Boris, Brexit & Britain October 2020 –

Written by  //  April 22, 2021  //  Europe & EU, U.K./Britain  //  No comments

Brexit: What is the Irish border backstop?
The Guardian Brexit
BBC: Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU
Brexit, EU & UK – June 2019
Boris, Brexit & Britain July-November 2019
London’s 2021 fireworks Happy New Year Live!

Critics said Brexit would threaten peace in Northern Ireland. Now streets are on fire.
By Fintan O’Toole, columnist with the Irish Times.
Johnson’s triumph in 2016, and his subsequent rise to power, were based on the provision of easy answers to hard questions. The one thing even the most insouciant British politician knows about Northern Ireland is that there are none of those. So the Brexiteers, rather ironically, adopted the strategy that the poet Seamus Heaney ascribed to Northern Ireland’s own people during the Troubles: “Whatever you say, say nothing.”
First, Boris Johnson ignored Brexit’s consequences for Northern Ireland. Now the British prime minister is lying about them.
On Tuesday, a bomb was placed under the car of a policewoman in County Derry. In the first two weeks of April, dozens of police officers were injured in riots, mostly in Protestant working-class districts. The fears expressed by those in Britain and Ireland who had predicted that Brexit would be profoundly destabilizing for Britain’s most fractious region are acquiring a dark substance,”

15 April
Opinion: Why the hope for peace is waning in Northern Ireland
James Waller is the Cohen professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Keene State College in New Hampshire and the author of “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing” and “A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland
(WaPo) Although talk about its demise has existed from the moment the province was created 100 years ago, doubts over Northern Ireland’s viability as a distinct geographic, economic and political entity have never been greater.
The instability has been accelerated by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. From the moment Brexit was passed, concerns about self-determination and national allegiance again stood front and center in a society deeply divided between those who support Northern Ireland’s constitutional status within the U.K. (unionists, most often Protestant) and those believing that the north of Ireland’s true home lies with the Republic of Ireland (nationalists, most often Catholic). Both sides have starkly different views of their national identities, which makes it hard to agree on the nature of sovereignty — and the constitutional future of the province.
Nationalist communities, both north and south, are leveraging the moment to call for a referendum on formal Irish reunification. If the upcoming Scottish elections result in a move for independence from the U.K., the cries for Northern Ireland’s departure from a union that can no longer claim to be united will escalate. Additional momentum for a united Ireland will come from the 2021 Northern Ireland census, which looks likely to reveal a Catholic majority in the province for the first time in its history.

13 April
Can Northern Ireland survive Brexit?
Those who dream of a united Ireland see hope in the economic unity between north and south provided by the Brexit deal.
Irish nationalists are buoyed by demographic and electoral shifts showing that Northern Ireland, a state created a century ago to ensure a solid Protestant unionist majority, no longer has one. Results from new census data still being tabulated are expected to show that Catholics outnumber Protestants following decades of higher birth rates and lower emigration.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 55.8 percent of Northern Ireland voters said they wanted to stay in the EU. Catholics overwhelmingly backed Remain, but so did one-third of British unionists, some of whom may be more willing to stomach joining their state to the Republic of Ireland if they could reclaim their European citizenship in the bargain.
Sinn Féin, the only major political party that contests elections in both parts of Ireland, senses that post-Brexit blues could tip a unity vote narrowly in their favor. The 1998 Good Friday peace agreement is emphatic that such a referendum would require only simple majorities in both parts of Ireland to break Northern Ireland’s constitutional bonds with Britain.
Before the ink was dry on the EU-U.K. trade deal clinched on Christmas Eve, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald declared that Irish unity now represented the best path for Northern Ireland to rejoin Europe. “EU leaders have accepted the unique position of Ireland and have agreed that the north will automatically become part of the EU in the context of a united Ireland,” she said that night.

12 April
Anger boils in Northern Ireland despite attempts to end riots
Brexit concerns and controversy over a funeral for a Sinn Fein figure have upset a delicate political balance.

9 April
The consequences of Boris Johnson’s careless Brexit are playing out in Belfast
Jonathan Freedland
This week’s violence is an ominous sign that leaving the EU took a wrecking ball to the Good Friday agreement
(The Guardian) The most powerful arguments against Brexit were never about trade and tariffs. They were about peace and war, about life and death. One was a general argument centred on the true, founding purpose of the European Union: to ensure that a continent mired in blood for centuries would not descend into conflict again. The other was more specific, peculiar to these islands: that shared membership of the EU had proved to be the key that unlocked peace in Northern Ireland after three decades of murderous pain.
The logic was simple enough. So long as both the UK and Ireland were in the same EU club, the border between them could be blurred, allowing people in the north to identify as British or Irish or both without too much friction. That was the foundation on which the Good Friday agreement, signed 23 years ago tomorrow, was built – a foundation that would be broken if either country were to break from Brussels. Taken together, these were the life-and-death arguments for continued UK membership of the EU, and some tried valiantly to make them. But they were barely heard.
Northern Ireland unrest: Four key questions answered
Long-simmering tensions have been brought to the boil by Brexit.
(Al Jazeera) At the beginning of March, Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary groups withdrew their support for the 1998 peace agreement due to concerns over the Brexit deal’s implications for the region, and pledged to oppose it by “peaceful and democratic” means.
The coalition of groups informed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that they would not back the Belfast Agreement again until the Northern Ireland Protocol was amended to ensure unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Why Tensions in Northern Ireland Have Reignited
(New York) Northern Ireland is experiencing its worst unrest in years, after seven straight days of demonstrations that left 74 police officers injured and led the White House to appeal for calm. The violence has been concentrated in unionist, predominantly Protestant communities, and may very well continue into the weekend, casting a dark shadow over the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of intermittent war, on April 10, 23 years ago.
Parties on both sides of the political divide told Intelligencer Friday morning that there are two causes for the explosive protests on the streets of Belfast and other cities. First, many unionists are angry with the way that Brexit has been imposed upon them. The Northern Ireland Protocol, negotiated by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in London, has meant the erection of new trade barriers earlier this year. And the more immediate cause for the violence, the spark that ignited an already unstable compound, was the announcement that members of Sinn Féin — the nationalist, predominantly Catholic party associated with the IRA — would not be charged for attending a funeral in apparent violation of COVID lockdown rules. But drug-dealing paramilitaries could also be involved, taking advantage of young men, restless and economically disadvantaged after a year of the pandemic, to flex some muscle.

9-10 April

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, obituary

Prince Philip was the longest-serving consort of a British monarch, described by the Queen as her ‘strength and stay’

(The Guardian) Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who has died aged 99, was the Queen’s husband for 73 years. He was the longest-serving royal consort in British history, the family’s patriarch and a well-known figure in public life for two-thirds of a century until his final disappearance into seclusion in 2019.
This was a marathon stint on which he had originally embarked with resignation, in the belief that a life of walking several steps behind his wife, curbing his opinions – though not always his tongue – and being an appendage to the institution, without even being able to pass on his surname to his children, would turn him into “nothing but a bloody amoeba”.
If his tally of accomplishments was modest, this was at least partly because the role to which he was confined had been diminished. Although Philip was intelligent, with physical presence, energy and a clipped, ironic way of speaking, he took care to conceal his intellectual interests, which included poetry and theology, behind his bluff exterior. He had a fine private art collection, painted a little himself and had a well-thumbed personal library of more than 11,000 books, with perhaps surprising inclusions such as the works of TS Eliot. “Don’t tell anyone,” he would say. Clerics visiting Balmoral or Sandringham to preach Sunday sermons could be disconcerted by his beady-eyed scrutiny from the front pew and his close questioning over lunch afterwards.
Though frustrated, particularly in the early years of the reign, by his lack of personal scope, he made the most of the role that was open to him. He was a loyal and closely engaged patron of a wide range of organisations and causes, ranging from the postwar national playing fields movement to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, of which he was patron for 55 years. He was the first UK president of the World Wildlife Fund, from 1961 to 1982, and international president from 1981 to 1996.
… Most enduring and significant was his commitment to the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, which he founded in 1956 with the German educationist Kurt Hahn, to create a “do-it-yourself kit in the art of civilised living”. The programme, operating in more than 140 countries, encourages young people to volunteer for community service and stretch themselves in teamwork and outdoor activities. Since the scheme’s beginnings, more than 4 million teenagers have participated, and the duke continued to present gold awards to the highest achievers into his 90s.
Prince Philip’s Death and the Last Embers of British Stoicism
Embattled but unlamenting throughout his life, Philip would have argued that a shield is required, whatever one’s situation, to fend off any sudden blows and to steel us for the slough of boredom.
By Anthony Lane
As Britain mourns Prince Philip, palace announced private funeral for April 17

22 March
Building Back Worse
Mariana Mazzucato , Laurie Macfarlane, George Dibb
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is clearly happy for the state to play a larger role in the economy. And yet, by scrapping a perfectly sensible industrial strategy for no good reason, it has all but ensured that the country’s economic problems will remain unsolved.
Chris Patten: The UK’s Hard Brexit Choices Have Arrived
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government recently spelled out how Britain will use its supposed freedom outside the European Union. But the country faces a growing number of tough choices that Johnson will not be able to avoid for much longer.
(Project Syndicate) …
The UK government, for its part, has again deliberately breached the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed early last year. The UK has chosen to be outside the EU’s customs union and single market, while the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state) remains in both. So, the only way to avoid re-establishing a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland (which would undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the UK province) is for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union with a border of some sort between it and the British mainland.Johnson signed up for this – something that his predecessor, Theresa May, refused to do – and then denied that there would be such a border.
Johnson signed up for this – something that his predecessor, Theresa May, refused to do – and then denied that there would be such a border. Now, his European minister, David Frost (who is to diplomacy what a chainsaw is to origami), has announced that the UK will ignore the Withdrawal Agreement until it gets what it wants.
So, what should have been a quiet period of nurturing post-Brexit UK-EU relations has turned into a barroom brawl. Meanwhile, Johnson’s government recently spelled out how the UK will use its supposed freedom outside the Union in a policy document that attempts to flesh out the concept of “Global Britain” – as if the country had not had global interests and influence for centuries.
It is an elegantly written essay, shot through with well-known Johnsonian traits. For example, it faithfully reflects his predilection for attempting to have his cake and eat it – and thus avoid hard choices. But with almost all serious economists and business leaders expecting slower economic growth for the foreseeable future (as a result of Britain having left its main export market), hard choices will not avoid the UK. It is not surprising that the government has not released an official projection of Brexit’s economic impact; if the figures were good, they would be published in bold.

8 March
Nicolas: Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry burst the Royal bubble
The British monarchy did not end with scandal; it thrived on scandal.
A Brit in America Makes Sense of the Meghan Markle Oprah Interview
By Hamish Bowles
(Vogue) I have found myself torn between two very different readings of this extraordinary couple: in America, a version of Meghan Markle as a self-actualized style maven with a female-empowerment platform who seemed to have brought her unhappy prince and his demons to a happy place. In Britain, a sense that she was a wily, shrewish manipulator (“Hurricane Meghan”) who snared her well-meaning but unwary prince; was dazzled by the idea of the job but discovered too late its dreary restrictive realities and its focus on blindly unquestioning obedience and embrace of duty; and stole him away to a distant land of self-love, self-realization, and humbug.

10 February
Brexit’s third act gets underway with a familiar plot line — Northern Ireland
The UK wants grace periods that allow lighter enforcement on EU rules in Northern Ireland to be extended until January 2023.
(Politico Eu)… bad blood has festered since the U.K. finally exited EU rules at the end of 2020 — notably over the Northern Ireland protocol, a key part of the deal that the European Commission came close to suspending last month in a bid to prevent vaccine supplies leaving the bloc. But officials insist that the relationship between Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and his opposite number Maroš Šefčovič is significantly warmer than that between their predecessors David Frost and Michel Barnier.
Gove has demanded tweaks to the trade rules on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to deal with border disruption, and he wants waivers on post-Brexit checks to be extended for nearly two years.
That may be pushing it, but officials on the U.K. side view Šefčovič as someone they can do business with, in contrast to Barnier, who London frequently criticized as taking a robotic approach to the talks. The former Slovak diplomat is well-liked in London and is thought to be pragmatic and focused on doing the best for citizens on both sides. Awkwardly for him, he has his own deadline extension request — on the time limit for ratification of the Christmas Eve deal on the EU side.

11 January
Global Britain, Global Broker
A Blueprint for the UK’s Future International Role
Chatham House Director (and CEO) Dr Robin Niblett CMG sets out a proposed blueprint for Britain’s future foreign policy. Rather than reincarnate itself as a miniature great power, he argues that the country has the chance to remain internationally influential if it serves as the broker of solutions to global challenges.
The paper lays out six international goals for the UK that offer the best points of connection between its interests, resources and credibility. These are: protecting liberal democracy; promoting international peace and security; tackling climate change; enabling greater global health resilience; championing global tax transparency and equitable economic growth; and defending cyberspace.
In pursuit of these goals, the UK will need to invest in and leverage its unique combination of diplomatic reach, diverse security capabilities and prominence in international development. It should use these assets to link together liberal democracies and, where possible, engage alongside them with other countries that are willing to address shared international challenges constructively.

2 January
Boris Johnson would lose majority and seat in election tomorrow – poll
Results suggest public are deeply unhappy with the government’s handling of Covid and Brexit
(The Guardian) The poll predicts that if a general election were held tomorrow neither the Conservatives nor Labour would win an outright majority. Disturbingly for Boris Johnson, the survey says the Conservatives would lose 81 seats, wiping out the 80-seat majority they won in December 2019.
It gives the first detailed insight into the public’s perception of Johnson’s handling of the Brexit talks and the pandemic, amid fears that Britain is heading into a third national lockdown.

1 January
Britain Has Lost Itself
My grandparents, who fled Nazi Germany for Britain, would be heartbroken to see the country today.
By Peter Gumbel, author of “Citizens of Everywhere.”
(NYT) Inward, polarized and absurdly self-aggrandizing, Britain has lost itself. In sorrow, I mourn the passing of the country that was my family’s salvation.

2020

30 December
With little ado, a divided United Kingdom casts off into the Brexit unknown
(Reuters) -The United Kingdom left the European Union’s orbit on Thursday, turning its back on a tempestuous 48-year liaison with the European project for an uncertain post-Brexit future in its most significant geopolitical shift since the loss of empire.
5 reasons the UK failed in Brexit talks
Tony Blair’s former chief of staff argues the UK has performed disastrously in Brexit negotiations.
(Politico Eu) I have spent the last forty years involved in international negotiations of one sort or another, and I have never seen a British government perform worse than they did in the four years of negotiations that concluded with the Christmas Eve Brexit agreement.
Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of Brexit, purely in terms of negotiating technique, it is an object lesson in how not to do it. As the bluster and self-congratulation dies down, it is worth standing back and looking at what we can learn from the debacle.

29 December
Dire straits: The Rock faces a hard Brexit as Gibraltar talks drag on
Spanish foreign minister sends warning shot to London over post-Brexit Gibraltar.
The Spanish government is pushing for Gibraltar to join the passport-free Schengen zone, as first reported by POLITICO. The U.K. has accepted the idea of some sort of relationship between Gibraltar and Schengen, according to an official familiar with the talks, but is concerned about a potential loss of sovereignty as a result.

27 December
10 key details in the UK-EU trade deal
What the agreement says about financial services, state aid and more.
Now comes the scramble to work out what it means for individuals and businesses — and, inevitably, lawyers — across 28 countries. The deal itself is 1,246 pages long, but there are summaries, side agreements and additional political declarations on a range of sensitive issues to consider, too.
Shorthand comparisons are of little use. It’s not that helpful, experts say, to compare to deals struck between the European Union and Canada, for example, because the EU-U.K. agreement is unlike any other trade deal the bloc has struck with another country.

24 December
Boris Johnson hails free trade deal with EU
(BBC) The EU and UK have reached a post-Brexit trade deal, ending months of disagreements over fishing rights and future business rules.
At a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said: “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.”
The text of the agreement has yet to be released, but the PM claimed it was a “good deal for the whole of Europe”.
The UK is set to exit EU trading rules next Thursday – a year after officially leaving the 27 nation bloc.
It will mean big changes for business, with the UK and EU forming two separate markets, and the end of free movement.
Brexit: What you need to know about the UK leaving the EU
(BBC) the UK and European Union finally agreed a deal that will define their future relationship.
Ever since the UK left the EU on 31 January, both sides have been talking about what the new rules should be.
The negotiations went to the wire, as the current arrangement ends on 31 December.
The deal contains new rules for how the UK and EU will live, work and trade together. But we don’t know a lot of the detail yet because the full document – expected to be well over 1,000 pages long – has not been released.
What we do know is that it means:
No taxes on each other’s goods when they cross borders (known as tariffs)
No limits on the amount of things which can be traded (known as quotas)

2 December
UK’s hopes of early US trade deal dashed by Biden warning
President-elect says his priority is to invest in US manufacturing and protect American workers
Britain’s hopes of securing an early trade deal with the US have been dashed by a warning from Joe Biden, the president-elect, that America will not sign a trade deal with anyone until the US has sorted out its competitiveness.
Britain had been closing in on a trade deal with the administration of Donald Trump, a fierce opponent of the European Union, but Biden has said in a New York Times interview that his priority will be to improve investment in US manufacturing and the protection of Amerian workers.
“I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers and in education,” he said.
Some supporters of Brexit had touted a US trade deal as one of the early benefits of leaving the EU and its customs union, although the economic value of such a deal had been questioned.

24 October
Johnson will wait for US election result before no-deal Brexit decision
Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, says prime minister will think ‘history was going his way’ if Donald Trump is re-elected
(The Guardian) Ivan Rogers, who was the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels from 2013 to 2017, told the Observer that a view shared by ministers and officials he has talked to in recent weeks in several European capitals, is that Johnson is biding his time – and is much more likely to opt for no deal if his friend and Brexit supporter Donald Trump prevails over the Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
Rogers said that if Trump won he and others in Europe believed Johnson would think “history was going his way” with his right-wing ally still in the White House. The prime minister would therefore be more likely to conclude he could strike a quick and substantial post-Brexit US-UK trade deal than if Biden emerged as president after the 3 November poll. By contrast, a Biden administration would prioritise rebuilding relations with the EU that have been damaged by Trump.
Rogers joined other former UK diplomats last night in warning that a Democratic administration under Biden would prove hugely problematic for Johnson and the UK government, threatening the so-called special relationship. “I don’t think either Biden or his core team are anti-British, but I think they are unimpressed by both Johnson and his top team,” he said.
Biden’s would simply not be an administration which viewed European integration as a negative.
“The UK’s absence from the EU will make it clearly less influential because it can no longer lead European thinking on the geo-strategic issues which will matter hugely to Biden. So [Biden] will put Berlin and Paris – and indeed Brussels – back at the heart of US thinking: not uncritically, because the US will still have serious issues with EU approaches on economic and security issues..”

19 October
UK refuses to restart Brexit talks despite EU accepting its demands
No 10 unmoved even after Barnier’s offer prompts Gove to make U-turn at dispatch box
(The Guardian) A No 10 spokesman said the prime minister had noted the EU’s offer to “intensify” the talks during a call between Barnier and his British counterpart on Monday but insisted there remained no basis yet to resume the negotiation.
The spokesman said: “This was a constructive discussion. The UK has noted the EU’s proposal to genuinely intensify talks, which is what would be expected at this stage in a negotiation. However, the UK continues to believe there is no basis to resume talks unless there is a fundamental change of approach from the EU.
“This means an EU approach consistent with trying to find an agreement between sovereign equals and with acceptance that movement needs to come from the EU side as well as the UK. The two teams agreed to remain in close touch.”
The knockback means the Brexit standoff continues, with just four weeks left in which worthwhile negotiations may be conducted in pursuit of a comprehensive trade deal before the parliamentary ratification process will need to begin.

14 October
Letter from the U.K.
How the Second Wave of the Pandemic Has Challenged Boris Johnson’s Leadership
The coronavirus has been merciless in its exposure of Johnson’s limits as a politician and of his government as a whole.
(The New Yorker) Six months into the pandemic, the British government’s handling of COVID-19 is not dissimilar to what it was in the spring. A lot has happened, to be sure. At least fifty-seven thousand three hundred and forty-seven people have died of the disease; the economy has cratered. But the over-all strategy for dealing with the virus remains late, oddly complicated, and undermined by a dull, nagging incompetence. An hour after Johnson finished a televised address alongside Britain’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, to explain the virtues of the new tiered system, officials quietly released minutes from the country’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a panel of independent scientists that has been guiding the government throughout the crisis. The minutes showed that the critical moment to prevent Britain’s second wave has probably already passed.

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