the Independent the Prime Minister is seeking to disrupt the talks further by pressing ahead with new legislation to overwrite the Brexit deal signed by Boris Johnson earlier this year:

With less than four weeks to go until a no-deal, Jacob Rees-Mogg on Thursday confirmed that ministers will reinsert controversial clauses removed by the House of Lords from their Internal Market Bill.

The House of Commons leader also announced the introduction of a new Taxation (Post Transition) Bill, which is expected to include other powers to overwrite parts of the withdrawal agreement.

Ministers have admitted that their plans break international law, and the EU has said such a move would be “curtains” for talks. The precise content of the taxation bill is not yet clear, however.

Hopes were raised that negotiators could be coming close to an agreement in London on Wednesday night after a large order of pizza was seen arriving at the door of their location – a sign of working into the night.

’ But nothing has yet emerged from negotiations, and diplomats say there are divisions among EU member states about how to proceed.

A group of harder-line leaders coalescing around Emmanuel Macron’s France reportedly want chief negotiator Michel Barnier to hold out for more concessions from the UK and allow a no-deal to occur if necessary.

Whatever is going on at Westminster, it bears no resemblence to good government nor to people having the best interests of the UK at heart. Johnson and his cronies are acting like lemmings heading for a cliff edge.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Chumocracy secrecy

The Guardian reports that the government has been accused of “completely unnecessary secrecy” after refusing to say which companies have been awarded multimillion-pound Covid-19 contracts after being processed in a high-priority channel for firms with political connections.

The paper refers to a report by the National Audit Office last month which stated that a government unit, set up to procure PPE, established the high-priority lane to deal with leads that came “from government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals”.

They say the 493 companies given high priority due to these connections secured contracts to supply PPE with 10 times the success rate of nearly 15,000 companies that were not given enhanced attention:

The revelation that a high-priority channel was in operation has fuelled criticism that the government has established a “chumocracy” in which companies with connections to the Conservative party have been favoured with contracts.

This week Lord Bethell, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was asked in the House of Lords by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger if the government intended to publish “a list of all companies who were contracted to supply PPE as a result of the high-priority lane”. Strasburger also asked if the name of the person who recommended the company would be published.

Lord Bethell replied: “We do not intend to publish the list of suppliers who were awarded personal protective equipment contracts after having had their offers reviewed with more urgency, as there may be associated commercial implications.”

Lord Strasburger told the Guardian that he was not satisfied with the government’s reason for its refusal to disclose the names of the companies. “The excuse given by the government for dodging my question just doesn’t hold water,” he said. “There is no possible risk to commercial confidentiality in disclosing the names of the fast-tracked companies and who it was that put in a good word for them so they could jump the queue.

“It looks to me as if the government doesn’t want taxpayers to know which companies were given preferential treatment, often at the expense of more proven competitors. They also don’t want us to know which minister or MP was able to slip these companies into the fast lane and what their connection is with the company.

“This completely unnecessary secrecy makes everyone wonder what they are hiding. There must be a full independent inquiry into how these massive contracts were given out, and whether there was any corruption or cronyism.”

Hiding behind commercial confidentiality is a pretty lame excuse to hide behind when there is so much controversy about this issue.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Home Office faces legal action over asylum seeker payments

The Guardian reports that the Home Office is still failing to provide thousands of asylum seekers in emergency hotel accommodation with basic cash support and essentials more than a month after being instructed by the high court to fulfil their legal requirements to do so:

In October, law firm Duncan Lewis challenged the government’s failure to provide adequate asylum support in the high court. The judge, Sir Duncan Ouseley, said asylum seekers in emergency accommodation should have been receiving financial support during the pandemic, and ordered the department to increase weekly cash assistance from £5 to £8 to cover essentials, such as soap, medicine, bus fares and phone credit.

Following the ruling, immigration minister Chris Philp said payments of £3 a week for clothing should be backdated to March, and payments of £4.70 a week for travel should be backdated to July.

Yet Duncan Lewis says that so far the Home Office has failed to provide support in line with this concession, or to backdate payments, and are preparing to issue further urgent proceedings against the department this week.

“It has been a month since the Home Office announced the decision, and none of our clients have received the increase in cash support and no arrangements have been put in place to obtain back payments,” said Primisha Chudasama, a solicitor for Duncan Lewis.

“Many clients have faced a significant deterioration in their mental health and sense of self-worth, particularly as they are constantly worrying about how they are going to meet their essential living needs,” she said. “Often, clients have had to choose between phone credit … and buying warm clothing for the winter months, or using public transport to attend important appointments.”

Duncan Lewis says one of their clients, an asylum seeker living in accommodation run by Serco, was subjected to verbal abuse when he asked for the full £8 support.

Javier*, who has lived in a hotel in Derby for the past six months, said: “They started yelling at me and intimidating me, saying ‘Do you think you’re special? Everyone receives £5 – it’s not different for you

He said: “I don’t think I’m special, but I know that we should be getting more help. It made me feel really humiliated.”

He said he and others on full-board accommodation receive one sample size shampoo and body wash a week, and two rolls of toilet paper. All other essentials must be bought from the rest of the £5 weekly stipend.

Yet another example of this government's hostile environment, directed even against those fleeing persecution, famine and war.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

OECD warn about no deal Brexit

Yet more warnings about a no deal Brexit today with the OECD claiming that such an outcome at the end of this month would deliver a “serious” short-term hit to the UK economy and produce a “strongly negative” effect on trade, productivity and jobs in the long term.

The Independent reports that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that disruption from failure to conclude a trade deal with the EU would come as the UK grapples with the impact of a second wave of coronavirus:

The international economic think tank downgraded its outlook for the UK economy, estimating an 11.2 per cent fall in GDP for 2020, followed by a slower-than-expected recovery, with growth of 4.2 per cent next year and 4.1 per cent in 2022.

With just 30 days to go to the UK leaving the EU’s single market and customs union, talks on a future relationship remain in stalemate over access to fishing stocks in British territorial waters and Brussels’ demand for a level playing field on standards.

The government’s official forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has projected a 2 percentage point reduction in GDP in 2021 if no deal is in place by 31 December.

In an assessment of the UK’s prospects contained in its six-monthly global Economic Outlook, the OECD said: “The failure to conclude a trade deal with the European Union by the end of 2020 would entail serious additional economic disturbances in the short term and have a strongly negative effect on trade, productivity and jobs in the longer term.

“By contrast, a closer trade relationship with the European Union than expected, notably encompassing services, would improve the economic outlook in the medium term.”

The OECD forecasts suggest the UK will suffer one of the biggest contractions in the G20 group of countries in 2020.

By contrast, the US economy is forecast to shrink by 3.7 per cent, Germany by 5.5 per cent and France by 9.1 per cent in a year when the global economy has been convulsed by the impact of Covid-19. China’s GDP is forecast to grow by 1.8 per cent.

The OECD’s most recent previous prediction saw a 10.1% fall in UK GDP over 2020.

Our problem of course is that nobody in a position to do anything about all this is listening.

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