Covid news not bad; political and economic news not good

This far into the epidemic it’s interesting what we know and extraordinary what we don’t. Which is more significant: the knowledge or the ignorance?

So what is happening:

  • Daily cases in many European countries are rising sharply but recorded death and excess mortality rates are not – so far.
  • In the US, the daily case and death rates have been falling for two months, from a late summer bump.
  • And in Australia and New Zealand, we are seeing just how hard it is to eliminate the disease.

The data has lots of possible interpretations, which certainly helps if you’ve got a particular case to support.  But one piece of good news is that the fear factor is coming in at the lower end of expectations.

Continue reading “Covid news not bad; political and economic news not good”

Breach-of-international-law row unlikely to deflect Boris Johnson’s trade negotiating strategy

Opponents of Brexit are finding it hard to pick winnable fights.  

The latest stoush: the UK’s withdrawal treaty gives the EU powers over the Northern Ireland market; the EU has suggested (should an FTA not be agreed) that these might be used to hinder the flow of goods to the province from the rest of the UK; so the British government intends to  take powers in its internal market bill to stop this.

Cue outrage at the possible breach of the withdrawal treaty and thus international law.

Continue reading “Breach-of-international-law row unlikely to deflect Boris Johnson’s trade negotiating strategy”

What sort of coalition do America’s voters want?

The future of America’s Republican party looks more interesting and probably also more healthy, if one can judge by the interchange between Ben Sasse, the scholarly Senator for Nebraska, and his more demotic President, Donald Trump.

“No president — whether named Obama or Trump or Biden or AOC — has unilateral power to rewrite immigration law or to cut taxes or to raise taxes. This is because America doesn’t have kings”, 

wrote Sasse before adding a quick civics jab: 

“Under our constitution we’re supposed to have public servants.”

It’s a reminder that political parties are coalitions – often uneasy ones.  

Continue reading “What sort of coalition do America’s voters want?”

A clear UK position puts Brussels under pressure in the EU / UK trade negotiations

Early September, after the holidays, is when Brussels resumes business. Early on the agenda is whether the EU’s leadership abandons their negotiating strategy for a post-Brexit trade deal, as British PM Boris Johnson ups the pressure.

So far the EU’s negotiators have insisted that the UK must submit to unequal treatment in the relationship (for example, in regulatory policy, state support of industry and dispute resolution) if the UK is to retain some level of trade privilege above World Trade Organisation (WTO) minima.   

Continue reading “A clear UK position puts Brussels under pressure in the EU / UK trade negotiations”

Scotland forever – but in or out of the UK?

It may rank as one of the most surprising and/or least effective public health measures adopted during the pandemic.  But Scotland’s devolved government has outlawed background music in hotels and restaurants because it might encourage people to raise their voices.

Indeed, the Scottish administration has sometimes ostentatiously gone out of its way to take a different path to that trodden by Boris Johnson’s national government. Meanwhile, opinion polling support for Scottish independence is rising.

Using the pandemic to beat the drum for Scottish independence must irritate those who prefer science-based consistency.  But they probably need to get used to it. Continue reading “Scotland forever – but in or out of the UK?”

A moment of truth for the EU in the post-Brexit trade talks

Covid, summer holidays and the usual foreign policy rows have overshadowed the EU/UK post-Brexit trade talks.  A pity because this looks like a – perhaps the – key moment, as the ever astute Wolfgang Munchau points out in the Financial Times.

The issue is the EU’s insistence that the UK conform with the EU’s state aid and competition policy – in broad terms, the regime whereby the authorities arbitrate and ensure consistency between the member states’ freedom of action in industry regulation, promotion and subsidy. Continue reading “A moment of truth for the EU in the post-Brexit trade talks”

Special pleading should not  obscure the direction of the UK’s post-Brexit negotiations

The UK car industry has run a good race in the post-Brexit lobbying stakes.  But Britain’s chemical industry looks to be making a late run, if recent coverage in the Financial Times is accurate.

The issue for the industry is the post-Brexit regulatory regime and how this is to be disengaged from the current European model.  The government plans to set up a UK agency to record the safety registrations for industrial chemicals. Continue reading “Special pleading should not  obscure the direction of the UK’s post-Brexit negotiations”

Britain’s Battle of Brexit has an internal dimension

One of the chores of the Brexit process is the repatriation of powers from Brussels to Westminster.  Simple as making a list you might say.  But one aspect – bringing home the state’s economic regulatory powers – is causing a spat.

When the UK joined the European Economic Community (as it then was) in 1973, these powers were held at the national level.  But since then, in addition to ceding further powers to Europe, the central government has devolved substantial retained powers to regional administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.  And the local politicians – seeking to advance their localist and autonomist agenda – are clamouring for a share of the handback.

So Westminster’s mandarins and politicians have come up with a plan, with a refreshingly deep foundation in history, economics and – yes – politics. Continue reading “Britain’s Battle of Brexit has an internal dimension”

Inglorious history can teach us about heroism

We prefer our heroes untarnished.  And few match the heroism of Winston Churchill.  But a recent report in the Times reminds us of the inevitability of human frailty and the consequences of keeping it under wraps.

During the second world war, Britain’s greatest single loss of life at sea was the sinking on 8 June 1940 of the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers Ardent and Acasta as they returned home from a failed expedition to Norway.  There were 40 survivors from 1,559 crewmen. Continue reading “Inglorious history can teach us about heroism”