Weekly News Review 10th – 16th October

16th October 2020 / United Kingdom
Weekly News Review 10th - 16th October

Editors Weekly Poke

It’s been another momentous week, with this weekend even more dramatic than ever. Downing Street is clearly facing an increasingly dangerous situation. Following last Tuesday’s document dump from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), No10’s underbelly has been revealed and its gamble leaves it totally vulnerable. Those documents revealed that Boris Johnson has rejected advice from its experts to implement a “circuit-breaker” lockdown to get on top of the coronavirus in September. It rejected advice on limited lockdowns, on banning family members mixing, when to close bars, restaurants, cafés and gyms and putting university and college teaching online. The only thing the PM did do was telling people to work from home. What has happened here is exactly what happened at the beginning of Covid’s advance last February, which Johnson also rejected with dreadful consequences. This time, he waited for three weeks before announcing his three-tier plan (SAGE doc HERE) and when he did a political civil war broke out. A lack of communication from Downing Street (due to leaks) has been dire and poured petrol onto a spark. The big question here is – will Johnson force his will on local leaders resisting full local lockdowns and what will happen if he does or they don’t comply. Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar said the disintegrating national consensus on the pandemic was “very dangerous.” With angry northern leaders allied with rebel MP’s, there will be leaks, briefings and all manner of political shenanigans in the coming days.

In addition, SAGE criticised the government for its 10 pm curfew plan along with the disastrous handling of its outsourced track and trace system (source). To make matters worse, it was Dominic Cummings’ inside man, Ben Warner at these SAGE meetings. So, once again, we find that the greatest challenge to public health and the economy since WW2 is being decided upon by an unelected ‘advisor’ with an appalling record of failure when it comes to good governance – who also has zero experience in handling crises such as this.

What this says is that the economic argument that has raged inside the Tory camp for several months now has won over that of public health (until the inevitable U-turn).

Labour has now taken the initiative, called out the government for burying the advice of SAGE and demanded public health be the primary focus of concern. Sources say Johnson is furious as even he can see the corner he is being backed into. Politically speaking – Labour is on the right path as the government is no longer taking the advice of its own experts and is now ideologically driven. In the meantime, half the country is heading into a full or partial lockdown within days. The big threat to Johnson here is that avoidable Covid deaths rise, the economy craters and they’ve no-one left to blame but themselves. A snap YouGov poll last Tuesday (source) sees the public mood going against the government with 40 per cent of voters saying the new measures do not go far enough, 15 per cent say they go too far, and just 19 per cent think they get the balance right. Give this another month and that 19 per cent will have vapourised and gone negative for the government. Expect desperate U-turns and half-term circuit-breaker lockdowns as the weeks roll by.

As if all this was not enough, the European Council summit got underway in Brussels Thursday — with Brexit on the agenda today (Friday). The MSM has failed to cover this story on their front pages. This weekend we’ll find out if Johnson is going to make good on his threat to walk away (which he has again today) from talks and the EU and leave the United Kingdom stranded as the only major economy in the world that has no trade deal with one of the super-powers. My instinct here is to say that Johnson will yet again bottle his own threats, talks will continue and sometime in November, a Brexit deal will be agreed. EU negotiators will be yawning at this latest threat.

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However, it should not be ruled out that within a week or so, most of the country could be in some sort of lockdown and a no-deal Brexit is the reality of life we will all have to live with. Then, in just over two weeks, we should be getting the first reports of who has won the US presidency. The vast majority of pollsters and political commentators are predicting some sort of win for Joe Biden. If that happens, there is no chance of a US/UK trade deal.

Think about this for a moment. Britain already has one of the worst Covid death rates in the world, the worst economic performance in the OECD, an NHS that has not recovered as we enter the winter flu season, the expectation of another botched Covid crisis to come, a cratering economy, mass unemployment and then crashing out of the largest trading bloc in the world. All this inside six months. Anyone who still thinks this is not a recipe for disaster needs psychological help. And that includes the PM and his advisors. The one thing they do have in their command right now – is to do a deal with the EU.

The London School of Economics says the effect of a no-deal Brexit is almost three times worse than the effects of Covid on UK GDP. Considering that the government is planning for up to 4 million unemployed and a tax bill of £40bn a year just to stop national debt escalating as a result of the Covid crisis (source), whichever way you cut this – Brexit is simply not worth it.

The right-wing papers are against any form of restrictions. They rattle out economic reasons and ideologies but the reality for them – is that their own revenues in lockdown are truly life-threatening.

To add to the drama this week, Keir Starmer suffered the biggest rebellion of his leadership over the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill albeit that the majority of them were Corbynite MPs. And on top of that, a report on the state of social care was published. It confirmed that, just as the NHS needs every possible resource in the face of wave 2, the sector is on the brink (source). And when the Covid restrictions are over, presumably in April, there’s more bad news. NHS Digital has confirmed that there were 26.7 million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year, sparking fears about existing conditions worsening and others not being diagnosed. One way or another, the NHS will be overrun.

Comforting for all of us through this, the government is looking for a photographer to take good-PR snaps of MP’s for a nice salary of £60,635 a year to pep up their tarnished image (source) – and Dominic Cummings is now so overwhelmed by the scale of data they are stealing from an unsuspecting population – that £70,877 a year is on offer for the role of “head of data operations.” For that, No10 will get ‘direct insights’ into the mood of the nation (source).

To say these are troubled waters would be an understatement.

 



 

Inside Drowning Street

Words paint a thousand pictures: Former government adviser Louise Casey made some pointedly acerbic comments about Rishi Sunak whilst being interviewed by Laura Kuensberg: “Are we actually asking people in places like Liverpool to go out and prostitute themselves so that actually they could put food on the table? I am not a dramatic person. I have been in Whitehall for over 20 years, I’ve worked in the voluntary sector. And this is unprecedented. I remember the Thatcher era right through to now and I have never worked in a situation where I’m so concerned about what’s going to happen.” These words reverberated around Downing street and worry many MP’s that by the emergence of spring – this may all be true (source).

Operation Cygnus: This is something that really could be quite explosive. We may finally be about to see the contents of Operation Cygnus, the influenza pandemic readiness exercise undertaken by the non-coalition Tory government in 2016. NHS doctor Moosa Qureshi made a freedom of information request to see the report more than 6 months ago. Following the government’s delays in responding, the Information Commissioner has now taken a dramatic step in ordering the Department of Health and Social Care to provide the document or explain its reasons for refusing to do so, by 23rd October (source).

Operation Moonshot: Fresh doubts have been raised over “Operation Moonshot”, the government’s £100bn testing plan, after a pilot to regularly test a quarter of a million people was paused.  Then very quiety, the operation was significantly scaled back. It was Boris Johnson who said Moonshot “would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing”. As we said before, this is just another garden bridge, another not-fit-for-purpose satellite system, another airport in an estuary and so on. Failure on top of failure (source). In the meantime, billions of taxpayers cash is being needlessly burned.

Circuit Breaks: Even after the governments’ three-tier system is implemented it looks likely that the numbers will keep going the wrong way. In that case, a national “circuit breaker,” lockdown (possibly as early as half-term week) is “still on the table,” according to one senior minister. Prof Peter Horby, who heads up New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group failed to soothe fears last Monday. He said that the country was in a “precarious position.” Asked directly if we faced a second national lockdown: “I think that’s a possibility.”

Scams: The public Accounts Committee confirms in its latest report that 10 per cent or £3.5billion of the £35.4 billion paid out in furlough cash by mid-August might have been scammed (source). Billions more has been paid to companies whose headquarters are stationed in tax havens – in fact, one-third of all claims have been to companies with offshore links (source).

MSM Stenographers: Four big political commentators in the MSM quoted their own senior government source – the trouble was, it was the same quote – “Keir Starmer is a shameless opportunist playing political games in the middle of a global pandemic. He says he wants a national lockdown but he’s refusing to back targeted restrictions in areas that need them most.” This only goes to prove that the BBC’s Laura Keunsberg, Sky News Beth Rigby, Tom Newton Dunn from The Times, and The Sun’s Harry Cole – are just stenographers of the originator of this quote – Dominic Cummings (source).

The End of the UK?: The latest survey from Ipsos MORI on support for Scottish Independence is terrible news for the government and many ministers are seriously worried about it. The latest result is 58 per cent for independence against 42 per cent to remain in the UK, which leaves no room for contention. The margin is so wide as to be almost irretrievable and it’s widening in favour of independence. That is unless a Brexit deal is done with the EU. If not, the union is finished on the watch of both Boris Johnson and the Tories (source).

Begging: The government is desperate for some good media coverage and has resorted to begging. The Independent got hold of documents showing the department for culture now requires arts organisations to tweet out their thanks to the government if they want to receive rescue grants. “We require you to welcome this funding on your social media accounts,” one document demands. If you’ve seen a lot more activity on social media with thankful artists – that’s why (source).

 



 

 

Inside the Economy

Grim Reading: The latest OECD economic outlook report for the UK looks grim. From the end of 2019 to end 2021, exports will have fallen well over 15 per cent, the pound Sterling will have dropped a further 5 per cent against the USD and government liabilities will have increased by some 30 per cent (source).

Zero or negative interest rates. This is something that the Bank of England denied, denied again and then since written to banks to assess their readiness for the implementation of zero or negative interest rates. Sam Woods, BoE deputy governor and chief executive of the Prudential Regulation Authority, asked banks in a letter on 12 October for more information on their preparedness for negative rates. The only reason for negative rates is to force banks to lend and get money on deposit into the economy. It is a tactic used by the ECB and places like Japan and historically, not worked. But it does show that the government has run out of the usual financial tools to fight a recession (source).

National debt: Taxes will have to rise by more than £40 billion a year just to prevent Government borrowing spiralling out of control, a leading economic think tank has warned. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said borrowing this year was already set to hit levels not seen outside the two world wars due to the coronavirus pandemic (source).

New Powers: Boris Johnson’s government is drawing up plans for a radical new law that would give ministers the power to unravel foreign investments in U.K. companies — potentially casting major doubt on deals that have already been concluded — to stop hostile states gaining control over key assets (source).

Stupid Tax: HMRC has admitted that Amazon will not be affected by the new digital services tax but small traders who use its online marketplace will be penalised. Campaign groups and small business representatives have called on consumers to shun this week’s Amazon Prime extravaganza and support small retailers instead, which of course, no-one will take notice of. Whilst businesses need taxpayer support to survive, the government is making Jeff Bezos even more wealthy by default (source).

ASOS: The retail correspondent to the FT writes that Asos, the clothing retailer says that moving to WTO tariffs at end of Brexit transition period would add £25m to its costs. This is one of very few retailers to actually put a number out there for tariff impact (source). One that did was Next and although the company, like many, has no official take on Brexit, its CEO Simon Wolfson is a Tory peer and pro-Brexit, who has now also had to admit that Next will also be hit after having initially said that a no-deal exit would reduce costs by £25million (source).

 



Inside Brexit

Cheap Food: The lies and ideology of Brexit are laid bare when minsters from constituencies that are largely agricultural were silenced when it mattered. The agriculture bill looks set to be passed (Cummings is reportedly threatening rebel MP’s (source)), which will water down food standards and make way for a wave of cheap, low quality food imports. This is the governments’ way of confirming that food prices will not increase as a result of Brexit. Following on from stupid antics like Gavin Williamson’s desk whip, Chief Tory Whip Mark Spencer has a large clamping tool (source) designed to castrate small animals on his desk – presumably to intimidate MP’s that would know what it was for in the first place. It’s about as childish as one can imagine when running a country. 

No-Deal, No Trust: EU member countries are expecting the worst and are now working on strategies for no deal. Whilst this includes the possible resumption of negotiations with the UK after Dec 31st – “French President Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders will this week insist on tough enforcement rules for any U.K. trade deal, warning that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to override the Brexit treaty has shown Britain’s word cannot be trusted” (source).

Concentration Camps: The political narrative in politics today is not just about culture wars – it’s taken a decidedly insidious hard-right turn. Lord West (source) former Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism) was on the BBC’s Broadcasting House talking about what we do with asylum seekers arriving by boat “I can see we might need to concentrate them whether be it in a camp or something…” So that would be a concentration camp then. In the meantime, humanity is binned for a soundbite when no-one utters a word of objection (source).

Environment Fail: Britain is set to be left without an environment watchdog to replace the EU’s at the end of the Brexit transition period, because of government “dither and delay” over legislation. Ministers’ flagship Environment Bill was supposed to establish a new enforcement structure for environmental regulations in time for the end of December when EU rules stop applying. But repeated delays to the legislation mean there is no longer enough parliamentary time for the bill to pass into law before 1 January – leaving a gaping chasm in environmental enforcement (source).

Losing Out: Britain’s professional services industry, worth some £225billion annually is in danger of losing valuable EU business after Brexit, even if the government strikes a “Canada-style” trade deal with the EU.  The warning comes from the latest report published by the House of Lords’ EU services subcommittee (source).

DING – It’s Oven Ready: Below is a tweet the Conservative party put out in December 2019 before the election. Britain now faces tipping over the no-deal cliff because they lied, lied a lot more – then doubled down on it.

 

 



Covid-19

Rich Panick: Some of Britain’s wealthiest, typically bankers and hedge fund managers are among those preparing to offload assets over fears the UK government will hike taxes to plug a hole in the country’s Covid-ravaged finances, according to wealth, tax and legal advisers. Enquiries at financial advisory firms from the UK’s richest have almost tripled this year. Inheritance tax and capital gains tax, a levy on the profit made when assets or properties are sold are a cause of concern (source). 

Morgues: Although it is common knowledge that the government is putting the Nightingale field hospitals back into action, at the time of writing (Tues) we have heard from sources that the temporary morgues are being put back on standby in readiness as the numbers are ‘baked in’ the inevitable oncoming winter spread that the government is quickly losing control of (source).

Rethink, Reskill, Reboot – this is the governments’ three-word slogan to get all those people who have lost jobs in the Covid crisis to retrain. There is even a website where you can enter your work experience and it spews out alternative jobs you may be able to do. An advert put out by the government used a doctored image taken without permission, with the words – “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber – she just doesn’t know it yet” angered so many people – the ad was promptly pulled (which you can see HERE and read some responses).

Barefaced Corruption: Jo Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project is pursuing a case against the government which has corruption written all over it regarding a government contract worth tens of millions issued to a company with just £100 in assets. It outlines how – “an average overpayment of 24p per mask (150million order) equals a £36m overpayment for these masks to an entity connected to Government.” This is a fascinating thread and demonstrates just how corrupt this government really is (source).

National Scandal: Stroud Tory councillor Steve Dechan ran a small, loss-making firm distributing medical devices. Documents show it signed a £156m deal with the Government to import PPE from China. Transparency campaigners say the deal “reeks of cronyism” with many others now calling the entire procurement process of PPE a national scandal (source).  

Another one bites the dust: Consumer and pharma conglomerate Johnson & Johnson said Monday that it would pause its Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials due to one participant’s unexplained illness. It added that the case is now being studied by both an independent panel and the company’s own team of physicians (source).

Wriggling Free: Margaret Ferrier, the MSP who broke all the Covid rules will not be charged by Met Police, who announced they’ll take no further action against her. Because she was tested for Covid on September 26, she can’t be charged under the new Health Protection Regulations — which only came into force after September 28 (source).

 



Work Facts

  • The MSM has reported that the number of people being made redundant in the UK has risen at the fastest rate since records began as the economic fallout from Covid-19 and the scaling back of the government’s furlough scheme drives up unemployment (source). But don’t forget the numbers of 227,000 job losses for 12 weeks only went to August. The national furlough scheme comes to an end this month – with many more redundancies being announced from the beginning of October. Final quarter job losses won’t be known until mid-January.
  • Some good news. Microsoft believes that, through education and training, the UK could have 1.5 million people build a career in the tech industry within five years, with another 300,000 leaning on the industry (source).
  • London is set to lose 60,000 jobs in the retail, entertainment and hospitality industries if the government does not reverse its decision to abolish tax-free shopping for overseas visitors, research showed (source).
  • Almost 1.8 million viable jobs are likely to be lost because the government’s Job Support Scheme (JSS) and Job Retention Bonus (JRB) is designed to only benefit around 230,000 people, according to a new report (source).

 

Tech Facts

  • Companies collecting data from pubs and restaurants to help them fulfil their Covid contact-tracing duties in the UK are harvesting confidential customer information to sell (source).
  • Facebook was responsible for 94% of the 69 million child sex abuse images reported by US technology companies last year. The figures emerged as seven countries, including the UK, published a statement on Sunday – also stating that law enforcement agencies are very worried that its Messenger service, soon to be encrypted will have a devastating impact on their ability to target paedophiles and protect children online (source).
  • Engineers are now able to print wearable sensors directly onto the skin. Wearable sensors are evolving from watches and electrodes to bendable devices that provide far more precise biometric measurements and comfort for users. Now, an international team of researchers has taken the evolution one step further by printing sensors directly on human skin without the use of heat (source).
  • It appears both Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have not discouraged tech workers from coming to the UK. According to Tech Nation, visa applications broke the all-time record this September (source).
  • Valerann is a UK-Israeli start-up uses solar-powered, connected road stud sensors as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) to support autonomous traffic management systems. These wireless sensors collect data about vehicle movement, physical objects and road surface conditions (source).

 



Could it get any worse…

Hypocrisy: The government’s attempts to hastily expel Channel-crossing migrants on charter flights have gathered pace, with a series of deportations over the last two months. The Home Office has chartered planes from a company called Hi-Fly, a Portuguese airline run by brothers Paulo and Carlos Mirpuri. Hi-Fly has also operated deportation charter flights from Italy, Belgium and Germany over the past few years. Hi-Fly’s main business is leasing out aircraft to airlines and governments. Customers include British Airways, Turkish Airlines and Virgin, as well as the British, French and Belgian governments. While their company makes money from the deportation of refugees, the Mirpuri’s family charity boasts of its support for refugee rights, sponsoring voluntary resettlement programmes and researching the refugee crisis. The hypocrisy here is that the Foundation has spoken out explicitly against deportations, especially those to ‘third countries’ – the type of deportations that Hi Fly is currently profiting from. In other words, it has access to the information that it can make the most profit from (READ MORE).

One law for them: Melanie Woolcock, a single mother from Bridgend in Wales, was given an 81-day jail sentence for failing to pay her council tax. Not well enough to work and receiving benefits, she had racked up £4,742 in council tax debts (source). Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings and his family ARE liable to pay council tax on a further two properties at their North-East farm, but charges will NOT be backdated to when they were built. It means that years of unpaid taxes, potentially between £30,000 and £50,000, on two homes built in breach of planning laws will be written off (source).

Can’t Breath: A landmark report jointly published in 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (source) found poor air quality could be contributing to as many as 40,000 early deaths per year in the UK and causing more than £20 billion in annual costs. This report reveals the lobby groups backed by big brands that are resisting clean air measures across the UK and just how successful they really are. The reason? Many lobbyists enjoy close ties to leading politicians, including seven current ministers, 11 shadow ministers, and 12 former ministers, with a total of 85 MPs and peers connected to the groups (READ MORE).

 



Quotes of the Week

“If we wait, the government will inevitably have to change course again in 4-6 weeks, but the longer they leave it the harsher restrictions will have to get and the longer they will need to be imposed. The current situation is “the worst of all worlds,” with “the economic damage of more restrictions without the gain of a reduction in transmission.”. Jeremy Farrar – Director of Wellcome Trust (source).

“Johnson’s new initiative renamed Tiers Of A Clown”. Gail Reynard – BAFTA-winning writer/producer/performer – commenting on the new 3-tier covid system implemented by the government this week (source).

The UK has been elected to the UN Human Rights Council. We are committed to promoting human rights across the world. We are committed to holding human rights abusers to account” (source). Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary & First Secretary of State – who has voted against the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and voted for repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 (source).

“Despite billions spent, the Serco Test and Trace system isn’t working. The government’s obsession with outsourcing to unaccountable corporations is putting public health at risk. Time to admit that privatisation has failed, scrap Serco, and let local health teams run testing.” Nadia Whittome MP for Nottingham venting her anger at constant government failure over Covid19 (source)

Given that they (EU negotiators) have refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months and given that this summit appears to rule out a Canada-style deal, I have concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.” Boris Johnson talking (16/10) about Brexit – conveniently forgetting that Australia is currently negotiating a trade deal with the EU – because it’s better to have one, than not at all (source).

“Excited for a no-deal Brexit to take everyone’s mind off the plague for a bit” (source). Comedian Nish Kumar.

 



Recommended Reading

Making gov’t accountable: The law requires the Government to publish details of contracts within 30 days of the award. Then came along what Boris Johnson said was an unprecedented opportunity in Covid-19. The Government’s persistent failure to abide by this law makes it impossible for these contracts to be properly scrutinized. The contracts that we do know about – are a serious cause for concern. That’s why, along with a cross-party group of MPs of Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran, lawyers have issued judicial review proceedings over the Government’s persistent failure to publish the details of the contracts (Scroll down to page 9 – Read More).

What a Rubbish Lie: More than 300 tonnes a day of plastic scrap has been sent to non-OECD countries so far in 2020. The UK has continued to send plastic waste to developing countries, despite widespread concerns about increased plastic pollution and a Conservative party manifesto pledge (source) to stop the practice (READ MORE).

Dissent Crackdowns: Governments around the world are using the pandemic as a justification to expand surveillance and crackdown on dissent online, resulting in a 10th consecutive annual decline in internet freedom, a human rights watchdog report said Wednesday. The report by Washington-based Freedom House said authorities in dozens of countries have cited the COVID-19 outbreak “to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive.” Just 20 per cent of people in the world live in countries with an internet free of censorship and surveillance systems (READ THE REPORT)

 



 

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