31 October 2017

All the President's Men

Those of you old enough will remember the great movie where Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman gradually uncovered the mis-doings of President Nixon.  Trump-Russia provides similar material:
The special investigation into Russian election meddling closed in dramatically on Donald Trump on Monday, as news broke that a former foreign policy adviser pleaded guilty to perjury over his contacts with Russians linked to the Kremlin, and the president’s former campaign manager and another aide faced charges of money laundering.
In a day of rapid and surprising developments in Washington, George Papadopolous, the former foreign policy adviser, was revealed to have pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI investigators over his contacts last year with two people with apparently close ties to the Russian government. One was an unnamed professor – identified by the Washington Post as Joseph Mifsud – who offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Another was a woman who portrayed herself as “Putin’s niece”.
Meanwhile, in a federal courthouse in central Washington, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and a business associate, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty to an indictment for money laundering, tax evasion, failure to register as agents for foreign interests and conspiracy to defraud the US government.
A federal judge ordered Manafort and Gates to be confined at home and set bail at $10m for Manafort and $5m for Gates.
Depending upon how things pan out, there is probably too much content for a straightforward movie.  I envisage at least one series, provisonally entitled "The West Wing Gone Wrong" or "The Game of Presidents" or "The House of Fake Cards".



27 October 2017


And so the situation in Spain and Catalunya becomes ever more worrying.

I cannot help feeling that this progressive escalation might have been avoided if both parties had been willing to talk more.  Concessions on either side might have eased the position.  A little more devolution, a postponement of moves towards independence.  Instead, Madrid and Barcelona have driven themselves into corners with little or no room to back down.

I think of Marco, my erstwhile Catalan colleague in Brussels, who - like most Catalans - has a dual loyalty to cope with and who will be worried about friends and family back home.

Meanwhile, the EU (and the UK) appear to take sides with Madrid.  I appreciate the diplomatic and constitutional reasons why this has to be so.  But I can only hope that behind the scenes they are pressurising both sides to step back from confrontation.


25 October 2017

Preparing for a no-deal Brexit

It is impending chaos.  The Guardian reports:
The tax authorities will need up to £450m in extra funding and up to 5,000 extra staff to deal with the impact of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal, MPs have been warned.
Jon Thompson, the senior civil servant in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), also told the public accounts committee that he could not guarantee that a new customs system would be ready for Brexit in March 2019.
Get ready for gridlock at the ports.  Because neither the extra staff, nor the extra funding, nor the new customs computer system, is likely to be forthcoming in the next 18 months ...

Quote of the day

Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs (here):
The Government do not really know whether they are coming or going. The Conservative party and the Government say they have full confidence in universal credit, but will not vote for it. They say they will end the NHS pay cap, but will not allocate any money to pay for it. The Communities Secretary backs £50 billion of borrowing for housing, but the Chancellor says it is not policy. The Brexit Secretary says they are planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Chancellor says they are not.

Isn’t it the case that this Government are weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to take the essential decisions necessary for the good of the people of this country?

If she carries on nodding like that, her head might fall off ...

24 October 2017

Not exactly a vote of confidence

Big Angie comes down on the side of sisterhood.  The Times reports:
Angela Merkel is “furious” over leaks from private Brexit talks amid fears that further hostility from Brussels may topple Theresa May, The Times has been told.
The German chancellor expressed anger at reported leaks from a dinner last week between Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, it is understood. A German newspaper suggested on Sunday that the prime minister “begged” for help on Brexit, seeming “anxious, despondent and discouraged”. The article said that the meeting last Monday was like hearing “cries for help”.
Mrs Merkel is thought to be frustrated by the Tories’ perceived refusal to offer more detail on Brexit. But she is concerned above all that talks will collapse.
Doesn't say much for Mrs May's reputation or influence in European circles.


23 October 2017

Shocking stuff

Oh dear, the BBC has upset bourgeois sentimentalities, again.  The Guardian reports:
The BBC’s new primetime drama, Gunpowder, was described as unnecessarily gruesome and brutal over graphic scenes of violence, which aired minutes after the watershed on Saturday night.
The three-part series chronicles the plot to blow up the House of Lords in 1605, with Game of Thrones star Kit Harington playing his ancestor Robert Catesby, the mastermind behind the plot.
The opening episode contained close-up scenes of a young priest being hung, drawn and quartered and a woman stripped naked before being crushed to death by a stone slab, prompting complaints from viewers.
I have to agree that some of the footage was unnecessarily gruesome, adding little to the development of the plot.  I was rather more shocked by the shoddy acting.  Is it unreasonable to expect Harington to deploy more than three facial expressions - angry, sad and befuddled appear to be the limit of his thespian range.  And at an alleged mere 5 ft 8 inches, he is on the short side for the part.


21 October 2017

Mrs May goes to Brussels

As one flowerpot said to another, it's not getting any easier.  The Guardian reports:
As always when in trouble, she began to talk pure Maybot.
“I have been clear that I have said what I have said,” she said. She would be thinking about the financial commitments at such a time when thinking about financial commitments was necessary.
If the Brexit secretary was talking up a no deal scenario, shouldn’t businesses be seriously preparing for one also? No. She had been very clear that she was aiming for a good deal that might turn out to be no deal. It was too early to say.
When she went through the financial commitments line by line was it possible the UK would end up paying £60bn? “I have been very clear about the process of going through the process line by line,” she muttered. English was now not even her second language.

20 October 2017

Her jaiket's on a shoogly peg

It did not go well.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May pleaded with EU leaders over dinner in Brussels to help her strike a Brexit deal that she can defend to voters back home, admitting talks had got off to a bad start over the summer.
The prime minister made the appeal over dinner with 27 other EU leaders but did not offer any fresh financial concessions to help break the deadlock in talks, which have been stuck on the issue of Britain’s divorce bill for months.
Speaking on Thursday night, the prime minister said both sides needed an “outcome that we can stand behind and defend to our people”, hinting at the political difficulty she would have in selling a deal that involves handing over a large sum to the EU.
I rather doubt if Mrs May gives a toss for the voters back home; her only concern is her unhappy backbenchers and her own office as prime minister.  If she gave two hoots for the voters, she would come to a deal, and quickly.


16 October 2017

Two men in a boat

Nice to see that Boris wears a suit and tie to go boating.


Panic stations?

Is there any point in Mrs May's last-minute dash to Brussels to meet Juncker and Barnier?  Mrs May and her colleagues do not appear to have an agreed position on:

  1.  the amount they are willing to pay as the divorce bill;
  2.  how to achieve a satisfactory outcome on the Northern Ireland border question;
  3.  what residency rights they are prepared to grant EU citizens remaining in the UK;
  4.  the length of a transition period after 2019 and the extent of ECJ supervision during that period (and, arguably, the need for a transitional period at all); and
  5. what kind of trading relationship the UK should have with the EU after Brexit.

Nor can they be sure that any answers on any of these issues will be acceptable to the House of Commons.

So what is Mrs May going to do in Brussels?  Juncker and Barnier are constrained by their terms of reference which prohibit any advance on trade negotiations until sufficient progress has been made on the first three points listed above.  And I fail to see how May and Davis can offer any solutions on those points.


13 October 2017

Sound advice

I rather doubt if  'Arry is to be relied upon for financial advice.  The Guardian reports:
The trouble with these cryptocurrencies is that expert opinion is so divided. In the sceptical camp, you have the likes of Kenneth Rogoff, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund; Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of one of the world’s largest banks, JP Morgan; and our own Financial Conduct Authority. In the other camp, there’s Harry Redknapp.
Yes, the football manager who recently departed Birmingham City is the latest celebrity to join the craze. “Proper excited about Mobile Cryptocurrency! I’m in, get involved!” tweeted Redknapp in support of Electroneum, which bills itself as “the first British cryptocurrency.”
Redknapp is free to speculate as he wishes, but the advice here remains the same: if you find yourself tempted to have a flutter on a cryptocurrency, lie down until the feeling goes away.

12 October 2017

The importance of planning and preparation

The Daily Record says it all:


Fiddling while Rome burns?

This appears to be a fruitless argument.  The Independent reports:
A new Brexit faultline opened up in the Conservative party after Theresa May appeared to slap down Chancellor Philip Hammond over how much the Government will spend preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The Prime Minister said she has now set aside £250m to help prepare for Brexit, including a no deal scenario, with aides saying she would spend “whatever necessary”.
But earlier on Wednesday, Mr Hammond signalled he wanted to wait until “the last point” before authorising spending on ‘no deal’ preparations and appeared unwilling to discuss further funds.
There are now less than 18 months until Brexit day.  This is not enough time to make satisfactory preparations for a no-deal Brexit.  Here are three examples:
  1. The need for vast additional customs control facilities at Dover (and elsewhere).  The government cannot simply tarmac a few fields and call them lorry parks, nor erect a few portakabins and call them customs offices.  It would need to secure ownership (or at least lesseeship) of the land required, to deal with any planning considerations, to draw up specifications of the facilities needed and put them out to tender..
  2. The need for a huge increase in customs and immigration staff.  Where would all these people come from?  How would they be recruited and trained?  The government departments and agencies concerned are already under severe staffing pressures.
  3. The need to establish new and extended data processing systems, for example to record and process import duties, agricultural subsidies, immigration data.  And the government’s record with new computer systems is considerably less than inspiring.
In these circumstances, argumentation about when and how much money should be allocated to preparations for a no-deal Brexit would seem somewhat besides the point.


11 October 2017

Bow down before the genius

Look, the man is a second Einstein.  The BBC reports:
US President Donald Trump has challenged his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to an IQ test, in the latest sign of discord between the two.
He made the remark in a magazine interview when asked about reports that Mr Tillerson had called him a moron.
"I think it's fake news," Mr Trump told Forbes, "but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."
No, it's not simply a case of mine is bigger than yours - that would be childish.  But from time to time Secretaries of State need to be put in their (subservient) place.


10 October 2017


Looking good

Seems fair enough:

World Rugby ranking
1. New Zealand - 95.52
2. England - 90.14
3. Australia - 85.59
4. Ireland - 85.39
5. South Africa - 85.03
6. Scotland - 82.47
7. Wales - 81.73
8. France - 79.63
9. Fiji - 79.48
10. Argentina - 76.93

But I would not put money on Scotland beating France or Fiji beating Argentina. 


Mud-like clarity

Mrs May's statement to the Commons on Brexit inspires The Guardian to philosophical musing:
“I have been clear,” she began. A sentence that invariably indicates she is about to activate the Maybot. Sure enough, what followed was a statement whose only real coherence was its incoherence. The lack of progress in the EU negotiations was a sign of just how much progress had been made. In fact, things were going so well she was now planning for no deal being reached. This was the new dynamic inertia in operation.
Some goals would be the same and some would be different. We would continue to love EU citizens apart from the ones we wanted to be a bit beastly to. Everything would be exactly the same apart from the things that would be a bit different.
“We are in an unprecedented position,” she whirred, her irony bypass intact. An unprecedentedly bad position. And one she was determined to make worse. Because what the EU had to realise was that even though it was adamant the ball was in our court, what they had failed to notice was that it was in fact in theirs. Brexit negotiations had come down to Schrodinger’s Ball. Both there and not there.
We are not really getting anywhere in the negotiations.  By accident or design?  And the clock is ticking ....


09 October 2017

"Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies"

She may think that she has the full support of her cabinet.  Me, I couldn't possibly comment ...


The not so invisible border

The Irish customs authorities are beginning to understand the complexities of the post-Brexit customs barriers between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.  The Guardian reports:

The ORC report says 13,000 commercial vehicles cross the Irish border with freight ranging from meat and dairy to Guinness, which travels from Dublin to Belfast for bottling and back to Dublin for export to the UK.
“Once negotiations are completed … the UK will become a third country for customs purposes and the associated formalities will become unavoidable,” it says. “While this will affect all member states, the effect will be more profound on Ireland as the only EU country to have a land border with the UK.”
It says customs checks will “have a negative impact on trade flows and delay the release of goods”.
“As all of these goods will be subject to the customs import procedure in the post-Brexit era, the administrative and fiscal burden on the traders involved cannot be underestimated,” the report says.
Despite claims that electronic checks could prove a solution, the ORC says this is unrealistic as some goods, such as animals and animal feed, will have to be checked under EU law.
Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) will not be enough, it says. “Regardless of any efficiency arising from an ANPR system, the inevitability of certain consignments being routed other than green and goods or documents having to be examined would still require investment in suitable facilities at all designated crossing points.
“Customs cannot permit the release into free circulation of goods or animals not already cleared by the relevant co-located border inspection post.”
Cargo will have to be fully inspected post-Brexit, and goods will not be released “until all customs formalities have been completed”, the report says.
Goods will be deemed to be in temporary storage once they arrive for customs checks. “In order to end temporary storage, the goods must be placed under a customs procedure or re-exported,” the report says.
It would be nice if the British authorities were equally realistic, instead of just hoping aimlessly for the best.


07 October 2017

Music of the week

Bit of a problem ...

How goes the preparation for the Brexit negotiations?  Not terribly well, according to The Times:

A Whitehall source said: “Downing Street is like the Marie Celeste. You’ve got a number of good civil servants trying to make this work but there is no political direction at the moment.”
Mrs May and her ministers have also been accused of being overoptimistic about Brexit talks over the next 12 weeks. A senior figure said: “We are in a monumental mess as a government. Massive choices need to be made but the Whitehall machine can’t begin preparing for negotiations on Brexit until cabinet ministers have decided what to do. At the moment the chances of success are slim. Ministers are being panglossian about the challenges, not wanting to get into the details, and assume something will come along and it will be fine. This could not be more serious.”

The lunatics are in charge of the asylum.


05 October 2017

Time to put her feet up?

Mocked, pitied, humiliated.  Why does Theresa May keep going as Prime Minister?  She surely cannot be enjoying life - at least not since the general election.  She is over 60.  Who needs the hassle of being the PM?

She has a house in Berkshire and a home in London.  She could retire on an annual pension of over £100K (as ex-Prime Minister and MP) and her husband as a City bigwig is presumably equally well catered for.  She would be entitled to a place in the Lords, if she wanted to continue dabbling in politics.

After yesterday's shambles at the Party Conference, she must be tempted to chuck it in.  And who would blame her?


Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
Theresa stared desperately at the lectern. She still had half of her speech to get through. What to do? The panic in her eyes suggested her first instinct was to make a dash for the exit. To wrap the whole thing up with a quick: “You know what? This isn’t working, is it? You’d rather be anywhere but here, I’d rather be anywhere but here, so why don’t we just cut our losses?”
But then she caught sight of the ambition reflected in the eyes of several members of the cabinet who were sitting in the second row and carried on. To piss them off, if nothing else.
Still though the words would barely come out. In the battle between Theresa and the frog in her throat, the frog was winning hands down. She tried another “The British Dream that. Is what I am in. Politics for” – but the frog just started laughing at her. Everyone else was just dying a bit inside. Along with her.
For a while the frog did give her a bit of a respite and she made a mad dash for the finishing line. But even though she was now speaking no one was really listening. They were just willing it all to end. For her to be put out of her misery.
As The Donald would say, Sad ....


04 October 2017


Theresa fights back?

Not very convincingly.  The Independent reports:
Theresa May will try to draw a line under weeks of turmoil by telling squabbling cabinet ministers to stop worrying about their own “job security” and focus on the national interest.
Ms May will tell her party she will not “hide from a challenge” and demand that after a lengthy period of soul-searching following the election that ministers “shape up”.
As the Sermon on the Mount has it, "why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" For did the Maybot not hide from the challenge of a leaders' debate during the recent general election? And did she not waste public money in protecting her own job security by making a deal with the DUP - was that in the national interest?


03 October 2017

Spanish practices

Should there be a read-across from Catalonia to Scotland?  Alex Massie in The Times thinks not.  For if we map the two together:
That means that certain rules must be observed. If you are Yes in Scotland you must be Si in Catalonia and that in turn means that if you’re No in Scotland you must have at least an inkling of sympathy for Madrid’s response to its Barcelona provocation.
Allow me to tell you a secret: you don’t have to play this game. The world is a complicated place and there is no great shame in admitting as much. Nor is there any disgrace in acknowledging that more than one thing may be true at a time. So the Spanish government’s iron-fisted response to its Catalan problem has actually been ham-fisted, but so too has the Catalan government’s own independence manoeuvrings. If Madrid has dirtier hands than Barcelona, that doesn’t mean that Barcelona’s hands are spotlessly clean. And those of us who live in Scotland have no need to pick sides in a fight that is not, in the end, much of our business.
On the other hand, do we just stand by and fail to condemn the brutality of the Guardia Civil in its dealings with ordinary European citizens?  Does that not mean taking sides?



02 October 2017

From Marr to Manchester

The Tory Party Conference gets off to a somnolent start.  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May was sat in the second row, her mouth locked in a frozen rictus smile, slowly dying inside. This wasn’t at all the birthday party she had planned. She’d always known the conference was never going to be much of a laugh, but she hadn’t expected the atmosphere to be quite this bad. Nor had her own performance on the Andrew Marr show done anything to raise anyone’s spirits. Apart from Boris Johnson’s.
Would she like to apologise to the Tory party for screwing up the election? Marr asked. “Let me be clear,” she babbled nervously, frantically trying to make her lips synchronise with the computer glitch that had switched her voice to fast forward. She was clear that she was focused on the business of government and that even though the election hadn’t gone as brilliantly as she had hoped it had still gone a lot more brilliantly than she had hoped.
The Maybot was up and running. Labour would cause a run on the pound, she said. “What’s happened to the pound on your watch?” Marr said drily. May looked bewildered. “It fluctuates,” she said eventually. As in downwards. She also appeared amazed at the possibility that inflations rises could be anything to do with her. Nor was there anything wrong with universal credit. So what if people weren’t getting their benefits for more than six weeks? Surely it was worth a few people dying for such a good cause.
There was a pause while a video clip of the prime minister insisting “Nothing has changed” during the election campaign was played. The Maybot nodded in approval. Nothing had changed. She was still hopelessly out of her depth, limited to mouthing mindless slogans that everyone but her knew to be untrue. The Florence speech had been a magnificent success and everyone was right behind her. Many of them armed with a knife. She had provided certainty. The certainty of uncertainty.
How long can this go on?