17 August 2017

It's a stoater!

The Irish border is more than a three-pipe problem.  The Independent explains:
The reason why the Irish border issue hasn’t been sorted out more than a year after the Brexit referendum is that it cannot logically be the same as it is now – frictionless and seamless. When the UK leaves the EU customs union, with or without transition arrangements, some mechanism will be necessary to certify origins, to ensure that goods imported into the UK cannot travel into the European Union, ie Ireland, without some notification of their origin and whether they conform to EU rules and have paid EU duties, and vice versa. Otherwise the EU’s common tariff barrier and [with] the rest of the world cannot work. Modern technology and licences granted to trusted companies can help assist this, but the fact remains that some fresh bureaucracy, even if mostly digital in form, will be required, and human beings will be needed to police it.
Even if the customs union problem could be settled with countless ANPRs (automatic number plate recognition cameras) and CCTV posts, that still leaves the even more fraught issue of the free movement of people. There is nothing today to stop, say, a Lithuanian flying to Dublin, taking a train to Belfast and entering the UK.
In other words, David Davis, Michel Barnier, the Irish cabinet and all the other clever people around the capitals of Europe have failed in their quest to make two plus two equal five. It is as if a team of mathematicians had promised to make two plus two equal five because that is what everyone agrees it should be – there is lots of goodwill behind the idea, it would make life a lot easier, and it would be much worse for peace in Ireland if two and two actually made four. Of course they could be locked in a room until the end of time and still not find a way to make two plus two equal five, because it can’t, and no amount of wrangling will make it happen.
The only solution (and it is essentially a non-solution) is for everyone to ignore the problem.  Maintain the status quo on the border and simply accept that there may be leakage of goods into and out of the EU Customs Union and of a modest amount of uncontrolled emigration from the EU into Northern Ireland (and thence into the UK)..  Would that be so bad?

15 August 2017


Ryanair are being public-spirited?  The Guardain reports:
Ryanair has called for a crackdown on alcohol sales at British airports after claiming that airlines are saddled with the consequences of passengers getting drunk before flights.
Europe’s biggest short-haul airline has proposed a ban on early morning sales of alcohol in bars and restaurants, and limiting the number of drinks sold per boarding pass.
The call comes after figures showed a spike in alcohol-related arrests at airports or in the air, while a major survey of cabin crew found most had witnessed drunken and disruptive behaviour on board.
I have never noticed Ryanair being reluctant to sell booze in-flight, at any time of the day or night.  But, of course they charge a fiver for a miniature of spirits and, presumably, make a handsome profit in doing so.


Wishing and hoping

The government's new proposals for a temporary customs union do not take us much further.  The Guardian reports:
Ministers hope to strike a temporary deal with the European Union to retain the key benefits of the customs union for an interim period after Brexit, to avoid cross-border commerce grinding to a halt.
The government will use a position paper published on Tuesday to reveal that, for a brief period, it will seek a deal allowing the transit of goods across borders to continue as now – perhaps by striking a “temporary customs union”.
Ministers hope this will avoid economic disruption by giving businesses and officials time to gear up for a new customs regime; while sidestepping the constraint that full members of the customs union are not allowed to strike independent trade deals with non-EU countries.
The government will say it wants to create “the freest and most frictionless possible trade in goods between the UK and the EU”.
Yeah, and I want to be a billionaire married to Scarlett Johansson.

Why would the EU allow the UK access to a customs union if the latter is simultaneously permitted to negotiate external trade deals?  And how much would the EU expect the UK to pay for the privilege?  And would the ECJ not have to adjudicate disputes?  And, thus, we are back to the same old, same old ...


12 August 2017

General confusion

When General "Mad-Dog" Mattis, US Defence Secretary met General Kelly, Trump's new Chief of Staff:
John F Kelly is the new chief of staff. He also used to be a general. No special nickname. Today he tells me that Kim’s escalating rhetorical war with POTUS is worrying him enormously.
“The guy is a maniac!” he says. “He’s unpredictable! He could drag the world into war without even meaning to!”
“He’s unstable!” I agree. “His inferiority complex and fragile ego are a danger to us all!”
Then we both suddenly look at each other, and blush.
“Out of interest,” says Kelly, carefully, “who were you actually talking about?”
“You first,” I say.
Something to  do with the hairstyles, probably ...

11 August 2017

Quote of the day

Trump again (here):
"I will tell you this, if North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us they can be very, very nervous.
"I'll tell you why… because things will happen to them like they never thought possible."
 "I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together or they're gonna be in trouble like few nations have ever been."
He sounds increasingly like some local  mafia enforcer.trying to put the squeeze on the local shopkeepers.  I will tell you this, he is sorely in  need of a better scriptwriter.


09 August 2017

Quote of the day

President Trump would not appear to be calming matters:
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," he told reporters, referring to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. "He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Hyperbolic bombast.


06 August 2017

Kids get it in the neck - again

Now that the silly season is upon us, it is time to whack (metaphorically) the nation's children.  The Observer reports:
The children’s commissioner has warned parents that they must intervene to stop their children overusing social media and consuming time online “like junk food”.
As web use reaches record highs among children, Anne Longfield has attacked the new methods social media giants are using to draw them into spending more time staring at tablets and smartphones. In an interview with the Observer, she said that parents should “step up” and be proactive in stopping their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays.
So the present culprits are the social media.  Before that, it was video games; and, before that, it was watching too much television.  In the days of the caveman, kids were probably spending excessive time chasing baby dinosaurs.


05 August 2017

Music of the week


Getting hotter, maybe.  The Guardian reports:
Eleven southern and central European countries have issued extreme heat warnings amid a brutal heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, with residents and tourists urged to take precautions and scientists warning worse could be still to come.
Authorities in countries including Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia are on red alert, the European forecasters’ network Meteoalarm said, and swaths of southern Spain and France are on amber.
Highs in Spain, including in popular holiday resorts on the Costa del Sol and on the island of Majorca, are set to reach 43C this weekend, with extreme conditions also forecast in Seville, Malaga and Granada. Ibiza and Mallorca could hit 42C, Spain’s Aemet meteorological service warned.
But the local forecast for my part of the Costa del Sol is 30C for today and 28C for tomorrow, pleasant but tolerable, especially with a cool glass of something.



Oh dear ...

This will make life a little more complicated for those of us who regularly spend time on foreign shores.  The Independent reports:
Brussels has published the draft legislation for dealing with “visa-exempt third country nationals”, which is what British travellers will become after the UK leaves the EU.
The new regulations will increase the cost and complexity of holidays and business trips to the Schengen Area, which includes 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Red tape for travellers will be more tangled, with UK passport holders forced to pay for an online permit even for a “booze cruise” to Calais, a weekend in Amsterdam or a Northern Lights trip to the Arctic.
A proposed “EU Travel Information and Authorisation System” (ETIAS) aims to identify anyone thought to pose “a security, or irregular illegal immigration or public health risk”. The scheme aims to reduce risks by obliging prospective visitors to anywhere in the Schengen Area to fill in a detailed online form. They must provide details of “his or her identity, travel document, residence information, contact details, education and current occupation”.
Travellers will also have to answer questions about their state of health, particularly any infectious diseases.
Thus, millions of on-line applications will need to be checked and maintained, while the fees will need to be received and accounted for.  Do you suppose that our masters are remotely capable of effectively administering such a system?



04 August 2017

Poem of the day

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
   If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
   If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,   
   Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
   Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
   If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster   
   And treat those two impostors just the same;   
   If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken  
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
   Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,    
   And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings   
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
   And lose, and start again at your beginnings    
  And never breathe a word about your loss;
  If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew    
  To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
  And so hold on when there is nothing in you    
  Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,      
   Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
   If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,   
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
   If you can fill the unforgiving minute   
   With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,      
   And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


03 August 2017

Concocted panic?

Can it really be true that Europe will be cut off from the UK?*  Mr O'Leary appears to think so:
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary thinks you'd better line up a stay-cation for 2019.

The airline CEO told the BBC that the UK is in denial over Brexit, and that it’s entirely possible that if David Davis and chums don’t pull their fingers out, there might not be any flights between here and the continent during the Brexit summer.
September 2018 - only just over a year away from now - is the cut off date for airlines when it comes to scheduling for when the UK is formally out of the EU.

If there’s no deal on air access by then, there will be no flights, for at least a couple of months and perhaps for longer. That will create problems that go way beyond people not being able to get to Spain for their summer break (assuming things remain gummed up for that long) unless they’re willing to fly via Boston.
I would have thought that the economic consequences for the tourism industries of Spain, Portugal and Greece (and perhaps even France) would be so severe that some kind of arrangement would be patched up.  But - as with so many of the other consequentials of Brexit - who knows?

* A bit like fog in the Channel


02 August 2017

Empty threats

A government with no teeth used to be known as a gummy wonder.  I rather doubt if the energy companies will be quaking in their boots.  The Guardian reports:
The government has warned energy companies it is still prepared to legislate for an energy price cap, after British Gas announced a 12.5% electricity price rise for more than 3m households.
The increase would add £76 to a typical annual electricity bill, and some experts warned that it could kick start a new round of price rises from the so-called Big Six energy companies.
A senior government source said Ofgem had to act fast to safeguard poorer consumers and had the powers to do so – and repeated warnings that the government would be forced to legislate if the regulator’s proposals were inadequate.
“It’s never been off the table, but Ofgem has the power to make the reforms and can move quicker than legislation. But we will legislate if it comes to it,” the source said.
 Note the "if it comes to it".  How much more justification do they need to implement the price cap promised in the Tory manifesto?


01 August 2017

RIP Jeanne Moreau

One of the greats.

No fandango for Scaramucci

From Wikipedia (here):
Scaramuccia (literally "little skirmisher"), also known as Scaramouche or Scaramouch, is a stock clown character of the Italian commedia dell'arte (comic theatrical arts). The role combined characteristics of the zanni (servant) and the Capitano (masked henchman). Usually attired in black Spanish dress and burlesquing a don, he was often beaten by Harlequin for his boasting and cowardice.
Seems appropriate, somehow.  But now despatched from the stage, something of a loss to the gaiety of nations.


31 July 2017

Like ferrets in a sack - again

It would have been nice, to put it mildly, if they had sorted this out before the negotiations began. The Guardian reports:
Senior Conservative MPs are urging members of Theresa May’s cabinet to stop publicly setting out their demands for a transitional deal on Brexit, saying the move could make negotiations with the European Union more difficult.
The warnings from senior leave campaigners and allies of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, come as ministers prepare to clash over issues of immigration and trade in a series of key meetings this autumn.
Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Damian Green, David Gauke and Greg Clark are among those likely to push the prime minister to accept that while free movement will officially end, there should be no immediate move to reduce immigration.
But the divisions in the cabinet were laid bare as Liam Fox said in an interview that there was no cabinet-wide agreement on what a post-Brexit implementation period should look like, and warned that “control of our own borders” was a key driver of the leave vote.
One Whitehall source who is close to Davis said it would be helpful if other ministers let him get on with the job of negotiating with the EU, stressing that the final deal would determine what any implementation period would look like.he Guardian reports:
And, anyway, why are they all so sure that the EU27 will grant them a transitional arrangement?


Spreading it around

The banking flight from London intensifies.  The Independent reports:
Japan’s biggest bank is reportedly set to move its European investment operations from London to Amsterdam because of the uncertainty posed by Brexit.

MUFG could move hundreds of its 2,100 London employees to the Dutch capital, sources told the Financial Times.
The proposed move separates MUFG from other large Japanese banks based in London, which are eyeing moves to Frankfurt, the German financial capital.
Frankfurt was also the choice of Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered for their post-Brexit locations.

HSBC chose Paris and the Bank of America and Barclays opted for Dublin.
It could be worse.  London is likely to remain the pre-eminent financial centre, even if it loses some of its European investment operations.  Because the banking institutions will be geographically dispersed in Europe, none of the cities is likely to benefit to the same extent from the cluster effect that has kept London at the top for so long; and none of them will have the heft to make a convincing challenge.  But the financial diaspora, and the consequent loss of jobs and tax revenue, is nevertheless yet another unhappy consequence of Brexit.


28 July 2017

Whistling in the dark

Yeah, well, it's difficult.  The Times' Red Box illustrates the problem:
Why can't everyone understand Labour's position on Brexit? It is perfectly clear to anyone who is not a Tory stooge desperate to twist the facts.
As Jeremy Corbyn made quite clear on Sunday, leaving the EU means leaving the single market. Except John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, then said actually he wasn't ruling anything out, and Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, agreed.
Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, took rather a lot off the table, ruling out single market membership and warning it also would be a "disaster" to stay in the customs union. ("What Barry did wasn't a shift in policy," says a Labour source, "it was an egomaniac going completely off piste.")
Don't worry, here comes Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, on last night's Newsnight to clear it up: "The Labour Party made it very clear in its manifesto that it wants a Brexit that puts jobs and the economy first and we are not at this stage taking any options off the table." Oh.
Almost (but not quite) as shambolic as the Tory Cabinet.


Not a nice chap

A trifle intemperate, perhaps.  The Guardian reports:
Donald Trump’s new communications director has launched an extraordinary, foul-mouthed tirade against two senior colleagues, raising the prospect of all-out civil war at the White House.
Anthony Scaramucci told an interviewer that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” who will be asked to resign, and that Scaramucci is not like Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, because “I’m not trying to suck my own cock”.
The profane language was shocking even by the standards of the Trump era and suggested that a major staff shake-up is imminent.
If he describes his colleagues in such terms, what will he be like with his enemies?


22 July 2017

Music of the week

Proving my point

See yesterday.  The Guardian explains:
The prosperous countryside of east Dorset is home to Britain’s longest living residents, with the average male at birth expected to survive 82.9 years. Maybe it won’t make too much difference to their financial futures that the government said this week that it would raise the state pension age to 68 sooner than planned. They will still be collecting their state pension for nearly 15 years after retiring, picking up around £124,000 assuming the new state pension stays at £159.95 a week. They are certainly getting good value from their national insurance payments when they were working. Along the way they will also enjoy a £3,000 winter fuel bonus and once they reach 75, as they nearly all will, the TV licence is free, saving £147 a year.
Now compare that with the deal for someone born in Glasgow. It has Britain’s worst longevity figures, with the average male expected to live just 72.6 years. The new retirement age of 68 means our typical Glaswegian male will pick up a state pension for only four to five years, pocketing just £38,000 in total. That winter fuel payment, more needed in Glasgow than Dorset, will be more like £800, while on average they cannot expect to ever get the free TV licence.

21 July 2017

Work it out

This young lady has got it all wrong:
If I were granted one wish for old age, it would be to avoid the horror that is early retirement. Please God, anything but that. Anything but waking up in the morning with no particularly urgent place to go, and no particularly obvious thing to be. Channel 4’s new series How to Retire at 40 – which largely seems to involve two decades of fanatical self-denial, all in the name of spending the next decades worrying about running out of the money saved – looks to me like the worst sort of dream.
What are these people going to do for the next 40 years? Won’t couples simply run out of things to say to each other when they’re spending two-thirds of their marriage under each other’s feet day and night? For every one in retirement smelling the roses there is surely another grieving for the loss of an identity and a purpose, sinking into depression as the walls close in. Barring dementia, or getting too arthritic to use a keyboard, all I want is to die typing.
But you can’t bar those things. And that’s why the government’s decision to raise the state pension age to 68 (phased in from 2037 onwards rather than from 2044) is frankly scary even for the lucky few in adored jobs that can be done sitting down, let alone for those who hate their jobs, are frankly knackered or dying to stop. It fuels the fear that something will make us give up work before we can afford to do so. No wonder the announcement was slipped out while the nation was busy arguing about whether the BBC’s Huw Edwards should be paid more to read the news than Laura Kuenssberg gets to find it out in the first place.
I retired early at the age of 54, some 13 years ago, and have never regretted it for a moment.  There is nothing more delightful than "waking up in the morning with no particularly urgent place to go, and no particularly obvious thing to be".  Read a book, engage in day trading. watch the Tour de France on the telly, even blog a little.  Especially if you have few financial worries.

The real objection to the raising of the state pension age is that it discriminates against the poor as they have a lesser life expectancy (for all sorts of reasons), particularly in the post-industrial areas.  Whereas the wealthier home counties set are more likely to be less reliant on the state pension even although their longer lifespan means that they will derive more pension benefit than those in less fortunate circumstances.  Time for regional variations in state pension age?


Onwards and upwards

It has only taken some 13 months but, at last, some common sense appears to be breaking out.  The Guardian reports:
The British cabinet has accepted that free movement of people for up to four years after Britain leaves the EU will be part of a Brexit transition deal, according to a senior source.
As the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, underlined the need for clarity on the British side at the end of the latest round of exit negotiations, soft Brexiters in the cabinet are now confident they have achieved a consensus about an “off the shelf” transition deal.
The claim that a collective view has been reached comes after weeks of a brutal briefing war over competing visions of Brexit since the general election wiped out Theresa May’s majority, culminating in the prime minister’s admonition this week that there is “no such thing as an unsackable minister”, and sowing confusion in Brussels about the reliability of the British negotiating position.
But as David Davis concluded Brexit talks in Brussels on Thursday, the senior cabinet source told the Guardian that the mood has shifted significantly and that ministers now hoped to agree a deal as soon as possible to give certainty to British business.
Admittedly, this is only one aspect of the negotiations.  But still, even modest progress is to be welcomed.

Provided, of course,  that this clown is kept well away from the negotiations:
Liam Fox has said a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU should be the “easiest in human history”, but insisted that the UK could survive without one.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, the international trade secretary said: “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.


20 July 2017

Money for old rope

It’s showbusiness, innit? Just because Chris Evans (£2.2m pa) is a DJ who has never shown any particular interest in music or because Gary Lineker (£1.75m) has prostituted himself for potato crisps, that should not mean that they should be prevented from maximising the financial returns from their meagre talents. You may think that Jeremy Vine (£700k) is an attention-seeking creep, that  Alan Shearer (£450K) is a less than articulate football pundit with the tactical acuity of a barn door and that John Humphrys (£600K) is a sexist boor well past his sell-by date, but it seems inevitable that they should nevertheless be entitled to screw the BBC for as much as they can get.

It’s not rocket science, is it?


19 July 2017

A cheer for the ladies

Good luck to the Scottish women's football team who opem their campaign in the Euros today against the auld enemy.

At least the women qualified for the finals, unlike their male counterparts.

Update:  It's on channel 4 live at 7.45 pm.



While I admire the Pro12's ambition and while it will be interesting to see South African teams playing regularly in Scotland, I am far from sure about this agreement.  The BBC website reports:
A deal to expand the Pro12 to 14 teams from next season has been agreed, BBC Scotland understands.
The South African sides Cheetahs and Southern Kings will join the league after losing their Super Rugby status.
The six-year deal is likely to benefit the league to the tune of an extra £6m per season from the South African Rugby Union and additional television income.
All elements of the deal have been agreed and, once legally ratified, could be formally announced next week.
The new Pro14 league will kick-off in the first week of September and will comprise two conferences of seven teams. Each conference will have one Scottish side, one South African side, one Italian side and two each from Wales and Ireland.
But it's an awful long way from Edinburgh to Johannesburg - a 12 hour flight, requiring substantially more recovery time than, say. Glasgow to Dublin.

Furthermore, although the BBC suggests that each Scottish team will benefit from an additional £500,000 in income, it will cost a pretty penny to send a squad of 23 players plus assorted officials to South Africa by business class once or twice a year.

But I assume that the SRU have done the sums ...


18 July 2017

Theresa and her playlist

From The Times (here):
I need a summer playlist.
The thing is, prime minister, that’s just not going to work.
What? Justin Trudeau has just released his one on Spotify. Barack Obama had two. The British public need a Theresa May summer playlist, surely?
Well, it’s just that Barack and Justin, they’re kind of . . . cool. Trudeau includes REM’s Everybody Hurts in his list, and everyone just thinks he had his heart broken in the 1990s. With you they’d make Brexit jokes. Trudeau puts Mad World on his list and bearded men around the world listen in respect, doing that little fake nodding that music nerds do. With you they’d make Brexit jokes. Trudeau puts Now We Are Free on his, with you they would make . . .
I haven’t even told you what I listen to. Brass band medleys spliced with the inspirational proverbs you get on tea towels in the gift shops of British cathedrals . . .
I don’t need to hear it. See, prime minister, there’s something else. Yes, women become world leaders, but equality can only go so far. Women don’t make mix tapes. It’s a guy thing. Nothing we can do to change it. It’s the law. Sorry.

Quote of the day

Alex Massie in The Times (here):
... at the weekend ... Kezia Dugdale, the Labour leader, and Jenny Gilruth, the SNP MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, announced they were in a relationship together. This really is a new Scotland. Not because there is anything unusual in couples differing politically, but because the news was met with nothing more than an oh-that’s-nice rumble of niceness.
Admittedly, there is something unusual in love across the aisle when both parties are serving politicians in the same legislature. You do wonder, too, if this will have a subtle but discernible effect on how Ms Dugdale, in particular, talks about the SNP. It might be more difficult for her to castigate SNP failings in quite so sharply personal terms as she has, of late, been wont to do. Still, there is something refreshing about this too; a necessary reminder that politics is only politics, that there’s more to life than bloody politics, and that politics should know its place.
[my emphasis]

And a damn good thing too.


17 July 2017

Quote of the day

Burning his boats.  HuffPost reports:
Brexit Secretary David Davis is “thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad”, according to the brains behind the Vote Leave campaign.

Dominic Cummings launched the astonishing attack on the Brexit Secretary just hours after Davis returned from crucial talks in Brussels.

Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave, also claimed Theresa May “does not understand” the Brexit Bill unveiled last week, and it has a clause allowing the Government to drop everything in it if the EU demands it.

The comments are the latest rant from Cummings, who in recent weeks has admitted leaving the EU could be “an error” and said quitting Euratom is “unacceptable bullshit”.
I wonder if he was sober ...


16 July 2017

Out of touch

They never fail to amaze.  The Sunday Times reports:
Philip Hammond has declared that public-sector workers are “overpaid”, as a bitter cabinet war erupted over austerity.
At a heated cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the chancellor refused to lift the 1% cap on wages for public-sector workers on the grounds that they earn more than those in the private sector, along with generous taxpayer-funded pensions.
But Hammond left his colleagues thunderstruck at the language he used. “Public-sector workers are overpaid when you take into account pensions,” he declared. The chancellor then described train drivers as “ludicrously overpaid”.
Tell that to the nurses, to the firefighters, to the prison officers, to the junior civil servants who man the desks at social security offices.

Note:  According to Wikipedia, Hammond's personal wealth amounts to a mere £9 million.

It's a bit of a mess

We do not appear to be making much progress on Brexit.  The Observer reports:
When the EU’s suave chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that he could hear the clock ticking down on Britain’s time to secure a comprehensive trade deal, his deliberately anxiety-inducing imagery played into a fear growing in the minds of many in Whitehall, the government and Brussels.
The concern gripping some involved in the saga of Britain’s extrication from the bloc is that a mixture of political indecision, a lack of leadership and a Whitehall machine struggling with the size of the task, will lead to the UK stumbling out of the club on bad terms, almost by accident.
After a week of posturing on both sides, Monday will see the second round of talks between Barnier and David Davis. Yet more than a year since Britain voted to leave, ministerial, official and Brussels sources told the Observer that the UK urgently needs to produce clarity on its demands in order to dodge a Brexit calamity.
The current timetable envisages that Brexit will happen at 12 midnight on 29-30 March 2019, a mere 20 months ahead.

The UK government is in a state of utter unpreparedness. Its leading ministers are unable to agree on what terms they should be seeking, so there is no plan for the negotiations with the EU. Even if they knew what they wanted, they might not be able to secure parliamentary approval for any such plan. And even that pre-supposes that the EU might be prepared to accept whatever our government proposed.

As for the negotiations with the EU beginning again on Monday, it is hard to see any progress being made on the three initial issues under consideration - the rights of EU residents in the UK, the divorce bill and the Northern Ireland border.

So what happens next. Well, nothing actually. Parliament goes into recess after this week and will not resume until 5 September.   Ministers and MPs will be off on holiday and, when they come back, their minds will be focused on party conferences.

Yes, it's a bit of a mess alright.