Brexit: democracy in name only

Wednesday 16 June 2021  

We are informed by the Telegraph (amongst others), that Britain is to accept a "flood of Australian beef" in landmark trade deal. Predictably, the prime minister is hailing this "new dawn" for relations with Canberra and, equally predictably, farmers are raising "concerns".

The greater concern, for the moment though, must reside with a more pressing concern: the final trade agreement is not yet ready to be published. Not only does no one have a clue exactly what is in the deal, says the Telegraph, "there will be no parliamentary vote on whether to accept the deal".

Technically speaking, this is correct. According to this source, Parliament's consent is not needed for the government to conclude treaties.

We are further informed that this is usually justified by the fact that international agreements that have not been transformed into domestic law have no direct legal effect. Parliament, therefore, has a role in scrutinising implementing legislation.

However, the mechanism of implementation is usually via one or more statutory instruments (Sis), under the enabling authority of the Trade Act 2021. These SIs are typically "negative" instruments. They become law on the day the ministers sign them, but they are the are "laid" before parliament for 40 sitting days.

The way, in theory, that they can be overturned is for MPs to table a motion, or "prayer", which comes in the form of an early day motion. This must be signed by a number of MPs and can then lead to a vote. But this is not always the case.

If there is a vote, the majority have to vote against, and it is theoretically possible to achieve that, if government MPs can be induced to rebel, and the opposition unites. But the vote doesn't have to be held on the floor of the House. It can be referred to a committee, which has an inbuilt government majority. There, the likelihood is that it would be passed "on the nod".

In practice, therefore, the scrutiny is largely toothless and, as the Telegraph remarks, those hoping for a new post-Brexit age of accountability, parliamentary democracy and sovereignty will be rightly disappointed. That is unlikely to prevent future deals, and sell-outs, from being hidden away from the public.

There are those who might remark, in passing, that the European Commission does not have such power. Negotiating objectives must be approved by the Council, the European Parliament has a right to receive updates on the negotiations and, once the text is finalised, the Parliament must approve it by majority vote, following which the Council must conclude the agreement by qualified majority.

In the event that the Commission doesn't have exclusive competence, in so-called "mixed agreements", the member states must also ratify the treaties, according to their own constitutional procedures, although an agreement can apply provisionally pending ratification.

In all cases, the texts of any treaties must be published before they can be ratified, but there is no such obligation for the UK government. Under Royal Prerogative, it is entitled to conclude a treaty without making the text publicly available.

Nothing of that is actually any help to UK parliament. Whether in or out of the EU, the parliament had no power to influence treaties made by the Commission. With Brexit, parliament is no worse off, but no better off.

As for the benighted citizens of this country, in theory – but only theory – we had some say over the approval of treaties via our MEPs. And some Member States have constitutions which allow for referendums. UK citizens, though, have no rights to plebiscites on trade treaties.

Thus, we are in a situation where, in effect, Brexit has given rise to a transfer of powers from the EU, but those powers largely been transferred to the executive. Parliament is barely any better off, and UK citizens have not gained any material benefits.

This is why, of course, that when I wrote Flexcit, I embodied the elements of The Harrogate Agenda in phase six of the text.

Specifically, I wrote, this stage confronted the idea that there was little point in recovering powers from the EU, only to hand them back to the same institutions that gave them away in the first place.

Further, I added, even without EU influence, the UK is an overly centralised state, so the repatriation of powers from Brussels only for them to reside in London or one of the other devolved capitals affords fewer benefits to individual citizens than might be imagined.

With a degree of prescience which is borne out by current events, I went to write that, to a certain extent, the effect of restoring a degree of "independence" would simply be to swap one ruling class for another, with very little by way of beneficial effects for ordinary people.

And here we are with the perfect demonstration of our status as a elective dictatorship – made worse by a dysfunctional opposition. There were those who were concerned that the arrangements for leaving the EU would bring is BRINO – BRexit In Name Only. But what we have, in fact, is DINO – Democracy In Name Only.

This is embodied in the THA document where I wrote that our movement was based on the premise that democracy means "people power".

The word democracy, I wrote, stems from the Greek word, demokratía, comprising two parts: demos "people" and kratos "power". Without a demos, there is no democracy. But people without power is not democracy either.

In terms of that definition, The UK has never really enjoyed a fully functioning democracy. Had we had one in the recent past, Prime Minister Tony Blair would not have been able to take us to war in Iraq in 2003 nor Afghanistan in 2006.

Nor could Edward Heath have led the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Neither, for that matter, could any government have concluded the Withdrawal Agreement or the TCA without the direct, informed assent of the people.

Our current system of government includes the vestiges of what is known as "representative democracy", where in theory our interests are safeguarded by locally elected MPs. That system has never functional in any real sense and, in any event, embodies a misuse of the word democracy. People do not hold power so that system cannot – by definition – be a democracy. The word "representative" is to "democracy", as "wooden" is to leg.

But now, the failings of the system are shown up in high profile, naked in tooth and claw. There have been many reservations about the Australian deal, but the government has gone ahead and concluded it anyway. It doesn't need the assent of the UK peoples, and has not sought it. And it knows it can rely on its inbuilt majority to block any attempt to hold up any enabling legislation.

For marginal benefits, which may not even be noticeable in the average shopping basket, the government is prepared to put British farming at risk, and we only have its word, and the word of a congenital liar, that they will come to no harm.

All we get for our money is a glossy photoshoot that lays bare the singular fact that the UK is not a functioning democracy.

In fact, it never has been, but it has taken Brexit to demonstrate anew where the power really lies. And it ain't with the people.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 16/06/2021 link

Covid: the consensus fragmenting

Tuesday 15 June 2021  

It's been such a long time coming, and predicted so widely, that there can hardly be any sense of surprise that Johnson has delayed the lifting of the final set of Covid restrictions until 19 July.

Mind you, it is so long since I took any notice of the array of confused and often conflicting rules that I cannot say, with any honesty, what restrictions still apply – much less unravel the difference between "guidance" and statutory requirements. More to the point, I don't care enough to expend the time looking them up.

Obviously, those most affected, and especially financially, by what restrictions remain will be those who will complain longest and loudest. But many people will get on with their lives and ignore most of the petty restrictions where they can.

After all, they have the superb role models of the G7 leaders who don't seem to have been troubled by masks and social distancing for most of their mini-break in Cornwall. And bluntly, when details of how to make hugging safer are being published, it really is time to give up.

Financially, the biggest losers, it appears, are pubs and restaurants, and the "live event" sector, comprising theatres, cinemas and the like, which cannot operate to capacity because of social distancing requirements.

However, even if I was sufficiently motivated to find out what the rules actually are (or will be), it transpires that the actual details haven't yet been published. The government is carrying out a series of "reviews", to work out what changes will need to be made.

This is "lockdown", but not as we know it, Jim. Actually, it's lockdown, but not as anyone knows it. Then, we can always do as the government does and make it up as we go along.

But then, when it comes to making things up, we are told that even the 19 July date is provisional. Johnson is only "confident" that a four-week delay is all that is needed, but he is not prepared to guarantee that we will see the end of restrictions then. Some pundits are suggesting that it may be next spring before they are finally lifted.

This might be more tolerable if there was any sense that we were being given the full picture, and that the people in the driving seat knew what they were doing. But it has been a long time since – if ever – that those conditions were fulfilled.

What is particularly disturbing is that, while the epidemic profile has changed – with the advent of the Indian variant, and the growing cohort of vaccinated people – the Janet & John explanations delivered by the likes of Whitty don't take this into account.

In particular, we are still pointed in the direction of hospitalisation data – as the key parameter which supposedly tells us whether NHS hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed. But "hospitalisation" is a portmanteau term, ranging from a patient presenting to A&E and being kept overnight for observation, to a critical care patient spending months on a ventilator in ICU.

There are some indications that ICU admissions are down, but data are difficult to acquire, and there is no distinction made in publicly-available figures between those who need "routine" critical care, and those who need ventilation. In terms of resource requirements, though, there is an enormous difference, so to talk simply about hospitalisation, without qualification, is misleading.

Thus, while cases and hospital referrals are on the up, numbers are still relatively low. And if the overall effect, in terms of resource implications, are now the same as, or less severe than, pandemic flu, there may be a case for winding down the covid response and focusing on reducing the NHS's dangerously high waiting lists.

Whether this is the situation, there is no way of knowing from the easily available public data – and no assurance that a deeper search will yield dividends. But it does seem that, at official level, the epidemic paradigm under discussion has not materially changed.

This especially seems to be the case when it comes to the distribution of illness. The small print is telling us of a new(ish) phenomenon, labelled "middle super output areas" (MSOAs) – small geographic units with an average population of 8,000.

There are apparently more than 6,000 of these in England, and analysis reveals pockets with very low levels of protection in every region. Without being told, we have to infer that some of these (if not most), are communities of Indian origin which, through the lax travel controls, and the equally lax quarantine rules, have become reservoirs of infection for the Indian variant.

Where there are also crowded conditions, multi-generational families in the same dwellings, and low vaccine uptake amongst qualifying groups, this creates conditions which are more than sufficient to sustain the levels of illness observed, without the rest of the country being affected.

Here, it is interesting to reflect on the severity of movement controls during the Foot & Mouth epidemic, where some parts of the country were, effectively, under martial law. Where there are known hotspots, with the potential of seeding the rest of the country, one would expect similar provisions to apply, where the stakes are so much higher.

Instead, it might seem to some that the nationwide lifting of restrictions is being held back, not because of the general prevalence of illness, but because of localised outbreaks, which are not being fully addressed with the powers government has at its disposal.

While little of this is being openly discussed, the political fallout is potentially serious for Johnson. Following the announcement yesterday, his fan club has broken ranks, with the Telegraph accusing him of giving in to "a backlash from a risk-averse scientific-technocratic class that has never appreciated lockdown's costs". The rise of the Indian variant, the paper says,
…gave licence to officials to revive their irresponsible campaign of fear. First, warnings about the effects of variants convinced the Government to go backwards on foreign travel, with suggestions from ministers that limiting our freedom to go abroad would protect freedom at home. Now even the return of freedom at home is being sacrificed, to what is being described as a sensible delay.
Now, it says, Johnson "risks being remembered not only as the prime minister who took away our freedoms, but who was unwilling to give them back again". And, even as he was speaking yesterday, crowds of protesters were assembled outside Downing Street.

Predictably, the Guardian takes the official line, arguing that delaying lockdown easing is "sadly unavoidable", basing its view on a parade of dubious and ambiguous statistics. But, while The Times is mirroring the Guardian view, talking of a "prudent postponement, the Mail conveying the "Tory fury" as "freedom is delayed".

This clear split in sentiment suggests that Covid is about to become politicised in a way that it hasn't been before, with the consensus fragmenting. Johnson's vaccine "bounce" is beginning to fade and he now treading on extremely thin "political" ice.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 15/06/2021 link

Brexit: "whatever it takes"

Monday 14 June 2021  

The legacy media has written more about Northern Ireland over the last couple of weeks than it wrote throughout the entire referendum campaign. That would not be difficult, though. Barely anything was written about the province.

Certainly, I wrote very little and what I did was based on the assumption that the UK would take the "Norway option", and stay within the EEA. That would not have solved all the problems but, with a few tweaks, it would have been close to business at usual for Northern Ireland.

Once Theresa May decided we were to leave the Single Market, confirmed during her notorious Lancaster House speech, then the writing was on the wall. We were left with three possible options, and it didn't take a genius to work it out.

Mrs May, of course, thought she could long-finger the decision as which way to go. Her "backstop" and the "Strasbourg Agreement" left open the possibility of her negotiators coming up with something, then unspecified, which could keep the show on the road.

When Johnson ditched May's deal and substituting his own, turning the "backstop" into a "frontstop", any chance of an off-piste deal – however remote – evaporated.

In theory, there were three possible options available before Johnson did his deal. For the first and most obvious, he could have reversed May's Lancaster House decision, and gone back for the Efta/EEA option. But that was never going to happen. Even if he had wanted to go that direction, the ERG would not have allowed it.

With Johnson determined on a clean break from the EU's regulatory union, and a hard land border was out of the question, that left either the option of a regulatory border between mainland Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or the prospect of convincing the Irish government that the regulatory border should be moved to between Ireland and the rest of the EU. And the latter was never going to happen.

Before he had even let his new team loose, though, the new prime minister had already decided on the only practical option available to him – the regulatory border between GB and Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that he thought could then refine, or even alter the deal during the TCA negotiations. But if that was even a possibility, it never happened.

Given the Walter Mitty demeanour of Johnson, though, and his well-known inability to handle detail, it is conceivable that he didn't know what he had agreed, especially in the light of his assurance that there would be no border checks on goods from NI to GB.

However, then and on other occasions, he gave no commitments on what would happen with GB to NI trade, suggesting that he was aware that there would be some issues that he would have to deal with.

But then along came the Internal Market Bill, breaking international law, but only "in a very specific and limited way", which had Johnson in September last year, asserting that the UK had only agreed to do some "light-touch checks" on goods arriving in Northern Ireland, in case they should go on to Ireland.

There is nothing in the Protocol, of course, that would suggest – or even allow for – light-touch checks but, on the assumption that these would prevail, Johnson maintained that we had an "excellent deal", on which basis we had left the EU.

It had apparently taken nearly a year for the intelligence to percolate through to Johnson's fragile brain that the EU was intending to use "an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish Sea".

Any dispassionate reading of the protocol, though, would not support Johnson's reading, which lead to that famous intervention by Ed Miliband, when he accused the prime minister of not having read the protocol – which is most likely the case.

The deal that Johnson had told us was a triumph, the deal he said was oven-ready, the deal on which he fought and won the general election, Miliband scorned, had the prime minister coming to the House to declare that his "flagship achievement" was "contradictory and ambiguous".

In full flow, Miliband had rounded off with a superb burst of rhetoric, declaring that there was only one person responsible for the deal. It was Johnson's deal, "his mess... his failure". For the first time in his life, it was time to take responsibility. And thus Miliband concluded: "It is time to ’fess up: either he was not straight with the country about the deal in the first place, or he did not understand it".

But since then, we have seen anything but that admission of guilt, with the Johnson administration resorting to a unilateral extension of the "grace period", which has had the Commission going through the process of launching infringement proceedings.

If he expected any quarter at the G7 meeting, therefore, Johnson must be deeper up his own fundamentals that we can possibly have imagined. Predictably, he has got short shrift from Macron, who has declared that he was "well aware" of "incoherences" in the protocol when he signed up to it.

With tangible signs of patience wearing thin, Macron went on to insist that he understood perfectly the UK's concerns about its sovereignty. "France has never allowed itself to question British sovereignty, the integrity of British territory and the respect of its sovereignty", he said.

"Brexit, I'd like to remind you", he added, "is the child of British sovereignty and has generated thousands of hours of work for European leaders. So we know very well what British sovereignty is. I don't think there’s any other country whose sovereignty other countries have spent so much time respecting. So we are respectful".

With a perspicacity one can only applaud (for its depth of irony), the Guardian notes "a sign that the two sides remain on a collision course", when the French president reiterated the EU's insistence that the UK must implement the checks that it signed up to carrying out.

"Over a number of years after Brexit, we established certain rules, a protocol agreement, and also a commercial treaty. We just want them to be respected, seriously, calmly, professionally. That's all," Macron says.

We are now told that talks between officials are expected to resume this week in a renewed attempt to devise a practical solution to the standoff. Both sides, though, are said to be insisting that the ball is in the other's court.

As I remarked yesterday, though, Johnson has left the UK without the wherewithal fully to implement the protocol, so he must either go crawling to the Commission for concessions, or ramp up the tension by invoking Article 16 safeguards – or some such.

Then, there seems little hope of resolving the issues on the basis of any clear understanding of the issues. The Telegraph is offering a piece from the "learned" Vernon Bognador – one-time tutor to David Cameron – who asserts that Northern Ireland "remains in effect within the EU customs union".

This, as Pete points out, typifies the ignorance of the chattering classes, where prestige takes precedence over knowledge. And, if the basics aren't even understood, the chances of a quick solution are remote.

It is all very well, therefore, Johnson declaring that he will do "whatever it takes", to protect territorial integrity of UK. On current form, He doesn't have the first idea of what it does take.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 14/06/2021 link

Brexit: the drama unfolds

Sunday 13 June 2021  

I can't help but think there must be more to the rhetoric on the "sausage wars" than is emerging from the G7 coverage. Under normal circumstances, it would be hard to Johnson is completely ignorant of the issues, or be totally unaware of the consequences of the actions on which he seems to be embarking.

The trouble is that you never know with that man. He could be playing to his domestic audience in the belief that the disruption and bruised feelings are worth it. Or it could be that he simply doesn't understand what is going on and thinks that he can wing it – the doctrine of "it'll be alright on the night".

But, if Johnson is intent on killing the protocol, the sense coming through from G7 is, if he does that, the UK will be treated as an international pariah. Should he establish his unwillingness to honour international commitments, none of the other big players – such as Biden – will do business with him, and he can kiss goodbye to a trade deal with the US.

On the other hand, while there is the option of a veterinary agreement on the table – in theory at least – I think the certainty exhibited by some of the trade wonks that this is the answer is misplaced.

For a veterinary agreement to function effectively, all parties – the EU, the Member States, and the UK - need to coordinate administrative, legislative and surveillance systems. The IT systems must be harmonised and capable of communicating with each other, with data-sharing agreements paving the way, and there must be close liaison with officials at all levels.

None of the wonks – or the commentariat in general - to my mind, have displayed any understanding of how a veterinary agreement works. These are complex things which take years to set up and implement.

However, because UK systems were, until recently, fully harmonised, there are some short-cuts which could be taken to ease our return to the fold. And yet, time has not stood still since 2016. The systems from which we started to detach ourselves after the referendum are not the same that are now in place.

The EU has over the period been embarking on a series of major changes to its food safety acquis, and is rapidly developing multiple IT systems to ease the functioning of different parts of the system. It is also integrating them with the separate but parallel customs administration, which is also undergoing a major shake-up. To bring us back into line is not something that could be stitched up overnight.

Therefore the wonks and others vastly underestimate the difficulties involved, in re-establishing a veterinary agreement and implementing it. And although it could be done in time, it would require real commitment from both sides, and especially the UK which would have to work hard to update systems.

With the UK working under duress, without the political commitment, leadership and allocation of resources, the conditions necessary for effective functioning do not seem to be present.

Thus, if the EU embarked on an agreement with the UK, in a matter of months it would probably be back where it started, with arguments about the UK's failures of implementation. It will perhaps have bought a little time, but be no further forward.

It is for this reason that I see the Commission's offer of a "Swiss-style" veterinary agreement largely as a bluff. Anyone who has actually read the trade agreement, and has any knowledge of how it works in practice – which probably excludes most of the commentariat – must know that this is not something which could be implemented easily and quickly.

One should also take heed of the Commission's terminology, in taking of a "Swiss-style" agreement. For reasons which are obvious when the circumstance of Switzerland and the UK are compared, it would not be possible to copy and paste the Swiss agreement, and give it a new title.

In reality, even with the best will in the world, there would have to be substantial modifications, all of which would have to be negotiated. There would also have to be some careful assessment of any final agreement to ensure compatibility with the TCA.

As we all know – from recent experience if we didn't know already – the devil is in the detail. Small differences can turn out to comprise intractable obstacles, and what appear at the outset to be simple negotiations can prove to be time-consuming and fractious.

In any event, it must be recalled that the UK has already rejected the idea of a veterinary agreement – on the grounds that it would restrict our ability to make deals with other third countries. This is a specious argument at best. Doing a deal with the EU (mainly to service the UK market) has not stopped New Zealand from meeting the specific demands of Japan, which is now its number one market for beef.

More likely, we are seeing the Johnson administration's ideological objections to the ongoing degree of integration required to eliminate border checks and to permit the trade in goods, such as chilled meat preparations, which are banned even from the likes of New Zealand.

Even though Biden, at the G7 summit, has assured Johnson that adoption of a veterinary agreement would not prejudice talks on a trade deal with the US, this has not proved sufficient to reverse UK objections. There are still no signs that a veterinary deal is being formally considered by either Johnson or Frost.

Without that option, the only pathway which would have the UK honouring its commitments would be the full and timely implementing of the protocol. The trouble is that this also requires real commitment, and resources.

As it stands, the NI sanitary inspection services – which are entirely separate from the customs function – are still not equipped to do the jobs required of there. There are still no working BCPs up and running in the province, with staff working out of temporary accommodation, there aren't enough vets and other specialist staff (and there seems to be a crayon shortage on the mainland).

The necessary IT systems are not in place, and there seems to have been no work carried out on simplifying export health certificates, to ease the paperwork burden and reduce costs.

Thus, even if Johnson had a sudden, Damascene conversion, the combined British and Northern Ireland authorities no not have the wherewithal to make the protocol work. This leave supermarkets threatening to close down operations in the province, unless arrangements can be made to facilitate the movement of goods, opening the politically damaging prospect of empty shelves, come 1 July.

Standing apart from the fray, what it begins to look like is another Johnson miscalculation . I rather think that he hoped the problem would go away by itself - all he needed to do was stamp his feet and the EU would throw him some concessions, just to avoid friction.

Now that the EU has refused to be browbeaten, and is insisting that Johnson implements the agreement he had a great part in shaping, he's got himself in a position where, through his own inertia, he's run out of options. Technically, largely through his lack of commitment and preparation, the UK is unable to implement the protocol, yet there are no other legal alternative he is prepared to take.

That leaves us with the typical Johnsonian bluster, with threats to disapply parts of the protocol, by invoking the Section 16 "safeguard" provisions, or simply abandon the protocol altogether.

One way or another, though, it seems that global leaders are beginning to get the measure of Johnson, with his chances of projecting a credible "Global Britain" diminishing by the hour.

All Johnson may achieve from his "sausage wars", therefore, is fatally to undermine trust in his government and damage the UK's international reputation. And if we see violence return, big time, to Northern Ireland, he will have still more blood on his hands.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 13/06/2021 link

Covid: making it stick

Saturday 12 June 2021  

While we obsess about chilled sausages to Northern Ireland, with the saga by no means over, Covid-19 is refusing to release its grip on the body politic, with talk of restrictions not being removed for another four weeks.

What is spooking the experts (and the not-so-expert) is the Indian variant. The variant has been identified in more than 90 percent of cases, with the total number recorded at over 42,000.

It is believed to spread more easily than the so-called Kent variant, and is said to be more resistant to Covid vaccines, particularly after just one dose and, we are told, may be associated with a greater risk of hospitalisation.

Public Health England also says that cases are doubling between every 4.5 and 11.5 days, depending on the region of England, and that it has about a 60 percent increased risk of household transmission compared with the Kent variant.

Not all is quite as it seems though, as the steep jump in Indian variant reports is partly due to the use of a rapid technique for identifying variants in positive Covid samples. Previously, positive samples used to take five to ten days to identify. The delay is now reduced to 48 hours.

Statistics relating to the use of vaccines are interesting. Since the start of February to 7 June, there have been 33,206 cases of the Indian variant in England. Some 19,573 of the individuals affected were unvaccinated,; 1,785 were fully vaccinated and 7,559 had received one dose. The vaccination status of the remainder was unclear.

As regards hospital admissions, 383 people in England were admitted with the Indian variant, of whom 223 tested positive before turning up at A&E. Some 42 had had two doses of the vaccine, 86 had one dose and 251 were unvaccinated. Of the 42 Covid-associated deaths, 23 were in unvaccinated people, 12 were fully vaccinated and seven had had one dose.

Inevitably, though, information is not complete and there may be some complicating factors which render comparisons with the behaviour of earlier variants more difficult. In May, for instance, it was reported that second vaccine doses could be brought forward in the worst-affected areas. Shortly afterwards, the BMA was calling for the interval between first and second doses to be halved.

In theory, that might reduce the efficacy of the vaccines, and it could be that some of the deaths recorded in the "fully" vaccinated occurred in those who has been given their second doses on a shortened timescale. There is the additional issue, in that some may only have had their last dose recently before presenting with illness, and had not acquired full immunity.

Then, in the hotspot areas, there are high levels of people from the Indian subcontinent, with a significant number resident in large households. Some of these have been host to recent travellers from India, who have been allowed to self-quarantine without supervision, mixing with household contacts.

In the nature of viral transmission, where there are a number of infected contacts, susceptible people may be exposed to such high viral loads that it overwhelms the acquired immunity conferred by the vaccine. Such people may even have been exposed before they were given their final dose, which may have impacted of the performance of the vaccines.

There variables may or may not be significant, but they do not seem to be being discussed. But until we see the behaviour of the Indian variant in a comparable situation, it is difficult to make comparative judgements on the performance of the vaccine and the relevance of the vaccinated deaths.

In an environment where we have little cause to trust in the good faith of our master, much less their competence, we cannot take it for granted that all the uncertainties have been factored in.

On the other hand, there could be real factors here, which are changing the epidemiology of the virus, which could justify delay in lifting the restrictions. But it is important that the government is open about the factors influencing its decision, which has rarely been the case.

Not least, the government needs to be far more candid about the adverse impacts of vaccination, as reports such as these are seen in the press. This is a problem which does not see, to be being addressed honestly – concern about the overall safety of vaccines should not be equated with anti-vax sentiment.

In principle, a vaccination programme is primarily a public health measure, designed to protect the community as a whole. Individual protection is secondary. Inevitably, any programme involves risks, so a judgement is made as to whether the overall risk to the community (from people damaged by the vaccine) is greater or less than the risk of not vaccinating.

The problem here comes in that certain age cohorts have a low risk of illness, and a higher risk of vaccine damage. Taken in isolation, that the risk-benefit ratio for that cohort may militate against vaccination, even though the overall community risk-benefit ratio is still favourable. Therefore, the cohort "at risk" of vaccination is being asked to sacrifice itself "for the greater good", gaining no direct benefit from the programme.

Such considerations are less of an issue when for instance, there is a child vaccination programme, and the targets are all in approximately the same age band. Then, within broad parameters, the risk is the same for everyone being vaccinated. Then, the deal is easily made – everybody within the target cohort takes the same risk, and shares the same benefits.

With the Covid vaccination programme, though, the risks and benefits are being unequally shared. Therefore, it is not reasonable to expect those at most risk to adverse vaccine reactions to accept the risks without having the issues fully explained. And this is certainly case with the programme being expanded to include children.

When it come to the lifting of restrictions, though, the Telegraph is asserting that 21 June will no longer herald a full return to normality, after Johnson "resigned himself to a delay of up to four weeks in lifting the remaining Covid restrictions".

But, with the prevailing uncertainties and the history of the management of this epidemic, gone are the days when automatic compliance can be assured. A number of anti-lockdown demonstrations have already taken place and more reaction can be expected.

More to the point, it is getting to the point where the fragile compact is in danger of being broken. Johnson could be on the verge of presuming too much, in asking the population readily to accept further delays without unimpeachable evidence of need.

As always, though, mushroom management prevails, where we are supposed to fall in with the orders of our masters, without question. Those orders, it seems, are to be finalised after the Cabinet's Covid Operations committee meets on Sunday evening.

If they decide to delay any easements, that decision will be rubber-stamped by the Cabinet on Monday morning and announced by Johnson later that day. That may be the easiest part of it. Making it stick is another matter.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 12/06/2021 link

Brexit: there are perhaps madder things

Friday 11 June 2021  

It's Matt Hancock's good (or bad) luck that his much-awaited select committee appearance has been upstaged by the G7 summit, the Biden-Johnson bilateral and the looming "sausage wars". The failure of Cummings to deliver any documentary evidence to support his accusations against Hancock has also robbed the session of much of its sting.

Nevertheless, there is still much to answer for on Covid, and especially on the care homes issue, where documentary evidence continues to come out of the woodwork, indicating that the NHS and the response system in general, was in disarray. This is a subject to which I must return.

For all that, it seems that a tale of unnecessary Covid deaths is not yet going to damage the government, or even Hancock, although there is time yet. Cummings has promised to deliver more information on the pandemic and his time at Number 10, turning himself into a campaigner for truth, justice and the right to wear non-matching socks.

In the meantime, we have the unusual situation where a Brexit-related story is actually vying with Covid for the front pages as the "sausages war" take on a new life with the potential intervention of Biden, alongside some entertaining, if somewhat unhelpful comments from Macron.

Fresh from being slapped by one of his less than devoted citizens, Macron is supposedly ramping up the pressure on Johnson by insisting that "nothing is negotiable" on the Northern Ireland Protocol. "I think it’s not serious to want to review in July what we finalised in December after years of work", he says. "It's not serious between us and it's not serious toward our people".

To that he adds, "I believe in the strength of treaties, I believe in serious work, nothing is renegotiable, everything is applicable", thereby demonstrating – and not for the first time – his less than sure grip on the subject.

For sure, les grandes lignes of the protocol cannot be changed easily, but everything is renegotiable, for a price – the price paid in political capital. And when it comes to details such as inspection frequencies and sausage bans, both the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA are dynamic agreements. There is provision for ongoing adjustment via the Joint Committee and the Partnership Council, where there is scope for flexibility.

Mind you, if we were to heed the words of, Allister Heath, the all-knowing editor of the Sunday Telegraph, writing on 17 October 2019, there is no need for any flexibility. This great guru opined: "All Eurosceptics should back this deal - this is as good as it gets".

Johnson's deal, he gushed, "passes the smell test: it is a real Brexit, unlike Theresa May's shameful ersatz". It would "allow us to leave the EU, really and genuinely, and govern ourselves like every other independent nation in the world".

In a wave of enthusiasm for the work of the paper's favourite son, Heath added: "It doesn't seek to tie us down, or to keep us entangled permanently into the EU’s legal, political and commercial orbit. It provides for a real rupture for Great Britain, and a hybrid yet democratic deal for the special case that is Northern Ireland, in a way which is far better than a backstop". The deal was:
…more than merely tolerable or acceptable: it is remarkable in the circumstances. It is the best possible Brexit that any PM could realistically deliver in the face of this pro-Remain Parliament, the rigged constitutional stalemate and a scandalously hostile establishment. It is also the only certain way to achieve a real Brexit: another referendum could be calamitous.
And thus this towering giant of a man urged "all Eurosceptics to publicly back Johnson's deal at the earliest possible opportunity". He wrote as "a hard-core Brexiteer who opposed May’s nonsense all the way". This time it's different, he cautioned his beloved readers, "and, in practice, perhaps our last chance".

But how things change. Not two days ago, the very same Allister Heath was writing under the headline "The imperial EU is blind to the folly of its unequal Northern Ireland Brexit treaty", with the sub-heading: "The protocol isn't a just law. It was imposed on the UK by Brussels at the moment of our greatest weakness".

"Why don't the European elites ever learn lessons from history?", Heath demanded, his tone altogether different from those heady days 20 months previously. "It should be obvious", he stormed, "that the Northern Ireland Protocol, signed under duress by the UK, cannot last in its present state".

The "hybrid yet democratic deal for the special case that is Northern Ireland", had now morphed into a classic case of an "unequal treaty". This was the kind that China's Qing dynasty had been forced to sign with all of the imperial powers.

And the result was bitterness at a "century of humiliation" that continues to poison international relations to this day, and a sense of resentment which helped to usher in China's deplorable communist-nationalist regime.

This, in Heath's brave new world, the "only questions" are what replaces the protocol, how quickly and whether it is enough to restore the province's fragile balance and save the Good Friday Agreement. The idea, he says, "that the EU will be able to keep the protocol alive by threatening Britain with a trade war merely confirms the scale of Brussels's delusion".

It is at times like this when one wonders whether people such as Heath are even aware that there is such a thing as the internet, where ordinary human beings can call up the past words of the "great and the good" and compare them with current output.

The fate of a certain cricketer might have guided Heath as to the existence of such a thing but, having met the man, I am not sure that such mundane details could have percolated into his consciousness. "Leaders of Men", as we used to call them in less reverent days, are above such things. They are what they say, when they say it. There is no past, and certainly no room for compromise:
Brussels is asking for too much when it threatens sausage wars: no self-respecting sovereign state can accept this, nor, after years of listening to such nonsense, still believe the ridiculous excuse that "unsafe" British chilled meat products might "leak" into the supposedly sacrosanct European single market. So what if they do? Our sanitary regulations remain the same – and even if and when we choose to change them, it still wouldn't matter, or could be dealt with in other, more sensible ways. It is time to call the EU's bluff: its obsession with phytosanitary rules is merely an excuse to seek to detach Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
According to Heath, the UK had no real choice but to sign the protocol. It could either agree to a treaty that essentially handed away parts of Britain's sovereignty over Northern Ireland, or accept a no-deal Brexit that would have created unnecessary economic damage while still not resolving the Irish situation. The EU, says Heath, "wasn't acting rationally: it was set on kamikaze mode, committed to punishing Britain at any cost".

One can quite see the EU's problem here. If this combination of sublime ignorance, arrogance and sheer fantasy is reflected in the UK government's stance, there really is no way forward. Šefcovic might just as well seek out the nearest brick wall he can find, and engage in earnest dialogue with it.

But a Heath-like stance held by government might explain the Commission's otherwise incoherent offer of a "temporary veterinary agreement" as a means of reducing some of the border checks and easing the way for British bangers to enter Northern Ireland.

Given the complexity and the amount of detail that must be addressed, it is hard to see how such an option could be a quick solution or that, given the investment in time and energy needed to negotiate it and set it up, either party could then accept that such an agreement could be "temporary".

Presumably, on the basis that, whatever the EU offers the UK will refuse, it can offer an ostensibly attractive but entirely unrealistic solution in the knowledge that it will never have to implement it. That way, the Commission – with or without Macron – retains the high ground, leaving Johnson to argue the toss with Biden.

In this mad world, there are perhaps madder things. But with Johnson as prime minister, sanity is at a premium.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 11/06/2021 link

Brexit: "no breakthroughs … no breakdowns"

Thursday 10 June 2021  

After yesterday's unsuccessful meeting of the Joint Committee, in which he and Frost sought to resolve the issues over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, I am beginning to wonder about Maroš Šefcovic.

My immediate cause for concern is a document issued after the meeting, entitled, "Examples of flexibilities identified by the European Commission in an effort to ensure the full implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland".

This obviously reflects Šefcovic's position and, presumably in an attempt to be helpful, he informs us via his three-page document that the Commission has suggested that "the UK continues to follow, even if only temporarily, the EU’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) rules, as it does now".

That is fair enough. The Commission is suggesting neither more nor less than it asks of any other trading partner, mirroring the position taken by other importers. Most of them set the rules with which exporters must comply in order to gain access to their markets.

But that doesn't get the UK round the "sausage ban", much less remove the "official controls" which the British government and the DUP find so offensive. Thus, the Commission overserves: "Most checks on Great Britain – Northern Ireland trade would be removed if there was a so-called 'Swiss-style veterinary agreement' in place".

Helpfully, the Commission also tells us that a "New Zealand-style veterinary agreement based on equivalences would not remove these checks". Nor, indeed would it remove the "sausage ban".

However, to suggest a "Swiss-style veterinary agreement" as an alternative is, to say the very least, being a tad disingenuous. For a start, this isn't a "veterinary agreement" in the same sense that the term applies to New Zealand, which has a stand-alone agreement with the EU.

The 1999 Swiss Agreement (modified and amended many times) is in fact a comprehensive agreement on "Trade in Agricultural Products", the original running to 428 pages, of which one part – Annex 11 – deals with "removing technical barriers to trade", on "animal health and zootechnical measures applicable to trade in live animals and animal products".

In its own official listing, the Commission doesn't even call it a "veterinary agreement", and with good cause. It is much, much more than that, effectively amounting to the complete integration of Swiss rules and systems with those of the EU.

Based on the principle of "equivalence", the criteria for recognition tell their own story, requiring an "assessment and acceptance" of:
- the legislation, standards and procedures, as well as the programmes in place to allow control and to ensure domestic and importing countries' requirements are met;
- the documented structure of the competent authority or authorities, their powers, their chain of command, their modus operandi and the resources available to them; and
- the performance of the competent authority in relation to the control programme and level of assurances afforded.
This amounts to an assessment of the "regulatory ecosystem", to which Barnier has made so many references and, with the other provisions in the Annex, and the Agreement generally, amounts to Switzerland having to accept almost complete integration with the Single Market in this sphere, more so than Efta/EEA countries.

Even if this was practically possible for the UK, politically it would not be tenable. Certainly, it is inconceivable – on past form – that the Johnson administration could adopt this solution and it is unlikely that any other Conservative government could accept this degree of integration and live to tell the tale.

This much, I pointed out recently, responding to a piece by Peter Foster of the Financial Times, asserting that the a Swiss-style agreement was simply not an option.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the UK has refused this option, but here the Commission is being doubly disingenuous. It has suggested that this could be a "temporary agreement", which could then be reviewed once the UK concluded new trade deals with other third countries. But the very fact that it would need review itself tells you something about the nature of this agreement – and its lack of flexibility.

However, to suggest that something as complex and extensive as this agreement could be crafted as a temporary measure is, to be blunt, absurd. Even though UK legislation and systems are still largely harmonised with the EU, the UK now lies outside the formal remit of the EU and its agencies. Continued integration would require the crafting of new institutions and systems to manage the agreement, as has been the case with Switzerland.

And yet, the FT's Peter Foster is still banging the Swiss drum. No area is thornier than that of veterinary checks on food or live animals, he writes, but it is also one where clear solutions exist "if politics can align with them".

Acknowledging that Frost has rejected such a deal, Foster nevertheless calls in aid Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium. He says that a temporary fully-aligned deal would solve the vast bulk of the immediate problems with the protocol, while providing space to find a long term workable solution.

Connolly warns that unless a deal were done, business was facing a "moment of reckoning" in October when grace periods expired, piling additional burdens on business. "Business is, frankly, fed up with the game-playing and dramas from both sides", he says. "What we need is certainty".

To an extent, one can sympathise, but Connolly is displaying the naivety which has been characteristic of the trade, throughout the Brexit process. And he is joined by another fantasist, Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation.

Brennan also wants a veterinary deal, complaining that, without one, British businesses servicing the hospitality, school or prison sectors that could not use the supermarkets scheme would still face burdens that would put many off from doing business with Northern Ireland.

But the reality of the matter is that, as the Commission's own chart shows (illustrated), to get everything it wants, the trade will have to secure a Swiss-style agreement. And that simply isn't going to happen.

On the other hand, without that commitment from the British government, the Commission simply cannot to make any meaningful concessions, and must simply maintain its demands that the protocol is properly implemented.

This has Frost complaining that the EU wants to implement the Northern Ireland protocol in an "extremely purist" way, which seems to be emerging as the "line to take", shared by Arlene Foster and other commentators who accuse the EU of putting the GFA at risk.

The bizarre thing is that, despite his "bonkers" outburst yesterday, George Eustice knew full well what the protocol entailed, writing to the NFU in December last year, warning them about the "prohibitions and restrictions" involved in implementing it.

That leaves the EU arguing that it, and it alone, is protecting the GFA, asserting that the UK's refusal to implement the protocol it is the cause of the current problems. That, as we saw, leaves the issues unresolved, with Frost David Frost declaring that there had been "no breakthroughs", but no "breakdowns".

Where we go from here is anybody's guess.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 10/06/2021 link

Brexit: sausage wars

Wednesday 9 June 2021  

Downing Street, we are told, is insisting that there can be no justification for preventing processed chilled meats from the rest of the UK being sold in Northern Irish shops.

And just to demonstrate how far this shambles of a government has declined, Defra Secretary George Eustice declared on yesterday's Radio 4's Today programme that the whole chilled meats issue was "bonkers".

This excuse for a minister then went on to say that, "I suspect that any US administration would be amazed if you were to say, for instance, that a sausage from Texas couldn't be sold to California. They really wouldn’t understand how that could even be contemplated".

Does this man really not know that the United States operates a two-tier regulatory programme? Meat produced under state supervision can only be sold within the stare. Interstate trade requires a Federally-supervised inspection programme and conformity with Federal rules. Produce must carry the Federal mark.

Thus, it is the case that, unless especially authorised by Federal Law, sausages from Texas cannot be sold to California. Eustice should have known this and should not be making such absurd remarks.

But this really does set the scene for today's talks between Frost and Šefcovic. As I wrote yesterday, the protocol seems more likely to founder "on a wave of ignorance, where the British government is floundering around in a haze, without the first idea of what it is doing, or trying the achieve". And here is living proof of that assertion.

Far from being "bonkers" – a description only used by the fundamentally unserious - the issue is really not that hard to understand. When Johnson shepherded his "oven-ready deal" through a newly-elected and compliant parliament, for it to get Royal Assent in January 2020, government and parliament was agreeing that Great Britain would step outside the EU's Single Market, assuming the status of a "third country".

By contrast, Northern Ireland was to remain within the Single Market, subject to the applicable acquis, thus creating a "wet" border between GB and the province.

The net effect of this was that, to all intents and purposes, GB exports to Northern Ireland would be treated in much the same way as exports to EU Member States – with the key difference that the border checks would be carried out by UK officials.

When it comes to the issue of what are technically classed as "minced meat and meat preparations" – which include sausages and sausage meat – Commission Decision 2000/572/EC applies, which prohibits, inter alia the import of such goods unless they have been "deep-frozen at the production plant or plants of origin".

There are sound public health reasons for such tight control over third country produce of this nature: it presents special risks and tends to be more contaminated than carcase meat. Historically, there have been serious incidents related to E. coli 0157, from which the UK has not been immune.

Thus, the restriction is absolute, with no exceptions – even for countries such as New Zealand which have SPS agreements. Decision 2000/572/EC still applies.

Despite this, Frost is calling on the EU to propose "practical solutions", to make the protocol work. He states flatly, that "Further threats of legal action and trade retaliation from the EU won't make life any easier", adding: "What is needed is pragmatism and common sense. And it is ever more urgent".

By "pragmatism", though, he seems to be expecting some form of exemption, which will allow supermarkets to continue selling chilled products in their Northern Ireland stores, as they have been doing during the "grace period" which was unilaterally extended by the UK government to 1 July.

Back to the idiot Eustice again, who says that he has "no idea" why the EU imposed "idiosyncratic" rules on the movement of chilled meat. "I suspect", he says, "it links to some kind of perception that they can't really trust any country other than an EU country to make sausages".

This foolish man clearly does not understand that the EU has very little room for manoeuvre. Under WTO anti-discrimination rules, it cannot apply rules which differ between trading partners and, if it made a special exemption for Northern Ireland, it could find other third country suppliers demanding the same treatment – which would be very hard to resist.

And as for his derogatory comments about "trust", it is not as if the UK was not warned of the consequences of leaving the Single Market, and thus walking away from the "regulatory ecosystem". Barnier made constant references to this.

In this context – rightly or wrongly – the EU lays special store by its integrated system of food safety, applying controls from "farm to fork". Simply to apply the EU's regulation is not enough. Suppliers must be fully paid-up components of the "ecosystem", which can only assured with Member States and the additional EEA members, which answer to the European Food Agency and are part of the public health surveillance system.

Furthermore, this should come as no surprise. This issue was raised in October 2020, when Defra noted that there was "no appropriate certificate of exemption which currently exists in EU law". That had me writing: "It looks very much as if the industry will have to take the hit".

Nor, at the time, was [some of] the industry under any illusion. Gavin Morris, the group veterinary manager for Dunbia, the meat processing company supplied by 30,000 British and Irish farmers, warned that the requirement to send frozen meat would put a "huge question mark" over many existing contracts.

"The view we've gathered", he said at the time, "is that a lot of existing commercial contracts for products and preparations to go to the EU fresh will just stop". He added: "The clients will say 'we don't want it frozen, thanks very much, we’ll source from somewhere else'".

And so it comes to pass that the EU is demanding its pound of flesh – to coin a phrase. But we still have infantile commentary from the likes of the Telegraph.

This paper is actively misinforming its readers by telling them that, "Under EU law, chilled meats cannot be imported by a non-EU country unless there is an animal health and food safety agreement" – something which is just not true.

But, if the Telegraph is taking an infantile view of the proceedings, The Sun is being positively pre-natal, with its headline: "BANGERS BAN BID EU ordered to drop its 'bonkers' sausage ban plan that could spark an EU-UK trade war".

In fact, there is no sense anywhere that the UK "popular" media has got a handle on this issue. Even when they are not trivialising the subject, we have the likes of the Guardian struggling to understand that this is not about border checks, but an absolute prohibition.

At this stage, therefore, we can have no way of knowing where this controversy is going to take us, but it doesn't look promising. Šefcovic could be forgiven for thinking that he was dealing with idiots and, if that is his impression, he is probably not wrong.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 09/06/2021 link

Brexit: coming to a head

Tuesday 8 June 2021  

It seems there is more at stake in this week's meeting between Maroš Šefcovic (pictured) and the recently ennobled David Frost than I indicated in Sunday's piece.

That is according to no less than Maroš Šefcovic himself, who has been writing for the Telegraph, under the somewhat revealing heading: "The EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely".

Šefcovic is not messing about, or perhaps he is and wants us to believe that he isn't. Either way, he tells us that, as he travels to London on Tuesday, it is clear that this week will be a defining one for consolidating trust between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Together with Lord Frost, he writes, we will launch the work of the Joint Partnership Council on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement – beneficial for all our citizens and businesses, while establishing a level playing field and effective governance to enforce it.

Alongside the Joint Committee on the TCA, they will also chair the Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement, and it is that which will address outstanding issues linked to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

When he arrives, he says he will bring "three clear messages". Firstly, he tells us, he and his colleagues in the EU "have a strong commitment to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that the peace, stability and prosperity that they have enjoyed over the last 20 years are maintained".

With the propaganda done, he then tells us that the protocol is the best solution to the unique situation of the island of Ireland following Brexit – and specifically to the challenges created by the type of Brexit that the current UK Government chose. The protocol, he says, is the only solution we found to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its parts.

He then makes the point that the agreement on the protocol marks the first time that the EU has entrusted the control of its economic border to an outside partner, a risk that we and our EU member states were willing to take in the interests of protecting stability in Northern Ireland. But, he says, in order to realise the benefits of the protocol, we [the EU and the UK] must make tangible progress on its implementation. That is his second message.

He and the entire EU team, he says, have been working hard to find ways to ensure that the protocol is implemented in a way that both facilitates the everyday life of Northern Ireland's communities and preserves the integrity of the EU's Single Market.

And, although it should hardly need saying, he reminds us that the EU cannot do this alone. It has to be a joint endeavour between the EU and the UK.

Denying Frost's charge that the EU is being inflexible, he claims that the EU "has shown from the very beginning that we are willing to find creative solutions when required". He gives as an example, the continued availability of medicines to Northern Ireland. That, he says, is among those tailor-made flexible solutions, something he personally takes very seriously in this time of pandemic.

Now he wants to see "that same commitment" to the protocol and perseverance with its implementation from the UK Government when we meet in London. Unfortunately, though, in his view, there are "numerous and fundamental gaps in the UK's implementation", even though the protocol entered into force over 17 months ago.

The "important stepping stone" for Šefcovic is "mutually agreed compliance paths, with concrete deadlines and milestones for the UK to fulfil its existing obligations". That would be a credible outcome of the joint committee.

And then comes the iron fist in the blue satin glove with yellow stars. "If this does not happen, and if the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations".

That brings Šefcovic to his third message, a view that, at its heart, the protocol represents an opportunity for Northern Ireland. It offers, he says, unparalleled access to two markets, representing more than 500 million consumers with strong purchasing power, and it can provide a powerful incentive to attract investment from overseas.

A touch of rhetoric completes the piece, but it cuts little ice with the Telegraph. Despite his noble intentions, this paper sees in his worlds the threat of a "sausage war". This brings the issues down to the lowest common denominator where Brussels is intent on start a trade war with Britain "if Boris Johnson overrides the Brexit treaty so that Northern Irish shops can keep selling British sausages".

The UK government, as we know, has already unilaterally extended grace periods – on supermarket goods and parcels – earlier this year and we are led to believe that ministers are now considering, as a last resort, another unilateral extension for chilled meats, including sausages and mince.

Although we are also told that this, "would enrage the EU", there appears little hope of agreeing a deal. The UK has rejected dynamic alignment with the EU's SPS rules, for want of which Frost is said to be pushing for a deal based on "equivalence", which the Telegraph equates to "mutual recognition of standards", and then tells us that this "would loosely mirror the agreement the EU has with New Zealand".

This is what passes for information from this newspaper, its writers apparently still unaware that "equivalence" and "mutual recognition" are different things and should not be confused. Furthermore, as I have written so many times, the New Zealand deal is, effectively, a one-off, which could never be on offer to the UK – and even then it would not solve the UK's problems.

The whole argument is academic anyway, as it has been ruled out by the Commission, which also dismisses UK arguments that following the EU rules would tie Britain's hands in trade negotiations with other countries. It has told British negotiators to agree to a temporary dynamic alignment deal instead.

Here, of course, Brussels is right. Taking New Zealand as an example, it manages to conform with the different regulatory requirements of its principal markets, and thus sells to Japanese, Chinese and EU customers. When it ships to Japan, it abides by Japanese rules, when product goes to China, it obeys Chinese rules, and when it exports to the EU, it works to rules approved by the commission.

Difficulties would arise – in a scenario which doesn't affect New Zealand – where the UK simultaneously imports products from different regulatory zones, and exports to the EU. Then, it would find that EU checks would probably be more stringent, to exclude the possibility of non-conforming produce seeping into the Single Market.

The trouble seems to be though that the UK government still hasn't got a grip on what is needed to trade successfully as an external supplier to the EU, especially if it is still talking about "mutual recognition". And it is also having difficulty understanding that a mixed import-export trade presents a different raft of problems, which are not experienced by major exporters such as New Zealand.

The limited grasp of the issues, displayed by Frost, probably reflect the extremely poor standard of advice he is getting internally, but the situation is not improved by the trade, which has frequently been behind the curve. And then there were the trade wonks, in high-octane pontification mode, on issues for which they have little if any practical experience.

For all the rhetoric, therefore, the protocol seems more likely to founder not so much because of the inherent disagreements, but on a wave of ignorance, where the British government is floundering around in a haze, without the first idea of what it is doing, or trying the achieve.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 08/06/2021 link

Immigration: a Kashmiri problem

Monday 7 June 2021  

Recently, we saw a piece in the Mail, featuring a book by Ed Husain, soon to be published in the UK under the title "Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain".

Husain was once an advisor to Blair and with Maajid Nawaz in 2008, founded the think tank Quilliam. This has acquired a somewhat chequered reputation in some quarters, and is still attracting hostile coverage, even though it was wound up in April.

The Mail couches its feature in typically lurid terms, describing how Husain visited mosques across Britain to see the Muslim communities worshiping there, by which means he sought "to investigate integration". He has now "has revealed" how parts of Blackburn are "no-go areas" for white men, while ultra-orthodox parents in Bradford make children live under Taliban-like rules.

Pete has reviewed the Mail piece and adds to it from his own first-hand experience, having been born in Dewsbury and lived his early life in Bradford.

However, while some of Husain's rather generic claims ring true, I am not sure he is a position to offer (or, in fact has offered), any particularly penetrating assessment of the state of play in the Pakistani communities in the Northern towns of England.

But then, Husain's great claim to fame is that he was radicalised in his youth and trained for Jihad by the same people as Omar Khyam, leader of the Bluewater bombers. But, in terms of background, he was born and brought up in the East End of London. His father was born in British India and his mother in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), although she has Saudi Arabian heritage, specifically in the Hejaz region.

This, and periods spent living in Saudi Arabia and Syria, is by no means the best qualification for the task Husain has currently set himself, commenting on the kaleidoscopic communities throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain.

Furthermore, his methodology does not seem particularly inspiring. He researched his book by "turning up unannounced" to the communal Friday prayers at the central mosque in cities across the country, and then chronicled conversations with taxi drivers, business owners, Imams and local white people about the mosques and the surrounding community.

From this, he paints "a worrying picture of divided communities" - with white people in towns across the country admitting there are "no-go areas" where they fear being physically attacked.

That notwithstanding, I would not disagree with his observation that parts of areas like Bolton, Dewsbury and Blackburn are "a different universe". It is certainly true in parts of these and other areas, "A Muslim can spend months with no contact whatsoever with mainstream 'white' Britain".

In [parts of] Bradford, he writes, Muslim parents have banned children from taking part in drama, theatre and dance classes as well as drawing, in echoes of rules implemented by the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Syria. They are "physically in Britain but mentally living elsewhere", he asserts.

Where I disagree with Husain – and most profoundly – is with his determination to group a markedly heterogeneous group under the single, catch-all description of "Muslims", despite Islam as a faith being diverse in its application, and lacking any hierarchical organisation of the type seen in the Roman Catholic and other Christian religions.

Doubtless, from a book-writing perspective, it is far more lucrative to take a pop at "Muslims", effectively couched as a generic threat. That will ensure the attention of the Mail and the likes of the Telegraph, which has also published a feature, this one under the heading: "Multiculturalism is a noble aim that has gone wrong".

In the real world, however, each community (or groups of communities) have their own identities, characteristics, problems and challenges. You can no more generalise about Bangladeshis in the East End of London and the Pakistanis in Bradford that you can about the (largely) Jamaican communities in Brixton and the Somalis in Cardiff.

But, when it comes to places such as Bradford and the surrounding towns such as Batley and Dewsbury, strictly speaking we are not even talking about Pakistanis but Kashmiris. And, for those, about 70 percent originate from one defined and limited area of Miripur.

I first had a stab at writing on this in September 2014 in respect of the Pakistani sexual grooming scandal, when I cited Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who at least had some appreciation of the problems, referring to "poor men from rural Kashmiri communities, or second- or third-generation Kashmiris or Pakistanis who have developed or inherited an openly violent misogyny".

I wrote again on the subject, a day later, oddly enough also referring to a Mail, this one featuring Labour peer. Lord Ahmed, complaining about the failure of British mosques to exercise credible leadership, sufficient to attract and influence young Moslems, and assist in socialising them.

These men, he averred, needed help with issues such as sex education, teenage pregnancy, drink and drugs – all the things other young people have to cope with. But they were taboo in most mosques. If a British-Pakistani boy tried to talk to an imam about it, he would look at him blankly.

Said Ahmed, many mosques are dangerously cut off from the rest of society, rooted in the ancient world, not the modern one. This approach is reflected by the way imams behave. Many rarely mix with other faiths, they are inward-looking and devote much of their energies to attacking rival sects.

Ironically, Ahmed, himself a Kashmiri who then lived in Rotherham, briefly served a prison sentence in 2009, following a fatal motorway crash, and "retired" from the House of Lords in 2020 before he could be expelled, after being found guilty by the Labour Conduct Committee of sexually exploiting a young woman. Nonetheless, some of his comments suggested that he had a better handle on the situation in Yorkshire than outsider Ed Husain.

Of particular note was the effect of the Biradari code. In the version specific to the Miripur region, this sub-clan kinship ties the UK communities to the home country, which – as a UK government report indicated, is going through a form of revival, and that its effects are most tangible in the area of politics, where younger, British born politicians are as likely as politicians of the older generation to exploit the influence of the baradari as a route and passport for mobilising block votes.

The net effect of this and other influences are manifest in Yorkshire and other communities predominately of Kashmiri origin, to the extent that integration is going backwards. They are less integrated and more isolated than they have ever been.

That they are Muslims is most definitely a factor, but more of a symptom than a cause of local tensions. The real problem, as I wrote in 2014, is that so many of them are dregs: inbred, backward, poorly-educated, bigoted, misogynist, and corrupt. Even amongst cultured Pakistanis, Miripur Kashmiris are regarded as a politically highly disorganised community that is socially, educationally, economically and politically backward.

The extent of the segregation and their impact on local communities can be seen from the sheer scale of the Mosque in the Savile Town area of Dewsbury (pictured). As a family, we used to enjoy visiting the weekly market in the town centre, but no more. It has become one of those "no-go areas", where one senses that our presence is unwelcome.

But it would be wrong to characterise this solely as a Moslem response. Here, in Yorkshire, we have a Kashmiri problem, which generates its own particular style of fanaticism. Thus, Ed Husain seems to have shed very little light on the real issues.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

Richard North 07/06/2021 link

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