31 March 2017

Not sure how this is going to work ...

As The Independent puts it, the Great Repeal Bill "will see every piece of EU law affecting the UK brought onto the UK statute book on the day of Brexit, with ministers then given the powers to adjust parts to make them workable in the UK and potentially ditch parts they do not like".

Now I am not a lawyer but I used to have a working knowledge of the EU regulations governing EU Structural Funds.  These funds, administered by the EU Commission, provide grants for economic and social development, particularly for regions whose GDP is well below the EU average.  This is beneficial for areas in the UK such as the Scottish Highlands and Islands and Northern Ireland.

The EU regulations provide - among other things - that the grants are awarded by the Member State and reclaimed from the EU Commission.  The individual projects supported in this way are required to conform with the Commission's priorities as set out in the regulations; they also have to form part of an overall programme for the area concerned which has to be submitted by the Member State for prior approval by the Commission.  The Member State seeks reimbursement on a prescribed schedule from the Commission of the grants it has paid out, as well as making periodic reports to the Commission in a prescribed form, detailing progress against the targets set out in the original area programme.  All very bureaucratic.

Back to the Great Repeal Bill.  Given the central position of the Commission in the processes, it makes no real sense to simply cut and paste the various EU regulations on Structural Funds into the UK Statute Book.  If the Structural Funds policy is to continue, the rules will need to be completely re-written.  And who knows if the policy will continue after Brexit?

Some further complications:

1.  The current Structural Funds programmes run until 2020, beyond Brexit, and the Commission reimbursement will (in theory at least) continue into 2021, while the EU auditing process is scheduled to continue thereafter.

2.  The role of the Member State in the above processes is devolved - where geographically appropriate - to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.  And they therefore have a considerable interest in what will happen.

All very difficult. And this is only one relatively minor policy field among the myriad that needs to be sorted.  I am glad that I am retired.



29 March 2017

Below the bottom

It may be sexist nonsense, but at least The Guardian is paying some attention to the Scottish Parliament:
A pair of legs stood up and the body attached to them prepared to speak. There were so many things Nicola Sturgeon’s shapely shanks would have liked to say. About how the Daily Mail had said how much more attractive they were than Theresa May’s famously long extremities. About how the prime minister had been so intimated – or was that seduced? – by her luscious legs that she had immediately gone on the back foot. About how if all the Little Laydeez of Scotland were to vote for independence, then they too could have pins like her.
Six days ago the debate on the second Scottish referendum had been suspended after the attack on Westminster. Sturgeon began by adopting a more conciliatory note than she had when opening the debate the previous week, emphasising shared values, democracy and differences of opinion that were sincerely held.
“Yadda, yadda, yadda,” muttered Nicola’s legs. “What’s any of this got to do with us?”
“Just shut up and keep yourselves to yourselves,” replied Sturgeon.
Nicola’s legs tried to unsheathe themselves by poking out from behind her lectern, but the first minister managed to rein them back in. Trust Sturgeon’s head and torso to spoil the fun, thought the legs.

How do male politicians compete?

25 March 2017

Music of the week

Not waving but drowning

Far from draining the swamp, President Trump seems to be floundering in it:
Donald Trump's flagship healthcare bill has been killed off after failing to secure enough support from Republicans, in a major embarrassment for the US President during his first attempt at passing legislation through the House.
The decision, made just minutes before the vote was due to take place, will be viewed as a significant set back for Mr Trump, who has promised to repeal and replace Obamacare.
He is learning that governing is more difficult than it may appear..

24 March 2017

Happy birthday ...

... to Archie Gemmell, 70 years old today.  Was it really nearly 40 years ago?


The parliamentary sketchwriters rise to the occasion

From The Times (here):
Tobias Ellwood, the Bournemouth MP who had tried to save the life of the fallen policeman, stood by the door, his arms folded. As tributes were paid to his heroism, he looked at his feet and seemed to swallow hard.
When Matthew Offord (C, Hendon) suggested his colleague deserved an honour, Mr Ellwood shook his head. He did not want to be the story. “The honourable and gallant member”, a formula that only Mr Robertson correctly gave to this former soldier, seemed especially apt. Several MPs and one doorkeeper came over to shake Mr Ellwood’s hand or to pat him on the shoulder.

From The Guardian (here):
Conservative MP James Cleverly made the most moving contribution. He had known PC Palmer from when they were both in the army together and he was in tears as he remembered his old friend. Cleverly called for Palmer to be recognised with a posthumous award. May insisted Palmer would not be forgotten.
All the while, Ellwood stood at the back of the chamber, his arms crossed, holding his feelings in, as colleagues praised his actions.
He looked in pain, as if he would much rather be anywhere else but knew he couldn’t not be there.
As MPs drifted away, many, including Corbyn, stopped to touch his arm and thank him for what he had done. Ellwood half-smiled, but gave little away. Whatever he was thinking and feeling was for him and him alone. 


23 March 2017

Science of the day

The Guardian reports:
The most radical shakeup of the dinosaur family tree in a century has led scientists to propose an unlikely origin for the prehistoric beasts: an obscure cat-sized creature found in Scotland.
I guess I always knew that some of my compatriots were dinosaurs ...


22 March 2017

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Days before Article 50 is triggered, with Britain wobbling halfway over the cliff edge like the van at the end of The Italian Job, Labour speaks only to itself. Or, more accurately, bits of itself scream at other bits like a loft full of mad aunts and uncles.
On one side of the attic, a leaked tape suggests a planned Momentum-Unite alliance to ensure the far left retains power in perpetuity. On the other, surviving Blairites stagger lividly about beneath the pulverising weight of their sense of entitlement denied. Wandering morosely about in the middle are the undead, whose craving to be rid of Jeremy Corbyn is outmatched only by fear of strengthening him with another laughable leadership challenge.
Meanwhile, Tom Watson, the Glastonbury tent bopper who moonlights as deputy leader, pours petrol on the fire by exaggerating any pact between Jon Lansman of Momentum and Unite’s Len McCluskey into an existential threat.
It's not as bad as that?  In the immortal words of Mr Dalgleish, "mibbes aye, mibbes naw"


21 March 2017

All over the shop

So, 29 March is the big day for the invocation of Article 50, thus initiating the negotiations for Brexit.

Do you suppose that the Government have made sensible use of the nine months that have elapsed since the referendum last June?  That they now have a clear idea of what they want from the negotiations and that they have identified their red lines?  That they have been in touch with friendly sources in the rest of the EU to determine what is and is not possible?  That they have identified the key ministers and officials to lead in the negotiations?  In short, that they have a viable plan?

No?  Me neither ...


19 March 2017

Am I bovvered?

So, BA is cutting back on the first class perks:
A tasty amuse-bouche with the first drink, fresh flowers in the lavatories, a generously sized washbag and a pair of slippers — all free. These were the little touches that first-class customers with British Airways had come to expect.
Insiders at the airline, however, claim that BA is now cutting back on some of its first-class and business-class perks as it races to cut costs.
My usual mode of airline travel is cattle class on Ryanair where luxuries are non-existent.


18 March 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

From George Osborne's diary (here):
So. It’s been announced. There’s quite the uproar. At lunchtime I visit the paper and tell the staff how excited I am to be becoming a top journalist. Then I call Theresa May, to let her know I’m a newspaper editor now, because, well, why not, and how hard can it be?
“I’m surprised you have the time,” she says.
“Stop it,” I say. “It’s only editing a newspaper! It’s like people have forgotten I combined being an MP with running Britain’s economy for six whole years!”
“And how did that go?” says Theresa.
“That’s irrelevant,” I say.


17 March 2017

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
First minister’s questions in Scotland is an altogether more enlightening affair than prime minister’s questions down south. Not least because serious questions get asked. And answered. It helps that the two main adversaries, Sturgeon and Conservative Ruth Davidson, are rather sharper than their UK counterparts – not difficult for Davidson as Jeremy Corbyn hit a new low at PMQs the day before by even forgetting to ask a couple of questions. It’s also a major plus that the rest of the chamber manages to listen without sounding like a Bash Street Kids school reunion. When each speaker has finished talking, there is a round of applause. Or silence. It’s disconcertingly polite.


Has Theresa May been lured into a trap?

If I were Nicola Sturgeon (which, thank the Lord, I'm not sir), I would not - inwardly - be excessively displeased by the turn of events:
Nicola Sturgeon has accused Theresa May of sealing the fate of the United Kingdom after the prime minister rejected her demand for a second Scottish independence referendum before the Brexit talks conclude.
The first minister said May’s stance was “completely outrageous and unacceptable”, hours after the prime minister had insisted that “now is not the time” for the referendum that the SNP had hoped to stage between autumn 2019 and spring 2019.
Sturgeon said on Thursday: “It’s an argument for independence, really, in a nutshell, that Westminster thinks it has got the right to block the democratically elected mandate of the Scottish government and the majority in the Scottish parliament. History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the union was sealed.”
She insisted she would press on with plans for a vote at the Scottish parliament next week seeking its approval to request the legal power from Westminster to stage the referendum on Holyrood’s terms – a vote she is expected to narrowly win with Scottish Green party support.
I am far from sure that the Blessed Nicola actually wanted IndyRef2 at this time (or at least within the next two years) but felt obliged to go along with the bulk of opinion in the SNP, even if the omens for an early referendum were less than propitious (oil, currency, economy and all that).  So now she may be quietly relieved that Theresa has produced the kibosh.  Nicola can once again point to perfidious Westminster, thus keeping the party activists happy while metaphorically girding her loins for a more realistic prospect of a successful IndyRef2 in the early 2020s when Brexit will have been proved to be a catastrophe but the Tories remain likely to be in power for ever and ever.

Well, maybe ...

16 March 2017

Double quote of the day

From The Guardian (here).

The phone call had come through just after eight in the morning while Phil “The Undertaker” Hammond was eating breakfast. It was the prime minister ordering him to bury Class 4 NICs. He had tried telling her that doing a U-turn on your only real budget measure less than a week after it had been announced made him and the government look hopelessly incompetent, but Theresa wasn’t having any of it. The Tory backbenchers were on her back. The Daily Mail was on her back. And now she was on his back.
Six hours later The Undertaker rather sheepishly arrived in the Commons to try to explain how it was that, though he still absolutely stood by his budget because it was his budget that was his, he now wanted to fundamentally change it because although he hadn’t broken any promises in the Conservative party manifesto, as that’s not the sort of thing he would ever dream of doing, he had in fact broken the promises he had made in the Conservative party manifesto.

It had been absolutely right to raise NICs and that’s why he wasn’t doing it. And no, before anyone asked, he hadn’t worked out how to fill the £2bn black hole that had just opened up in the country’s finances. Give him another six months. Maybe changing to one budget a year wasn’t such a good plan after all.

The Treasury select committee chair, Hilary Benn, warmed up with a bit of free association. Did no deal mean WTO tariff barriers? “Yes,” said Davis. Would there be border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland? “Yes.” Would the EU/US open skies agreement be dead in the water? “Yes.” Would we lose passporting rights of financial services? “Yes.” Did this mean that the foreign secretary was idiotic to say that dropping out of the EU on WTO terms would be fine? “Yes.” Whoops. He had just landed Boris in it. Still, Boris wouldn’t have thought twice about knifing him.
Benn then went for the throat. Had Davis made any calculation of the exact costs of leaving the EU on WTO terms? “God no,” said Davis breezily. “I know how it’s going to work out. I just haven’t quantified it.” Every member of the committee – even the leavers – stared into the abyss. Davis had just admitted the government was saying no deal would be better than a bad deal when it didn’t even know the cost of no deal. A parish council wouldn’t get away with that level of unaccountability. Davis shrugged. There was something liberating about telling the truth. Why not let the country know that the chancellor hadn’t a clue about the economy and Brexit was heading for the rocks? It wasn’t as if there was an effective opposition to stop them.

15 March 2017

An unlikely champion?

The Independent comes to the aid of the First Minister:
... May should ... focus on the central reason for Monday’s coup de theatre. Sturgeon has always believed independence offers her country its best future. With Scotland a backseat passenger in a vehicle careering towards the cliff’s edge, she probably believes it more passionately than ever.
Now, you can agree or disagree with her there. For what incalculably little it’s worth, I agree. Were I Scottish, I would be mad for independence. I’d say sod the crude oil price, sod the Barnett formula and sod the pernicious English meme that poor wee Scotland hasn’t a prayer of making it across the road without Nanny May holding her hand.
I’d also say sod the uncertainties. With Brexit, how much more uncertain can it possibly get? And I’d certainly say sod the buffoons of Brexit – Gove, Boris, Fox, and the rest – who argued last summer that liberation from a union which restricted self-determination justified any risks, but will now counsel the Scots to keep a hold of nurse for fear of something even worse. How transparently hypocritical do these people need to get before a residue of self-respect automatically shuts their mouths?
I can sympathise with the sentiment.  But we Scots need a more dispassionate approach; we cannot let our hearts rule our heads.  If we opt for independence, it needs to be based on a rational assessment of the costs and benefits.


14 March 2017

It's a paradox

So both Theresa and Nicola want to retain one union intact but leave another.  Different unions of course but still ...   What's a poor voter to do?

It will end in tears all round.


09 March 2017

Smugness personified

Nice work if you can get it.  The Guardian reports:
George Osborne has declared a salary of £650,000 a year for working just four days a month at BlackRock, the world’s biggest fund management firm, as well as almost £800,000 for speeches to financiers.
The former chancellor’s earnings were revealed in the latest register of MPs’ interests, which shows that he will make more than eight times his salary as a backbencher as an adviser to the Wall Street firm.
No need to call on the foodbank, then.


08 March 2017

Believe it if you like

If you are asked about your sex life, will you answer truly?  The Guardian reports:
Adults are having sex less often than they were 20 years ago, according a US study based on a survey of almost 27,000 individuals.
Researchers have found that adults, on average, were having sex seven fewer times annually in the early 2010s compared to the early 1990s, and nine fewer times compared to the late 1990s.
The study follows research published by the same team last year which found that the percentage of adults aged between 20 and 24 who had had no sexual partner after the age of 18 had more than doubled between those born in the 1960s and the 1990s, rising from 6% to 15%.
Taken together it would seem that millennials are having less sex, but the finding is not necessary bleak. “It is very possible that for young people this is a conscious life choice,” said Ryne Sherman, co-author of the study from Florida Atlantic University, pointing out that millennials might be choosing to spend their time in other pursuits or could simply be more empowered in their sex lives.
Alternatively, respondents are being more or less truthful, then or now...


07 March 2017

02 March 2017

Wishful thinking, perhaps ...

... but hope for UK expats in Spain (of which I am a sort of country member).  Bloomberg reports:

... at an EU summit in Malta earlier in February, May and Rajoy were said to have struck an understanding.
The pair agreed they wanted to reach an early agreement on reciprocal residency rights for their citizens, according to British officials. May’s team in London believe Rajoy could also make a powerful ally during complex trade negotiations that will form part of Brexit talks, one official said.
Almost 18 million Britons, a number equivalent to almost a third of the U.K. population, visited Spain last year. Spanish companies also export far more to the U.K. than the other way around.
 But there's a fly in the ointment:  Gibraltar.  Rajoy will seek joint sovereignty and May will inevitably resist.


Oh dear

Kinda defeats the point.  The BBC reports:
AG Barr is to halve the amount of sugar in its leading Irn Bru brand, ahead of a government crackdown on the fizzy drinks industry.
The Cumbernauld-based firm, which also makes Rubicon and Tizer, said it would cut Irn Bru's sugar content from about 10g per 100ml to just below 5g.
It will reduce the calorie count per can from just under 140 to about 66.
AG Barr said the move was part of a "long-standing sugar reduction programme".
I will have to find some other way of getting my calories in future ...