Sunday, May 26, 2024

Rats leave sinking ship as UK election set for 4th July

Following Rishi Sunak's ill-advised calling of an early election, two more MPs have thrown in the towel. Michael Gove has said he won't stand for his seat in Surrey Heath, and Andrea Leadsom has also stood back from standing in South Northamptonshire.

The Conservative party has more than 150 seats, and rising, with no candidate. That is a lot of candidates for CCHQ to find before 7th June and a lot of wasted campaigning days. It does rather indicate Sunak called the election before his party was ready. Seventy eight have stood down with Gove and Leadsom being the latest. And some political pundits expect more to leap off the ship this weekend.

There appears to be much underlying anger within the party that Sunak made an almost unilateral decision to call a summer election without, apparently, even informing his cabinet [BBC / Economic Times]. Whilst this is speculation, the fact that his Foreign Secretary David Cameron had to cut short his visit to Albania and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps had to shelve a planned foreign visit reinforces this theory.

Many people in the party thought they had until Autumn to decide their position. With Sunak's early and unexpected election announcement, they are now feeling the party is over.

The election launch was not helped by Sunak's apparent impulsive decision to call it on Wednesday, the only day when veteran anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray and his supporters is in London with his loud speaker blasting sounds of satirical tunes in the direction of No.10.

Sunak would have known this as he left for PMQs at 11:30. He should also have been aware that the weather forecast was for continual rain throughout the day.

But just as King Canute couldn't hold back the tide, Sunak could not stop the heavens from opening up and carried on regardless. Shortly after five p.m. he went outside to deliver a nearly ten minute dialogue whilst being drenched by rain and blasted by the sounds of the 1997 Labour theme, Things Can Only Get Better by D.Ream, from Steve Bray's speaker at the end of the street.

It was already raining as the PM stepped towards the lectern. But as he continued through his speech the rain increased and by the end his suit was completely ruined and soaked - no doubt it was consigned to the dustbin shortly afterwards.

It wasn't perhaps surprising that many headlines in the papers the following day focused on the weather.

References to a damp squib were made while the Telegraph referenced the D.Ream song with 'Things Can Only Get Wetter'.

The Daily Mirror meanwhile went with a prediction of Drown & Out.

The more serious headlines still thought his election launch was ill-advised.

Many thought it was a 'gamble' and that Sunak had 'bet the house'.

Labour might think they've got it all sewn up. But complacency is not advised in Britain's divided post-Brexit society, still in turmoil as it endures a cost of living crisis.

Labour, at least according to polls, are likely to take the keys to No.10 as it sits some 20 points ahead of the Tories

But while the Conservatives will lose votes many traditional Tory voters may shift to the centrist Lib Dems or the more right leaning Reform Party. Indeed both parties are particularly focused on campaigning in Tory constituencies.

Wales might see a shift away from Labour especially after anti-motorist policies and growing dissatisfaction in the Labour administration in the Welsh parliament. Plaid Cymru could do a lot better than usual.

Scotland could win something back for Labour after problems the SNP has suffered with internal squabbles and scandals.

There is also a question concerning turnout with concerns from all sides it could be as low as 60%.

There is also concern amongst many traditional Labour voters who see Starmer as being little different from the Tories.

A cartoon published just one week before the election announcement in the Evening Standard alluded to just this with Starmer complaining a portrait of him with a red background wasn't blue enough. There is also the issue surrounding Gaza, which has proved contentious as Starmer holds with Israel's right to defend itself and won't concede to far left demands to call for a ceasefire in the region.

At the end of it all there are only two certainties. One, that there'll be a change of government. But, two, nothing will really change.

The country remains politically divided. Moreover, it is arguably bankrupt which will leave a new Labour administration in a difficult position to do anything to solve Britain's many problems.

Sunak has pointed to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine as well as rising energy prices as being challenges that Britain has faced and something that any government in power would have faced. This is partially true. But the elephant in the room which he has consistently ignored is Brexit which has seriously affected Britain's economic position.

Labour too has also ignored the B-word and failed to discuss how the country might improve trade with Europe post-Brexit.

Only the Lib Dems have suggested they wish to realign and build a closer relationship with the EU and rejoin the single market and customs union. Whilst not mentioning the subject of rejoining, it is in fact code for doing just that. Remember the 4 pillars? The cornerstones of the single market are often said to be the "four freedoms" – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. These freedoms are embedded in the European Union's treaties and form the basis of the Single Market legislative framework.

The UK is still perhaps a long way off of rejoining the EU unless the5re is a major see-change in people's thinking and a huge swing towards the Lib Dems. But a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, the most likely outcome of this election, is perhaps a small step to Britain's rejoining the bloc and rebuilding its place in the world.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Concerns that Baltimore incident was a cyberattack

Less than a day after a huge cargo vessel crashed into the Francis Scott Bridge in Baltimore, severing a major artery and putting one of America's most important ports out of action, some have suggested the incident was the result of a deliberate cyber attack. Six people, who were working on the bridge at the time of the incident, have been declared missing presumed dead. Two others were rescued, one of them in serious condition and who is being treated in hospital.

But focus has now shifted to recovery and determining the cause of the crash.

Authorities have dismissed the notion of the incident being a terrorist attack, though the investigation only began late in the day on Tuesday 26th March, hours after the vessel had struck the bridge bringing the entire structure into the water.

Power issues

Video from a web streaming camera showed that prior to the impact, the cargo vessel appeared to lose and regain power several times. Thick smoke was also seen to issue from a funnel just moments before the ship hit the bridge.  

Twenty two crew, all said to be Indian nationals, according to WION, were on board at the time, though it is not known how many would have been active at the time given it was making sail soon after midnight.

Cyberattack theories

While it is of course possible that the crash was merely a catastrophic accident, it could have also been a deliberate cyber attack.

Mitags, a website focused on maritime risk management raises a number of key risks concerning cargo vessels. One particular aspect, key to this incident, concerns "Propulsion, Machinery & Power Control Systems" which could be vulnerable to cyber attacks. "Since electronic programs control the physical actions of the ship, they can fall victim to a cyber attack and threaten ship control," the website claims.

"Cybersecurity has never been more critical to the marine sector. We depend on electronics for everything from vessel navigation to maintenance, and their proper function is essential to protect crew and vessel safety."

"As maritime technology advances, electronic OT — Operational Technology — systems that physically control the ship are being integrated with IT — Information Technology — systems. As vessels update their systems to more advanced, electronically controlled components, they'll need to increase their vigilance because IT systems can be attacked and controlled by outside parties."

This does not prove that the Baltimore incident was a cyber attack. But it does at least suggest it as a possibility.

Online conspiracies

Journalist Laura Logan is adamant that the crash was a direct result of a cyberattack. "I don't believe in coincidences," she says, while pointing to the facts that - deliberate or not - the incident has severed a major route for hazardous materials, eg petroleum, chemicals etc., and will cause major disruption for months. The I-695, that was cut when the bridge collapsed, is an auxiliary route of the I-95, a conduit running some 3,096 km along the eastern seaboard.

The closure, which could run into many months, if not years, will seriously affect the estimated 35,000 vehicles that traversed the bridge every day. Commercial vehicles carrying materials that are prohibited in the tunnel crossings, including recreation vehicles carrying propane, will now have to plan on using the I-695 (Baltimore Beltway) between Essex and Glen Burnie. This will add significant driving time [CBS]. There will also be significant disruption to shipping as other ports are forced to take up the slack.

There are around six cargo vessels that are stuck in the Baltimore harbour, as well as a number of navy ships and dozens of smaller vessels. But the knock on effect of the tragedy that occurred on the 26th March could be disruptive and costly.

Such issues were raised by Logan in a discussion with Steve Bannon on America's Voice  a right-wing to far-right streaming, cable and satellite television channel [Wikipedia].

Logan is seen as controversial for her backing a number of conspiracy theories, and Bannon too has been much criticised for his right wing political leaning. Well known conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has also speculated the ship was struck by a cyber attack.

And such theories have flooded the Internet concerning the collision [Newsweek].

While the White House has dismissed such theories, a cyberattack should not be immediately dismissed even if it is mostly being promoted by well known conspiracy theorists.

Past cyber attacks

Cyber attacks against shipping have occurred before. In fact the US military were last month reported to have launched a cyber attack on an Iranian ship according to NBC [YouTube].

The report claims an Iranian military ship that had been collecting intelligence on cargo vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, was targeted.

And according to Cydome, an Israeli startup which develops maritime cybersecurity solutions, cyber attacks have been targeted at a number of ships over the last few months [Cydome].

In fact according to Cydome maritime cyber attacks are on the rise with one said to occur every three days on average.

Previous reports have also highlighted the risk. While most cyber attacks have tended to be ransomware demands some are far more worrisome.

Ships at sea are susceptible to cyberattacks. Modern navigation relies on positioning systems, which has led to fears of jamming or altering location coordinates. An activity called spoofing refers to sending false data to navigation systems. In 2013, a test verified the possibility of spoofing a cruise ship's navigation system [Psiaki M. L. and Humphreys T. E. (2016) Protecting 'PS From Spoofers Is Critical to the Future of Navigation]. Two alleged but unconfirmed incidents, both involving a large number of vessels, have occurred; in 2016 near South Korea, and in June 2017 in the Black Sea.

In two other incidents, serious hacker involvement is suspected. In 2010, an oil rig on a voyage from Korea to South America suffered a delay of 19 days due to a system shutdown off the coast of Africa [Kaspersky Lab (2015) Maritime industry is easy meat for cyber criminals / Reuters].

And in February 2017, a German containership reportedly lost control of its navigation systems for 10 hours while sailing from Cyprus to Djibouti [KIISKI - PDF].

Spoofing & hacking

A spoofer's ability to overtake aeroplanes or ships to induce a crash might be something akin to a James Bond plot - see for example Tomorrow New Dies - but it is fast becoming a reality [Spectrum].

The Baltimore incident comes within days of reports that the Chinese have launched a series of serious hacking attacks against both the US and UK, something China denies [Guardian / BBC]..

But the coincidence of timing may not be lost on some.

Investigation

It has been reported that the 'black box' has been recovered from the Singaporean registered Dali cargo vessel.

It may be that the official explanation will be something mundane as a technical fault. But this will not likely silence the theories circulating online [Daily Mail].

Whatever the cause, it will take some time to clear the channel. The salvage might take several weeks. But as for replacing the bridge, that could take years. The original bridge took five years to construct in the early 1970s.

Accident or attack, the effects of the incident will last for some time to come.


tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Royal family in turmoil amidst rumours & conspiracy theories

If reports seen across the pond are to be believed, the house of Windsor could be at an end. There are growing concerns not only for King Charles III, but also his wife Queen Camilla and his daughter in law Catherine, the Princess of Wales. Information concerning the Royals is difficult to substantiate, nut the secrecy surrounding the family and recent bizarre press releases from the palace have only helped fuel rumours and conspiracy theories.

The ailing King

In recent weeks, US tabloids, amongst a number of other international media outlets, have reported that the King's health is far more serious than has been reported to the British public. British newspapers have thus far only reported the official line that the monarch is suffering from prostate problems and a 'form of cancer'.

However, the National Enquirer is amongst a number of publications that have reported that the King has pancreatic cancer and less than six months to live.

Whilst first reported in the Enquirer, the story has been picked up by a number of other publications, though the news has been largely hidden from the British public.

Internet searches in the UK fail to bring forth links to such sites but if using a VPN - which circumvents country restrictions - the same searches result in dozens of links leading to the concerning reports about the British monarch [BoingBoing / Magzter / The News pk / BTimes].

The National Enquirer's report could be easily dismissed given its history as being a sensationalist supermarket tabloid magazine. But it has often been right about its claims though it has also had to settle various lawsuits [Wikipedia].

Even if one dismisses the headlines concerning the type of cancer and the seriousness of the King's condition there are little reported nuggets of truth within the National Enquirer's reporting. The publication states that Dr Michael Dixon, known for his strong beliefs in homoeopathy and faith healing, is overseeing Charles' treatment [Guardian].

The National Enquirer's sensationalist report came just 20 days after it was announced King Charles had been diagnosed with "a form of cancer" which had prompted many news stations to flip to saturation coverage of the news for several hours despite few facts being known.

That announcement on the 5th of February came at the same time that Kate Middleton had also been admitted to hospital for unspecified 'abdominal surgery'.

Secrecy fuels conspiracies

The secrecy, vagueness and the warning off of press photographers by Kensington Palace as they camped outside the hospital where she was being treated, has only fuelled speculation, rumours and conspiracy theories.

As a high profile royal, Kate Middleton's admission to hospital was bound to draw much media attention. As such dozens of press photographers gathered daily outside the clinic where she was being treated. But, in what was seen by many members of the press as unwarranted control, representatives from Kensington Palace demanded to see press passes and later issued a warning to the major agencies that they would be dropped from future royal rotas should they not leave. This despite the media gathering being situated in a public space.

"Sadly, despite us sharing the wishes of the Prince and Princess that they'd like privacy at this time, yesterday we saw a significant number of photographers stationed outside the hospital. I have spoken directly to the respective photography agencies and picture editors of those present and reminded them if they continue to be there they will not be accredited by Kensington Palace for the foreseeable future. I'll allow those of you who did have photographers down there yesterday, to pick that up with your picture editors. However, in the knowledge my plea will fall of deaf ears and in the spirit of openness I always employ – and again, not for reporting but for guidance only, the Wales children will not be visiting The London Clinic this weekend, so I strongly discourage anyone from stationing themselves there." the full statement said.

As a result many agency photographers were withdrawn leaving only freelancers and the so-called paparazzi.

Where's Kate?

That was in the third week of January and until March there had been no sighting of the future Queen. Then a photograph emerged purporting to be Kate Middleton sitting in the passenger seat of an Audi being driven from Windsor alongside her mother. The picture, distributed by the photo agency Backgrid was extremely grainy which appeared to have been added in post-production given the emergence of a clear picture just hours later.

The picture only fuelled further speculation. The woman seemed to be of fuller face than Kate and the clear frame appeared not to show Kate's distinctive mole above her right lip. The fact that she was wearing larger dark shades created speculation amongst some that the person was in fact her sister Pippa.

The picture however was hidden from the eyes of the British public with only a few news outlets even reporting on the claim that the Princess of Wales was seen in public for the first time since her operation. Indeed the picture was only used in foreign publications, most notably the American tabloids [TMZ / HarpersBizaar / TimesNowNews /  LTN].

Mother's Day fiasco

Moving on just a week and the waters were further muddied after Kensington Palace released a picture of Kate and the three children on Mother's Day. Several major agencies that were distributing the photograph soon withdrew the picture and issued a kill notice saying that the picture had been digitally manipulated [BBC].

There was no immediate statement forthcoming from Kensington Palace, resulting in conspiracies and rumours becoming even more out of control. What, if anything were they, 'the firm', trying to hide? Then around twelve hours after the picture was killed by PA, AFP, Reuters and Getty, a statement was released via Twitter. "Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother's Day. C" However, occasionally experimenting with editing does not explain the strange anomalies that appear in the photograph particularly with the hands of the children such as contorted hands and a missing thumb as well as inexplicable blurring or smearing of certain parts of the photograph.

The photograph released on Mother's Day in the UK was clearly manipulated with sometimes inexplicable photoshop techniques. There have been more questions than answers concerning the release of the photograph fueling a plethora of conspiracy theories. While some are clearly outlandish and easily dismissed others are less easily explained. One theory swirling on social media platforms suggested that the picture was a composite including the pasting of Kate's head from a 2016 cover of Vogue which bears a striking similarity to that in the controversial Mother's Day picture [Daily Mail].

Following the publication of the photograph, press photographers captured what was reported to be Kate leaving the Windsor estate, sitting in the back of a vehicle with Prince William as he headed for a Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey. Yet given her face is turned away from the camera there are many who are still unconvinced it was even her. There was also no clue as to where she was supposedly headed with no statement forthcoming from Kensington Palace.

Grim US reports

US tabloids have already painted a dark picture, suggesting everything from a possible cancer diagnosis to eating disorders and even suggesting domestic violence within the family.

Of course, these reports are based solely on unofficial leaks and rumours. But Kensington Palace is doing nothing to allay these reports. Moreover, their secretive and clumsy media management has only fuelled the fire.

Further confusion has been sown after Kate Middleton's name was removed from an event on 8th June 8, soon after the British army announced she would attend.

Discounting the controversial Mother's Day picture and the two paparazzi pictures, Kate Middleton hasn't been seen in public since Christmas 2023, and Kensington Palace had not released any photos or videos of her until Sunday 10th March.

Firestorm

Her absence has caused a social-media firestorm as royal watchers questioned her whereabouts and condition online. However, the palace said she was doing well as recently as 29th February.

Outside of social media, the mainstream media, especially in the US, are having a field day with the issue surrounding Kate Middleton's whereabouts.

The Daily Show makes light of the recent photoshopped picture and Kate's taking responsibility for the mistakes [Twitter / YouTube]. Meanwhile Stephen Colbert also made fun of the situation and joked about a rumoured affair between Prince William and Sarah Rose Cholmondeley, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley [Twitter] something that has been little reported in the UK [MSN].

If the stories in the US tabloids are to be believed, the Royal family is all but finished. According to the National Enquirer and The Globe, Camilla faces a possible double mastectomy due to cancer, Kate has a whole number of health issues and may even divorce the future King. And William's coronation may well be sooner than expected with plans reportedly being made for a state funeral for the current monarch, King Charles III.

Sources 'familiar with the situation' say that major picture agencies are already making plans for a state funeral later this year, tvnewswatch was learned.

More bad news ahead

Meanwhile, there may be further bad news in the coming months for the Royal family. There are several royals that are well into their 80s and 90s. As such it is only a matter of time before the likes of the Duke of Gloucester, 79, Princess Alexandra, 87, the first cousin of the late Queen, her brothers Prince Michael of Kent, 81, and the Duke of Kent, 88, as well as the Duchess of Kent, 91, pass on.

The furore concerning Prince Andrew has yet to be laid to rest [Sky News] although he has been more visible in recent months with suggestions he has been repositioning himself within the royal family [Daily Mail].  

Tragedy has already struck in recent weeks with Pippa Middleton's ex-boyfriend, Thomas Kingston being found dead at his parent's home in Cotswolds Village in England, on 25th February. Kingston, 45, was apparently found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, though Internet conspiracy theories abound suggesting foul play.

A private funeral was held, away from the glare of cameras, with only a select few in attendance, amongst them the Prince of Wales, the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra alongside Lady Gabriella and Mr Kingston's family [BBC / Sky News].

Whatever the truth is concerning the King's health, that of Queen Camilla, Kate's health and whereabouts as well as the state of the relationship between her and the future King, Prince William, the public are certainly questioning the honesty and future of the Royal Family.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Hard cheese for the UK dairy industry

In the lead up to the EU referendum, those who promoted Brexit promised that Britain would see to opening up new markets and new opportunities beyond the EU.

However, nearly nine years after that fateful vote and two years after Britain officially left the block after delays in negotiating a deal with the EU, Britain has failed to make any meaningful free trade agreements with any country outside the bloc and those it has managed to secure pale into insignificance compared to what was offered through being an EU member state.

A particular case in point is the trade deal made with Australia which, even according to former environment secretary George Eustace, has left worse off. Eustice, who helped secure the first post-Brexit deal negotiated from scratch, told a Commons debate that it was "not actually a very good deal for the UK" [Guardian / BBC].

The deal was even mocked on Australian breakfast television.

The deal removes tariffs on £4.3bn of exports, making it cheaper to sell iconic products like cars, Scotch whisky and ceramics into Australia, according to the UK government which called the agreement  'historic'. However, the deal was only forecast to raise Britain's GDP by 0.08% by 2035 [Guardian].   

In the northern hemisphere Britain has failed to make any inroads in terms of making deals. Despite a 'special relationship' with the US, a free trade deal seems as elusive as ever.

The same is true of Canada, a commonwealth country with Britain expected to reestablish stronger ties.

But despite nearly two years of negotiations everything fell flat in January leaving Britain worse off than had it remained part of the EU.

Canada had been pushing for the UK to relax a ban on hormone-treated beef, which its producers say in effect shuts them out of the British market [BBC].

However, the same meat products remain banned in the EU despite having a trade agreement with Canada known as CETA or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Britain previously traded under these rules but having left the EU had to negotiate its own agreement.

Under CETA there exists a tariff rate quota of 16,000,000 kilograms for EU cheeses with the likes of France, Italy and the Netherlands benefitting substantially. But after the 1st January 2024 Britain fell out of this arrangement and with no separate deal in place it could prove disastrous for the UK dairy industry.

From the 1st January 2024, for UK cheese to be eligible for export under Canada's WTO quota, UK exporters need to ensure the Canadian importer they are partnering with has access to an import licence for the 'non-EU sources reserve'.  

If UK exporters do not have this, any cheese products they export to Canada will be subject to the full tariffs which amount to 245% [UK Gov].

This could mean tougher trading terms for the UK with a partner that accounted for 1.4% of its total trade in the 12 months to June 2023.

The UK exported over two million kilograms of cheese to Canada in 2022. And a massive slice of that are Coombe Castle products. "Essentially, we're going to fall off the edge of a cliff at the end of this year," Darren Larvin, the managing director of Coombe Castle International, was quoted as saying by CBC last December.

Prior to January 2024 a 320 gram pack of Coombe Castle cheese cost Ca$12.99 [around £7.60]. With a 245% mark up this would push the price up to some Ca$31.82 [£18.65].

Goods trade between the two countries was worth £19.2bn in 2020, according to the UK government, with UK imports from Canada worth £7.3bn and UK exports to Canada worth £11.8bn.

And while overall UK cheese exports to Canada are relatively small, it is nonetheless significant. British cheese exports to Canada were worth £18.7m - or 2.4% of total cheese exports - in 2022, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). That translates to Canada importing a little more than two million kilograms of cheese from the UK (its fifth largest supplier), international trade data indicates [BBC].

For some firms the loss of this market could be devastating with some being forced to reduce production and staff. The longer the situation continues the more difficult it will be to reestablish trade links.

Boris Johnson had sold Brexit with priceless opportunities such as being able to sell "more affordable high-quality cheese to Canada" [Daily Mail]. But instead the lies and failed promises have left a sour taste and left many cheese makers cheesed off [Guardian].

But it's no joke for the estimated 7,845 people employed in the British butter & cheese industry. A 2.5% loss in trade with Canada could potentially result in job losses. And while it might be a simplification to say the industry could see a similar cut in jobs, this could translate into around 200 job losses. For firms such as Coombe Castle, which send around a third of its products to Canada, it's an existential crisis.

Overall Britain's cheese exports have shrunk in the last year, decreasing by £-4.11M (-5.65%) from £72.7M to £68.6M [OEC]. The collapse of a potential trade deal with Canada will do nothing to boost confidence.

And it's not just cheese either. The breakdown in talks mean British car firms could also face higher tariffs. It will also mean Britain will miss out on opportunities to secure better terms for digital trade, which makes up four-fifths of the UK's services exports to Canada.

"This was supposed to be done quite quickly because it was just an upgrade of an existing deal," says William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce. "But in the end, it has taken two years to achieve nothing." [Telegraph]

Once again, Britain has found that Brexit was not quite the land of open opportunities, unicorns and sunny uplands that was sold to the British public.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Brexit likely to hit Britain hard in coming days

The pain of Brexit has been a long burn with various transitions coming into effect over time. Should the consequential rules have come into effect the moment the UK left the EU, many people would have realised that Brexit was a mistake. However, the average UK citizen has not seen the direct effects because many of the consequences of becoming a third country have only been implemented over time.

Passport checks & queues

Already one has seen the effects of increased passport checks at borders. As a third country British citizens can only stay in the EU for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Thus all UK passports need to be checked and stamped at entry and exit points. This has resulted in delays at airports and ports. The port of Dover has been particularly badly hit, especially at busy times, with massive queues and delays being experienced by holiday makers. But freight has been even more hard hit with parts of the A20 into Dover becoming an almost daily lorry park with queues sometimes exceeding 20 km.

Some customs checks have already been implemented meaning checks on lorries travelling to and from the EU. But this week sees the introduction of new government policy on the control of EU produce entering the UK, with firms fearing delays, rising costs and the ability of border posts to cope [BBC]. 

Red tape

UK food and farm exports to the EU have required extra red tape, checks and delays for two years, but their competitors on the continent have enjoyed unfettered access to the UK. As of Wednesday, four years on from Brexit day, new rules come into effect meaning  changes for food and plant product imports from the European Union.

In short it means extra, costly paperwork. This will mean further checks on both sides of the channel. This will likely mean further delays in shipping goods between the EU and UK. This in turn may lead to some exporters giving up on the UK as it becomes unviable. For larger exporters, costs may be swallowed up, but for smaller exporters the increased costs and delays may result in them giving up on the UK altogether.

Post-Brexit requirements mean that nurseries now have to secure phytosanitary certificates – health checks – before plants can be shipped, costing tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds each year and sometimes adding a week to delivery times.  In April, many animal and plant products coming from mainland Europe will also have to undergo physical checks at newly installed UK border posts.

From Wednesday, all imported plant and animal products will be categorised as low, medium or high risk. Those seen as medium and high, which includes meat and dairy products, as well as most plants, will now require checks from plant health inspectors or vets before they can be transported.

While the new rules bring a level playing field to both those exporting to the EU and those exporting from the EU into the UK, the change will hit UK consumers hard.

Until now the main effect on exporting requirements has little affected most Britons.

While there have been delays and disruptions to supply chains resulting in some shortages seen in supermarkets, the biggest effect of post-Brexit rules thus far has only affected UK exporters.

The main physical manifestation has been the long queues of lorries seen on the A20 near Dover. But the delays and extra paperwork has also resulted in many smaller UK firms giving up on the EU market.

Cost to business

There are countless tales of firms either going bust or downsizing due to EU exports becoming more difficult or too costly. In August last year the Guardian reported that at least 100 firms had gone to the wall because of post-Brexit red-tape [Guardian].

In May last year it was reported that UK fruit exports to the EU had dropped by more than half since Brexit [Guardian].  

While the pandemic certainly had some effect, it seems clear that Brexit was a compounding factor. Indeed figures published in June showed that Britain was lagging behind all G7 countries [Guardian].

As a third country Britain's fishing industry was immediately hit by Brexit following the transition. The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) came into force in January 2021 and overnight hit mussel farmers and those exporting bivalve molluscs. Most bivalve molluscs, such as mussels and oysters, that have not been purified before export are essentially banned from the EU. This has impacted UK exports which were exempt when the UK was part of the EU.

However, the EU bans the import of live bivalve molluscs from third countries. One of the biggest markets for UK producers of mussels and oysters was France. But the ban resulted in making the farming of these molluscs unsustainable.

Britain represents only a small percentage of the mollusc market for UK producers. Thus, with much of their market essentially closed off, many of these firms have gone out of business [TheFishSite / Guardian]. 

Moules mariniére has been off the menu for Britons for some time now as live mussels have become as rare as hens teeth in supermarkets across the country. There are a few that stock pre packed products, but as anyone who has prepared the dish from scratch, they pale compared to a freshly cooked dish.

Uncertain future

UK producers have already said that the new rules that come into effect this week are impossible to plan for [Guardian].

And with further changes and checks expected to come into force in October, Britain could see some very dark times ahead.

While overall inflation has dropped to around 4%, food inflation remains high at 8% according to the ONS.

Further disruptions to the supply of food from Europe is only likely to impact prices.

Food industry bodies in Europe and the UK are already warning of impending supply chain disruption as Britain introduces new border bureaucracy on EU food and drink and imports for the first time since Brexit according to the Financial Times.

The introduction of complex paperwork to certify all EU products of plant and animal origin entering the UK from 31st January risks fouling up the supply of a number of products, including pork and sugared liquid eggs used in cake and sauces.

But it's not just a few specific food items. The new checks apply to a wide range of imports. In the last week the Independent reported that specialist meats such as Parma hams and Spanish chorizo sausages could begin disappearing from the shelves of UK supermarkets and delicatessens.

Shortages possible  

The Brexit border rules could cut shelf life of fresh food from the EU by a fifth, some experts have suggested with the requirement for importers to give 24 hours' notice of deliveries described as 'unfeasible' by suppliers [Guardian].

Currently, suppliers in the EU do not need to notify the UK government before delivering meat and dairy products, meaning deliveries can arrive in the UK within hours of being dispatched from their farms or processing plants in the EU.

However, under new border rules coming into effect in April, the government requires importers to notify the UK authorities at least a day before they arrive at a border post, which businesses fear will add huge delays to deliveries of perishable goods.

For large businesses the extra red tape may be only a small part of the whole procedure. The costs involved may also be swallowed or spread across their business model as a whole. But for smaller EU exporters these extra costs could prove detrimental.

Rising costs and inflation

The extra costs will, of course, be passed on to UK buyers, supermarkets and ultimately consumers. Thus, the outcome will manifest itself with disrupted supply chains which in turn could well result in shortages on the shelves. In turn the price of goods from the EU could increase.

The costs of extra paperwork has already been estimated to result in a 0.2% increase in inflation over the next two years. The figure might sound small, but in a country where there is already a cost of living crisis with food inflation already the highest in Europe.

The overall price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose around 26% between December 2022 and December 2023. In the 10 years prior to this, overall food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 9%. Prices in restaurants and cafes rose by 7.7% in the year to December 2023, down from 8.2% in November [ONS]. 

In comparison, the cost of food in the European Union increased 5.87% in December of 2023 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in the European Union averaged 3.63% from 1997 until 2023, reaching an all time high of 19.19% in March of 2023 and a record low of -1.20 percent in June of 2014 [Trading Economics]. 

It would be fair to say that Europe as a whole has experienced higher food prices. But Britain has been harder hit, arguably due to rules imposed by Brexit.

Annual inflation in the EU has been declining whilst food inflation remains high, hitting low-income families across Europe.

Inflation in the euro area has slowed down since its peak of 10.6% (11.5% in the EU) in October 2022 to 2.9% (3.6% in the EU) in October 2023.

However, food inflation remains stubbornly high as consumers continue to grapple with a cost of living crisis [Euronews].

But Britain has seen far greater inflation with few signs of recovery.

Opaque reporting

Unfortunately, there are few media outlets reporting any of this, bar a few reports in the FT, Guardian, Independent and BBC. BBC Newsnight, which has seen its audience drop significantly, did highlight the impending problems just two days before the second anniversary of Britain leaving with a 'deal' [Twitter]. But the warnings are still falling on deaf ears as the country heads towards a general election.

The Tories are still maintaining that there are benefits to having left the EU and proclaiming there are more opportunities to come. The Labour party meanwhile either refuse to discuss the topic or say they will 'make Brexit work'. Even the Liberal Democrats which famously released its 2019 manifesto with the slogan 'Bollocks to Brexit' has gone very quiet on the subject.

Without a doubt, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine has affected the UK economy, but it is Brexit that is the elephant in the room.

Collision course

Like a starship on a trajectory towards the sun someone must eventually make the decision to turn the ship around. The Tory's blind faith of remaining on course will only result in the starship burning up altogether. Labour's belief of simply altering course ever so slightly might just send the starship deeper into space never to be seen again.

Damage has already been done to starship Britain, but by returning to Earth the damage could be repaired.

False promises

Proponents of Brexit claimed that Britain could make deals with countries beyond the EU and forge new free trade deals. Yet all of the deals made thus far have been roll-on deals whilst negotiations to establish new free trade deals have all but broken down.

A much hoped for US free trade deal has been rejected out of hand by both the previous Trump administration and and the current Biden administration. And in the last week negotiations with Canada broke down but like many such stories was little reported [CNN / Guardian / BBC]. 

There was a slight glimmer of light some seven years after that fateful 2016 vote as the DUP in Northern Ireland eventually accepted a post-Brexit deal and agreed to return to Stormont to reestablish power sharing, with Sinn Féin set to nominate its inaugural first minister after Westminster legislated to end checks on goods moving within the UK and imposition of EU law [Guardian].

But while this is a significant shift in Northern Ireland which will surely bring some stability, the new checks to come to the rest of the UK concerning EU imports will bring more instability to an already ailing economy.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Qatar, the elephant in the room in war between Israel & Hamas

Qatar, in recent days, has been praised for helping broker a temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel which saw the release of dozens of hostages held by the terror group and over 100 Palestinians held by Israel.

While Qatar's position as a mediator cannot be disputed, the irony is that without Qatar's help Hamas might not even exist in the first place.

More than $1.8 billion has been supplied to Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by a number of governments around the globe including the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Indeed Qatar is a key financial backer and ally of the Palestinian militant organisation.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, repeatedly attacking Israel. Hamas was founded in the 1980s and has been opposed to the late Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since its inception. Unlike the PLO, Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Its emblem depicts the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the outline of the territory of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as a single Palestinian state.

In this regard, and especially since the 7th October terror attacks on Israel, Hamas is seen as an existential threat by Israel.

In 2006, Hamas won the absolute majority in Gaza's general elections. In 2007, it solidified its hold on the coastal enclave through a violent coup. Since then, the West Bank has been controlled by the moderate Fatah party under Mahmoud Abbas, while Gaza has remained under Hamas' control.

But it has cemented its control only through vast sums of money flowing from its allies, the biggest of which is Qatar.

Qatar, which has been pouring money into the region since at least 2009, has insisted the money is not to help Hamas but rather the Palestinian people as a whole. However, given Hamas controls everything from the health ministry to its own military machine, this is a naive statement at best.

Qatar's hosting of a number of Hamas leaders on its own territory also seems to show where the gulf state's allegiance lies.

Moreover, following the Hamas surprise attack on southern Israel on 7th October 2023, and the outbreak of the 2023 Israel–Hamas war, Qatar's hosting of the Hamas political office in Doha has come under greater scrutiny.

Speaking to the media in Doha alongside Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani [pictured], US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "there can be no more business as usual with Hamas."

But this call has largely fallen on deaf ears within the Qatari regime which continues to criticise Israel for what it calls a disproportionate military response to those attacks.

Putting aside Israel's response to the October terror attacks, and the large number of civilians that have been killed, Qatar too, has much to answer for.

So too have countries that have allowed Qatar to build its wealth within their territories.

If Qatar is responsible for funding a terror group, so too surely are nations complicit if they allow Qatar to raise funds on foreign soil.

Yet there appears to a blind eye turned when it comes to Qatar's business interests.

Much of this foreign investment is managed through the Qatar Investment Authority set up by Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani a member of the ruling Al Thani Qatari royal family. It is now headed by his son Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Amongst its main holdings, the QIA have a number of key assets including Harrods as well as significant shares in a number of financial institutions and other companies.

The $1.8 billion reportedly given to Hamas is relatively insignificant compared to the billions invested in and made by the QIA as a whole. But nonetheless no-one has called out the financial links between Qatar and a designated terror group.

It is not only Hamas that Qatar is funding. Qatar has also been accused of indirectly funding other terrorist organisations of allowing terror financiers to operate from within Qatar.

Yet al Thani is welcomed by world leaders without a flinch of concern. Earlier this year the Qatar leader was greeted by the UK PM Rishi Sunak in Downing Street, yet there was no mention of financial ties to Hamas or the funding of terrorism. Indeed it was more focused on further financial deals with Qatar buying more UK assets [No.10]. And even this last week al Thani shook hands with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Dubai at the beginning of COP28 where the main topic of discussion was rising global temperatures [Times of Israel].

India and China have been criticised for not doing enough to temper global climate change which has also been labelled an existential crisis.

But state sponsorship of terror groups is also a global threat. As such  al Thani and others like him need also to be called out for their complicity and funding of terror groups.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Stolen treasure - The Legacy of the British Empire

In the last week the subject of whether the Elgin marbles should be returned to Greece has once again entered the public discussion after the UK PM Rishi Sunak snubbed his Greek counterpart and cancelled a scheduled meeting [Guardian].

Greek claims

In many respects Greece has a valid claim on demanding the return of the Parthenon marbles, and Rishi Sunak's reaction could be regarded as petulant or petty. But where does one draw the line concerning what should be returned to their countries of origin?

What is property?

There has been much philosophical discussion concerning property and ownership throughout history. Proudhon famously suggested that "Property is theft" in his 1840 thesis La propriété, c'est le vol!   Of course it depends on one's position concerning the definition of what property is, as Marx asserted in his critique of Proudhon's thesis.

There are some who would assert that 'possession is nine tenths of the law' . It could be regarded as an oversimplified statement, but the principle is based on the tenet that the possession or property belongs to the person or body holding it unless evidence can be shown to prove otherwise.

So how does the evidence hold up concerning many treasures and artefacts sitting in private collections, museums or in the hands of the British state?

Theft, plunder and spoils of war

Since antiquity nations have taken their plunder after invasions or seizure of foreign lands. Such spoils of war were considered acceptable by many nations until relatively recently. But one might hope that in this age of modernity, nations could become more grown up and begin a process of repatriating the plunder secured through colonialism or war.

Some nations have indeed begun this process of repatriation. Japan, for example, has returned vast swathes of cultural items to South Korea that were plundered during its colonial occupation from 1910 to 1945.

But Britain stands out as being one country unwilling to revisit its colonialist past, make reparations and repatriate stolen items.

Britain's plunder

The Parthenon Marbles are known as the Elgin Marbles since it was Lord Elgin that had secured them from the Ottoman Empire, of which Greece was a part at the time. Greece has since become an independent state, and as such feels it has a legitimate right to call for their return.

The Greek government and supporters of the marbles' return to Greece have argued that they were obtained illegally or unethically, that they are of exceptional cultural importance to Greece, and that their cultural value would be best appreciated in a unified public display with the other major Parthenon antiquities in the Acropolis Museum. The UK government and British Museum have argued that they were obtained legally, that their return would set a precedent which could undermine the collections of the major museums of world culture, and that the British Museum's collection allows them to be better viewed in the context of other major ancient cultures and thus complements the perspective provided by the Acropolis Museum.

Supporters of the British position are partly correct that the Elgin Marbles return could set a precedent. But is it morally acceptable for Britain to hold on to its nefarious gains?

Narendra Modi of India has, for example, demanded the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond that has found its way into the crown jewels, specifically the state crown.

Nigeria has long called for the repatriation of the Benin bronzes that sit in the British Museum. And Egypt has demanded the return of artefacts plundered since the 18th century including the Rosetta Stone which also sits in the British Museum as well as other looted antiquities including a statue of Ramesses II.

In fact the British Museum is a building overflowing with stolen items or acquired by unethical methods. It would be true to say that the museum would be somewhat sparse should such items be returned. But should not a national museum represent its own culture rather than displaying stolen loot from around the globe?

Representing one's own culture

Museums in China, South Korea and even across parts of Europe are not so much filled with plundered treasures as historical artefacts from their own respective cultures.

British history might not be as culturally rich as some nations. But it has to be asked how Britain might feel should the position be reversed. What if Stonehenge sat in a foreign museum or prominent statues had been taken and now sat in a building half way round the globe.  

How would the British government feel about the Victoria memorial residing somewhere in China, and the palace nearby lay in ruins after being raised by invading Chinese troops? There would undoubtedly be ongoing consternation and anger as well as a demand for its return.

Yet the exact opposite is true. Initially constructed in 1707 the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was destroyed by Anglo-French expeditionary forces and treasures, including the famous bronze zodiac heads, were looted partly under instruction of James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin and son of the 7th Earl of Elgin who took the Elgin marbles.

While the looting and sacking of the Old Summer Palace was in retribution and a warning to the Qing Empire not to use kidnapping as a political tactic against Britain, it has to also be questioned why British and other foreign forces were even in China. This was a time when many European countries were colonising various parts of the world, enslaving indigenous people and plundering their lands of treasures. With regards China the British also brought chaos by supplying opium and creating a huge drug addiction problem in China, especially in the south near Canton, now Guangdong.

While China has recovered many of the bronze zodiac heads, including two returned from Britain, five remain unaccounted for. Speculation continues as to where the missing antiquities are.

Nearly a quarter of a century into the new millennium Britain in particular is in the sights of many countries demanding the return of their stolen treasure.

Maybe the British Museum might look a little sparse with only stone age, Saxon, Viking, Roman and later historical finds on display. But at least it would be a 'British' museum rather than it being a museum of stolen treasure.

tvnewswatch, London, UK