Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Nightmare Before Christmas as UK heads to a nexus of uncertainty

As Halloween passed and Brexit failed to materialise once again many Remainers were perhaps positive in thinking that Boris Johnson's promise to 'get Brexit done' had indeed died in a ditch.

But just as in the movie of the same name the evil protagonist was not dead, and rose once again to slay more victims.

Britain was dragged into an election campaign which culminated in what Remainers would certainly have seen as a Nightmare on Downing Street as Boris Johnson was elected to lead the country towards Brexit and 'Get it done'.

The apocryphal date of Friday the 13th seemed all the more ironic. Just as Michael Myers returns repeatedly just as one thought he'd been dispatched in Halloween, so the evil protagonist, Jason, in the film franchise Friday the 13th, repeatedly returns to slay his victims.

The victims in this case were dozens of hardline Remain candidates, defectors from the Tory party, and a significant number of Labour MPs.

For Labour, the Lib Dems and the whole pro-European movement this really was The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Of course in the movie, the evil protagonist Jack Skellington, accompanied by his faithful dog Zero, eventually sees the error of his ways and puts things right.

But happy endings are truly rare in real life, and it's more likely than not, this tale will continue in the same vane of many horror movies where the monster continually returns.

On the day Boris has set in his sights for Britain to leave the EU another horror movie is released, namely Gretel and Hansel.

The story is described as being set a long time ago in a distant fairy tale countryside and focuses on a young girl who leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.

As Britain stumbles into the dark labyrinth of trade deals and attempts to establish itself as an independent nation outside the EU, the metaphors are both ironic and stark.

tvnewswatch, London, UK  

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Brexit - the future is not set

Promises that Britain would be leaving the European Union have once again fallen flat as Boris Johnson's pledge to "get Brexit done" has entirely failed. But quite what the next step is, in this ongoing saga, remains unclear.

As has been stated many times over, Brexit would only lead to uncertainty followed by more uncertainty. In whatever form it takes there will never be a clear course.

A so-called hard Brexit, 'clean break' or 'WTO Brexit' would certainly be the most uncertain course since Britain would be put into a position whereby it would have to renegotiate trade deals with every country in the world. Until such point as a trade deal with each country had been established Britain would be trading under WTO rules which would subject the country to crippling tariffs on all its exports. And while Britain might mitigate huge price increases on imported products by reducing tariffs, it would have to apply to all countries which would damage British industry since many would be unable to compete on price.

Even putting a 'hard Brexit' aside, Boris Johnson's 'deal - technically just a Withdrawal Agreement' - would only offer a transition of a few months in which a trade deal with Britain's biggest trading partner would have to be ironed out. In the same period Britain would also have to negotiate trade deals with its other major trading partners or again be forced to fall back on WTO tariffs and regulations.

Given trade deals are notoriously difficult and can take years rather than months, the assertion by many that 'no-deal' has been taken off the table is essentially untrue.

Boris Johnson's 'deal' is now off the table, at least until after a general election which has now been set for 12th December. MPs will have their last day in the Commons on Tuesday 5 November and parliament will not resume until at least 16th December but could be later. No dates have been published as yet but there could be as few as parliamentary 25 days until the next deadline when the most recent extension expires.

Whilst no absolute prediction can be made a hung parliament is more than likely meaning the passing of Boris Johnson's 'deal' may be even more difficult and the risk of Britain crashing out without a deal on the 31st of January remains a possibility.

But predictions and promises are hard to tie down. ERG member and Tory MP for Rayleigh Mark Francois insisted that, "If we don't leave by the 31st of October this country will explode."

Britain hasn't left and there is no sign of insurrection, explosion or similar event. But there may well be strong signs of Brexit fatigue and political frustration on whatever side of the fence one sits.

From a nightmare on Downing Street, a possible Halloween Brexit and an election result expected on Friday the 13th and a likely Nightmare Before Christmas, life truly seems to be imitating art.

Tomorrow the sixth movie in the Terminator franchise is released in British cinemas running with the strap "Welcome to the day after Judgement Day". MPs with soon face their own judgement day in a little over a month. But to take another line from Terminator, "The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."

Indeed, "the future is not set."

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, September 30, 2019

China's War on Islam

In August this year Qatar pulled it's signature to a document which many other Islamic countries had signed in support of Beijing as policy in Xinjiang which has seen more than a million Uighurs detained in so called education camps [Bloomberg].

Activists hailed the move. "We are happy and welcome the fact that Qatar changed its position and ended its support for China's policies against the Muslim Uighurs," Mahmoud Mohamad, vice president of the Istanbul-based Society of Muslim Scholars of East Turkestan (SMSET) told Al Jazeera.

But whilst it was a sign that the international Muslim community might be finally changing it's stance concerning Muslims' plight in China, many Islamic countries have so far ignored China's harsh treatment of Muslims despite an increasing clampdown on Muslims in China, many Islamic countries.


In January this year Beijing passed a new law requiring Islamic shops and restaurants to comply to displaying signage that did not show Islamic symbols or Arabic writing.

While the capital was the first place to see the enforcement of the new rules, the dictate has gradually rolled out across China in what many see as Beijing's ongoing effort of sinicization.

Sinicization is nothing new in China, especially with regards to religion. Indeed one notable example is Tibet. China led a military assault on Tibet in October 1950, and in April 1951 Tibet's leaders said they were strong-armed into signing a treaty, known as the 'Seventeen Point Agreement', which gave China control over Tibet's external affairs and allowed Chinese military occupation, in return for pledging to safeguard Tibet's political system.

However, there was widespread open rebellion against Chinese rule within Tibet by 1956, which tipped over into a full uprising in March 1959. Tibetans say that thousands died during the occupation and uprising, but China disputes this [BBC].

Since then there has been a process of sinicization by means of state propaganda, police presence, cultural assimilation, religious persecution, immigration, population transfer and political reform.

Muslim fears

China is now developing a five-year plan for the sinicization of Islam, according to the country's government-backed China Islamic Association.

One US-based Muslim student activist Sulaiman Gu said the sinicization program had been designed to target Hui Muslims in particular.

"The sinicization of Islam is mostly targeted at Hui Muslims," Gu told RFA. "[They] know very well that there's no point in using the rhetoric of anti-terrorism or separatism to justify it, but it's still a form of cultural genocide."

Meanwhile Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress, said the sinicization campaign is utterly coercive. "China has always seen the beliefs of Islam as a fundamental challenge to Communist Party rule," he said. "There is a plan; there's an aim here."


Recently a video of Uighurs in China's Xinjiang surfaced online that showed dozens of Uighur men, their heads shaved, blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs during a mass transfer at a train station in the north-west region of China [ABC / Sky News].

The images have shocked many especially those in the Muslim community. Alim Osman, president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria in Australia, compared China's treatment of Muslims to Nazi Germany.

"It's chilling and it's very horrifying for us. We feel like we are alone in this battle against the Chinese communist regime," he told the ABC. "[It] feels like exactly the same as what happened in Nazi Germany — it's happening in the twenty-first century again," he said.

Whilst China describes detention camps in Xinjiang as vocational skills education centres they are widely seen as concentration camps by human rights groups [Uyghur Congress].

China is accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in its western region of Xinjiang often claiming they are being detained to counter the threat of terrorism.

The region has a long history of rebellion and resistance to Chinese rule. Indeed, the relationship between the Uighurs and their modern-day political masters has long been fraught. But whilst there have been riots and terrorist attacks, Beijing's response has been seen by some as overkill. 

Terror attacks

In 2013, an attack on pedestrians in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, which claimed two lives as well as the three Uighur occupants of the car, marked a significant moment.

Although relatively small in terms of fatalities it rattled the foundations of the Chinese state.

The following year, 31 people were slaughtered by knife-wielding Uighur attackers at a train station in the Chinese city of Kunming, more than 2000 km away from Xinjiang.

These incidents have prompted authorities to clampdown hard. Over the past four years, Xinjiang has been the target of some of the most restrictive and comprehensive security measures ever deployed by a state against its own people.

Facial recognition cameras, monitoring devices that read the content of mobile phones and the mass collection of biometric data is widespread.

New legal penalties have been introduced to curtail Islamic identity and practice - banning, among other things, long beards and headscarves, the religious instruction of children, and even Islamic-sounding names [BBC].

Sinicization spreads

In the last few months the clampdown against Islam appears to be spreading with restaurants, shops and even mosques being forced to comply with new rules.

As far south as Yunnan province authorities have forced businesses to cover up Arabic script and pictures of mosques. Even the English word 'halal' falls foul of the new rules.

Most shops have complied without complaint, though any protestation would likely fall on deaf ears.

Nonetheless there is disquiet in the Muslim community many of whom see the clampdown as an attempt to sinicize China and accuse authorities of "erasing" Muslim culture.

It's not just shops that have drawn the attention of authorities. Mosques too have been forced to comply with new rules.

Some local authorities have insisted Mosques raise the national flag and surveillance on them has also increased.


"There's fewer people attending prayers now," one Muslim told tvnewswatch, adding that increased monitoring had dissuaded some people from attending.

There is, he said, a threat that any officials, such as those in government or police, would be demoted or sanctioned should they attend prayers.

And it wasn't just mosques either. According to this Muslim, even Buddhist temples are being monitored with those in government positions also being dissuaded from visiting.

Indeed there is a general feeling that President Xi Jinping seems bent on ending or at least limiting any independent commitment to a belief system other than the one embodied in official Communist Party propaganda [WBHM].

His government's next target appears to be the 10-million-member Muslim Hui minority, who are scattered all across China including Xinjiang, Gansu, Beijing, Xi'an, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Hainan and Yunnan.

The Hui minority have no particular record of separatism or extremism but there seems to be a fear within the Communist Party that adherence to the Muslim faith could turn into religious extremism and open defiance of its rule [Washington Post / NYT] .

Rights removed

While most Muslims are still 'free' to practice their religion, albeit under increased surveillance and having complied with new rules concerning signage on shops and restaurants, some are finding their rights eroded.

Uighurs in particular, even those outside Xinjiang, have found their movements restricted.

One Muslim, who lives in south west Yunnan told tvnewswatch his Uigher wife is unable to travel abroad with him since she has had her passport confiscated. She cannot even change her citizenship from Xinjiang to the town where she now lives with her husband in Yunnan province.

With local citizenship refused for Uighers who have relocated there is always the risk they could be rounded up and be placed in one of the detention camps that now house more than one million Uighers deemed a threat by Beijing.

"Everything you see in the foreign media is true," he says, referring to reports such as in-depth investigations by Sky News and CNN.

Growing Islamophobia

However, many Han Chinese don't see the real picture, and see instead a growing Muslim threat.

Such views are exacerbated by the distorted reports that emanate from state media.

While it is true that an uprising in Xinjiang province some ten years ago resulted in the deaths of many Han Chinese, to some extent the events were isolated to that particular region.

"I don't like Muslims," one Han Chinese told tvnewswatch, who had recently returned from the province. He spoke of fearing being attacked by the local Muslim population, whom he said would be quite willing to stab any Han Chinese they encountered.

"I was glad of the strong police presence," he said.

Such sentiments are apparently common. Yet whilst expressing a hatred or dislike for Muslims or Islam, the very same people often choose to eat at Muslim restaurants and even associate with Muslim 'friends'.

These apparent contradictions are hard to reconcile. Indeed, it seems only to indicate that the concerns many have regards Muslims are mostly unfounded.

Most seem unable to recognise that the Uigher uprising that targeted Han Chinese as well as the police, resulted from growing oppression by the authorities, and was not merely Islam versus China.

Playing with fire

Beijing's war on Islam, and indeed other religions, in an attempt to sinicize China may well create bigger problems than it can handle.

Xi Jinping's new China talks of Harmony, Patriotism and Democracy amongst other so-called "socialist core values".

However, alienating core groups and essentially labelling them as the enemy within, is certainly not conducive to establishing harmony.

Indeed, continued repression of the Uighers and Muslims as a whole is more likely to create discord.

So-called Muslim extremists have used Western interference in the Middle East as an excuse to wage war in the form of terror attacks across Europe and the US.

China, thus far, has avoided major attacks. But should it continue with its propaganda campaign and persecution of Muslims and pursue its aggressive policy of sinicization, China may well find itself in the cross hairs of Islamic terrorism.

China's systematic anti-Muslim campaign, and accompanying repression of Christians and Tibetan Buddhists, may represent the largest-scale official attack on religious freedom in the world. Communist China has never been comfortable with religion. During a meeting in Beijing in 1954 Mao Zedong famously told the Dalai Lama, "Religion is poison" [Guardian].

Returning to the past

Xi Jinping is widely seen by observers outside of China as modelling himself on Mao. He is already using tried-and-true methods to craft a personality cult, his airbrushed image looming large on propaganda posters plastered across the country.

And his hardline approach is concerning many.  Cui Haoxin, a Hui Muslim poet who publishes under the name An Ran, fears a return to the days of the Cultural Revolution.

The methods of repression employed in Xinjiang now loom over all of China. "One day this model will not only target Muslims," he says, "Everyone will be harmed by it." [NYT]

He calls it the harshest campaign against faith since the end of the Cultural Revolution, when so-called Red Guards unleashed by Mao Zedong destroyed mosques across the country.

One such incident was the move against the Shadian mosque in Yunnan province which resulted in more than 1,600 deaths [Wikipedia: Shadian Incident].

As China marks the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Communist Party of China and Xi Jinping faces more than a few problems [BBC / LAT].

Pro-democracy protests continue in Hong Kong, a trade war with the US intensifies and there is an ever increasing rich-poor divide with many people marginalised despite China's economic success.

It also faces a continuing battle hiding its chequered past, including man-made famines and massacres that resulted in millions of deaths, hidden from its 1.4 billion people.

Meanwhile it seems to be on the verge of repeating the same mistakes all over again.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Boris serves kippers & red herrings as Brexit becomes a dog's breakfast

It's often the case that those proposing to leave the EU cite interference with unnecessary rules, regulations and directives. Boris Johnson in an address to Tory party members claimed that EU rules forced a kipper supplier in the Isle of Man was required by EU directives to include a "plastic ice pillow" in the package before being dispatched [BBC]. Meanwhile a caller to LBC's James O'Brien show claimed the EU was responsible for banning the practice of wrapping fish and chips in old newspapers.

These are just two examples of lies and half truths that are rarely scrutinised or challenged. Boris Johnson's example was entirely erroneous.

Sky News Brussels correspondent Mark Stone described it as, "Multiple layers of nonsense" given that the Isle of Man is not in the EU, the regulation was not an EU directive and was in fact a British rule. EU sources later insisted that rules that required smoked kipper producers in the Isle of Man to use a "plastic ice pillow" when sending to UK, as made famous by Boris Johnson, were in fact BRITISH rules and not Brussels' rules. In fact the EU does not regulate sales of smoked fish to consumer, only sale of fish from business to business. The Isle of Man example is outside scope of EU food safety rules and while the EU has broad rules saying that food should be safe it has nothing to say concerning the use of an ice pillow. Indeed, this is a British addition designed to stop Listeria [Twitter / Guardian].

As regards the woman and her assertion that the EU had stopped her enjoying fish and chips in newspaper, she is both right and wrong.

In 1976 the European Council put forward a directive that may have brought about the end of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, though it was in fact UK law that stopped the practice.

Food contact materials, or FCMs, are widely used in everyday life in the form of food packaging, kitchen utensils, tableware, etc. When put in contact with food, the different materials may behave differently and transfer their constituents to the food. Thus, if ingested in large quantities, FCM chemicals might endanger human health, or change the food itself. Therefore, food contact materials are subject to legally binding rules at EU level, currently laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 which aims at ensuring FCM safety.

Of course, there are many people who feel nostalgic about fish and chips wrapped in the previous day's newspapers. But the practice may well have died out anyway as paper shops often returned papers on a SoR [Sale or Return] basis.

The practice of wrapping goods in newspaper survived until as late as the 1980s when it was ruled unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink without grease-proof paper in between. Indeed vendors could still use newspaper as outer wrappings, but since old newspapers are returned to distributors shops would not find it easy to obtain them today.

There are many things people feel nostalgic about. But is that to say we should bring them back? Many things that were once commonplace have been banned on safety grounds or because certain practices are no longer practical.

We  might look back with happy memories of using hop on/hop off buses and slam door trains. But how many people suffered serious injury misusing them. Being hit by an open door on a moving train is certainly not funny. Neither is having a passenger flying at you as they misjudge their disembarking from a moving bus.

Whilst many smokers might lament the banning of smoking in public places, especially pubs, few would want to return to the days when one could light up on trains, buses, planes and even in supermarkets.

Some laws banning things from everyday life might be considered Health and Safety gone bad by some, but the dangers of some things removed from schools and places of work are entirely sensible. Anyone growing up in the 1970s will probably remember asbestos mats that were placed under Bunsen burners in the science classroom. Now we know better about the risks that asbestos poses to health. Lead too was commonplace in everything from paint to petrol. But both EU and British regulations have forced a change in the way we do things. In 1978 the US banned the use of lead in paint that was used on toys and similar regulations gradually came into force in Britain and across the EU. Without such regulations children might well be exposed to dangerous elements such as lead, cadmium and even arsenic which were common in plastic toys made in the 1970s and 1980s.

With regards food, regulations are usually applied in order to prevent leaching of potentially dangerous chemicals into food or to prevent the spoiling of food. However, it takes time to bring new regulations into force. BPA, or bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s, is widely considered to pose a health threat. Under Plastics Regulation (EU) No 10/2011, the new BPA Regulation reduces the SML for BPA from 0.6 mg/kg to 0.05 mg/kg and expands the ban on the use of BPA in the manufacture of polycarbonate infant feeding bottles to sippy cups. However it is not banned entirely. The same is true as regards phthalates which are legally used in food packaging, though their use is restricted in the EU. Phthalates, which can leach into food from the plastic containers, are widely considered to cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.

Would the lady who looked back nostalgically at eating fish and chips from newspaper be as angry at EU regulations tightening up regulations concerning plastics in our food?

Of course toxicity is a relative term. Apple pips are poisonous, but you'd need to eat at least 200, and chew them well, to kill you. That said,  fish and chips wrapped in paper that is coated with ink containing 2-naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl which studies have linked the ink to bladder and lung cancers hardly sounds appetising. It is probably true that you'd likely have to eat a great deal of fish and chips wrapped in an old copy of The Times to create any adverse effects. But is it not better to err on the side of caution?

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, June 30, 2019

An eventful June but Brexit impasse continues

June has in many ways been extremely eventful, but at the same time little or nothing has happened.

Theresa May finally made a tearful farewell at the end of May having been forced out by the hardline Brexiters in her party. Her resignation set into motion a leadership contest that became almost comical as more than a dozen candidates put their names forward. By the time voting began however, the list had dwindled somewhat and by the final round only Jeremy Hunt and the favourite, Boris Johnson remained.

Amid this contest President Donald Trump came to town storming into Stansted with two jumbo jets, one for himself and another for his daughter, son, relatives and officials. The party was then ferried about in a fleet of helicopters as well as a cavalcade of vehicles that required the shutting down several streets in central London.

Surrounding the Trump circus were a series of protests. On the first day of his visit the protests were fairly low key and around the Victoria memorial the crowds were a mixture of supporters, protesters and inquisitive sightseers and tourists.

However, while there were certainly a number of Trump supporters, they were relatively few in number. Indeed as his cavalcade travelled from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, the Mall was almost empty.

The following day as Trump was due to meet the outgoing prime minister Theresa May, thousands filled the streets protesting against the president's visit complete with a giant baby Trump balloon.

While there were perhaps legitimate reasons behind the protesters' anger towards the US president, one should not also overlook the fact that he to some extent had a duty to attend the 75th D-Day anniversary commemorations that took place in the days that followed.

In fact many commentators, usually critical of Trump, observed that the US president had been dignified during commemorations and had not made any major missteps.

With the Trump visit over, British papers were focused less on politics than on the weather as heavy rain swept across many parts of the country bringing flooding to many areas. The wet weather did not continue however and by the end of June there were perhaps some wishing for some rain as a 'Sahara plume' brought a brief heatwave with temperatures exceeding 30°C.

Perhaps it was not surprising that with such high temperatures, Climate Change protesters seized on the opportunity to bring their message to the streets. "Hot isn't it? That's global warming" a chalked message, on a piece of street furniture, proclaimed near the Houses of Parliament as thousands of protesters lobbied their MPs.

Parliament however is in a state of winding down as the summer recess draws closer. Despite the urgency to solve the Brexit crisis, there is little on the parliamentary calendar and the Tories are all too preoccupied with their leadership contest to focus on how to move forward on that other than to put forward unrealistic proposals. In less than Three weeks parliament will wrap up for summer and won't return until early September.

That will leave only 8 weeks during which MPs will have to solve the Brexit impasse. Those eight weeks are not quite as long as one might think either. In parliamentary terms it is only 32 days, since parliament only sits for four days each week. And it might be a great deal less than that since party conference season may well eat into the parliamentary agenda.

By default Britain will leave the EU on the 31st October without a deal unless parliament finds some way of stopping it. The 'Withdrawal Agreement' - often referred to as Theresa May's deal - is essentially dead since the next Tory PM, be it Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, is unlikely to bring it before parliament again.

Both claim that they will seek a 'new deal' with the EU, despite the European Union having iterated many times previously that the negotiations are at an end and that they will not be opened up again.

Thus there is now only one of two routes Britain is heading towards. A 'no deal' Brexit or no Brexit. But before either of those two potential outcomes, September and October will prove to be politically very turbulent.

And talking of turbulent, outside the insular world of Brexit and way beyond Britain's waters there is much concern over Iran and the risk of war between the US and the middle eastern country following accusations it targeted two tankers in the Gulf and later downed an American drone. Thus far, there has only been a war of words with rhetoric coming from both sides. But it only needs a small misstep for the rhetoric to boil over and become a serious military conflict.

Should that happen Brexit will be the east of Britain's worries since as a member of NATO it may well get drawn into any potential conflict. Furthermore, any disruption to the flow of oil from the Middle East which would likely follow any war with Iran would send the global financial system into a spin, that's to say nothing of the effect it might have on the energy sector and industry.

Perhaps the tensions between the US and Iran might all cool down over the summer, even if the weather a little on the warm side.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, May 31, 2019

Smears begin as Jo Swinson confirms Lib Dem leadership bid

It is perhaps predictable, but within hours of the Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson announcing her bid for leader of the party Twitter was alive with smears accusing the MP of illegally claiming parliamentary expenses and accusing her of being 'just another Tory' for backing them in several controversial policies during the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition between 2010 & 2015.

Swinson confirms leadership bid

Swinson announced she would be standing as a contender in the leadership battle for her party on the BBC politics programme Question Time [BBC].

The contest comes after Sir Vince Cable announced he would be standing down as leader on the 23rd July [Guardian].

Accusations of lying

But soon after her appearance Twitter was alive with criticism. Several tweets accused her of lying concerning the percentage of young people going on to university [Twitter].

However her assertion is backed up by official figures [Twitter]. But that has not stopped the vitriol on social networks.

Swinson has stood by her claim, pointing out that the four percent figure came from the most recent Scottish Index on Multiple Deprivation data, published in 2016, which found the proportion of 17-21 year olds entering into full time higher education in Govan and Linthouse ranged between zero and four percent [Scotsman].

Accusations of dishonesty

There have also been accusations of dishonesty with some Twitter users digging out a 2009 article from the Daily Telegraph which highlighted Swinson's expenses claim for cosmetics, a tooth flosser and a television.

Pointing fingers

Some people on social networks have also pointed a finger at accusations made in 2017 that Swinson overspending during the 2017 election. This despite the fact that police dropped the investigation after being "unable to establish criminality" [BBC].

While it is true that Swinson claimed expenses as highlighted in 2009, most such claims were not rejected and were within the guidelines.

Expenses claims

It is also somewhat disingenuous to criticise Swinson of claiming her somewhat meagre expenses given there were many MPs amongst the ranks of both the Tories and Labour parties claiming far more significant amounts, many stretching the rules as to what could be claimed.

Michael Gove, for example, claimed £7,000 for furnishing a London property before "flipping" his designated second home to a house in his constituency, a property for which he claimed around £13,000 to cover stamp duty. It was also alleged that Gove claimed for a cot mattress, despite children's items being banned under the Commons rule. Gove said he would repay the claim for the cot mattress, but maintained that his other claims were "below the acceptable threshold costs for furniture".

Meanwhile the Telegraph reported on 28 May 2009 the the now hard-Brexiter Bill Cash had claimed £15,000 which he then paid to his daughter, a prospective Conservative candidate, as rent for a Notting Hill flat, when he had a flat of his own a few miles away and closer to Westminster. Cash defended these expenses by claiming that it was done within the rules and that "It was only for a year" [Wikipedia].

Opposition rattled

It is clear that the smears and criticism of Swinson are a result of the opposition being rattled by the Lib Dem success in the European elections and at least one recent poll which suggested the Lib Dems could win the next general election.

The YouGov poll which was published almost at the same time Swinson announced her candidacy, pointed to the Libs Dems having a two point lead over the Brexit Party and way in front of the Conservative and Labour parties.

Some 24% said they would vote for the Remain-supporting Lib Dems, with 22% backing the Brexit Party. Meanwhile, Labour and Conservative parties both polled 19% [Sky News / Daily Mail].

Heading for Number 10?

Swinson, who is the favourite to win the leadership bid, could therefore potentially become not only the first Lib Dem prime minister, but also the first female Lib Dem prime minister.

That scenario would of course depend upon there being a general election whilst the Lib Dems held high in the polls.

Given how disastrous Brexit has been thus far, it seems the Lib Dems may well have a chance, unless Labour's leadership get off the fence concerning their position on a possible second referendum.

Unclear road ahead

Nothing is, of course, certain. Following May's announcement to stand down as PM there is a leadership contest taking place with no less than 12 candidates having put there names forward. Most have proposed standing on a platform of either seeking to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU or to leave without a deal [BBC].

Given the EU has continually iterated that the negotiations will not be opened up again, a no-deal or no Brexit would be the only two options.

Labour meanwhile have still not made their position clear with Corbyn still shying away from backing a second referendum in the near future [Guardian].

There are certainly many hard Brexiters that are willing to back a no-deal, and the Brexit Party has certainly capitalised upon this base.

But the Lib Dems too are earning support from remainers and from those unhappy with the shambles created by Brexit. Indeed the party's clear anti-Brexit message appears to be resonating with many voters.

Should there be no general election and the Tories take Britain out of the EU without a deal, the ensuing chaos could well increase the Lib Dems power base.

Brexit, a deciding factor

Indeed any lack of success concerning Brexit is sure to result in greater support for the Lib Dems as will the change in demographics. Parties that helped bring about a disastrous Brexit or did little to prevent it will likely suffer and lose public support.

The future is still uncertain but today is a good day for the Lib Dems. However, given the abuse emanating from social media, it is also clear it will be no easy fight to get the keys to No 10.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, May 26, 2019

No-deal Brexit more likely after May quits

The British Prime Minister Theresa May's resignation looks likely to make the UK's looming departure from the EU even more difficult, with some suggesting a hard or "no-deal" Brexit is now almost inevitable.

Brexit costs Tories two leaders

While there remains a good number of hard core Eurosceptics who relish the idea of leaving the EU, there are many even within the Conservative party that think the referendum has brought only chaos.

Speaking in March this year Charles Walker, the Conservative MP for Broxbourne, told one Chinese television news crew that he expected only more chaos to follow after MPs rejected the Withdrawal Agreement for a second time.

He also expressed regret at there ever having been a referendum. "To the day I die I will curse myself for ever thinking that a referendum was a good idea," he told the BBC [New European].  

Many others within the party might also be regretful, even if they don't express such thoughts publicly.

The vote to leave the European Union has cost the party two prime ministers, a loss in public support and a reduced majority in the parliament.

Indeed, while many hard-line Eurosceptics and Brexiters refuse to accept it, the country has lost more than just a couple of prime ministers.

Cost to the country

The British pound tanked the day after the referendum and has yet to recover. And following the Theresa May's announcement to stand down as PM, the currency became volatile once again as a no-deal Brexit risk was seen to rise.

While many Brexiters have insisted a weaker pound would increase Britain's exports, due to them being cheaper, there is little sign that exports have risen at all in the last three years.

In fact there is more a sign that the British economy and its manufacturing base is flailing.

Economic contraction

The latest surveys of business activity, used as an early warning indicator by the Bank of England, showed the economy stalling in the first quarter and at risk of sliding into a downturn, after the weakest performance in the private sector in almost seven years.

The surveys have proven gloomier than official figures over the past few months, although still paint a worrying picture for the path ahead, as British firms put spending decisions on hold.

According to the survey from IHS Markit and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, both the construction and service sectors plunged into reverse in March, while manufacturing was only able to expand because of emergency stockpiling in the run-up to Brexit.

Trillions of assets left the UK

Ahead of the original date the UK was set to leave the European Union more than £1 trillion in assets had reportedly been shifted out of London to hubs in the European Union [Reuters].

And while Britain did not in fact leave on 29th March, it is unlikely these assets will return - at least in the short to medium term.

Relocations & slowing investment

The continuing uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and fears of a no-deal Brexit, has slowed investment and some businesses have either relocated completely or moved some of their operations abroad [Independent].

Business investment has fallen for the past four quarters and the new Brexit date is likely to prolong the uncertainty, the FT reported in April [FT]. 

Global slowdown

Brexiters might point to the fact that there is a global slowdown and that the Eurozone is slowing too. This is partly true. However, over the last decade the Eurozone has strengthened [BBC], and growth in the eurozone jumped to +0.4% in the first quarter of this year, stronger than the meagre 0.2% recorded in Q4 2018 [Guardian].

On the other side of the pond, the US is seeing an economic decline [Reuters].

The loss of momentum came even before a recent escalation in the trade war between the United States and China which could have a significant effect on the US economy.

Insulation against a global economic slowdown

While the trade war started by Trump is certainly having an effect on the Chinese economy, China is unlikely to suffer in the medium to long term. Growth is currently 6.9% and even if that were to shrink by half as some economists are predicting [Forbes], China's growth would still remain higher than most other major economies.

That is more than double that of the UK's overall current 1.5% growth rate and a third higher than the US growth rate which stands at a little over 2.2% [Sky News / Guardian]. 

The bigger a trade block the more insulated it will be should there be a global downturn. For small country and those not part of a large trading block, the risks are higher.The world economic slowdown and Brexit uncertainty have already combined to inflict damage to investment and output in Britain.

Escalating trade war

And things could get much worse if the US-China trade war escalates.

President Trump's targeting China's flagship mobile company Huawei has angered the Middle Kingdom to such an extent that there is talk that China could respond with more than just an increase in tariffs on US goods. And other countries could become embroiled as Trump has threatened countries that do business with Huawei [Guardian].

China is currently the largest holder of US government debt. It now owns $1.12 trillion in US Treasury bonds. If China decided to sell off its US government debt holdings as a form of retaliation in the ongoing trade war with the US and President Donald Trump, it could upend global financial markets and drive US interest rates higher.

Many have dismissed such a possibility - which has often been referred to as China's 'nuclear option' - for the fear it could not only upend the global economy but also China's own economy.

China is already make plans to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on foreign markets. And if push comes to shove, China might close its doors, just as easily as it opened them to the West some thirty years ago.

Only last week investors received some unnerving news after China sold $20 billion of securities with a maturity exceeding one year in March, according to US government data. The sales amounted to China's largest retreat from the market in more than two years and could indicate Beijing's readiness to up the stakes if Trump pursues his trade war against the second largest economy in the world [FT].

Many economists do not believe China would go for a large sell of of US treasuries. But not everyone is so sure. "It depends on what the goal is," says Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. "If the goal is to disturb the US Treasury market, then they may not care about inflicting self-harm." [SCMP]

Brexit risks further isolation

But what has all this got to do with Brexit? With the global economy currently displaying signs of unpredictability and volatility, it is important to create as much insulation as possible.

If Britain cuts itself off from its biggest trading partner, that being Europe, and worse, crashes out without a deal and falls back on WTO rules, it would find itself in a very dangerous place if, as has been predicted, another global recession returns.

Even if a global recession does not immediately materialise, trade deals are not going to be easy to draw up as the unease grows over Trump's trade war and concerns over global growth. And even if trade deals are able to be negotiated, they are far less likely to be favourable for Britain than to those with which it is negotiating.

Britain could find itself in some very choppy waters indeed as it would be forced to appease two of the biggest economies in the world with which it does significant trade, outside of the eurozone, and which are currently fighting each other in an ever growing trade war.

With Theresa May's departure the prospect of such scenarios are more real than ever. Most of the main Tory leadership contenders lean towards a no-deal Brexit, especially the favourite Boris Johnson.

The talk heard from several of them is that they could 'renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement', something the EU has repeated time and time again will not be done.

Speaking on College Green soon after May announced her departure, Mark Francois said he'd prefer to leave with a deal, but that if one could not be negotiated by 31st October than Britain could leave on WTO rules for a time and then negotiate a deal with the EU soon thereafter.

Boris Johnson, speaking in Switzerland, spoke similarly suggesting the Irish backstop could be dropped and that if a deal with the EU was not reached by October then Britain would simply fall back on WTO rules.

And so where do we go from here? "Oblivion," joked Alastair Campbell as he walked from College Green. It might have been a quip, but Halloween may be far more frightful than many might have thought.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Under threat from cyber-spies

Today should be a wake-up call for those with smartphones after it was revealed that the popular Whatsapp mobile phone application had been compromised with sophisticated spyware.

Cyber attackers were apparently able to install spyware on WhatsApp through its voice call function, even if the user did not pick up the call, the company confirmed [Sky News / BBC].

Dozens of WhatsApp users, including human rights organisations and a UK-based lawyer, may have been targeted in the attack which exploited a major vulnerability in the app in an attempt to take over the operating system.

The breach was discovered in early May, though no specific date has been made public, and has since been fixed. But WhatsApp, which claims to have more than 1.5 billion users, has urged people to update their app to the latest version of the software.

Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto said an attacker attempted to exploit the app, and was blocked, as recently as Sunday evening.

The Financial Times reported the spyware was developed by NSO Group, an Israeli cybersecurity and intelligence company.

However, NSO Group has distanced itself from direct involvement. In a statement it said, "Under no circumstances would NSO be involved in the operating or identifying of targets of its technology, which is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies."

"NSO would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organisation, including this individual (the UK lawyer)."

While NSO may not be directly involved, the company is known to sell its technology to third parties particularly foreign governments.

In 2018 a series of reports [Foreign Policy / CitizenLab] said NSO technology had been employed in the targeting of Ahmed Mansoor, a a well-known human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates.

At around the same time Mansoor had his passport confiscated, his car stolen, his email hacked, his location tracked, his bank account emptied, and was beaten by strangers twice in the same week.

Within a year Mansoor had been detained and subsequently jailed for ten years.  

This year the New York Times reported that in 2017 Saud al-Qahtani, then a top adviser to Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, was tracking Saudi dissidents around the world and was using NSO Group's technology to aid his search. It is suspected that Saud al-Qahtani's  extensive surveillance efforts ultimately led to the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

It's not just Arab states that are employing NSO's software. According to CitizenLab at least 45 countries were using Israel-based "Cyber Warfare" vendor NSO Group's mobile phone spyware suite called Pegasus.

In the past the focus has been on weapons manufacturers and governments who have been selling arms and military equipment to questionable governments around the world.

While such issues are no less important, it is clear that cyber-weapons pose a significant threat also.

The sale of such software to governments might well be legal. But there are certainly moral questions that should be answered if such technology is being used to illegally target arguably innocent citizens and detain them.

There is also the risk that such software is more difficult to control in terms of its escape into the wild. While guns, tanks and aircraft can be smuggled and sold to dubious organisations and groups outside of government control it is more difficult than disseminating code which can simply be emailed or passed to others on something as small as a memory card or USB thumb drive.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, April 15, 2019

UK in Brexit limbo until Halloween

The UK is in limbo and a state of uncertainty as another Article 50 extension puts back a possible Brexit to 31st October. The PM faced a turbulent session in the commons where she battled questions from all sides on Thursday last week after returning from Brussels with the new extension [Guardian]. Afterwards she faced more anger as she left parliament surrounded by high security and to heckling from protesters as her car exited the parliamentary estate.

Theresa May had earlier told MPs to use the Easter recess to consider their 'national duty' to resolve the Brexit crisis. But there is no sign that that will happen. Indeed, it is more likely that October will roll around without any consensus.

A comical farce

The whole sorry mess of Brexit is playing out like a comical farce as the PM Theresa May attempts to carry out her mandate to deliver Brexit.

After nearly two years of negotiation to secure a 'deal' - technically speaking just a withdrawal agreement - May has failed completely to secure support either within her own party or across the house in order that she can get it ratified.

The Withdrawal Agreement had been secured late last year but May decided not to put it before parliament before Christmas as she admitted it "would be rejected by a significant margin" [BBC].

And so off she went to Brussels to ask for changes to it despite the European Council President Donald Tusk having said the remaining 27 EU countries would not "renegotiate" the deal.

In January Theresa May put the 'deal' before parliament only to see it rejected. Again she tried in March. Once again it was rejected and she was forced to ask for an extension or either allow the UK to crash out or revoke Article 50.

The EU gave her a short extension until the 12th April. But in the two weeks after the date Britain was due to leave the EU, parliament seemed unable to come to any consensus on anything.

A whole series of indicative votes failed and 'May's deal' failed to get a majority on a third attempt.

"Please Sir, can I have some more"

Rather like a schoolboy or girl asking for more time to complete their assignment Theresa May once again, cap in hand, returned to Brussels asking for an extension [France24].

The prime minister arrived with no real reason for an extension other than she had now decided to begin discussions with the opposition party in order to break the impasse following a marathon cabinet session.

And while there was some consternation emanating from Macron on the French side, the EU eventually decided to allow an extension until the 31st of October with a review of proceedings on the 20th of June.

The dates on the calendar were particularly poignant. And the fact that an extension was granted was also odd given that May's request for one gave no concrete plan or reason.

In fact it seemed clear that while the EU could have quite legitimately refused an extension since May was essentially just asking for more time, the EU did not wish to be seen to be deliberately forcing her hand into making a decision to either revoke or jump off the cliff.

Should May have failed to revoke article 50, the EU could have been seen to have helped push the UK off the proverbial cliff.

But by allowing an extension the EU has also gone back on its stated proclamation that an extension would only be granted if there were a new plan.

Simply stating she was in talks with Corbyn does not amount to a new course of action. Even if, as some within Labour want, May shifts her red lines and shows a leaning towards a customs union, the Withdrawal Agreement is - as the EU has stated any times - still not up for renegotiation.

Even if May were to relax her hardline approach - admittedly not as hardline as the likes of the ERG want of Brexit - the extreme hardliners within her party and the DUP might be joined by the less extreme Tory Brexiters.

So the chances of pushing her 'deal' through still remain somewhat implausible.

European Elections

Following May's decision to talks with Labour, many Tories were said to "be fuming". Theresa May was now "getting into bed with a Marxist," ERG hardliner Mark Francois said on College Green after May returned with an extension.

Meanwhile others were calling for her resignation.

Furious that she had agreed to the long delay, breaking her own pledge that, "as Prime Minister", she would not delay beyond the end of June, hardline Brexiter Peter Bone said, "If the PM intends to keep her word, can we expect her resignation later tonight?"

Only days before the media reported growing divisions in the party with funding drying up and [BBC].

The Observer reported she had been warned by her mutinous MPs that they would move to oust her if the UK was forced to take part in European elections and extend its EU membership beyond June.

The paper also reported that MPs feared many Conservatives would boycott the poll, increasing the chances of the far-right and Nigel Farage's new Brexit party [Guardian].

However there is talk, even amongst hardline UKIP supporters that they would not vote in European Elections.

Meanwhile some were calling on voters to spoil their ballot papers rather than vote for a candidate [Telegraph].

Such actions could of course benefit pro-European parties and potentially leave other parties left out in the cold should MEPs take their seats in June. And if Britain were to remain in the EU beyond October the Tories and other hardline parties may well feel rather stupid.

Extension and review

But what of the extension? The EU has put two dates on the calendar. The first date is June 20th when it will review Britain's progress on the Brexit withdrawal process.

If the Withdrawal Agreement has still not passed then MEPs with take their seats on the 2nd July.

Mid-August poses another issue. This is the approximate time by which the prime minister would need to call a general election to be held before the article 50 extension expires – in order to meet the requirements of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, and also the timetable set out in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, which requires 25 working days for an election campaign.

In early September MPs will be returning from summer recess, unless recalled early, to deal with Brexit crises and contemplate any possible general election or second referendum.

And on 31st October the six-month article 50 extension will expire once again creating another new possible date for Britain's crashing out without a deal.

Trick or treat?

The choosing of Halloween as the new extension date has created many opportunities for headline writers.

The Guardian saw the new Brexit date as "very appropriate" with another column ran with the headline; "Halloween Brexit is a fitting outcome for the zombie prime minister" [Guardian].

The Halloween jokes on social media were prolific with suggestions of Jacob Rees-Mogg Halloween masks to puns on horror films such as the Exorcist, renamed Brexorcist and depicting Theresa May with her head rotated the wrong way [iNews].

Trick or treat? You couldn't quite make it up, said the BBC.

But the extension is bittersweet for all sides.

In its simplest sense, the prime minister asked for a delay so that she didn't open Pandora's Box.

Should she have revoked, as the clock ticked towards the default time that Britain was due to leave the EU on the 12th of April, she would have unleashed a wrath of fury against herself and her party.

On the other hand if she had allowed a no-deal Brexit it would likely have precipitated economic turmoil and thrown the country into uncharted waters.

After May went cap in hand to Brussels, the EU eventually said yes to a new timetable. But the new October deadline might not solve very much at all.

Impasse unlikely

There appears to be as much division within parliament as there was before and the chances of the Withdrawal Agreement passing seem as remote as ever.

Given the 'deal' cannot be changed or renegotiated, it seems rather futile discussing anything with the opposition as May has been doing.

May's red lines, of no single market or customs union, have essentially created the Withdrawal Agreement she has attempted to pass through parliament, and the particularly contentious Irish backstop.

Should she not have ruled out a customs union, the Irish backstop may well not have been necessary. But now it's too late to change since the negotiation is at an end.

And so all the extension does is to enable a little more can kicking while business and the UK population waits with just as much uncertainty as to what might happen on the 1st November.

No-deal planning

Businesses - and many individuals - have been making preparations for a no-deal Brexit for some time. Companies have been stockpiling - often at great cost in terms of storage. So too have many individuals, fearing panic buying or other disruptions to supply chains could result in shortages.

The two week delay after the March 29th Brexit date was cancelled was a slight inconvenience. But creating a six month delay creates many logistical issues for anyone stockpiling or planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Does one continue to keep a stockpile going? And if one does decide to continue, stock has to be constantly rotated especially for perishables. The government has reportedly stepped down its no-deal planning [Guardian]. But this does not necessarily guarantee a no-deal Brexit won't happen, perhaps just less likely.

For EU citizens there is no more certainty as regards their status, only that there will be a delay before they'll need to act.

For everyone that Brexit will likely affect, be it a hard no-deal Brexit or leaving on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the next six months only offer a brief respite and leave them in limbo.

What's next?

Theoretically, the UK could leave on Halloween, but given the previous adjustable dates of 29th March and 12th April, it's not beyond the realms of possibility of another extension later this year.

If MPs manage to break the deadlock and agree on a withdrawal agreement in good time before 31st October, the UK can leave on the first day of the month following the passing of a deal. But few believe the deal will ever pass.

As parliament went into recess for the Easter break one could be forgiven for thinking Brexit was all but over.

College Green - from where the world's media have broadcast their reports about Brexit was almost deserted on Friday morning and most of the gazebos had been taken down.

On Friday much of the news media had veered away completely from Brexit news. Indeed it reminded one of those days long ago when there was something else in the news besides Brexit.

The lull will not last of course. In two short weeks MPs return to parliament, and there will once again be a glut of  opinion and debate surrounding Brexit and the upcoming European Elections that Britain is now obliged - due to the extension - to take part in.

And so the circus continues….

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, April 04, 2019

No-deal still likely as the Brexit chaos continues

Only a day before Britain was originally set to leave the European Union no-one was clear what would happen next. An extension had been secured until 12th April such that the PM might get her Withdrawal Agreement passed. But despite a busy week in both cabinet and parliament nothing is certain.

Withdrawal Agreement rejected

The Withdrawal Agreement, secured by Theresa May with the EU last year, was rejected by parliament twice, once in January and again in early March. This forced Theresa May to hold two more votes which she had promised. The first was to establish whether parliament would take a no-deal Brexit off the table whilst the second vote was to ask whether May should seek an extension from the EU.

No-deal was firmly rejected by parliament, with 321 votes against leaving without a deal to 278. However, whilst the vote was not binding it did lead to parliament agreeing in sending Theresa May scuttling back to Brussels to ask for some more time.

Seemingly begrudgingly the EU gave Theresa May until 12th of April to secure her 'deal', and if secured Britain would leave 'in an orderly' fashion on 22nd May. Should her 'deal' not be passed however, Britain would - by default - crash out on the 12th April.

Of course Britain could go back to the EU and request more time. However, just as the the Speaker of the House dismissed a third vote on her deal without substantial changes, the EU seemed likely to dismiss any further requests for an extension without a plan.

Indicative votes - round 1

On Wednesday last week, with only 15 days until the new possible exit date of 12th April, MPs voted on a number of tabled motions, referred to as 'indicative votes'.

However all eight motions put before parliament were rejected. In a repeat of the earlier move to remove no-deal from the table, a no-deal Brexit was firmly dismissed with 400 rejecting such a proposal whilst only 160 backed it.

A so-called Common Market 2.0 or Norway plus option garnered only 188 votes in support while 283 rejected it. Meanwhile another proposal of EFTA & EEA was also rejected by 377 against with only 65 supporting the motion.

A UK wide customs union option did gather a little more support but again there was almost a 50/50 split with 272 MPs rejecting the motion while 264 supported it.

Corbyn's so-called alternative plane also failed with only 237 voting for it whilst some 307 voted against.

There was also no support in the house to Revoke Article 50 to avoid a no-deal Brexit as only 184 voted in favour while 293 rejected the motion.

Meanwhile a Confirmatory public vote motion - or second referendum - also lost with only 268 backing the idea whilst 295 rejected it.

And the last proposal of Preferential arrangements was rejected out of hand with 422 dismissing it while only 139 back the motion.


And so nearly a week on from when parliament sent May to Brussels to buy more time, parliament seemed to be no further forward and in apparent deadlock.

No proposal has been agreed upon, though there is a clear dismissal of a no-deal Brexit with 400 against 160. This was an even more emphatic dismissal on the previous week's vote. In that vote 321 voted to remove a no-deal from the table while 278 had voted in favour of keeping the prospect in place.

While parliament's opposition of a no-deal Brexit has apparently grown there doesn't appear to be much growth in support for the Withdrawal Agreement.

On the day Britain was originally set to leave the European Union the Withdrawal Agreement was once again rejected [BBC].

The government lost by 344 votes to 286, a margin of 58, and meant the UK has missed an EU deadline to delay Brexit to 22nd May and leave with a deal. Speaking afterwards the prime minister said the UK would have to find "an alternative way forward", which was "almost certain" to involve holding European elections.

The margin of rejection of the deal was certainly down on the March and January votes [391 against to 242 for, and 432 against to 202 for respectively], but is seems clear that getting the extra 50 plus votes in a possible fourth vote is very unlikely [Guardian].

Indicative votes - round 2

After the weekend MPs returned to discuss and vote upon a second, but smaller, list of proposals. But once again there was no consensus and all four indicative votes failed [BBC].

Speaker John Bercow chose four proposals to put before MPs; a customs union, a common market 2.0, a confirmatory public vote and a parliamentary supremacy proposal which would seek to rule out no-deal and revoke Article 50 if no extension could be secured.

But as in the previous week's round of votes there was no consensus. Ken Clarke's customs union plan lost by only three votes, defeated by 276 to 273.

The Common Market 2.0 plan - put forward by Conservatives Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Dame Caroline Spelman, Labour's Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell, and the SNP's Stewart Hosie - was defeated by 282 to 261

A motion put forward by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson calling for a confirmatory vote failed by 292 to 280 votes. Meanwhile Joanna Cherry's proposal was defeated by 292 to 191.

Ticking clock

With the clock ticking down to a no-deal on the 12th April, Theresa May was now faced with few options.

She could attempt to put the Withdrawal Agreement before parliament for a fourth time but that would have to be approved by Wednesday 10th in order that the EU can ratify the agreement and approve the 22nd May extension.

However, it appears that horse has already run and Theresa May has to come up with another plan to present to Europe in order to obtain an extension.

Following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday 2nd April which lasted more than 5 hours Theresa May announced she was to consult with the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn in order that she might establish cross party support for a proposal she might present to EU leaders [BBC].

In an address to the country the PM said she was "taking action to break the log jam," by "offering to sit down with the Leader of the Opposition to try to agree a plan that we would both stick to, to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so with a deal."

Of course, as the EU have so often repeated there will be no renegotiation and there is only one 'deal' on the table. Theresa May appeared to recognise this in saying that, "Any plan would have to agree the current withdrawal agreement."

But as has already been seen through the votes on the WA itself as well as a series of votes on various Brexit related motions, there is almost complete deadlock in parliament.

Whilst there was some positive news emanating from the meeting between the PM and Jeremy Corbyn, there were signs that any resolve would be difficult [BBC].

While Labour and Downing Street described the discussions as "constructive", Jeremy Corbyn himself described them as "useful but inconclusive." [BBCGuardian].

Fantasy plans

There has been much discussion concerning the possibility that the PM and Corbyn could present a plan of a softer Brexit to the EU. But this could be seen as somewhat incredulously by EU leaders.

There is growing impatience amongst EU politicians with Britain. Indeed there has even been talk that Britain should just leave. And while many are still sad to see Britain disgrace itself, Europe seems almost resigned to Britain crashing out on WTO rules.

Britain won't know until Thursday 11th whether the European Union will offer an extension to Article 50. Should there be no extension offered, Britain will crash out of the EU the following day.

If an extension were granted it could well last many months and force Britain to take part in EU elections.

With all the indecision and lack of consensus shown in parliament it seems unlikely that the PM will have an acceptable plan to present to Brussels. Thus as time draws nearer to Friday 12th of April Theresa May will have a choice of either revoking Article 50 or letting Britain crash out of the EU. Will it be a case of "Torschlusspanik"* and May cancelling Brexit? Or will she let Britain crash out and sail into an uncertain economic future?

There is one sticking point as regards the revocation of Article 50. Last year the European Court of Justice ruled that Britain had the power to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. But the decision to withdraw the notification has to be made in line with the country's "own national constitutional requirements" which could mean that any revocation would have to be put to a parliamentary vote.

Given this scenario Britain could potentially crash out by accident since a parliamentary vote cannot be guaranteed to produce the desired result.

Nearly three years after the referendum there is still only further uncertainty ahead.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

*Torschlusspanik is a combination of three German words, and literally translated means "gate-shut-panic." Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Brexit: Chaos, chaos and more chaos

Despite parliament having rejected the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal, a no-deal Brexit in 9 days time, or a no-deal in June if parliament can't agree on May's deal, still seems almost inevitable.

May's way or no-deal

Theresa May has been accused of riding "roughshod over parliament" and deliberately running down the clock. Speaking to Adam Boulton on Sky News, Conservative defector Sarah Wollaston said May was essentially saying it was "My way or over the cliff."

Yet May has been thwarted in bringing her deal back to parliament for a third time in the current session by the Speaker of the House John Bercow unless substantial changes were made.

Speaker stops third vote

The ruling was greeted with dismay by hardline Brexiters who feel he was deliberately trying to frustrate Brexit.

"I've never been a fan of John Bercow," said one member of the ERG Andrew Bridgen speaking outside parliament on Tuesday 19th March but added, "I don't want Mrs May's deal to go through."

Bridgen's solution would, he said, be a change in leadership. "We need a new prime minister, a Brexiteer, someone who believes in Brexit."

As to his choice of leader he thought Boris Johnson was a possibility but suggested Dominic Raab as his choice, a man who only recently said he had only understood the importance of Dover as a major port [Sky News].

Voices on College Green

This week most politicians appeared to have gone to ground with very few making their usual jaunts to College Green to speak to the assembled media. Last week, as MPs voted on a wide range of Brexit related motions, the area was awash with MPs expressing their fears, anger and frustrations.

Amongst Brexit supporting MPs there voices of despair. Charles Walker, a Conservative MP, told the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg that if the PM's Brexit deal fell on Tuesday there would have to be a general election within months, or even weeks [BBC].

He backtracked a little when speaking to Phoenix TV, based in Hong Kong, the following day but nonetheless predicted there was "more chaos" to come.

It is perhaps with this chaos in mind he also expressed the view that Brexit might not have been a good idea after all. Speaking to BBC's Newshour he said, "I will curse myself for ever thinking that a referendum was a good idea."

Game over for May

Meanwhile Lord Heseltine said the "game was over" for Theresa May. Speaking to Sky News, he said the PM's decision to allow a free vote on whether to rule out a no-deal Brexit indicated she had "lost control". Like Walker, Heseltine also suggested there might soon be a change in leadership and that her own Cabinet would soon give her "a tap on the shoulder" and remove her from office. "I think her position is impossible but I think it has been impossible since she became Prime Minister." [Express]

Withdrawal Agreement rejected

On Tuesday [12th March], the Withdrawal Agreement was once again rejected by MPs with 391 voting against it with 242 voting for it [BBC].

It wasn't the massive rejection seen in January when Theresa May sustained the heaviest parliamentary defeat of any British prime minister in the democratic era after MPs rejected her Brexit deal by a resounding majority of 230 [Guardian].

But despite MPs having voted down May's 'deal' by 149 votes in the latest bout, the fourth-largest defeat of the government in the history of the Commons, the PM seemed insistent on holding yet another 'meaningful vote' on her Withdrawal Agreement, which had been pencilled in for Tuesday 19th March.

However, that was scrubbed after the intervention by the speaker.

Seeking an extension to Article 50

With a non-binding rejection of a no-deal Brexit parliament on Wednesday 13th March, MPs voted on Thursday the 14th March on a motion that Theresa May should seek an extension to Article 50.

Meanwhile the European Union is looking at Britain in despair. On Tuesday 19th March both French and German ministers expressed their frustration with the Brexit fiasco.

Nathalie Loiseau, the French Europe Minister [who, by the way does not have a cat called Brexit - France24], seemed incredulous concerning an extension. "Grant an extension? What for?" she told the Austrian television news station ORF and other assembled journalists [Twitter], "Time is not a solution, it's a method. If there is an objection and there is a strategy then it has to come from London."

Michael Roth, the German Europe Minister, also called for sensible reasons for an extension. "The clock is ticking and time is running out," he told the assembled media. "We are really exhausted by these negotiations and I expect clear and precise proposals of the British government why such an extension is necessary."

May's simply asking for an extension in the hope that with time she might persuade MPs to back her deal is unlikely to get the EU to offer any concessions.

How long is a piece of string?

The PM is expected to ask for a short extension. However, it is the EU and not May who can set the parameters and provisions of any extension. Moreover any extension has to be agreed unanimously by the 27 member states.

Theresa May and Brexit are both facing a ticking time bomb. The PM has been adamant thus far that Britain will leave on 29th March, something she has said 108 times in parliament. However unless Britain crashes out without a deal this seems unlikely.

During PMQs Theresa May said it would be "unacceptable" to put forward MEPs for European elections as it would be a betrayal to those who voted for Brexit.

"As PM I'm not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30th June," she told the Commons, and that she had drafted a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, setting out her request for a short extension. But only an hour after her address to parliament there were noises coming out of Brussels that any extension would have to be longer.

Running down the clock

Exactly 1000 days since the referendum the prime minister was accused by the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn of "running down the clock" and risked damaging Britain's future and creating a "national crisis".

Theresa May remained arrogantly forthright. Despite her deal having been rejected twice, she insisted her deal was still the only choice. "I will deliver on Brexit," May insisted, "That is what the British people deserve."

No-deal still a risk

While the UK parliament has rejected the idea of leaving the EU without a deal, the vote is not binding and if there is no extension or Article 50 is not revoked Britain would - on the 29th March - leave without a deal by default [CNN].

On the subject of revoking Article 50, Theresa May has adamantly said that is "something I will not do". So unless she makes a U-turn on that commitment, only an extension could prevent Britain crashing out on 29th March.

And so on Thursday 14th March parliament voted to call for an extension by 413 votes to 202 [BBC]. And today May has told parliament she is seeking a short extension.

However, an extension can only be requested and is not guaranteed. And while it not expected the EU would reject an extension it does require unanimous agreement from all other 27 member states. The EU are also likely to ask for good reasons for such an extension.

Mood in the EU

The mood from a long debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday last week [13th March] seemed to indicate that many member states would likely only ratify such an extension if Britain were to put the issue back to the people, though the prospect of a general election might also sway thinking - though May has dismissed both options [Twitter]. 

The length of time could also be stipulated by the EU. This might well mean that Britain, whilst planning on potentially exiting the EU within weeks or months might be put in the rather awkward position of holding European Elections in May [Reuters].

Hardliner standoff while PM blackmails MPs

Some commentators have suggested that Theresa May might secretly want her request for an extension rejected. The thinking behind this is that she might then be able to return to parliament and force a third vote on her 'deal' with less than a week until Britain crashes out of the EU by default.

But the numbers needed to back her deal still aren't there. The DUP have indicated they would not fall behind the deal unless the ERG backed her deal and they have said they would not back it without DUP support. Similarly Labour Brexiters have also declared they would be unlikely to come forward to back the deal without the DUP and ERG supporting the deal.

Like a scene from the end of Reservoir Dogs the hard liners are in a stand-off with each other over who might put their guns down first. Meanwhile Theresa May stands before parliament metaphorically hold a gun to the country's head proclaiming that MPs should back her deal or Britain will crash out by default.

Life outside the Westminster bubble

Beyond the Westminster bubble one could be forgiven for thinking that life was just ticking on by and that Brexit is of no concern to anyone.

Tourists still wander the streets. People board trains on their way to and from work. Pubs, bars and restaurants continue serving customers and traffic flows London's streets.

In 9 days, should there be no extension, Britain could be very different should it crash out of the EU.

While some pro-Europeans have been encouraged that MPs have rejected a no-deal Brexit and sought an extension there are other voices that suggest the recent votes in parliament only amount to a stay of execution [BBC]. Thus the prospect of a no-deal Brexit remains very real indeed.

The effects of a no-deal may take a few days to kick in, but crashing out without a deal could soon see shortages in shops and within months very dire economic consequences.

Brexit fatigue

Many people are suffering from Brexit fatigue and perhaps blindly just want the sorry saga to end even if Britain leaves without a deal, perhaps without a full understanding what it would really mean. But even for ordinary citizens outside the bubble of British politics the effects of a no-deal will suddenly focus minds. But by then it will be too late. It will be too late to turn back. Britain will be on its own.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Project fear becoming a reality as no-deal Brexit looms

During the referendum campaign the suggestion companies would uproot and shift to Europe or elsewhere was dismissed as project fear.

However with less than two months to go until Britain likely crashes out of the EU, many companies have either left, downsized, reduced investment of shifted some operations abroad [Guardian / Bloomberg / The Scotsman].

Insurance companies shifting strategy

Since the referendum a number of companies have changed their strategy. The US insurance company AIG has set up a new company in Luxembourg for EU clients [Reuters] whilst the Admiral Group insurance company is moving some of its operations to Madrid and Seville to serve its European business outside of the UK [Bloomberg]. And the insurance giant Chubb is moving its European headquarters to France [Chubb]. Hiscox, another insurance company, has set up a new base in Luxembourg [Telegraph].

Other insurance companies making moves include Liberty Speciality Markets which is also setting up its EU headquarters in Luxembourg [Liberty Speciality Markets] as has the RSA Group [RSA Group]. And Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest insurance market, has set up a new subsidiary in Brussels and is moving some roles from London [Standard].

Banks & financial moves

Several banks and other financial institutions have also made move. Barclays bank plans to move 190 billion euros of balance-sheet assets to Dublin. And the exchange operator CME Group is moving its $240 billion-a-day European market for short-term financing, the largest in the region, from London to Amsterdam to guarantee continental firms can continue to use it if there is a no-deal Brexit. It's also moving its $15 billion-a-day foreign-exchange forwards and swaps venue to the Dutch capital [Bloomberg]. Cboe Global Markets, another exchange operator, is also shifting most of its European equities trading to Amsterdam [Bloomberg]. 

Pantheon, the private equity and infrastructure investor, has meanwhile set up a new base in Dublin [City AM]. 

Deutsche Bank, meanwhile, is repatriating at least 400 billion euros of balance-sheet assets [Bloomberg].  JPMorgan is also moving balance-sheet assets to Frankfurt to the value of 200 billion euros [Bloomberg].

Whilst it is perhaps understandable that financial firms might shift given the EU regulations concerning services, other companies have also made shifts abroad.

Media and tech 

Media company Discovery, the US broadcaster, is setting up a new European HQ in the Netherlands. In a statement the company said the move was one made that "ensures continuity" of "services for the viewer across Europe" [Broadband TV News]. However, the company was retaining "a large hub in the UK" at its London office which houses more than 1,000 people. Britain's former phone monopoly BT is also seeking a new data protection base in the EU.

Whilst the focus of Brexit has been on manufacturers and financial groups many have failed to realize the effect Brexit will have on media companies. Akin to global banks, international media companies like Discovery, Sweden's Modern Times Group and Time Warner's Turner International use UK licences to access the European Union. And these companies have had to make the decision as to whether they should relocate some operations to preserve that access.

"No one running a business of any scale can wait to the end of negotiations before deciding what to do," Adam Minns, executive director of the Commercial Broadcasters Association, said back in August 2017 [Independent]. The process of acquiring office space, moving staff and shifting technical support could take up to a year. And so Brexit damage has already been done as companies have already been forced to make the shift.

Slow burn hiding real impact

It is the slow burn of Brexit and the gradual trickle of companies leaving that has helped hide the Brexit effect. And this has given many a false impression that Brexit hasn't had a marked impact. But there was never going to be a mass exodus on any one single day. Dozens of companies all leaving on 29th of March or the day after the referendum would certainly make headlines. But the single reports of a company shifting out of the UK are soon forgotten about.

Tariffs & supply chain concerns

Manufacturing companies have also made a shift, partly out of concern over tariffs that might be imposed after 29th March 2019. The seller of Clarks shoes, C&J Clark, plans to open a distribution centre in continental Europe [Bloomberg]. 

And Dechra Pharmaceuticals, the maker of animal medicines, is looking at setting up dual testing facilities in the UK and EU in preparation for Brexit [Bloomberg]. 

Publishing company Monocle, the global affairs magazine, is moving its printing from the UK to Germany over concerns about difficulties exporting if there's a no-deal Brexit [Bloomberg]. And Ryohin Keikaku, which retails products under the Muji brand, is considering moving its European headquarters out of the UK to Germany [Bloomberg / Business Insider].

Panasonic has said it would move its European headquarters from the outskirts of London to Amsterdam effective 1st October [Bloomberg / BBC / Dutch News]. 
The list of companies goes on. Renishaw, maker of precision measuring and calibration equipment is opening a distribution warehouse in Ireland, whilst Schaeffler, the German maker of ball bearings, used in cars and the London Eye Ferris wheel, is closing two of its three UK production plants, which could cut its workforce by half [Bloomberg / BBC]

The Japanese consumer electronics firm Sony is moving its European domicile to the Netherlands [FT / CNN]. The Surgical appliances manufacturer Steris plans to move its corporate base to Ireland from the UK [Bloomberg / Irish Times].

Stifel, the US firm, will buy the brokerage operations of Germany's MainFirst Holding, ensuring that it can keep offering financial services in the EU after Brexit [Bloomberg]. And Swissquote, the Swiss bank, is planning to move its European retail business from London to Luxembourg [Bloomberg].

TransferWise, a money transfer company is opening an office in Belgium [FT]. Travelers, the insurance company, is setting up a new subsidiary in Dublin [Global Banking & Finance]. 

The Hut Group, a company which sells beauty, wellness and luxury products online, is constructing a facility in Wroclaw, Poland [Bloomberg].

Automotive industry hit

Of course the automotive industry is one that has commanded headlines when it comes to Brexit. Vauxhall is said to be considering closing one of its two British factories [Bloomberg]. 

Meanwhile Nissan has confirmed that the new X-Trail originally planned for its Sunderland plant will instead be made in Japan [BBC]. This despite government Brexit bribes being offered to the company of up to £80m [Sky News].

Jaguar Land Rover meanwhile temporarily paused production at its engine factory in Wolverhampton in the run-up to Christmas, citing Brexit as a factor contributing to fluctuating demand.


Whilst some companies have decided to ride the storm, at least for the short term, there are quite a number that have already begun to stockpile. This is of course at a time when Britain is not at war. Nonetheless the concerns over supplies and increased tariffs have prompted businesses to plan for the worst.

Amongst those stockpiling include Airbus, the European company, which is said to be stockpiling parts to maintain production rates in case of customs delays. Bentley, the carmaker, is building up stocks of imported parts as is Bosch, the world's largest auto-parts maker

Brompton Bicycle, the foldable bike maker, has even rented a warehouse near Heathrow to store an extra month's worth of supplies.

Associated British Foods, the maker of Ryvita crackers, Twinings tea bags and Jordans muesli is also buying key items like food, packaging and machinery ahead of time. And Creative Nature, the superfood firm is stockpiling hemp seed and other ingredients for its snack bars.

Heineken, the Dutch brewer, is stockpiling thousands of pallets of goods to make sure beer taps don't run dry. LVMH, the French maker of high-end beverage brands including Moet & Chandon champagne and Hennessy cognac has added four months of wine and spirits inventory to the UK. Majestic Wine is meanwhile planning to stock an extra 5 to 8 million pounds of inventory to mitigate any potential supply chain disruption.

And Imperial Brands, whose tobacco brands include Davidoff, will hold about 30 million pounds worth of cigarettes to mitigate possible supply disruptions. That equates to more than 2.6 million packs of 20 cigarettes each. So at least perhaps smoker won't get too twitchy after a hard Brexit.

With concerns rising over the supply of pharmaceuticals AstraZeneca, the drugmaker, is increasing its stockpile of drugs to four months from three and spending about 40 million pounds [$51 million] to duplicate UK-based testing facilities that prepare products for distribution.

And the list goes on with Joules, the clothes retailer, Marks & Spencer, Cadbury's owner Mondelez International, Nestle, pharmaceutical giant Merck, the drugmaker Novartis and Pfizer all making plans to stockpile. Even Pets at Home is stocking up of dog and cat food.

Cancelled plans, investment & job cuts

Others, whilst remaining in the UK, have shelved plans in terms of investment or expansion, and in some cases have cancelled production of certain products.

All of this has an effect on jobs. Thus far job losses directly connected to Brexit are not significant, though for those who have lost their job it is of course extremely significant. The numbers might not be large now, but all the signs point to far more significant losses in the coming weeks, months and years should Britain crash out of the EU.

Bank of America, which has 4,500 UK staff, is moving 400 jobs to Paris, mostly from London. Barclays, which has 10,000 UK staff, has reported that it will move 150 jobs to Dublin, which will be its main EU hub after Brexit. They are also creating 150 new roles in the Irish capital.

And Citigroup, which has 9,000 UK staff, has reported that it will move 250 jobs. Credit Suisse, with 6,600 UK staff, has reported that it will move 250 jobs to various EU cities. Deutsche Bank has reported that it will move 500 jobs to Frankfurt of its 9,000 UK staff. Goldman Sachs, which has 6,000 UK staff, has reported that it will move 700 jobs. HSBC, which has 5,000 UK staff, has reported that it will move 1,000 jobs to Paris. And JPMorgan, which has 16,000 UK staff, has reported that it will move 400 jobs. Other finance companies are also relocating staff including Societe Generale, Standard Chartered and UBS which between them are sending more than 700 staff abroad.

On the face of it such relocations may not look significant. In many cases the numbers equate to only 5% of the company's London workforce, though in the case of HSBS they are shifting 20% of their staff . Nonetheless, should uncertainty continue and operations become more difficult for these firms the numbers could increase dramatically.

In other sectors the losses are already sizeable. Jaguar Land Rover, Britain's biggest carmaker plans to cut 4,500 jobs globally, representing roughly 10% of its workforce, citing Brexit as an indirect factor. And since October 2017, 650 people have lost their jobs at the Ellesmere Port factory where Vauxhall Motors builds Astra hatchbacks.

Perhaps one of the biggest blows was Japan's Hitachi Ltd putting a £16 billion nuclear power project in Britain on hold [Guardian / Reuters / BBC].   

Warnings against a no-deal Brexit

Many companies have warned for some time that they may have to seriously consider their future in Britain, especially in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And those warnings have have grown in the last few weeks.

The message from many businesses is that the government take no-deal off the table saying it would be disastrous for them and the country [Standard]. 

Airbus has been particularly outspoken. Its CEO Tom Enders said the European aerospace giant may have to move future investments out of the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. "Make no mistake, there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft," Enders said in an unprecedented video message [Guardian / Airbus].

Ford, too, has painted dire warnings. The automaker is considering closing factories in Europe and has cautioned any action might be worsened in a no-deal Brexit. In January this year the company said a no-deal Brexit would mean costs of $800m in 2019 alone [Guardian] a repeat of warnings it gave only four months previously [BBC].

BMW's CEO Harald Krueger has said that the carmaker "would be forced to build in the Netherlands." The company has also said it would bring forward a four-week stoppage for routine maintenance at its Oxford factory to April 1, a few days after the UK is planned to leave the EU.

Bentley's boss has also pointed at the risks of a no-deal and said a failure to reach a Brexit deal would be "quite damaging" to annual profit in the worst-case scenario, limit the company's ability to invest and could lead to its plant closing for an additional few days at Christmas or Easter.

PSA Group, the maker of Peugeot, Citroen and DS vehicles, has been more cautious in its public statement. But CEO Carlos Tavares has warned that business could face dire consequences without a deal but says that in the event of a hard Brexit it would enter into talks with unions in the UK before taking any tough decisions on production.

Meanwhile Toyota says it anticipates halting production at its Midlands factory, which has 2,500 employees, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

These are just some of the effects on British industry because of Brexit. Britain has already lost the EMA [Guardian] as well as the European Banking Authority [Guardian]. Britain's disconnect from Euratom [Sky News], Galileo as well as security agencies such as Europol [BBC] are likely to affect Britain's place in science and create uncertainty concerning security.

Hard line Brexiters & WTO myths

There are of course those within the Brexit camp that will maintain that much of this is project fear or that Britain can renegotiate deals and regulatory alliances with other partners. This is true to some extent. Britain can of course negotiate new trade deals. But these could take decades simply because of the lack of available trade negotiators and the average time it usually takes to get a trade deal negotiated. And as for the much lauded WTO Article 24, which Brexiters are claiming could provide a framework for Britain moving forward, the idea is just fanciful [Bloomberg]. Indeed the first major stumbling block would be getting the EU to sign off on it. The UK can't sign an Article 24 deal unilaterally; it would require agreement from the EU. And that is extremely unlikely as it would mean the EU saying goodbye to the £39 billion divorce settlement, amongst other things. Thus Britain would have to drop back to a default position and begin trade deals whilst operating on punitive tariffs. And whilst such deals are being discussed, business will have to make the decision as to whether it's economically viable to stay in the UK.

For Japanese manufacturers such as Nissan it looks almost certain that it will eventually wind up operations in the UK, especially given the fact that Japan has recently signed a free-trade deal with the EU. How could Nissan UK remain competitive given the high tariffs on cars and car parts under WTO rules [BBC]?

It isn't just the manufacturing base under threat. Agriculture is likely to be decimated after a hard Brexit. From fresh fruit, vegetables and grain to meat and dairy exports, all will be affected. Without a free trade deal with the UK, which could take years, Britain would be now selling such products at an increased cost because of WTO tariffs. For fresh fruit, vegetables and grains this would mean tariffs of around 10%. For meat exports the effect will be far more significant.

Just over 80% of total beef exports are to the EU, highlighting the significance of the EU market to the UK beef industry. The majority of beef imports into the EU, from non EU countries, are subject to ad valorem tariffs of 12.8%, plus an additional fixed amount that can range from €1,414 to €3,041 per tonne, depending on the product. These tariffs could account for well over 100% of the price per unit. Under a 'no deal' scenario, UK exports could be subject to these tariffs, which would limit access to the EU market. At the time of writing [January 2019], no information is yet available regarding the rate at which UK import tariffs would be set in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit [Project Blue PDF]. 

Suffice to say any significant price increase would make British beef, and other meat, noncompetitive and too expensive for EU consumers. The EU would simply shop elsewhere with countries with which it has trade agreement or trade within its own borders. Brexiters have argued that Britain might simply sell to someone else. But this fails to understand several things. One is the so-called gravity of economics - whereby countries do the most trade with their nearest neighbours. Secondly other markets may - and are quite likely - to already have ample supplies of meat or other products Britain might be trying to sell them. Furthermore, given that Britain would - at least initially - only have default WTO tariffs under which to trade, they would be in no better a position to trade with markets further afield than with the EU market on its front doorstep.

It is perhaps no surprise that some government departments, fearing a no deal Brexit, are already making plans to implement mass slaughter of livestock and burn or otherwise dispose of the carcasses.

Sunlit uplands or a mad max apocalypse?

It is hard to see the sunlit uplands that Brexit was supposed to bring. For many rationally minded people the view won't be sunlit. Rather is will be lit by the burning of thousands of unwanted carcasses whilst police and army patrol the streets to quell civil unrest in the wake of food and medicine shortages. Maybe it won't be a 'Mad Max apocalypse that former Brexit secretary David Davis dismissed as scaremongering [BBC]. But neither will it be the utopia painted by some Brexiters.

Economists are already raising concerns about a global recession, precipitated by US president Donald Trump's trade war and also Brexit. The Eurozone is not entirely stable, economically speaking - indeed Italy recently fell into a technical recession. And China's growth reduced in the last quarter of 2018.

However, Britain's economic outlook is even more dire. And much damage has already been done. Indeed the latest economic data suggests the economy has been brought to a near-halt as firms grow increasingly anxious about Brexit [Bloomberg / Guardian / Reuters / BBC]. At a time when being part of the world's biggest free-trade block would held Britain ride the storm of another global recession, the country is instead severing ties and going it alone.

The sea is likely to get very rough in the coming months and years - Brexit or no-Brexit - and Britain is going to find it very difficult navigating let alone surviving by itself.  Weary of being outpaced by its continental competitors, the UK belatedly joined the European Economic Community in 1973. In 1976, the plummeting value of the pound forced Jim Callaghan's Labour government to humiliatingly accept a £2.3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, the largest in its three-decade history. Britain became known as "the sick man of Europe". 

Slowly and after much pain, Britain forged a new role for itself. The creation of the European single market – enabling the free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states – bolstered an increasingly service-driven economy. London, whose population had declined from 8.2 million in 1951 to 6.8 million in 1981, became Europe's financial powerhouse [NS / Wikipedia]. 

Brexit will likely undo all the good that the EU done in helping bolster the UK economy. And as Britain heads for almost certain disaster, the EU President Donald Tusk has expressed his incredulity of how Britain managed to find itself in this position. "I've been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely."

So what are the chances of a no-deal Brexit. Despite the warnings and damage already done to the British economy there are quite a number of economists who fear it may well happen.

The risk of a no-deal Brexit still exists as "you can't underestimate the stupidity of politicians," said Pau Morilla-Giner of London & Capital Group Ltd. speaking on Bloomberg TV on Tuesday 5th of February. Essentially the UK is "uninvestable for the moment" he added, "grab the popcorn and see what happens!"

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