12 December 2017

Theresa May's problem with Brexit clarity

It's a bit of a muddle but The Guardian tries manfully to elucidate:
The problem is that clarity is the one thing May dare not provide, because the minute anything is illuminated then it’s a target for someone. Her best hope is generating a sort of permanently confused twilight in which nobody (including her own cabinet, which still hadn’t formally agreed the precise form Brexit should take even as the EU agreed we had made significant progress towards it) is entirely sure what’s going on, and therefore can’t be certain yet that they hate it.
So nothing is agreed until everyone finds out exactly what it is that they’re supposed to be agreeing, at which point it is still perfectly possible that nobody will agree to any of it. But the aim is to push the inevitable moment of truth – the point where both leavers and remainers realise exactly what’s going to happen, and someone goes ballistic – as far down the road as possible.
Probsbly not the best way to run a railway ...

   

Joke of the day

From The Independent (here):
David Davis breezily announced on the radio that “I don’t have to be very clever to do my job, I don’t have to know very much.” 
Just as well.

Or it would be, if he was even half competent.

As The Guardian points out:
Suddenly the whole point of David Davis became clear. After first fantasising he read impact assessments that never existed and then managing to contradict himself within 24 hours on whether the interim deal was legally binding, the Brexit secretary has created the perfect framework for all future negotiations. Thanks to his hopelessness and incompetence, there really is no longer any way of telling what is true and what is not. We have entered a post-modern political world where suspension of both belief and disbelief are one and the same.
   

11 December 2017

Weird


The diet coke addict.  The Times reports:
The most talked-about man in the world rises at about 5.30am and sometimes sends his first tweet of the morning while watching television propped up on the pillows of the White House master bedroom.
Television news coverage will continue to shape President Trump’s mood until he goes to sleep some 18 hours later, according to a survey of many of those closest to him.
He will by then have typically spent between four and eight of those hours in front of a television screen, sometimes with the volume muted, stewing over or relishing the portrayal of his actions and those of his administration on channels that he perceives to be either friendly or hostile.
He tends to share his thoughts on the news with anyone in the room, including the household staff who bring him lunch or one of the dozen Diet Cokes that he drinks most days.


A vision of the future


The machines are taking over.  The Guardian reports:
... in San Francisco, delivery robots have quietly taken to the sidewalks of over the past year. Companies including Marble and Starship are developing “robots as a service” business models, whereby food delivery apps contract with the robot companies to perform their deliveries.
At scale, the robots could significantly cut down on delivery vehicles (and labor costs), but they also take up space on sidewalks, where bicycles, Segways, and sitting or lying humans are already banned. Since taking on the issue, Yee said that his office had become something of a repository for photographs taken by angry residents of the robots clogging the sidewalks amid baby strollers, bus stops, street vendors, and pedestrians.
A coalition of residents, pedestrian advocates, and activists for seniors and people with disabilities lambasted the robots as “aggressively entrepreneurial wet dreams” and “the future Ubers of the sidewalk”.
It will end in tears.

   

10 December 2017

In praise of millennials

I happened to be in Princes Street last night about 7.30 pm and saw the vast crowds, predominantly young adults, queueing to attend the Sleep in the Park event.

It kinda restores your faith in human nature.  And it was a bitterly cold night.

So well done to all the participants.


 

09 December 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

The Guardian channels Juncker's thoughts at the presser:
Theresa pressed on. Britain would be meeting its financial obligations. Juncker checked his spreadsheet. Correct. He’d always budgeted for a €40bn payout. Tick. EU citizens rights had been agreed. Well, sort of. Up to a point, at least. It was still desperately unclear just what role the European court of justice would play. Or for how long. But that could wait for another day. As things stood, it could turn out that every woman rushes off to give birth in Northern Ireland just to secure an EU passport for their baby.
As for Ireland, all anyone had agreed was to kick the problem a bit further down the road. Juncker shrugged. If that was the way it had to be be for now to keep everyone happy, then so be it. The Brits could call it regulatory alignment if they liked, but for the life of him he couldn’t work out how the prime minister could guarantee there would be no hard border unless Britain to all intents and purposes remained in the single market and the customs union. To him, it seemed like madness. Hand over €40bn and relinquish all rights to influence the regulations just to end up roughly back where you were when you started. It was a curious way of taking back control. But not his problem.
   



08 December 2017

Still flummoxed

This is an extract from this morning's written agreement between the EU and the UK:
“The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border… In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
I find it difficult to interpret this in any way other than that the UK will remain in the single market/customs union.  If it is not an actual member, it will nevertheless faithfully conform ("full alignment") to all the rules and requirements of the single market/customs union.

In these circumstances, the UK cannot possibly negotiate separate trade agreements with, for example, the USA, as these would not be compatible with the single market.  So no chlorinated chicken.

Do the brexiteers realise thisWhat happened to "taking back control"?  How will Liam Fox, trade minisiter, spend his time?

I should stress that I am personally entirely content that the UK should remain in the single market/customs union.  But, if that is the outcome, then what is the point in the UK leaving the EU?  The only difference is that the UK no lomger has any say in determining the governing rules.

 Or am I missing something?


Update:

The Independent offers an explanation:
... it was being pointed out that the text that had been agreed merely postponed all the difficult decisions to a later stage. In particular, the bit about the Irish border that caused difficulties with the Irish government on the one hand and the DUP on the other – this was solved by promising to do something implausible at a later date.
...
But that is how international negotiations work. You agree the bits you can agree and put off the difficult bits until later. Again, it is the EU side that has given ground. It refused to move on to the talks about trade until the first three subjects, including the Irish border, had been agreed. This was then downgraded to “until sufficient progress had been made”. There hasn’t really been any progress at all – just a number of mutually contradictory declarations of intent – and yet the EU has agreed to move on. 
    


  

Doesn't work for me

You can follow the blow-by-blow reaction to the magnificent (maybe) success in Brussels here.

I regret to say that I cannot really understand how matters have progressed since last Monday.  Unless the entire UK is to retain membership of the single market/customs union, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is inevitable.  Alternatively, if there is no hard border between NI and the Republic, then there has to be a hard border between Ireland as a whole and the rest of the UK.  And, if the UK is to remain in the single market/customs union, the Tory backbenches will go doolally.

I'm flummoxed.

 

"Deal by dawn"?

So it's an early morning dash to Brussels.  (Have these people never discovered telephones?)  The Times rather over-dramatises:
Theresa May negotiated through the night to hammer out an Irish border compromise as Brussels raised hopes of a deal by dawn.
After a day of intense talks involving London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels, negotiators were said to be moving closer to agreeing a new joint text allowing talks to progress towards a potential trade deal.
In a sign that an agreement may be close, the European Commission said Mrs May was likely to fly to Brussels for meeting at 6am British time with Jean Claude-Juncker, president of the commission. Donald Tusk, head of the European Council, set an effective deadline by saying he would make a statement 50 minutes later.
Earlier in the night the commission said negotiators were “making progress but not yet fully there”. Government sources said that the gap between the sides had narrowed but cautioned that talks could continue into the weekend or beyond. Mrs May repeatedly delayed flying to Brussels this week after the Democratic Unionist Party vetoed a deal at the eleventh hour on Monday amid fears of an effective sea border with the UK.
Under a compromise being worked on, language which drew DUP objections would remain but “interpretation” would be added “to make it more palatable”, a Brussels source said.
That last paragraph suggests a fudge rather than a realistic attempt to square the circle.  Which probably means that, even if a suitable form of words can be cobbled together, any agreement is likely to fall apart sooner rather than later.

Deep fried avocado?

The Guardian reports:
Marks & Spencer has begun selling a stoneless avocado that could help banish the pain of “avocado hand”.
The so-called cocktail avocado is 5cm-8cm (2in-3in) in length and has a smooth, edible skin, meaning it can be sliced or eaten whole.
Earlier this year, the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons identified the problem of increasing numbers of people turning up at A&E after cutting their hands and fingers while trying to remove avocado stones, and called for safety labels to be put on the fruit.
Charlotte Curtis, a food technology specialist at M&S, said: “We’ve had the mini, the giant, ready sliced and we’re now launching the holy grail of avocados – stoneless. This amazing fruit has been on our radar for a couple of years and we’re very excited to have finally been able to get hold of some for our customers to try.”
...
Curtis said she expected them to sell out quickly, adding: “My top tip is to try them deep fried.”
She must be Scottish.
   

06 December 2017

News management?

I suppose it is just a coincidence that these two stories appeared on the same day in The Guardian. This one here:
Security officials believe they have thwarted an alleged plot to assassinate Theresa May by terrorists who would first bomb their way into Downing Street and then kill the prime minister, it has emerged.
Two men were arrested last week following a joint operation by MI5, the UK’s counter-terrorism security service, and police.
Security officials believe the alleged Islamist plot is the ninth to have been thwarted since March this year.
And this one here:
Ministers have vowed to overhaul Britain’s fight against terrorism after a report revealed chances to thwart the Manchester attack were missed and the leader of the London Bridge assault struck while under investigation by MI5 as a threat to national security.
The findings followed this year’s spate of atrocities that killed 36 people, and come as the level of threat is assessed by counter-terrorism experts to have markedly increased, with warnings more attacks will get through Britain’s defences.
Internal reviews by MI5 and the police cleared themselves of making serious mistakes that allowed terrorists to strike. But a summary of the findings revealed that the attack on Manchester Arena that killed 22 people might have been prevented if different decisions had been made by MI5.
I cannot believe that the security services would stoop to bringing up the first story to distract attention from the second.

 

They don 't know wnat they're doing ...

The Independent reports:
For over a year, the Government’s handling of Brexit has reminded us of England teams in recent tournaments. The ones featuring players who, although supposedly top-class professionals, appear to have been randomly selected by computer from the national insurance database of every British 18-35-year-old male, given an hour’s training in a game they never played before and a 90-second lecture on tactics they couldn’t begin to understand, and sent out to represent their country as part of some unusually cretinous reality TV show / pop psychology experiment.
You could no more expect them to compete against Germany, Brazil or mighty Iceland than you would expect the Prime Minister and her allies to hold their own against Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and the mighty DUP. 
Quite.

05 December 2017

Quote of the day

Neatly put, from The Times (here):
Sadiq wants what Nicola wants and Nicola wants what Arlene can have. But Theresa says Sadiq and Nicola cannot have what Arlene has and Arlene says she doesn’t want what Theresa says only she can have. Welcome, people, to the latest Brextucker challenge, where everyone except Kezia Dugdale has to swallow something vilely disagreeable.
Reality comes at you hard and fast, however. For 18 months, UK ministers have insisted that there can be “no return to the borders of the past” on the island of Ireland and that there can be no opt-outs from the greater British Brexit process. “Brexit means Brexit”, remember. For all that time it has been obvious that you can have one of these things but not both. But then, apart from the Leave campaign, who ever thought Brexit would be easy?

   

04 December 2017

What did she expect?

Did Theresa May believe that she could bounce the DUP into accepting an arrangement whereby Northern Ireland remained in the customs union/single market while the rest of the UK went a separate way?  If so, she has now been disabused of the position.

Did she not expect any such arrangemnt would immediately evoke "me too" demands from Scotland, Wales and London?

Where does she go from here?

  

Quote of the day

From Nicola (here)
"If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t."
   

02 December 2017

Would anybody miss either of them?

Politics is a dirty business.  The Independent reports:
​Brexit Secretary David Davis has reportedly made clear he will quit if his cabinet colleague Damian Green is dismissed over allegations of pornography being found on his work computer almost a decade ago.
...
But Mr Davis’s defence of his cabinet colleague was immediately ridiculed. The Labour MP Jess Phillips posted on Twitter: “David Davis. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out.”
“David Davis your red line, your hill to die on is really something. ‘What made you want to become an MP?’… ‘Great question, I really wanted to fight hard so people can w*** at work,” she added.
In any case, Davis has left himself a get-out as Green would no doubt be allowed to resign.

   

01 December 2017

Quote of the day

From The New Statesman (here):
It was entirely predictable that Brexit would go wrong. It was arguably avoidable, even after the vote. That we are rushing headlong towards the cliff anyway is entirely the fault of a Conservative Brexit elite that long ago began to believe its own deluded, post-imperial bullshit.
None of this is the fault of Remainers, you know. You won, Brexiteers: get over it. This is your mess, now. Own it.

Unfortunately, this is just a movie



 

30 November 2017

Smoke and mirrors

The Times suggests that the Northern Irsh border question is nearing resolution:
EU leaders are preparing to offer a two-year Brexit transition deal as early as January after negotiators said that they were close to a breakthrough over the Northern Ireland border.
British officials tabled proposals this week to avoid a “hard border” in Ireland that could unblock the last remaining major obstacle to a deal, The Times understands.
In return the EU will pledge at a summit in Brussels next month to speed up approval for a transition deal that maintains Britain’s present relationship with the EU, reassuring businesses that might otherwise begin implementing plans for a hard Brexit.
Sources in Dublin said that there was “movement” on the issue and growing confidence that a deal could be reached before the summit on December 14-15.
The British proposal is understood to commit the government to work towards “avoiding regulatory divergence” in Ireland after Brexit even if the rest of the UK moves away from European rules. This would involve the government devolving a package of powers to Northern Ireland to enable customs convergence with the Irish Republic on areas such as agriculture and energy.
I'm not convinced.  If Northern Ireland develops customs arrangements which are different from those which apply to the rest of the UK, it stands to reason that there would need to be controls on the passage of goods between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland.  Otherwise, the chlorinated chicken imported from the US into Britain could leak into Northern Ireland and thence into the EU.

   

The future of capitalism

It's no longer selling or making things.  The Guardian reports:
Just Eat, the online takeaway company, was on Wednesday night officially promoted into the FTSE 100 list of Britain’s blue chip companies, with a valuation of £5.5bn – making it worth half a billion pounds more than the UK’s second biggest supermarket chain .
The UK’s love affair with having pizzas, curries and kebabs delivered to their door has spawned a mobile food business with no products and no outlets that is more highly valued than Sainsbury’s, which sells 90,000 products through 1,400 stores – and also owns the Argos chain. Just Eat is also worth more than Morrisons and Marks & Spencer.
Little-known Danish technology entrepreneur Bo Bendtsen is the single-biggest shareholder in Just Eat with a 13% stake in the business now worth just over £730m. But Bendtsen, who had just 88 followers on Twitter at the time of writing, did not found the company, which provides takeaways to 19 million people.
Meanwhile Babcock, the company which has built two British aircraft carriers is relegated to the FTSE250.

Financial madness ...

 

29 November 2017

Quote of the day

From The Times Red Box:
The performance art installation that is David Davis continues. The latest highly sophisticated production involves him having a row with MPs about the quality of impact reports that he has only had to produce because he boasted about them existing when they didn't.
And from The Guardian (here):
Over in Brussels, Michel Barnier raised a glass. As he had suspected, he really was dealing with idiots. 

   

28 November 2017

Will Prince Harry be allowed to bring Meghan to live in the UK?

As she is a US national, she will have to demonstrate that she and her intended have a combined income of £18,600 per year.

I understand that she has given up her job.  Not clear as to what Harry's employment status is.

Or perhaps the rules don't apply to royalty ...

 

26 November 2017

Three things we learned from Scotland's victory

  • Gregor Townsend’s plan is working.  Once again, after a sterling performance against New Zealand,  the Scotland XV outpaced Australia with high tempo rugby.  Yes, there were mistakes, but speed of thought, admirable awareness and constant pressure delivered an excellent result against what was in theory the third best team in the world and a team which had beaten the All-Blacks less than six weeks ago.
  • When did Scottish rugby players get so physically fit?  Admittedly, the Australians spent much of the match with only fourteen players.  But, towards the end of a match of such intensity, for the Scotland team to display such energy was almost unbelievable.  Not least after a match of comparable intensity seven days before.
  • For years, the Scotland team has been plagued by the limited pool of players on which to draw.  But suddenly we seem able to cope with the absence of such stars as Stuart Hogg and WP Nel.  And the replacements used during the match against the Australians in no way weakened the team.
Bring on the Six Nations!

25 November 2017

Music of the week

Useful to know

I was once a slave to fashion, believe it or not.  But this was never my style:


The Guardian reports:
The defining element of 2017’s party season is not a LBD or a statement earring. Instead, fashion is focusing on a slightly less glamorous place: the sock drawer.
Glitter socks, the sparkly kind popular with pop stars like Madonna in the 1980s, are back. Seen on the catwalk on Gigi Hadid at Isabel Marant and multiple models at Gucci, they are also a celebrity favourite. Kendall Jenner wore them on the red carpet earlier this year, and Beyonce, Suki Waterhouse and Rihanna are fans.
Aye, but do they keep your feet warm?

 

24 November 2017

Cattle class


Proof that Ryanair treats its staff as poorly as it treats its passengers.  The Guardian reports:
Ryanair cabin crew have been told they could face “disciplinary proceedings” and have their working hours forcibly changed unless they sell more perfume and scratchcards.
The Irish airline has previously denied pressuring staff to hit specific sales targets, after it emerged they were encouraged to sell products in return for bonuses.
But letters sent to crew members by recruitment firms that supply staff to Ryanair– seen by the Guardian – warn of dire consequences for those whose average sales per flight fall “below budget”.
The letters highlight 10 products, including drinks, confectionery, cosmetics and scratchcards, listing the percentage of flights in which individual cabin crew members had not sold enough.
As a frequent passenger, I do my best to help out the crew on the drinks front.

 

23 November 2017

Advert of the day

Because it made me smile:



 

The do-nothing budget

... or, at least, the do as little as possible budget.   Nothing to scare the horses.

OK, there was some cosmetic massaging of the housing crisis, but a reduction in stamp duty for first-time buyers and a modest focus on urban site development do not address the housing crisis.

Liquor and fags?  More or less as you were.  (Unless you are a white cider addict.)

Fuel duties?   Nothing to make the petrolheads lose sleep.

Income tax?  No change, other than a slightly increased personal allowance and a bit of a bonus for higher rate taxpayers.  (Why, for heaven's sake?)

Corporation tax?  Pensions tax relief ?  No change.  

Public sector pay?  Nothing except for a rather vague promise to look further at the position of nurses.

Tax avoidance?  The UK overseas tax havens will not be quaking in their boots.

Social care?  Not a dickybird - just ignored.

Altogether, rather a poor show.

   

22 November 2017

Never trust a man with a centre parting ...


... espacially if he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

 

Academic rewards

The Times  is exercised about the salaries of university vice-chancellors:
The universities minister, Jo Johnson, has called for VCs’ salaries to be pegged to that of the prime minister at £150,000. I took a cut last year from my salary of £185,000 and this year I have agreed it should come down to £150,000, the balance being paid back to the university for charitable purposes. My university is small, albeit growing quickly and first in the country for teaching quality, so my salary should be less than the others. But no vice-chancellor should be paid more than £350,000 and then only at those institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial which are at the top of the international rankings and attract leaders from across the world.
Does anybody in any profession need to be paid more than £350,000 per annum?  Indeed, is £350K not at an excessively high amount?  

And it is an essentially circular argument to suggest that, as others gain, so should I.  The whole system of executive pay has spiralled out of control and common sense.



Why?

Depressing.  The Independent reports:
MPs have voted against a Labour bid to retain EU human rights measures in UK law post-Brexit after the Government offered Conservative rebels an eleventh-hour concession.
The amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was defeated by 311 votes to 301, giving the Government a majority of just 10.
Just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, defied the Government whip and voted for the motion to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, put forward by Jeremy Corbyn.
Civic organisations warned over the weekend that individual rights to privacy, equality, freedom of expression, fair working conditions, a fair trial, access to a lawyer and the protection of personal data are all in potential jeopardy if the charter is stripped from the UK state book after Brexit, in March 2019.
 Which of these individual rights does the government propose to abolish?  I think we should be told.


 

21 November 2017

Parallel trainspotting


It's stretching it more than a bit, but The Independent views the Brexit negotiations through a mirror, darkly:
I have always found it helpful to view the Brexit negotiations through the prism of the hotel room drug deal scene at the end of Trainspotting, and never more so than now.
It is not merely because Begbie, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy so accurately mimic the intellectual deficiency, generalised psychopathy and jaw-dropping untrustworthiness of our current political leaders – though it does all those things very well.
It is simply the utterly hopeless mismatch between the two parties, and the panicked arrival of reality, which may very well finally have happened today.
If you want to imagine the scene at Theresa May’s newly formed “Brexit War Cabinet” which met on Monday morning, you only really need to re-watch those short few minutes. When a gang of chancers who think they’ve hit the big time suddenly realise, as the professionals sweep in, how hopelessly out of their depth they really are, and how utterly non-existent any leverage they imagined they might have had.
...
But the similarity is not total. At least, in the end, this small gang of drop-out smack addicts are capable of grasping reality, which is where they differ from certain sections of the Conservative party.
Even as Theresa May and the rest appear braced to do what they were always going to do and double the offer to Brussels, from £20bn to £40bn (and, in the end, no doubt more), Tory voices still seem determined to stampede toward the cliff edge.

   

20 November 2017

Two major flies in the ointment

It's all very well that the UK Government thinks that a Brexit breakthrough is imminent.  Bloomberg reports:
The U.K. could be about to improve its financial offer to the European Union ahead of a crucial meeting of the bloc’s leaders in December.
Members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s divided cabinet will consider Britain’s divorce from the EU at a meeting Monday of the Brexit cabinet sub-committee that could be key to unlocking the most controversial matter in the negotiations -- money.
Britain is “on the brink of making some serious movement forward” and starting to break the “logjam,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday.
There are two major difficulties here.  The first is the question of the Northern Ireland border: the Irish Government will not allow negotiations to go forward unless thay have cast-iron commitments to a permeable border free of customs duties.  The second is the collapse of the negotiations to establish a German government - Frau Merkel may not be in a position to offer any binding commitments to accept any UK offer, particularly if another general election in Germany has to be called.
Update:  From The Guardian (here):
In the meantime, Merkel and her grand coalition cabinet continue to serve as caretakers. Hopes in the UK for a political deal with Berlin on Brexit were unrealistic before but have now become even less likely. The EU’s negotiation guidelines, including the need to pay a sufficient amount of money in the run-up to the December European Council, are still the basis for any deal, now more than ever. Eurozone build-out jointly with France remains a task for the next government, but conversations will remain on ice until the deadlock in Berlin has been broken. 
And that is not likrly to happen soon ...