Weekly News Review

27th November 2020 / United Kingdom
Weekly News Review

Editors Weekly Poke: This week we reported on the shameful levels of lawbreaking that the Boris Johnson government have been called out on. From the distorting of Freedom of Information requests to singling out and blacklisting journalists, from bullying and intimidation to illegally abandoning 80,000 British children in a deadly pandemic and more. All this in the same week that the Office for National Statistics reports that 77,000 people have now died in Britain as a result of being infected with Covid-19 (source). In the background, out of public view, court cases continue to be filed against the government for their blatant acts of cronyism, nepotism and neglect. In just one example, last week Matt Hancock was caught out for failing to declare he’d appointed his best friend from Oxford, the director of a lobbying firm, as an adviser — and gave her a lucrative annual income and role on the Department of Health board (source). In another case, Hancock’s mate, who happens to be a pub landlord neighbour was given a contract for providing vials for Covid tests, after sending Hancock a pitch on WhatsApp, despite having had no previous experience of producing medical supplies (source). This is cronyism on steroids. In any other time, Hancock would be fired for abuse of public office. And this is just the start of the weekly news review.

Next week, we should hear if Britain has some sort of deal with the EU or not – leaving just a month for a mad panic by thousands of businesses to switch from pandemic survival to Brexit survival mode if no-deal becomes a reality. I’m becoming quite lonely in this idea but strangely, I still think a deal, even a bad one will be done.

Brexit keeps on serving up dreadful news the closer we get to it. This week, even the Bank of England finally warned the country that a no-deal Brexit would end up causing deeper long-term damage to the UK economy than even the COVID-19 pandemic (source) and we also heard this week that according to reports, Nissan is planning to close its Sunderland plant. “A decision has been made and it is not good for the UK,” said a Nissan manager familiar with the matter. There are 7,000 jobs at stake in Sunderland – a town inside the top 10 per cent that voted the most for Brexit (source). It’s hard not to gloat – but 7,000 jobs actually means 7,000 households will suffer – and the taxpayer gets to pick up the tab.

As for the awful Priti Patel bullying story – we can summarize it like this. The Secretary of State, responsible for enforcing the rules that govern us, broke the rules. The person she bullied (who ended up taking an overdose) and the person who found she broke the rules – have lost their jobs, but Patel kept hers. The PM’s reaction to the finding of bullying and breaking of the ministerial code – was to try and bully yet another senior civil servant into changing his finding, until he felt he had no choice but to resign. This isn’t politics – it is intimidation and harassment at the very centre of our government that is illegal in any workplace in the UK. It’s also immoral and sets a very bad example to the rest of the country.

It is hard to add to all that given we are only talking about the news covering such a short period of time. However, the government has privately admitted the UK faces an increased likelihood of “systemic economic crisis” as it completes its exit from the European Union in the middle of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. A leaked Cabinet Office briefing seen by Guardian newspaper (source) warns that Brexit, Covid, flu, flooding and unrest could lead to chaos. The briefing paper, dated last September, warns of a “systemic economic crisis.” Knowing this, a rational person would have put the best team up to fight the biggest fires. Not Boris Johnson – he fought an internal tribal fight between his girlfriend and senior political advisors amid their childish name-calling games – whilst people in the real world suffer.

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The truth is that Operation Yellowhammer, (related to a story we broke in August last year HERE) something the government went to great lengths to dismiss, has now moved onto red alert. Of course, added to its dire predictions is the pandemic.

It is a matter of fact that the government knows what many of us have been saying for some time now. It knows that by the time the vaccine arrives and is fully distributed, over 100,000 people in Britain are likely to have died from the effects of Covid-19. It knows that Brexit is an economic disaster and could end up killing yet more people with shortages of medicines, medical supplies and even water treatment chemicals. It knows many businesses will fail, that another million will end up queuing in Jobcentre’s for jobs that don’t exist. It knows local authorities will go bust, community services will shut and that the quality of life and standards of living will fall (source). It knows that all this could end up with public unrest.

The government knows Britain is standing on the very edge of a precipice – and yet, they continue to play Russian roulette with everything the country holds dear and worked for since the last world war. Boris Johnson’s government is the epitome of a failed administration. It is facing a barrage of litigation cases from bereaved families, professional medical bodies and law firms exposing its negligence and malfeasance.

This government, in power for barely a year – is immersed in corruption, is submerged in the death certificates of its citizens and the bankruptcy notices of businesses that support everything – whilst Brexit bangs on the front door. If you think 2020 was a bad year – Britain is now facing the reality of the type of ruinous governance that can crush a country. The truth has turned up – and the mirage of sunny uplands is exposed for what it always really was.

 

Inside Drowning Street

Cummings Chaos Lingers: An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Economist (more below) found out that much of the government efforts driven by the now sacked Dominic Cummings had been mired in chaos, and had not made nearly as much progress as had been touted. Cummings wanted a NASA style ‘control centre’ that constantly surveilled the state of public services and how they were delivered. Multiple outside experts refused offers to come in and fix public data, not least because they didn’t want to work with Dominic Cummings. His attempts to hire “freaks and weirdos” led to two early dismissals after media scandals. However, it appears no-one in government has a better idea so automation and big data-led approaches will not disappear with Dominic Cummings’ departure.

Lord Siberia: Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian born owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent newspapers who was handed a position in the House of Lords for supporting the worst PM in Britain’s long history by the worst PM in Britain’s history, originally wanted to be (seriously) “Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and Moscow in the Russian Federation.” However, the Times reports that meant the UK would have had to get permission from the Kremlin, so he’s ended up just being Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia. You couldn’t make up this nonsense no matter how much ‘crack’ you could afford to pump into your veins.

Future Problems: Causing all sorts of medium-term future problems for the government and internal rows right now in the Tory party up and down the country is the Resolution Foundation’s latest report. It calculates the coronavirus will reduce average pay packets across the country by £1,200 a year by 2025 compared to pre-pandemic forecasts – and prolong Britain’s 15-year squeeze on household incomes. Its numbers are stark: Household incomes are set to grow by just 10 per cent in the 15 years since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, compared to the 40 per cent growth seen in the 15 years running up to the crisis. And “£13 billion of cuts to planned spending mean it will not feel like the end of austerity for many public services,” it concludes. “Unprotected departments’ day-to-day spending will remain almost a quarter smaller in real terms per person in 2024-25 compared 2009-10.” (source).

 

Foreign Aid Row

One of the many big rows that kicked off from Rishi Sunak’s spending review was the cutting of the Foreign Aid budget, which is legally set in stone. Politico reports that many Tory cabinet ministers will be breaking their own promises over it and will now use the excuse of Covid as cover. Such as:

Michael Gove: June 10, 2019 — “I’m a supporter of maintaining 0.7 per cent of our economy being spent on international development” … Health Secretary Matt Hancock: June 5, 2019 — “I also support and will uphold the longstanding principle of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development” … Business Secretary Alok Sharma: October 21, 2019 — “As far as I’m concerned the 0.7 is a given” … And Boris JohnsonNovember 24, 2019, Conservative Party manifesto page 53 — “We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development, and do more to help countries receiving aid become self-sufficient.” September 2, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told colleagues in an all-staff meeting that 0.7 per cent was “written in law,” that “the prime minister has been clear he wants aid to be at the beating heart of our foreign policy,” and that his “good pal” the chancellor would not be cutting it … July 9, FCDO Minister James Cleverly — “The government are completely committed to the 0.7 per cent target … That commitment is embedded in law, but we do not spend 0.7 per cent because it is embedded in law — we spend 0.7 per cent because it is the right thing to do” … June 30, FCDO Minister James Duddridge — “We are bound by law to spend 0.7 per cent, so it is not a choice; it is in the law, and we will obey the law.” They didn’t obey that law.

 

Austerity Returns

Without going into too much depth as the spending review has been covered endlessly by the mainstream media but briefly – there are £10-£12bn of government department austerity cuts for 2021-22. Unemployment to hit 2.6m. Lowest minimum wage rise since 2013. Pay freeze for public sector workers except for the very lowest paid. For clarity – that is 2.1m who earn beneath the median wage of £24,000 – will have their pay frozen next year. And those low earners are only guaranteed an extra £250. A long-term plan for funding social care, promised when Johnson entered Downing Street, again failed to materialise. The sick and disabled will see their benefits rise by an average of 37p a week in April next year (source). Just £4bn for the levelling up fund. Pensions to be hit with £100bn stealth tax (source). Boris Johnson has repeated his promise that austerity will not come, Rishi Sunak said this spending review does not bring austerity back. After the spending review was announced, most economists took the view that … austerity was back. As one political commentator put it – “A war on the have nots is declared again.” (source).

 

Inside Brexit

Logistics Fiasco: During Logistics UK’s Get Ready for Brexit webinar, Brexiteer Michael Gove provided little help or substance to the event and seemed to be using the occasion as an opportunity to rebuff suggestions that government had been seeking to direct blame towards business for any chaos that may ensue. He went on to say – “What I cannot say is what the approach on the other side of the border will be. What I do know, though, is the approach the EU has taken throughout the process.” As Gove was speaking a UK test run of the new border checks resulted in five-mile lorry queues from Dover (source).

Shipping Fiasco: Ships diverted from the heavily congested hub ports of Felixstowe, Southampton and London Gateway have mostly discharged their UK imports at the Benelux ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge But now carriers are struggling with their relay options that could see the delays extended well into next year. This could mean stock is missing out on the Christmas market and will then congest ports after a complete red-tape change as a result of Brexit. Trade paper – The Loadstar, reports of importer fury. The problem is that the smooth real-time movements of shipping containers and loads has been disrupted and Britain can’t cope. The problem is not just the limited capacity at the main UK ports, there is also a dearth of feeder tonnage to relay the containers. One major feeder operator said that UK containers could be stuck on the north continent for some time. “There is not a single-celled vessel open in the whole of North Europe at the moment,” he said, “and there are thousands of boxes discharging on the wrong side of the Channel!” (source).

Forecast Fiasco: The government is now withholding information even from the Office For Budget Responsibility (OBR) over Brexit. The assumption here is that the OBR forecasts would show even more negative effects if it had been provided with the correct information. Below is an extract from the OBR forecast that clearly shows the government has not provided requested information with regards to Brexit.

 

 

From the Horses Mouth: One thing the OBR reports confirms is this. No matter how the government or various high-profile characters try to dress Brexit up – you cannot make up the economic loss of no-deal Brexit by signing trade deals with other countries. It says – “Both the governments own estimates and those of independent experts suggest that gains from all third-party country free trade agreements (FTAs) are likely to be modest. Such deals are unlikely to compensate for the costs associated with the failure to secure an FTA with our nearest and largest trading partner (source).

If you want to read a more in-depth view of the effects of both Covid and Brexit on the economy, this thread provides all the information you’ll need. Brace yourself though – it makes for grim reading but in brief says worst-case scenario is that Britain could be carrying an eye-watering 126 per cent of national debt on its back by 2025/6 (READ MORE). That’s another £500 billion of debt to service on top of the £2trillion it sits at right now.

Brexit decision – Right or Wrong: Here we are barely a month away from crashing out of the EU without a deal. As we’ve nearly arrived the latest poll results that asks the question – “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?” – sees the gap widen to 56 per cent now thinking Brexit is a bad idea. In December 2016 it was 50/50, 12 months later it switched to 52/48 thinking it was a bad decision, a year later 53/47, exactly the same last year and this year 56/44. And yet, we watch in real-time, the extent of the damage being done to the country for reasons nobody wants to explain, that the majority of people don’t want, with a government that clearly cannot properly negotiate (source).

 

Quote of the Week

The richest MP that has ever sat in parliament, in a government that has squandered billions in handouts to their mates, is telling us that we all have to tighten our belts and lower our expectations to pay for the crisis of capitalism, while the rich go on getting richer – paul O’Connell – Reader in Law, humans rights activist – commenting on Rishi Sunak’s spending review announcement this week (source).

 

Recommended Weekend Reading

How Dominic Cummings wasted the greatest opportunity – Boris Johnson’s chief adviser had a vision of government by data. But when the pandemic gave him a chance to remake the British state, he flunked it. Cummings was precisely the wrong person for the job because he simply didn’t have what he constantly bragged about. It’s a fascinating story that has cost Britain dearly (READ MORE).

Port Covid: This is a really interesting short thread of information that covers part of the National Audit Office review of the governments’ procurement of PPE throughout the Covid crisis. It highlights some remarkable facts such as PPE costing 500 per cent more than usual, that so much was ordered British ports got clogged with containers costing £1m a day in additional storage costs and thousands of containers have not yet been checked for their contents – even though they’ve been paid for (READ MORE).

Chicken Feed: The reality of “homegrown” British chicken is that it can drive devastating deforestation on the other side of the world. The Cerrado is one of the world’s most important natural landscapes, though you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s key to the fight against climate change but is disappearing much faster than the Amazon. So why is the Cerrado being destroyed? To grow soya that feeds livestock all over the world. Including British chickens (READ MORE)

 

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