Monday, September 05, 2022

Dizzy Lizzy takes over from Bodger Johnson

"Don't believe a word, No, don't believe a word
Don't believe me, don't believe me, Not a single word. Yeah, I just might say anything..."

The immortal words of Thin Lizzy.

But instead of hard rock Britain is between a rock and a hard place as Dim Lizzy takes up the reins after Bodger's departure from Number 10.

Trussonomics is the new order on the menu with promises to cut tax along with a pledge to Save Brexit.

But as Dizzy Lizzy steps into office she'll have a number of crises to deal with, not least a cost of living crisis, soaring energy prices and a hard Brexit that threatens to tear Britain apart.

Even before Truss steps into office the pound was sliding against both the US dollar and the Euro. Against the backdrop of Brexit a weakened pound does not bode well for Britain's export trade. Meanwhile the fantasy of levelling up is rather one of levelling Britain's economy.

Johnson leaves with a long list of faux pas, mistakes and some might even be described as 'crimes'.

His legacy is one that has torn British politics apart as well as leaving the country in a disastrous economic state.

Having helped push Brexit and tipped the scales for a vote leave win, Johnson went on to win the 2019 election with the promise of getting Brexit done.

But his Oven Ready Deal was far from ready and was being torn up within months of having been signed with complaints that the Northern Ireland Protocol wasn't working. And as Brexit unravelled Johnson turned to conspiracy theories claiming that the 'deep state' would plot to rejoin the EU.

"Some people will say as I leave office that this is the end of Brexit, oh yes, and the leader of the opposition and the deep state will prevail in its plot to haul us back into alignment with the EU as a prelude to our eventual return, and we on this side of the House will prove them wrong, won't we?" Johnson claimed in the House of Commons [Huffington Post / iNews / Times].

Aside from the disaster of Brexit, Boris Johnson's tenure during the worst pandemic in a century was lacking to the point of criminality.

He failed to attend five COBRA meetings at the beginning of the pandemic while apocalyptic pictures were being broadcast depicting the disaster that was sweeping across Europe.

He locked down later than many scientists advised. He left Matt Hancock in post as Health Secretary despite a litany of failings. Meanwhile there was a failure to properly organise the purchase of PPE while dodgy contracts were handed to Tory donors and companies with little or no experience.

Some £37 billion was meanwhile spent on a failed Test & Trace program under Dido Harding's tenure.

As people in his own administration broke lockdown he made excuses for them, in particular the infamous Dominic Cummings Barnard Castle incident and the subsequent apologies in the Rose Garden.  

His failure to take the pandemic seriously as well as his apparent lack of caring was reflected by Johnson reportedly saying he would prefer to "Let the bodies pile high" rather than contemplate another lockdown.

Meanwhile there were countless parties being held in Downing Street eventually resulting in hundreds of fixed penalty notices being handed out by the Metropolitan Police after a belated investigation that only came about after much political pressure from the opposition as well as some voices in his own party.

As regards his party and cabinet in particular, Johnson has appointed a series of ministers who have clearly not been up to the job.

The cabinet in fact has been mostly made up of sycophants whilst dissenters have been culled. And those that have helped bolster his position have been rewarded with peerages.

Peter Cruddas, a businessperson and philanthropist, was appointed to the House of Lords following a £500,000 donation to the party. Meanwhile other appointments to the House of Lords include Zack Goldsmith, Daniel Hannan, Dainiel Moylan, Claire Fox,  and of course David Frost, who was charged with negotiating his failed Brexit deal.

Towards the end of his premiership Johnson tried to save Owen Paterson after he breached parliamentary standards. Soon after he attempted to deflect criticism over his having appointed Chris Pincher as his deputy chief whip despite knowing his reputation for allegations of sexual assault. Renewed allegations eventually forced more letters to the 1922 committee resulting in a leadership challenge.

His list of failures is almost endless. There are no new hospitals despite a promise to build 40 and the NHS is in near collapse. The economy is in its worst state since 1979 and the worst amongst the G7. Brexit is making the economy worse with businesses that once exported to the EU going to the wall.

On top of this a growing cost of living crisis and rising energy prices are sending more companies under and stressing millions of families as winter approaches.

He has critised the waste of public money being used to investigate historical child abuse saying it was like "spaffing money up the wall" and made slurs on Keir Starmer concerning Jimmy Savile. Meanwhile he spaffed thousands in refurbishing his Downing Street flat in what became known as 'Wallpapergate".

Throughout his three years he has continually lied or told half-truths or simply evaded the questions concerning his mistakes. He lied to the Queen whilst unlawfully proroguing parliament.

And as his tenure finally ends we learn that not only did he put the son of a KGB spy in the House of Lords but also attended a party attended by members of Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

So will the Truss bot be any better? Or will it be more of the same?

Even before her standing as a Tory leadership candidate, she was making missteps. In February 2022 she was mocked for failing to know the difference between the Baltic and Black seas, which are more than 1000 km apart [Yahoo]. It's perhaps no wonder that she is referred to as Liz 'Thick as Mince' Truss or Jelly Fish Brain by some of her harshest critics.   

She has made 'deals' with New Zealand which are more beneficial to Kiwi farmers than the Welsh sheep farmers who may see their businesses flounder as a result.

And who can forget the new PM's failure to find the way out of a room with only one door, a door she'd entered a short while before [Indy].

Of course, it's unlikely she will have lockdown parties as the pandemic recedes. But the gaffe machine, who has a habit of making U-turns even during her recent candidacy bid, may have taken on more than she bargained for as Britain careers down the hill as it goes to hell in a hand cart.

The show certainly isn't over yet and the farce is already continuing as twelve Conservative MPs are reportedly preparing to put in letters of no confidence before Truss has even picked up the keys to No.10.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Brexit Britain’s sewage filled seas

The European Directive 2006/7/EC concerning the management of the quality of bathing water requires the Member States of the European Union to monitor and classify the quality of bathing water, to manage the quality of this water and to inform the public.

However, since having left the EU, Britain has failed to apply strict controls concerning the monitoring or keeping in check the amount of raw sewage being pumped into the sea or rivers.

Even Stanley Johnson, father of the UK's prime Minister Boris, has blamed his own son's government, and Brexit as being part of the problem which saw dozens of UK beaches being closed in August after they were deemed unsafe for bathing.

Interviewed on LBC radio, Stanley Johnson said that without the "EU push" the UK government has not "pushed this thing as it should have."

In 2012, the European Commission took the UK to the European Court of Justice for breaching waste water regulations. The court gave the UK five years to rectify the situation.

Since voting to leave the EU in 2016, the UK has brought in the Environment Act, which was approved in November 2021, but not before an amendment to make reducing sewage discharges a legal requirement, and require water companies to take "all reasonable steps" to avoid using the overflows, was voted down by the government.

In 2020, just 17.2% of UK beaches were rated as "excellent quality" -- the lowest in Europe [Guardian]. All Cyprus' beaches made the grade, as did 97.1% of Greece's. France similarly scored highly with few beaches registering as being of poor quality.

Raw sewage discharge "should be exceptionally rare" but in the UK it is becoming an "increasing problem" according to a recent report by Sir Chris Whitty. 

Some locations are seeing "up to 200 discharges a year" the report states, which is "obviously unacceptable on public health grounds."

It's not only affecting beaches. Only 14% of UK rivers meet "good ecological standards," according to a 2021 report.

"No one expects river water to be of drinking standard, but where people swim or children play they should not expect significant doses of human [faeces]," reads Whitty's report.

Often, people don't realise what they're swimming in until, like some unfortunate swimmers, they become ill or take in a mouthful of excrement [Daily Star / Argus]. 

While the UK government has glossed over the issue or merely ignored it, the situation has clearly been exacerbated by Brexit. Lorry driver shortages brought about by many EU drivers leaving the UK has resulted in a shortage of chemicals needed to treat sewage [Guardian].

In addition a sell off of Britain's water utilities,  a failure to regulate them properly and a lack of investment has compounded the issue.

Water companies in the UK were privatised in 1989. There are now nine companies operating in England, seven of which were responsible for "an increase in serious incidents" last year. In EA ratings for 2021, four companies were given just two stars out of four, denoting the need for "significant improvement."

Old infrastructure and a lack of investment has also created problems. "We have quite an old sewage system that dates back to Victorian times, and waste water from homes and businesses is transported in the same pipes that collect rainwater," says Rachel Wyatt, policy and advocacy manager for the UK's Marine Conservation Society.

When there is significant rainfall, especially following a long dry spell, the water companies simply cannot cope and the result is increased discharges of sewage into the sea and rivers.

The effects are not only disastrous for marine life and the fishing industry, already hit hard by Brexit with increased red tape and tariffs in order to export their catch into the EU, but also the tourist industry.

Tourists, already put off by long queues at Britain's airports and ferry ports like Calais, may well think twice of heading to Britain [Independent]. After all, who wants to swim in sewage-filled seas?

Even if the situation improves in the short to medium term, the damage to Britain's reputation as a holiday destination may already be done. Certainly not one of the Brexit benefits lauded by Brexiteers.

Meanwhile Britain is now finding itself criticised not only by the Remain camp but also a number of French politicians who have written to the European Commission, accusing the UK of risking marine life by neglecting their environmental commitments [BBC/CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, August 07, 2022

There are no Brexit benefits

Despite what some might say there are no tangible Brexit benefits. For all the talk both before and since the referendum, all the promises by Vote Leave have come to nought, or merely did not exist in the first place.

Hard line Brexit supporters have often latched themselves to slogans such as 'Sovereignty', 'Freedom' and of 'Taking Back Control'. However these are essentially meaningless. Sovereignty can mean many different things, but essentially refers to one body ruling over a territory or territories. As a part of the EU Britain had the power to make its own laws, and was only constrained in terms of human rights and issues with trade.

There are many things that are illegal in the UK which are not the case elsewhere. In the Netherlands marijuana is decriminalised while the UK still adopts strict laws concerning its use. The age when one might consume alcohol is different in some EU states. In essence, each EU state, or country is already sovereign.

The slogan 'Taking Back Control' and 'Freedom' are similarly erroneous. It might be arguably true to say that as a country outside the EU, Britain could pursue its own trade deals. However none signed thus far have amounted to anything more than rollower deals that already existed with the EU, and in some cases have diminished Britain's position. Deals struck with both New Zealand and Australia for example are in fact likely to disadvantage UK farmers [NFU / Guardian / MeatManagement / Politico / NFU / Guardian].

Lost Freedoms

Ironically since Brexit the UK has not so much gained freedoms than lost them. While Brexiters hoped to 'Take Back Control' of its borders by restricting the numbers of those migrating to Britain, it has at the same time restricted the movement of its own citizens.

With the loss of Freedom of Movement, Britons can no longer easily move to any one of the EU member states to live and work. In addition, even holidaying in Europe is much more fraught. British Passport holders may now only visit the EU for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 days and must also have at least six months remaining on their passport.

This has also brought with it further problems since UK passports must now be stamped upon arriving and leaving the EU. It might seem like a small bureaucratic formality. However just a few seconds extra per traveller passing through border control can add up to considerable queues and delays.

This was apparent as major queues formed at Dover and Folkestone at the beginning of the summer holidays in what was the first major test of post Brexit rules. The pandemic had significantly reduced travel abroad in 2020 and 2021 so there had not been any clear impact Brexit might have. But with all COVID restrictions essentially removed, travel to Europe was once more on the cards.

Much of the right wing press and Brexit backing politicians blamed the lack of French border guards. But even a shortfall in staff numbers does not account for the delays of many hours experienced by many. At Dover there is only a finite amount of space and a limited number of booths. With each car having to stop and every passport checked and stamped, delays were bound to occur even with a full staff complement. Previously, even while not being in the Schengen area, British passport holders were simply waved through by the French. Indeed while the French border officials would just wave you through, British border officials would always stop you and check passports.

So much for taking back control.

And the holiday tailbacks are only the half of it. Since the transition period ended lorry queues towards Dover and Folkestone have been a daily occurrence, though little reported since they first began in January this year.

Red tape

Last year's lorry queues were blamed on COVID, since anyone travelling to mainland Europe needed to provide negative COVID test results. But since restrictions were dropped the queues are entirely down to Brexit with exporters required to provide, sometimes extensive as well as costly, customs paperwork.

The mountain of paperwork, as well as the cost, has put many small businesses off from selling into Europe. For some it is simply not cost effective. For others it has made their business uncompetitive with European rivals.

This has affected everything from the fishing industry through agriculture and beyond. And while Brexiters had claimed that life outside the EU would open up markets further afield, for many industries this would not be practical nor profital.

Live shellfish cannot, for example, be shipped great distances. And due to Britain now being out of the single market and customs union, companies that once easily sold their produce to the likes of France may no longer do so under EU rules which ban the import of live shellfish from non-EU countries.

It could be thought of by some as the EU being spiteful. But the rules were there before Brexit and applied to other third countries. Deciding to become a third country meant many EU regulations would result in losing control concerning many things.

While new rules concerning free roaming within the EU only came into effect in 2017 it had been much talked about even before the referendum. And many Brits abroad took advantage in the three years before the pandemic. But now many mobile providers have dropped free roaming throughout the EU. Some like O2 are maintaining a service for new customers, but those on other networks risk losing the benefit should they change contracts.

The blame game

Brexit supporters are quick to blame everything but Brexit. Dover queues; the fault of the French. Supply chain breakdowns resulting in empty supermarket shelves; 'EU red tape'. The October 2021 fuel shortages; panic buying. A slowing economy; COVID pandemic and the ongoing Ukraine war.

But while there is a small amount of truth in these excuses, a significant part of these problems have been down to Brexit. Dover queues were in part down to a shortage of French customs officials, but much was to do with extra bureaucracy now required.  

So-called 'EU red tape' applies to all third countries. Thus slow supply lines and breakdown of delivery have been in part to extra paperwork, customs declarations and checks.

Supply chain issues have also been hit by a shortage of HGV drivers. Many European lorry drivers returned home after Brexit and the numbers increased during the pandemic. But with increased regulations post-Brexit few have returned. This has resulted in shortgages on the shelves but also affected fuel distribution.

Certainly some of these issues have eased as more lorry drivers get trained or get redeployed, but the situation is far from stable and could break again at any time.

COVID has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the economy. But to entirely blame the pandemic for Britain's ailing economy is ignoring several things. The pandemic was not confined only to the UK. COVID-19 swept around the globe and affected small and large economies alike. But some have fared better than others.

Those that controlled the spread, such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, have economies that remain buoyant. Those that failed to mitigate the spread so well have fared less well economically.

The US has been hit economically due to COVID. So too has Europe. But the UK has made recovery all the more difficult having essentially imposed sanctions upon itself by cutting itself off from its biggest trading block, that being the EU.

The Ukraine war is of course a factor in recent months, and is undoubtedly hitting the European economies too. But the UK's economy is being hit far harder.

The only major difference is that the UK has pulled out of a major trading block. It is even more difficult to trade with the rest of the world both in terms of cost, with fuel now at a premium, but also ecologically.

'Global Britain'

It might be fanciful to speak of 'Global Britain', but globalism essentially uses more fuel to move things around. Where is the sense of shipping lamb or butter from New Zealand when most lamb up til now was English or Welsh, and most butter consumed in the UK is home produced or is imported from Ireland, France and Denmark.

COP26 seems almost a distant memory and perhaps achieved little other than supposedly focusing minds on the need to cut emissions. Yet moving from a local market - the EU - and replacing it or at least increasing a global market, is only going to increase Britain's carbon footprint.

Indeed it is hard to square 'Global Britain' with the claim that Britain wants to reduce its carbon footprint.

Cost to the economy

There has been a deafening silence over Brexit's economic fallout. Back in 2016 many warned that Brexit might well lead to a recession, something that was dismissed as project fear.

It did not happen immediately since, of course, Brexit did not happen overnight. A withdrawal agreement had to be drawn up and agreed upon. This process itself took over three years before Boris Johnson's 'Oven Ready Deal' was finally signed. But even then there was a transition period meaning that Brexit did not actually happen until 1st January 2021. However, the pandemic hid many effects of Brexit such as the free movement of goods and people wanting to holiday abroad.

The pandemic also slowed the economy in that under lockdowns and restrictions people spent less, lifestyles changed and jobs with it.

But beneath the mask of COVID, Brexit was still bubbling away.

'End of the pandemic'

While it is debatable that the pandemic is far from over, restrictions were lifted in much of the western world in the early part of 2022.

As a result, life for many has returned to 'normal'. As such many problems connected with having left the EU have begun to surface.

As already discussed, problems at the border and issues concerning imports and exports have already shown themselves.

But there have also been economic repercussions. Many of these issues have to do with having left the single market.

In June Boris Johnson warned his MPs not to get into "some hellish, Groundhog Day debate about the merits of belonging to the single market". Brexit, he claimed, was settled.

But Brexit still hung like a cloud over Britain's fragile economy.

'Make Brexit Work'

Johnson may not have wanted his party relitigating Brexit but neither did Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour party, who is now running with the slogan of "make Brexit work". Perpetual motion machine, Brexit will never work.

Like a Newton's cradle may give the illusion that it will continue in perpetuity, Brexit will need constant interaction to kick it back into action.

Both main parties ignore the elephant in the room, refusing to acknowledge that it is Britain's leaving the EU, or more specifically the single market and customs union, that is devastating the economy.

Even Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England who replaced Mark Carney and who repeatedly warned of the risk to the economy due to Brexit, as well as Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, would rather talk about something else. Brexit has become the great British taboo.

Six years after the referendum and a little over a year since the transition period ended economists are beginning to quantify the damage caused by the erection of trade barriers with Britain's biggest market, separating the "Brexit effect" from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Damage far from over

Many conclude that the damage is real and it is not over yet.

The UK is lagging behind the rest of the G7 in terms of trade recovery after the pandemic. Business investment, seen by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak as the panacea to a poor growth rate, trails other industrialised countries, in spite of lavish Treasury tax breaks to try to drive it up.

Next year, according to the OECD think-tank, the UK will have the lowest growth in the G20, apart from sanctioned Russia.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the official British forecaster, has seen no reason to change its prediction, first made in March 2020, that Brexit would ultimately reduce productivity and UK gross domestic product by 4% compared with a world where the country remained inside the EU. Moreover the OBR says that a little over half of that damage has yet to occur.

Such a level of decline, worth about £100bn a year in lost output, would result in lost revenues for the Treasury of roughly £40bn a year. That is £40bn that might have been available to the beleaguered Johnson administration for the radical tax cuts demanded by the Tory right — the equivalent of 6p off the 20p in the pound basic rate of income tax.

Despite the evidence of Brexit-induced economic self-harm piling up few are talking about reversing Brexit altogether. Neither is anyone talking about softening the edges, such as rejoining the single market.

Dogmatism over pragmatism

It need not have been like this. While ardent Remainers loathed the very idea of leaving the EU at all and would have happily ignored the referendum result, Britain could have left the EU and yet still have remained within the single market and customs union. Indeed there were many options Britain could have followed such as remaining a part of EFTA or the EEA or even negotiating a position such as Andorra which is outside the EU but maintains a customs union with the EU. But the Conservative party, firstly under Theresa May, and subsequently Boris Johnson, followed a path resulting in the hardest Brexit short of reverting to WTO rules.

Of course the government at the time could have ignored the referendum altogether, citing the fact that it wasn't legally binding and that to follow through with such a narrow majority of 52% was not in the country's economic interests. But Brexit was in the interest of the Tory party, satisfying the Euroskeptics in the party as well as allowing the Conservatives to take greater control of the population particularly by locking the doors and preventing easy emigration for millions.

Heading for recession

Downing Street insisted in late June that it was "too early to pass judgement" on whether Brexit was having a negative impact on the economy, which could be heading into a recession. "The opportunities Brexit provides will be a boon to the UK economy in the long run," Johnson's spokesman said.

However in the first week of August the Bank of England's Andrew Bailey raised interest rates by 0.5% to 1.75%, the biggest rise in some 25 years. Bailey also forecast that the UK will fall into recession this year, with the longest downturn since 2008 predicted.

This is hardly one of the "benefits of Brexit" hailed by the Johnson administration.

Claimed Brexit benefits

Indeed many so-called Brexit benefits could have been done without having left the EU. Such as Johnson's patriotic promise to put a "crown stamp" on pint glasses in pubs and to allow traders to sell their wares in pounds and ounces. Johnson's persistent claim that the UK's early approval and rollout of a COVID vaccine could not be done outside the EU is also misleading and essentially untrue. Firstly the UK was still in a transition phase and so had not formally left. Furthermore each state within the EU can independently approve and rollout such treatments. Hungary for instance approved Sputnik V, the Russian COVID vaccine. 

Until the Brexit transition period ended on 31st December 2020, vaccines in the UK were supposed to be authorised via the European Medicines Agency (EMA). However, since 2012, the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had been free, under the regulation 174, to give temporary approval to an unlicensed medicinal product in the case of certain types of public health threat, such as a pandemic [Full Fact / Ch4News].

Even Britain's new blue passport could have been blue prior to leaving the EU. In fact there is no stipulation within European law or international convention concerning the colour of a passport, though most tend to be dark colours and most are either burgundy, blue, green or black.

The colour change has instead only come to represent the loss of power the British passport now possesses. In 2010 the British passport was ranked as the most powerful in the world, and according to some reports had plummeted to 13th place [Telegraph]. According to the Henley Global ranking it had only slid to 6th place [City AM]. The actual position is somewhat moot. The crux of the matter is the strength of the UK passport has diminished since Brexit.

Britons also face more red-tape next year as the EU introduces ETIAS [European Travel Information and Authorization System]. The Visa scheme requires all visitors from non-EU countries to pre-register and submit photos and four fingerprints in the form of biometric data. There will all also be a charge of around €7 for the three-year permit.

While the scheme will potentially speed up entry to the EU, since stamps will no longer be required, some Brexiters labelled it 'sinister' as the EU collects such data on individuals, though many countries already collect such data such as South Korea, China et al. Without stamps it may also create issues for some travellers as there will be no obvious record concerning how many days one has used up of the allowed 90 days in each 180.  

Brexit policy

Critics of the government's Brexit policy are routinely derided. Suella Braverman, attorney-general, accused the ITV presenter Robert Peston of "Remainiac make-believe" after he challenged her over the government's unilateral plan to rip up the Brexit treaty relating to Northern Ireland. Braverman claimed the so-called Northern Ireland protocol had left the region "lagging behind the rest of the UK". In fact, Northern Ireland - the only area of the UK to remain in the EU's single market for goods in order to keep intact the Good Friday Agreement - is the best performing part of the country, apart from London.

When Bailey appeared before the House of Commons treasury committee in mid-May, the BoE governor acknowledged that his predecessor Mark Carney had made himself "unpopular" for saying Brexit would have a negative effect on trade, but that the bank held to that view.

But now the chickens are coming home to roost. While some gloomy predictions failed to materialise, such as former chancellor George Osborne's 2016 warning of a recession immediately after a Leave vote, there is growing evidence that Brexit is causing more lasting damage to UK economic prospects. And this last week Bailey predicted that recession was indeed around the corner.

Ailing economy

The first and most obvious economic blow delivered by Brexit came when sterling fell almost 10% after the referendum in June 2016, against currencies that match the UK's pattern of imports. It did not, and still has not recovered. This sharp depreciation was not followed by a boom in exports as UK goods and services became cheaper on global markets, but it did raise the price of imports and pushed up inflation.

By June 2018, a team of academic economists at the Centre for Economic Policy Research calculated that there had been a Brexit inflation effect, raising consumer prices by 2.9%, with no corresponding increase in wages.

While the UK was still in the EU and during the Brexit "transition phase", there were no significant effects on trade flows. But this has changed since stricter border controls were introduced at the start of 2021, imposing no tariffs, but significant checks and controls at the formerly frictionless border.

Food prices have risen as a result of Brexit. Comparing the prices of imported food such as pork, tomatoes and jam, which predominantly came from the EU, with those that came from further afield such as tuna and pineapples, there has been a substantial Brexit effect. "Brexit increased average food prices by about 6 per cent over 2020 and 2021," according to a team of academic economists at the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

Summing up the effects on trade in which imports from the EU have fallen while exports have not risen, Adam Posen, head of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, says "everybody else sees a recovery in trade following COVID and the UK sits flat".

Another visible effect of Brexit on the UK economy has been in discouraging business investment. In the first quarter of 2022, real business investment was 9.4% lower than in the second quarter of 2016. That fall was mostly due to COVID, but it had flatlined since the referendum, ending a period of growth since 2010 and falling well short of the performance of other G7 countries.

Before departing the BoE in 2020, Carney told a House of Lords Committee that Brexit uncertainty was holding back business investment. Worse, he said, business planning for various Brexit scenarios was taking up a lot of management effort. "Time spent on contingency planning is time not spent on strategic initiatives," he said.

Unhappiness about high immigration was one of the most contentious issues of the referendum, with a central promise of the Brexit campaign being tougher controls over the number of people entering the country. While net immigration from EU countries has stopped, with effectively no change apparent in the two years to the end of June 2021, net immigration from non-EU countries has remained high, with 250,000 in the latest year.

There is, as yet, little appetite among Britain's political leaders for a return to the EU — even if the other 27 member states were prepared to open the door. Even the pro-EU Liberal Democrats admit reversing course is a long-term aspiration, rather than an immediate goal. And this has left many Remainers, or Rejoiners, somewhat politically disenfranchised.

While there isn't an exodus, there are many pro-Europeans looking for a way out. Those with enough financial resources, language skills and willing to jump through the bureaucratic hoops are seeking to relocate in Europe. Portugal in particular offers hope to some in that the D7 visa sets a low bar for those wanting to live in the country with the option to later acquire citizenship. Introduced in 2007 by the Portuguese government, the D7 visa allows non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens to apply for temporary residency in Portugal. It is used to obtain a permanent residency permit and eventually citizenship.

Collateral damage

 Far from Brexit benefits there has only been collateral damage. As part of his attempt to avert a coup, Johnson wrote to MPs in June to say that he had "created a new and friendly relationship with the EU". The opposite is true. Brussels in fact had restarted legal action against the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol and EU relations are at rock bottom.

The EU has warned that British scientists will be excluded from the €95bn Horizon research programme as "collateral damage" in the row about Northern Ireland. The prospect of any kind of rapprochement seems remote even as Johnson leaves office to likely be replaced by Liz Truss.

There has been some commentary from the right that perhaps Brexit isn't going swimmingly. The pro-Leave Times columnist Iain Martin recently wrote, "To deny the downsides of Brexit on trade with the EU is to deny reality."

Meanwhile, Tobias Ellwood, a former Tory defence minister, suggested Britain should rejoin the EU single market to soften the cost of living crisis, said there was "an appetite" for a rethink and claimed polling indicated "this is not the Brexit most people imagined". And Daniel Hannan, a leading Tory Brexiter, repeated his longstanding view that Britain should have stayed in the single market under a Norway-style relationship with the EU, but adding that to rejoin it now "would be madness".

Such commentary is of course ignored or criticised by the mostly right-wing press.

On the left things aren't much better. Anna McMorrin, Labour's shadow minister, was recorded telling activists, "I hope eventually that we will get back into the single market and customs union." However, she was forced to apologise by Starmer

Labour's "make Brexit work" mantra does not bode well for pro-Europeans.

In the months following the Brexit vote Adam Posen made a long dissection of what leaving would mean. But is summary he said,  

There were "no economic upsides" to Brexit, "only considerable downsides" pointing particularly at the law of gravity in terms of economics and trade

So there are no Brexit benefits, only disadvantages.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Travelling in a pandemic

Travel restrictions may have been reduced significantly over the past few months. For those coming to the UK there are no longer forms or tests. But for many places outside of the UK, vaccination records, PCR tests and other documents are still required. And for Britons and other Europeans, now used to abandoning masks and other COVID rules, there are some countries that might prove to be a shock.

Journeying to South Korea recently was fraught, at least logistically. There were online forms required, not only by Korean authorities, but also the airline. For that one needed vaccination records and a negative PCR test certificate carried out within 48 hours of departure.

There was of course advice on the UK government and Korean authority websites, though much was either opaque, confusing or contradictory.

With all the documents checked, uploaded and printed off it was time to set off.

The Republic of Korea might still implement rigid COVID policies, but in the UK all rules and advice have all but been abandoned.

First stop was the local bus stop and catch a bus to the local Underground station.

With rules abandoned I was surrounded by mostly maskless passengers.

There was some comfort in my wearing an FFP2 mask. Nonetheless it was still disconcerting as one elderly woman coughed almost continuously throughout the 20 minute bus ride.

Paddington Bear stares from behind my mask seemed not to register with this maskless passenger who may have just had a common cold with an irritating cough or worse a debilitating condition or even cancer. But it could just as well have been COVID, a disease which she seemed oblivious she might be spreading to her fellow passengers.

She wasn't the only one. Half way along the journey another elderly passenger boarded who also coughed during his time on board while sitting with his mouth gaping.

The Tube was fairly empty for some of the journey though there was not a single mask in sight. By the time one arrived at Heathrow the percentage of passengers wearing masks had increased, but only marginally. Here too coughing could be heard, though those responsible were sitting at least some distance from myself.

Of course there are those who are of the opinion that we must all 'learn to live with the virus ' or believe the pandemic is over.

As regards the latter, this is simply not the case given the number of variants still being passed around. And as regards living with the virus, this is a potential recipe for disaster.

It is true to say that fully vaccinated individuals may only experience cold-like symptoms. But the danger of abandoning all mitigations - such as testing, mask wearing and isolation - is that new more dangerous, vaccine resilient variants could come about and essentially kick-start a whole new pandemic.

Part of the travel experience is the booking into a hotel. In London masks were almost non-existent, both amongst staff and customers at a Radisson near to the airport.

The same was true at the Bucharest Intercontinental a few weeks earlier, a country that has also ditched most COVID restrictions.

South Korea is a different ball-park altogether.

Masks remain mandatory for all inside spaces. There are no lanyards here. No ifs, no buts. "No mask, no entry" signs are abundant. And while there is no clear threat of a fine, no-one challenges or tests the rules.

A few people may be seen failing to wear their mask properly, often foreign tourists from the West, but they will often be asked to wear it properly. Most obliged without debate.

Some countries in the far East are still virtually impossible to enter due to COVID restrictions, such as China. However others are gradually opening up their doors albeit with strict requirements.

Before even boarding the plane to Korea, proof of vaccination and PCR test, completed within 48 hours of departure, had to be uploaded to the airline's website. One also needed to fill out a detailed online form on a Korean government website, again uploading vaccination certificates and PCR test results, as well as passport details, valid phone numbers and address where one would be residing during one's stay in Korea. Upon completion a document containing a QR code was generated which had to be presented before being allowed through immigration. After electronic fingerprint recording and the taking of a photo it was then necessary to get a PCR test which we had booked ahead of time. With that taken we were then free to go to our hotel, though should the test prove positive there would no doubt have been an ambulance dispatched with medical staff dressed in hazmat suits tasked with taking us away to quarantine. 

Despite the loops one had to jump through, it was all relatively efficient. Walking from the plane we were directed by staff wearing hazmat suits and masks to desks where our passport and QR code was checked. Immigration, which was fully manned, was controlled to maintain social distancing and it took just minutes to get through. Even the PCR test was carried out quickly and efficiently, though it was a little disconcerting to be swabbed by a medical worker sitting behind a hermetically sealed screen with gloved hands poked through the wall as though handling nuclear isotopes at a radiological facility. Even the result was swift, completed in a little under two hours. 

The strict measures are all about keeping infections and deaths down. The country of 52 million people has managed to limit its total case load to 18 million with 24,006 deaths [as of 24th May], through aggressive tracing and testing as well as widespread vaccination.

For much of the pandemic South Korea, a country with a population of around 52 million, barely saw the daily number of cases entering triple figures. However in July 2021 daily cases exceeded one thousand. And as Omicron gradually became the dominant variant, cases surged from around 5,000 cases at the beginning of December 2021 to a peak of 400,000 daily cases by mid-March. Since then daily cases have fallen significantly to around 25,000 per day. Deaths overall have been kept down by strict mask-mandates across the country. South Korea loosened rules at the beginning of May requiring masks to be worn outdoors as COVID-19 cases dropped. However many still prefer to wear masks outside.

Lee Geun-young, 34, who was wearing a mask, said he would stick to wearing one until COVID-19 became less concerning. "I miss the pre-pandemic days when we lived without a mask," Lee said from Hyochang Park. "It is inconvenient, but it's better to stay careful not only for myself but not to cause harm to others."

It is this social responsibility that is almost non-existent in the West. Many westerners, even those seen in Korea, only wear a mask when obliged or told. Fear of contracting the virus, or of passing it on seems not to be a concern.

It is only strict enforcement by air stewards that maintains 100% mask wearing on planes. And it is Westerners in the main that ignore or buck the rules.

On a recent Ryanair flight which still had a mask wearing policy in place, enforcement was non-existent.

Outbound to Romania saw only about 10% of passengers donning a mask whilst others wore them as neck ornaments or chin-warmers!

On return to Stansted airport, air stewards did make better efforts to enforce the rules, but only when the matter was raised with them as passengers boarded brazenly failing to adhere to the rules.

Lufthansa certainly took a more robust approach en-route to Korea. Stewards would periodically walk along the aisle and ask passengers to properly wear their masks.

There is clearly self-entitlement amongst some. Challenged by one passenger to wear her mask properly, the young German woman retorted "Who are you, the COVID police?" before muttering disparaging remarks in German.

Her mother calmed her, else one of our party might have further embarrassed her as he understood everything being said.

There was vindication however as at that moment an air stewardess passed and told her to wear her mask properly.

Strict enforcement had clearly been dropped on the return flight a week later as nose-joggers and chin-warmers were not challenged at all.

And mask-wearing all but melted away the nearer one approached Europe. 

At Frankfurt mask-wearing dropped to less than 30% within the airport. Even security staff were maskless. 

On board the final hop from Frankfurt to London's Heathrow airport most passengers adhered to the rules but upon leaving the aircraft and snaking through immigration barely one person was wearing any form of face covering.

Sitting on the subway train as it rattled through the capital, mask-wearing was clearing less than 1% with people clearly trying to put any reminder of the pandemic behind them.

 The final leg of the journey put icing on the cake as the maskless taxi driver aired his concern as to whether he would be able to go on a cruise. "I'm not vaccinated," he proclaimed. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not an anti-vaxxer," he added whilst going on to mutter false claims concerning the vaccine, its efficacy and questioning why one would need to take boosters.

Having been up for nearly 27 hours I was far too tired to explain the importance of mitigations and vaccines. Indeed there seemed to be no point in attempting to explain epidemiology to someone who was clearly an idiot.

With the pandemic clear not over. UK deaths are still hovering at around 1,200 per week while Korean deaths are around 300 per week, kept down by mask mandates as well as high vaccination rates [about 88%]. In comparison some 74% are fully vaccinated in the UK. 

There are clearly inconsistencies in the way different countries are handling the pandemic. In Korea the masks,, social distancing, and heat sensors make clear there is still a perceived threat. In Britain one might have thought there had never been a pandemic as people go about their daily lives. 

As cases of Monkeypox rise, a disease that can be spread through water droplets, surface contamination and close contact, it might be too early to drop the advice of 'Hand, Face, Space." [CDC]

If, as some already fear, Monkeypox becomes the next pandemic, travel may become even more fraught in the coming months.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Romania prepares for influx as war intensifies

More than 4.7 million refugees have fled the warzone in Ukraine. And a significant proportion have ended up in Romania, a country of some 20 million.

Romania accepts Ukrainian refugees without unnecessary formalities under a simplified procedure. Six refugee centers have been set up in the country, located in Timisoara, Maramures, Suceava, Giurgiu, Tulcea and Bucharest. Furthermore the Romanian government accommodates mothers with children from Ukraine free of charge.

More than 650,000 refugees have crossed the border into Romania with a significant number arriving at the Gare du Nord in Bucharest.

It is here that 'Dodo', a paramedic, has helped set up facilities to make their arrival more comfortable, much without government help.

Dodo, his real name Teodor, has almost single handedly taken over several rooms in the station and set up food kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and facilities for desperate refugees, many of which are women with young children.

Dodo proudly showed us around the store rooms packed with donations ranging from nappies to food and water.

And of course there was the army of volunteers, some of them refugees themselves such as Lena from Odessa.

It is Odessa that many have come from in recent weeks as Russia pushes it's way along the coast of the Black Sea.

One crossing poin is Isaccea in southern Romania that borders with Ukraine, split by the River Danube.

On Tuesday this week, around two months after the war began, hundreds of civilians were still crossing by ferry, greeted by volunteers, firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

Mostly women and children, some with their pets, and clutching what few possessions they could carry, entered Romania, happy to have escaped but equally sad to have fled their homeland.

Unfortunately, with Russia pushing further east and bombardments beginning in Lviv for the first time earlier this week, the numbers fleeing into Romania are likely to increase.

Being eyewitness to this influx of humanity is desperately sad, and something that both pictures and television reports cannot fully convey.

tvnewswatch, Bucharest, Romania

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Refugees give up on UK & return to warzone

Refugees are reportedly giving up on the UK's  Homes for Ukraine visa scheme and returning to the war zone in Ukraine after running out of money and patience as they wait for their visa applications to be approved [BBC/Telegraph/iNews/Sky News].

Of the few that have managed to fight through the minefield of red tape, some are finding themselves homeless due to relationship breakdowns with their sponsors and problems accessing accommodation. A total of 144 Ukrainian households have approached 57 councils after becoming homeless after arriving in the UK under both schemes, the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed [Metro].

Britain has arguably provided strong military support to Ukraine and has stood alongside President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with resolute support in his battle against Russian aggression. While Boris Johnson's recent visit to Kyiv might be dismissed as a publicity stunt, it was well received in Ukraine itself.

But Britain has failed abysmally in processing and welcoming refugees. More than 4.7 million mostly women and children have left the country since hostilities began. And while only a few thousand have sought to get to Britain, red tape and bureaucracy has thwarted their efforts.

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, has himself faced a backlash after having told the Commons "we have done our bit" on immigration from Eastern Europe. 

He said migration from the region had already led to "extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs". 

His own constituents were not impressed however. "As a Lincolnshire resident, he absolutely does not speak for me. No-one has 'done their bit' until each of the most basic of human needs - food, warmth and shelter are met for everyone, regardless of race or nationality," one Lincolnshire resident told the BBC.

Unfortunately, few Britain's have been able to 'do their bit' as refugees have faced an uphill struggle to get into the country.

tvnewswatch, London, UK.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Lives torn apart by a senseless war

Dmitry Shevchenko lives in Sumy, in North East Ukraine, or at least he did. You are unlikely to have heard of Dmitry. But Shurap had some 945,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel where he would display his blacksmith skills, forging beautiful knives from discarded scraps of metal, ball bearings and even empty armour piercing rounds.

But Shurap has not posted a video in little over a month, specifically 19th February - just five days before Russian tanks rolled into the country.

Hopefully Dmitry is fine and providing useful support to the Ukrainian military with his metallurgical skills.

But it does not look good for those living in Sumy which has been all but levelled by Russian bombardment [Channel 4 News].

Dmitry Shevchenko's plight is just one of many. People lost in the fog of war. Detached by failed telecommunications services and Internet connectivity.

In South East Ukraine is another sad story, that of Lyudmila Semernya, the head of a primary school in Mariupol. She became a victim of this senseless war, killed by shrapnel on the 4th March.

Anyone who has young children will know how they bond with their teachers. Many of the children from school No.5 on the outskirts of Mariupol will hopefully have fled the devastated city. But imagine how they will feel to learn about the death of one of their favourite teachers. They may already have learned that Lyudmila has died, not from a sudden illness or tragic accident, but as a direct result of Putin's bloody war. Children, already reeling from having to flee their homes, and fathers left to fight Russia's invading army, will have to suffer a further psychological blow [Twitter / Channel 4 News].

These are just two individuals living hundreds of kilometres apart affected by this war.

But there are countless others, the names of which may never be known.

Such as those in Bucha, a town to the north west of Kyiv where hundreds of civilians were found dead on the streets as Ukrainian troops moved in over the weekend.

Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told the AFP news agency that following Ukrainian forces retaking the commuter town, the streets were found littered with bodies.

"In Bucha, we have already buried 280 people in mass graves," Fedoruk said, "All these people were shot, killed, in the back of the head."

He said the victims were men and women, and that he had also seen a 14-year-old boy among the dead.

Graphic video and photos of the victims circulated online. One showed a man's body with his hands tied behind his back, an open Ukrainian passport lay on the ground beside him. Another had a gaping head wound. Some reports say that some had also been beheaded or shown signs of torture prior to being sumarily executed [CBS / Al Jazeera / France24 / NYPost / BBC / Daily Mail

On the face of it war crimes clearly took place in Bucha, though evidence will have to be gathered for any subsequent trial.

And as for the names, many will sadly be forgotten. Indeed without the mass graves being excavated and each victim identified it will be virtually impossible to know either the numbers or names of those killed in Bucha.

Two that perhaps won't be forgotten are Ksjena and Maksim Iowenko, shot by Russian forces as they tried to flee the war zone. Maksim was killed as he stood with his hands raised in surrender. His wife was killed in the car. Also in the car were their six-year-old son and the elderly mother of one of Maksim's friends. Both of them survived and were eventually released by the Russian soldiers.

These are just a few of the heart-rending stories of this war, a conflict that in only 40 days has killed thousands, displaced millions and torn untold lives apart [BBC].

This is just one of many reports of Russian deliberately targeting civilians. On Thursday 3rd of March while attempting to deliver food to an animal sanctuary Anastasiia Yalanskaya, 26, was shot and killed, along with two colleagues, by Russians near the town of Bucha [Daily Mail]. 

For many people in Ukraine, life before the war was far from affluent. But most people had hopes and dreams. Hopes amongst the young that they might pursue a career as a doctor or scientist. Hopes amongst their parents of watching them grow up and get married.

Now many of the young, along with their mothers, have been scattered far and wide across Europe and beyond. Their futures are far from certain. Their hopes and dreams have been all but shattered. Most have reached a place of relative safety - should they have managed to avoid people traffickers or worse. But all will be torn, ripped apart from a once familiar life, torn from their fathers, their friends and their country.  

tvnewswatch, London, UK