Brexit still bubbling and boiling out of the pot 5 years on-June 26, 2021

How’s Brexit dealing with Britain, which is not so great, at the moment?

Five years on from the referendum, things looks messy:

Puffins and overfishing issues:

Pigeon fanciers’ feathers ruffled:

Computer glitch and jobs for EU women:

British TV not good for EU folks to watch?

Tinned tomatoes and inflation:

Sausages, anyone?

Northern Ireland snaggled:

Steel being stolen:

Touring artistes’ woes:

#COVID19Chronicles-297: January 29, 2021-Another year passed; interesting times for a birthday

A year ago, I was planning to take a short vacation to England, in mid-February, just because, but also to get a personal sense of how Brexit was rolling in. Now, after it rolled in, I’d have much less desire to make the trip. The pandemic, which was declared as my vacation was ending, is being managed badly there and Brexit is turning out to be the ‘pig in a poke’ that the supporters lied it wouldn’t be. With COVID restrictions, I’d be able to leave Jamaica but would not be able to return from the UK!

A year ago, I had anticipated my daughter returning from school for Spring break in March and my mother-in-law and her sister coming to spend a few weeks while my wife and I headed off on work travel to Colombia. I didn’t anticipate they’d be still here in July and later. That’s life during a pandemic!

A year ago, as I turned 65, I was happy to be retired and enjoying my life as a mainly home-bound person. I didn’t anticipate that the bulk of the country and likewise in many countries would be living their lives as work-at-home or stay-in-place people. That’s life during a pandemic.

Once the pandemic rolled through the world, eyes turned to scientists for solutions; a vaccine was hoped for but would be far off, we thought. Yet, here we are and vaccines have been developed and are being dispensed in several countries; richer ones are better placed than poorer ones. Ironically, the UK is better placed than its EU neighbours, because it had decided to order 3 months ahead of them.

I was keeping an eye on the US presidential elections, due to end in November 2020, and as the Democrats fought over who would carry their torch, my hope was that it would be a strong contender against the incumbent President Trump. Then, the election over, I looked forward to the transition. I did not expect a simple handover—Donald Trump doesn’t do losing well; I recalled his threat in 2015 that he would not commit to accepting any result but his victory. He had warned during 2020 well before the election that he thought the election was rigged. So, when he started digging in his heels and vacillating about accepting results, I knew we were in for a struggle.

On election night, the contest was compelling watching and it was a nail biter than looked like a win for the Democrat candidate, Joe Biden. Waking to that confirmation was frankly delightful.

I did not anticipate a string of efforts to overturn the results. I did not expect the overt efforts to do that! The law suits did not seem too out of line, though it was clear that with nothing inside the paper bags that were being used as briefs for the courts, made it clear that the claims of fraud would go nowhere. I didn’t anticipate that this effort would go on so fruitlessly for so long. I expected some of the lying on the stump but it was clear that the truth had to be told in courts. I had doubts about whether the courts would hold the line, especially as many of them and the Supreme Court had been stuffed with Trump nominees. That they did was an amazing surprise.

As we went through what were usually pro forma events to confirm the election results, I was really nervous about where the presidential resistance efforts would lead. I heard words about “peaceful transition”, but in my mind I could see that was not a given, by a long shot, The level of divided opinions, with nearly 3/4 of Republican supporters believing the propaganda that the election was stolen and Trump had won, by a “landslide”, in his words.

The State certifications became dramas. Normal snooze-fests were now must-watch. After that, the wait for Congressional confirmation turned from being ‘who cares?’ to must-watch. As many turned in to see this dull as dishwater piece of political theatre, it was not part of the popcorn eating to watch an insurrection unfolding in front of our eyes. (As a grim reminder, it was like watching the disaster of the 1986 Challenger launch.)

January 6, 2021 is now seared into our memories as the day when the US democratic system was pushed to the brink.

It appeared to survive on the day, and the institutional finalization of the election, the Inauguration on January 20, again became its usual must-watch event. But who could have anticipated that, in addition, to the COVID protocols that forced fewer people and more distance, we would see Washington DC in lock down and thousands of the National Guard lining the streets and ringing the US Capitol, itself ringed with high fencing? The eerie sight of the Washington Mall filled with flags and free of people will remain a deeply strange image.

The security policy failure has still be fully explained and now proposals may include permanent fencing around the Capitol complex and a ready-response force stationed nearby.

The sight of the sourpuss departing president determined to not accept the election results by not publicly uttering the name of the new president and refusing to attend the Inauguration was in keeping with him, but as distasteful a piece of adult behaviour as one may ever seen.

For me, the fact that his narcissism has extended to letting his Vice President and his family be under siege, maybe in fear of their lives during the siege of the Capitol, was more telling of a moral bankruptcy that is rare in anyone, let alone a politician.

The past 12 months have been dominated by the pandemic. Many wanted to see the back of 2020, but 2021 looks set to be no cake walk.

The physical violence that took place on January 6 now appears to have an underpinning of political connivance and planning that is really worrying as it suggests a serious plot to subvert elected government. The fact that Congressional politicians should be openly expressing fear of some of their colleagues is mind boggling. But, these are indeed interesting times.

As I turn 66, I have the mixed emotions that come as the prospect of a vaccine comes closer. Then, I read yesterday that one of the vaccine manufacturers stating that its vaccine should not be given to those over 64. That’s not the kind of present that I want to look forward to.

A year ago, I did not anticipate not spending Christmas with my family, but home alone for 2020 was how it went, while they went to Grandma’s house.

The end of the pandemic is not in sight, and while we can think that a year from now the situation of lockdowns, quarantines, and other restrictions on what was normal life, it’s not a given. New waves keep occurring in various countries. New highs keep occurring in terms of cases and deaths.

We’ve seen a new president, in his first week, return the office to a welcome state of normality, including important things like a daily press conference where the press are encouraged to ask questions and answers are willingly given. What a time to be alive!

The desire for more-open communications from the White House includes having scientists and other specialists speak directly to the public and media from the White House. Having sign language interpreters is an important step.

We got a quick ‘read out’ of President Biden’s call to Russia’s President Putin, before the Russians issued theirs, and it differed. We also got to see and hear a call with the NATO Secretary General:

In coming weeks, we have the first ever second impeachment trial of a president, albeit now a former president. In coming months, we may see law suits that have sedition charges laid against people in the US and even against the former president, in addition to other legal risks he was facing before. Some of those charged already point towards Trump was their inspiration to riot, as ‘patriots’ whom he’d called to Washington DC. It will be interesting.

What a time to be alive!

My wife baked a cake with bourbon, whose smell wafted up to be as I headed to bed. I’ll look forward to that, at least. One day at a time.

#COVID19Chronicles-280: January 12, 2021-More Brexit woes

It’s not hard to have a good dose of schadenfreude going through my thoughts as I watch the UK see the unveiling of Brexit’s impact on UK life. Those who voted to “take back control” were fed a lot of false claims and many did not realise the added complications and losses they were going to face once the UK left the European Union (EU). As we enter the second week since the UK “got Brexit done”, let’s look at some more simple truths Brits are now facing. I touched on some last week, already.

The Dutch are eating your lunch! 🙂

I feel for the drivers who were told they couldn’t get rid of the ham and just travel with the bread: it’s the whole ‘sarnie‘, mate.

Companies are tussling with new border controls as well as import taxes. DPD, the international delivery giant, is “pausing” its road service from the UK into Europe, including the Republic of Ireland. Marks & Spencer is concerned that a third of the products in its Irish food halls, would now be subject to import tariffs. Such taxes could spell higher prices for shoppers.

DPD said new border procedures, including additional customs paperwork, needed for parcels destined for Europe were putting extra pressure on turnaround and transit times. It is returning one-fifth of parcels to the sender because they had incorrect or incomplete data attached. It also blamed delays and congestion at UK ports for its decision.

The government’s “tariff-free” trade deal on Christmas Eve now exposes that food and clothing products that do not qualify as made in Britain could be hit with levies. Under the agreement, if more than 40% of the pre-finished value of a UK firm’s product was not British, it would attract tariffs.

Boris Johnson was said to have swerved from the topic of Brexit impact in a call with more than 200 business leaders earlier this week.

Netflix and Amazon Prime users, especially, are being hit as they try to take their streaming viewing from the UK into the EU.

The UK diaspora who thought settling in nice EU warm spots was a smart move are now stuck about what to do; they’re called ‘swallows’, who winter in Spain and turn to the UK in the Summer. Travel to Spain is more complicated now that the new EU-UK trade agreement has come into force. Since 1 January, the UK has been considered as a “third country” to the EU; any newcomers will have to follow a new system.

For any UK citizens arriving now, here are some of the differences.

For tourists, including people who have second homes in the country but haven’t taken residency, you can no longer come and go as you please. You can spend up to three months out of every six here.

To be able to live in Spain now, you will need to show proof that you’re earning, either through having a contract with a Spanish company, or by proving that you have at least £2,000 (€2,223; $2,705) a month coming into your account. For a family, it will be much more. You will need to show that you have an extra £500 a month for each member of the family. For example, a family of four will need to prove they earn a yearly salary of at least £42,000.

British driving licences will also need to be changed to Spanish ones.

It’s turning into ‘Costa lots of pain’. There are now over 360,000 British residents registered in Spain, according to official Spanish figures. Euro Weekly predicts there will be a dramatic change to the population dynamic: traditionally the expat community was an average 50-plus; last year it changed, and the average age was 45. In 12 months, it’ll be more like an average age of 35.

The football picture is complicated and continues to evolve, with loopholes appearing:

#COVID19Chronicles-267: December 31, 2020-A world changed

It will be hard for many to recall what else happened this year other than the pandemic and its effects when the year 2020 is mentioned. Wags will have quips for decades about the meaning of ‘2020 vision’ (looking forward to 2021?). Who foresaw this, really, even though whispers within credible intelligence circles (and cases, it appears) warning of a “cataclysmic” event were in the air from 2019?

In the final months of this year, though, we’ve been treated to a late attempt to steal the thunder from the storm by the petulant behaviour of the US president, who has taken public denial of losing to new and absurd limits, in trying to overturn a democratic election that he lost by so much that it’s a disgrace to even try to call it close. So, the sour taste of pandemic stress has been given the added acidity of a series of lies and dissembling that defies reason. The most absurd this week was a tweet from POTUS45 implying that he’d won the Nobel prize…but, goofing it by displaying the wrong medal!

Worse, he’s almost totally checked out of the job he wants so desperately, playing golf while his country spirals daily into worsening pandemic woes.

The third place finisher in my mind would be Brexit, which the UK completed today by passing the trade bill in Parliament, recalled for an emergency one-day session.

The Queen’s approval came just after midnight UK time, just ahead of the deadline today for the end of the transition period:

Brexit might have broken the Opposition Labour Party, as it split on the vote:

The Brexit ‘planning’ process has been a kick in the teeth of UK business:

Sadly, I think the average Briton will have a series of shocks to face on many aspects of life during 2021 and beyond as the reality of exiting the European Union (EU) truly hits home, remembering that 2020 was a transition period, with many EU links still in tact.

Cynics would point to the terrible twins, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, as being natural picks in the making of any miserable year. 😩

Wuhan, a year on from where the pandemic began? Fragile calm:

But, the 2020 pandemic gave lots of thing to help us think about change and how it gets momentum. I’ll just touch on a few aspects.

First, language:

In the late spring, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) editors issued an update, and again in July, the dictionary’s editors released special updates, citing a need to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the English language. They have documented many coronavirus-related linguistic shifts. They claim, that the pandemic has produced only one truly new word: the acronym COVID (Covid)-19. I haven’t checked to see if similar exercises were done for other languages. Maybe, that’s a task for 2021.)

But, if you look at the updates, they are great reminders of what the year had as its focus. We learned to think about life differently and that meant using some words more than ever, learning new words, and using words and phrases in new ways. Here are a few; the list is just a few that stick in my head:

Pandemic; Social distancing; Wear a mask; Stay at home/Tan ah yuh yaad (Jamaican Patois equivalent); Self-isolate, self-isolated and shelter in place; Elbow-bump; 6 feet/2 metres distance; Zoom…Zoombombing; Mute; Testing (rapid, PCR); Curfew: Bubbles; “Rona”; Face mask; Sanitizing; Quarantine.

You may have others to add, or a completely different set.

I also asked my family and some friends for a few words that summed up 2020. The list has many of the stress-related terms that seem fitting:

Daunting, unusual, resilience. Frustration. Anticipation, violation, annihilation, celebration. Patience, self-awareness, growth, perseverance, hope. Reflection. Resilience, grief, solitude. Gratitude.

Life during the pandemic has meant much more isolation and much less freedom of movement than many have had to deal with before, and it has some severe mental health consequences that are now getting more prominence.

Gratitude, for health and health service workers, runs through many minds, especially in the UK and USA, where the pandemic has been mismanaged by the two countries best prepared for it!

Patience has had to come to the fore and many took to therapeutic activities like gardening, exercise, reading, binge-watching, home projects, and waiting for results–all of which have much demand for patience and seeing things through.

As the year has progressed, we’ve learned to shift expecations:

-from hoping the pandemic would be short-lived;

-to managing the variety of restrictions to what was normal life, such as lock-downs;

-to dealing with tragedies of friends and relatives getting infections and dying or recovering or living with lingering symptom;

-to hoping that surges and spikes would flatten fast;

-to wondering why so many sought and fought to not take precautions;

-to hoping that vaccines would be tested and passed fast;

to hearing of their successes;

-to the first roll out of vaccinations in many countries.

Relationships have had to survive long-distances and long time spans between contacts. Some of those relations are not familial, but cover work and education, where the consequences of breaks and changes in how things are done are have not been pure successes. While many relish working from home, many students do not relish online learning, and children really miss playing and associating with their peers. Some haven’t handled that well and the media has been littered with stories of people breaking health protocols, sadly, too many of them were people who either were in charge of making rules or who had the means to flaunt them and likely get away with it.

Attire has changed in many settings, as informality has taken hold: suit pyjamas; casual clothes; beards; no mani pedi; no haircuts. Watching TV broadcasts now show the many ways people have adapted their wardrobes and looks during the pandemic. The ‘fake’ backdrop has gained life; please ignore my messy life 🙂

‘Play’ has had to make many adjustments. People have learned many advantages of outdoor space and activities that can be done solo at home or outside, with limited need for human interaction, directly. The surge in online physical training regimes is stunning. But, the virtual world has captured almost every social activity–book clubs, religious practices; education; sport (fake fans and piped noise). Who’s run a virtual marathon?

Everyone better get to grips with digital technology.

Communication has been at a premium, especially in trying to get messages to massive audiences–and its counterpart of disinformation has fought hard for space. Spokespersons on health matters have taken centre stage.

But, simple, interpersonal communication has also changed: eg, the wave or shout at a distance, instead of hugs and kisses; drive-by parties instead of parties at home. I’m gearing up to a Zoom party to see in the New Year 🙂 Sadly funerals by Zoom or similar have taken the place of in-person attendance at burials or memorials and many are hurting because their normal rituals for marking the end of life have not been possible. For many, closure hasn’t been made.

Finally, In Jamaica, and elsewhere, communication can be simple and non-verbal signals. The pandemic has neutered the many gestures given with eyes and mouth: though we smile and hope that somehow that shows, it’s clear that the messages aren’t as clear as they used to be. Warmth and friendliness may be there, still, but hides, waiting for the mask to slip of be removed. But, we may never again live in a world where the mask is removed for ever.

Blessings for a year lived under duress. Hopes for a year to come that has much less of that.

#COVID19Chronicles-261: December 25, 2020-Brexit trade deal brokered

PM Boris Johnson was ecstatic that a trade deal had been reached by the UK with the EU, on December 24, not quite at the 11th hour, but a bit close for comfort, as the transition period was due to end on December 31, 2020. His EU counterpart, Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, was more tempered in her reactions:

Negotiations are over for the moment, but there’s much more to do:

The UK Parliament has to vote on the deal; its details have not yet been published.

This deal leaves the UK economically worse off than if it stayed in the EU, but is better off than leaving the EU without a deal.

But, the UK will lose a lot of EU benefits, as the comparative table shows:

What’s sure is that Britons will have a different experience with their EU neighbours in 2021 than in 2020. Many people forgot or did not realise that things were not so different during 2020 because of the transition rules.

The UK is less than united about the deal and Scotland has already begun airing its grievances, especially over fishing issues, where it stands to lose much more than will be gained.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-C is for colour

The Times has on its front page one of those iconic images of Brexit: PM Boris Johnston is holding a UK passport…and it is blue, not the burgundy that was the common colour of passports for EU member countries (though it was a recommendation, not an obligation. It was an election promise, and it is symbolic of ‘taking back’ control of UK affairs.

Getting Brexit done! (Photo credit: The Times)

Funnily, the anticipated earlier exit from the EU meant that the Passport Office issued prematurely (in March 2019) passports without the words ‘European Union’. Now, those ‘offending’ words have been officially removed. Also, funny, I got one of those when I needed to renew my UK passport last summer. 🙂

Many Brits only know the burgundy version, so will have little real nostalgic feelings about the change of colour. However, it may be a powerful symbol for some that getting the EU out of their hair is not so hard.

Ironically, the passports were made by a Franco-Dutch company at a factory in Poland (11-year contract worth £260 million), under EU procurement rules. British company, De La Rue, had bid £4 million to renew the printing contract, but lost, and has since pulled out of printing passports, putting some 200 jobs at risk. You can’t make this stuff up! 😒🤔

Nothing says UK more than a passport made in a variety of EU countries under EU rules 🙂 (Photo credit: The Times)

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-B is for bigotry

It’s ironic that one of the biggest stories today was how the BBC allowed itself to be a party to some unbridled bigotry during its flagship discussion programme, Question Time. I saw the offending segment early this morning and have read a lot of critical reactions to it. However, I think this piece by Owen Jones ‘The BBC normalised racism last night’ summarized the situation well.

A part of me wondered how much of this kind of attitude I would see up-close when I went walking today. But, where I strolled, against the wind, is an area that has long been a host for immigrants, and its streets reflect well the idea of London as cosmopolitan. Now, I’m not naive and think that the fact that many places on London streets host businesses that are clearly not British in their origin, whether as reflected in their language (say, Arabic, Polish, Hindi, or Gaelic) or nature (hooka bar, Indian restaurant, adverts for Polish construction workers, etc.) makes everyone happy. It’s long been the case that talk about Britain being ‘swamped’ by immigrant has rippled through the Union, sometimes fiercely, sometimes backed by violence, sometimes on the fringes, but increasingly in the mainstream.

The assessment of views is complex and an Oxford University study this year spells that out https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/uk-public-opinion-toward-immigration-overall-attitudes-and-level-of-concern/. But, this point in the study summarized things well:

‘Remain voters are, on average, more socially liberal and pro-immigration while leave voters are more socially conservative and anti-immigration. It is now also well established that older people tend to be less favourable towards immigration and more likely to have voted for Britain to leave the EU, while those with more education are more pro-immigration and more likely to have voted remain’.

Familiar sight on a London street: businesses that reflect little that is deemed British

It’s beyond ironic that the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who’s just outlined a policy to restrict immigration based on points, is the child of immigrants who were expelled from Uganda in the 1960s, and whom she admits might not have been allowed in under the scheme she’s proposed.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-A is for arrival

The UK stopped being a member of the European Union (EU) at 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020. The referendum held in June 2016 saw 17.4 million people opted to leave the EU, which gave the Leave side 52%, compared with 48% for Remain. That desire to leave the EU has been nicknamed Brexit (Britain-exit).

However, political wrangling over terms on which to leave the EU was inconclusive and the government first lost its leader, Theresa May, over this and saw her replacement, Boris Johnston, call a general election in December 2020, which the Conservative Party won with an overwhelming majority, essentially on the promise to “get Brexit done”.

But, having left at end-January, the full separation will need to be worked out during the transition period (or implementation period), which began immediately after Brexit day and is due to end on 31 December 2020.

During this 11-month period, the UK will continue to follow all of the EU’s rules and its trading relationship will remain the same. The timeline looks as follows (credits: The BBC):

So, just over a month into this process, how are things looking for Britons? For a lot of Britons one of the factors that they have disliked about EU membership is how it has allowed greater unrestricted migration to the UK from the EU—part of the free movement of people that is enshrined in the EU’s structure. This is on top of negative sentiment about immigration, in general. So, it’s ironic that one of the impacts of the UK leaving the EU is that Britons will eventually face tough migration policies when they wish to travel to other EU countries. While this should not have yet taken effect, some Brits have faced countries who have ‘jumped the gun’. An outraged ‘Brexiteer’ vented his feelings when jammed at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, earlier this month: “Absolutely disgusting service at Schiphol airport. 55 minutes we have been stood in the immigration queue. This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.” Well, it was what you voted for!

I was interested as I arrived in the UK to see how immigration was being handled at Heathrow.

A is for arrival. How are EU visitors now treated? So far, not much differently. The line was long as people wound their way to the facial recognition machines that have been at UK Border controls for several years. The biggest problem is that the facial recognition doesn’t always work, and I counted a failure rate of 3 in 5 in the line where I was. When my turn came, the machine took a long time to show ‘remove your passport’ (which is a pass, as opposed to ‘seek assistance’, which is a fail.

Given how tempers have flared over the years since the referendum results, I was half-expecting at least one Briton to yell “Why are all these Europeans clogging up the line? Send them to a line of their own!” But, no such drama. But, it’s early days, and as summer travel builds up, who knows?

It’s too early to assess the idea publicized this week by the UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to restrict immigration to the UK through a points system, which targets the end of immigration of low-skilled workers. The logic behind it seems a bit flaky, at best.