The new challenges for 2021

Happy New Year to all; and now we roll our sleeves up to achieve what the opportunities of the year put before us.

Few were sad to see the end of 2020. It has been a bad year, which is one reason for not doing a jaunty end-of-year round-up yesterday.

There have been happy things: Britain came out of the European Union at last on 31 January 2020 and the hang-over transition period ended as the new year fireworks were bursting, and with a good, new trade treaty agreed, not a cliff-edge. However the dominant theme of the year has been the plague from Wuhan.

The worst thing has not been the disease but the lockdown imposed to try to control it, which failed, lengthening pain. I found it hard to celebrate the New Year – when they end the lockdown, then I can celebrate.

In the meantime, we look ahead. There is work to be done.

For all of us, the priority is to work, and work hard, at whatever we do that is economically active, or social. The lockdown has trashed the economy and bankrupted many, but the overall structure is sound, when allowed to work, and hard work will revive the engines of prosperity. Work is there, fundamentally, to create value, as Adam Smith explains. There can be forms of work which are valuable in one sense but create no lasting value, such as the work of civil servants, judges, stage actors and the like: the priority is value-creation as all prosperity depends on it. (If that means sending unnecessary civil servants out to work in factories and shopfloors, I am all for it.)

Society too has taken a body-blow: we have got unused to congregating together, attending church, organising social gatherings and attending and organising the clubs and societies which form the sinews of active society, and it will take an effort to convince anyone to come off the computer screen, stop watching daft YouTube videos (guilty as charged) and to step outside the house and into those social groups. It has even got to the basic level of decay that many have found they do not have to give a friendly greeting or to smile.

Within government too, action is needed, and it must not be driven by professors on a power-trip. Indeed after this period of utter negation of liberty, we need to see a major drive to boost individual freedom. Politically it will be important to be seen to champion freedom and personal responsibility, but then any politician can make the right noises: Tony Blair was hailed as a champion of civil liberty but in the event was an enemy to it. Society suffers and the economy suffers when its members are not free. We can thrive economically and in our mental state when we have personal responsibility and the freedom to pursue our personal goals. I feel more specific articles coming on.

In a few days’ time the country with the world’s biggest national debt will have a new President, and we must see how he swings America’s weight around.

Liz Truss for one will be busy, signing even more trade deals across the globe. Fascinatingly, her bouncy confidence and speed of action have driven even the glacially slow European Union to up their game in signing deals in the wider world. They are being overtaken though.

Then the loneliest man of them all is Rishi Sunak, with an empty Treasury and knowing that he if he raises taxes to fill the gap, it would bring no more cash in anyway, and would put another wrecking ball into the economy.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2021, but it is not going to be easy. We cab look for politicians to acct wisely, but really the hard work is for the rest of us. We must all work hard.

A Great Deal to Do

It is impossible to comment sensibly on a deal we have not yet seen, but it is steadfastness has prevailed where floppiness did not, and Boris has never been floppy in this matter. If even Nigel Farage says ‘the War is Over’, it must be something good.

I will predict that extreme Brexiteers will shout ‘betrayal’ and Remoaners will mock and complain, and I further predict that the markets of the wider world, those which are still growing as Europe’s contracts, will open up like blossoming flowers awaiting the buzzing bees of the overstretched metaphor.

The deal when published (or at least when the bits which can be published are published) will get a commentary on this site. For now though, let us go into Christmas with a measure of relief, and hoping too that the lockdown will blow away with the New Year too and allow growth to return to the home of commerce and enterprise: Britain.

Ireland abused, abandoned

It was a glorious time for the politicians of the Irish Republic in 2019: as the Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated, the European Union let the Irish government lead and joined them against the British to force a humiliating compromise that was tearing the House of Commons apart, and potentially tearing the United Kingdom apart.

Never before had they felt such power. It must have been a heady feeling, wielding all the collective political power of the EU27 and, to be frank, feeling special at last, even loved.

It was not to last long. Where is that power now? Where that love? Failing to reach a free-trade agreement will hurt many members of the European Union, but for the Republic of Ireland it will be a disaster. Where are those European friends now? They could have signed a sensible deal, a deal which has been on the table for months, but instead, the European Union is quite happy to condemn Ireland to economic misery for political reasons.

Last year the European states stood behind Ireland, and now we see why – better to thrust a knife in their back.

If there is bewilderment at this change, there should be none. The Europeans have been quite consistent throughout, using every trick, even corrupting Members of Parliament, to punish Britain, or force Britain into the status of a dependency, just as Bismarck did to Prussia’s neighbours, or as Britain did to the Indian princely states.

Ireland was a tool, no more. Fair Erin was wooed, charmed, seduced and send to do the job, then abandoned, beggared and left on the street. The Projet européen goes on. The Irish people are collateral damage.

How the people of the Irish state are seen in Westminster is clear enough: it is seen in the determination to make a deal that works for Ireland: most MPs have Irish blood, after all, as do I, and I feel it deeply. There is a higher principle, and that it not giving in. If they say “Give up your interests or the Paddy gets it!”: that will not win.

How the Irish people are seen in Brussels is something else. They are islanders; they speak English; they are separate from the thread of European political development; they use common law and an assumption of freedom, not the assumptions of the Roman-Napoleonic system; they deal in common sense not philosophy. Basically, the Irish are British, or cannot help but be seen as such by the Europeans. They cannot expect respect.

It is said that the Irish people are the most pro-European of all the nations of the European Union. Maybe: there is more to it though than the figure on a binary question. Actual connection is something else. To be European only as a way to avoid the relentless gravitational pull from Great Britain is a negative thing. It may be that this not-being-British is one of the few things left of general Irish cultural identity, the majority having voluntarily abandoned the Roman church, the language, cultural norms and all that went with them; gone are all the marks of difference which had been used to justify separating Ireland from Britain. If all that is left is what you are not, that is a deathly bargain.

Ireland can only suffer from remaining tied to a failing European project which bears it no respect.

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Major EU trade deal

Described as a brillig success for the European Union, a free trade treaty has been signed with Borogovia, after only fifteen years of negotiation. Commission negotiator M Barnier said “We initially found the Borogoves too mimsy in their approach, but as we made progress after the first decade or so, we came to appreciate more of their culture of mutuality and personal donation even where we outgrabe. It is a good result for all.”

The new treaty will eliminate customs duties on 90% of all goods European businesses export to Borogovia and on some of the goods flowing the other way.  A Commission spokesman emphasised that the new deal represents a new approach with developing countries like Borogovia as trade brings prosperity to both sides: until now, the European Union has been content to ship state-subsidised food products to undercut local farmers, but now it may be time to permit the remaining, unbankrupted Borogoves access to sell in the European market.

Asked whether the new treaty will force the Borogoves to change their regulatory system to follow the rules of the European Union, M Barnier responded angrily ‘That would be a ridiculous demand to make: what honest country would accept such humiliation, and what honest negotiator would even suggest it?”

The Commission’s spokesman was at pains to emphasise the dedication of their negotiating team in reaching this point after only one and a half decades.

The United Kingdom secured a comprehensive trade and investment treaty with Borogovia in two months.

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Sixteen negotiating days till Christmas. We cannot tell if it is going to be a Hollywood ending or ‘Hasta la vista, failure’.

Britain has been free of the European since 31 January: all the close engagement in detail since then though might make us forget we ever got out of the stifling bureaucracy. In the same time, Britain has concluded several major free trade treaties around the world, while the one that should have been a cake-walk is teetering on failure., with just days to go.

The initial failings have been well rehearsed: the European Union should have started the negotiation the day after the Brexit vote, which was four and a half years ago, but instead refused to speak without a withdrawal agreement, which was delayed by other factors – collaborators in Parliament giving aid and comfort to the enemy encouraging the EU to think the referendum would be overturned. Mrs May’s choice of surrendering negotiators worsened it: movement only came with Boris and the realisation that it was all for real: the game was up. That left us however with just eleven months to do what should have been started three and a half years before.

What has gone wrong in the negotiation, no one outside it can really tell. We can write long commentaries of speculation, and I am sure I have done that before, but what passes in those rooms is a mystery.

It does not seem like a mystery: the press is full of foreign politicians bewailing what has been said and vowing that ils ne passeront pas, and Whitehall and Gove batting back. It is undignified, crass, unstatesmanlike, ungentlemanly and ultimately unhelpful, but it is also dishonest, as the negotiation is not done by press release.

We do know the opening European position, as they published their proposals, and we know how the British team opened its batting too. The two were far apart. The European side spoke in pious tones about maintaining to the finest detail the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration which was the agreed framework for negotiation, and then promptly placed a text on the table that flatly contradicted the latter. There is a word for that, and not a pretty one.

The preconditions they demanded, contradicting the solemn promises, are heaped up like chains on Marley’s ghost.

Accounts suggest there is just a hair’s breadth between the two sides, but on what we do not know, in truth, nor whose word is stopping finality, or if those who have said they object have been put up just to force the negotiation, It is a very Trumpian tactic and to be admired for that as a negotiating technique, but could, mishandled lead to an unnecessary collapse in talks, and many, many unnecessary business bankruptcies.

Is it really Macron, as he claims? Is he standing up for Europe lie the statesman he pretends to be? Is he just playing his part in a psychological game to put pressure on the Brits? Is hem, and this seems most likely, trying to distract attention from the flames that are consuming French cities. It is a major fault in the French political system that they do not realise that the most fundamental duty of the state is to preserve public peace. Maybe it is just for its impossibility with a people whose national myth is the glory of revolution not the peace at the end of it. Such is not a culture “with a purpose to make those men that relyed on them, the more apt to Obedience, Lawes, Peace, Charity, and civill Society“.

(Rousseau’s bastardised version of Hobbes in Du Contrat Social is deficient but accepted over there. Maybe it is forgotten in that imperfect mirror that the Essence of the Common-wealth; which (to define it,) is “One Person, of whose Acts a great Multitude, by mutuall Covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the Author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their Peace and Common Defence.”)

Yet the negotiation continues, to the wire, aiming by that squeezing of time to squeeze concessions, while businesses go to the wall and others pause their investments to see what happens. Wasn’t there some film of the negotiation? Maybe:

This makes little sense in logic (and emphasises again, if it ever needed repeating, that the European Union is a disastrous entity).

In the wreckage that has been left from the continental lockdown, when thousands, probably millions, are thrown out of work, when state finances are in a condition worse even than during the Euro crisis, when every effort should be made to go lean, to let business thrive, to open every advantage to recovery, when the sources of finance through the City of London are more important than ever, why now to stall for political reasons alone? A failure by the European side to grasp this opportunity for recovery would be unforgivable.

I have always written that it is in Britain’s interests that he rest of the continental European Union should remain together, but if they are to beggar the continent for political pride, the Eurocrats deserve nothing more than dissolution, that something better may be created.

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