Drafting the content for this post at the end of January, I am still deeply troubled by the unravelling of Brexit. The UK is walking away from the world’s largest free trade zone, under a cloud of misinformation and denial. The remaining EU 27 will , on average be slightly less productive, slightly poorer. The EU 27 will continue to benefit from tariff-free movement of goods, services, capital and people across nation state borders. The UK however will initially be significantly worse-off and I worry that this may not be recoverable. As the UK drifts towards WTO Rules (World Trade Organisation) we can prepare for disruption across almost half of our imports and exports during the transitional phase. I hope that the UK can follow in Japan’s footsteps and still be part of the worlds largest free trade zone, while at the same tine keeping options open for deals with other free trade areas and free market economies around the world.
Boris Johnson has made it clear that Britain will not be extending the Brexit transition period. This means we have eleven months to unpick almost 50 years of legal, commercial and political integration between the UK and the rest of Europe. The UK and EU face the seemingly impossible task of establishing new agreements and working practices for all manner of purposes including trade, tax, police collaboration, law, research, fishing and agriculture, transport, logistics and many more civil and business areas including health, social services and security services. The risk is that this is not achievable in the time allocated and international trade grinds to a temporary halt, paralysing the UK economy in many key areas We will need to prioritise a minimum acceptable set of achievable agreements and processes to maintain the most basic economic engagement and regional stability.
The best achievable outcome may be that we can continue to trade and operate with reduced prosperity for the UK. The cost of failure (to reach trade deal) is the ‘cliff-edge’ scenario where the UK crashes out of the EU and reverts to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on imports and exports from the EU.
I’ve also been reflecting for the last few months on a very real threat that Brexit could trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Gibraltar are all at risk of leaving the UK. To underline this point, earlier in the month, Boris Johnson had to formally reject the request from the Scottish first Minister’s for a second referendum on Scottish independence. This problem is not going away.
I saw the new year in with friends and family, in comfort and style, at Canon Pyon. A substantial country house that looked like it was built in the 30’s and probably the best place we’ve hired. It was kept to a high standard, was really well equipped and had everything we might have wanted for (except, perhaps, for an indoor swimming pool). We were singing and dancing into the small hours. What a fantastic way to start to start the year, and just for a few hours at least, all the troubles and stresses of modern life seemed to evaporate to insignificance as we focussed on partying, fine living and our long-lasting friendships.
On 3rd Jan the Iranian major general of the Iranian’s Revolutionary Guard, Qasem Soleimany, was assassinated by the US in a drone strike. Nine others, who were travelling with him at the time, were also killed in the attack (including other senior personnel). The legality of the attack was called into question and the US has not been clear about the rationale. The outcome was mass grieving in Iran and an immediate escalation in tension between the US and Iran. After the mass funeral, the Iranians retaliated with a ballistic missile attack on a huge US airbase in Iraq, miraculously there were no US fatalities. However during the tense hours around the missile attack the Iranians also inadvertently shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines flight, killing everyone on the flight. The flight manifest revealed nationalities on board included 63 Canadian, 10 Swedish, 3 British, 4 Afghan, 3 German, 11 Ukrainian (including crew) and 82 Iranian passport holders. After initially denying responsibility, the Iranian authorities confirmed they shot it down in error. There was international outcry, another outpouring of grief in Iran and rioting on the streets of Iran against the leadership. This catastrophic event seems to have drawn a line on further escalation and both sides have since stepped back.
My second day back at work in the new year (7th Jan) marked a major disappointment. I was informed that the programme I’d been brought in to deliver had been shelved so my services were no longer required. I had anticipated this might happen and I completely understand the business rationale. I now face the consequential losses from alternative missed opportunities where I could have been generating a steady income for some time to come. So, I am job-hunting again! My last day at Reach will be 4th February. It’s a shame, I was looking forward to re-platforming one if the UK’s biggest digital publications (The Daily Express), I will miss my morning walks to the office from Waterloo station and my evening walk back to the station with the fabulous views up and down The Thames. Most of all I will miss the people I had the pleasure of working with and I wish them all the very best.
Australia declared a state of emergency as apocalyptic fires ravaged the country. Over 33 people were known to have perished, over 3000 homes destroyed, killed tens of thousands of animals and polluted their cities. Smoke from the bushfire clouds rose high into the atmosphere and descending into Christchurch, New Zealand 1000 miles away. The fires are being widely connected with climate change. Australia also recorded the hottest driest year on record last year and the hottest day on record in late December (41.9 degrees celsius).
In the UK we had over 100 flood warnings issued across the country as Storm Brenda swept in on 13th Jan. In the wake of flooding last year and with unprecedented rainfall forecasted the Army was called in to help rapid deployment of water defences in the North East. After the flooding last year, it is good that the government responded to mitigate the increased risk we are exposed to due to these extreme weather conditions which are increasingly frequent. However, dealing with climate change would seem like a better way to mitigate the risk.
Around the middle of the month we started to get media reports about an outbreak of a life threatening virus in China, called Coronavirus. It is highly contagious and there is currently no antidote for it. The first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in Central China. News of the outbreak didn’t really hit home with me until I heard media reports of a lock down of Wuhan on 23rd Jan. Initial reports reports that there had been about 600 cases detected and 17 deaths. What-ever death-toll is reported, to lock-down a city the size of Wuhan, with 11 million people, sounded ominous at the time and certainly caught my attention.
The realisation that COVID-19 was a global issue did not register for some time. It was perhaps a couple of weeks after initial reports broke about the disease before it hit the headlines and alarm bells started ringing. The situation seemed to escalate very quickly and by the end of the month the number of cases reported in China had rocketed to more than 60,000, with over 2,000 severe cases being treated and 300 deaths were attributed to the disease! There is a sense that authorities were initially in denial about the significance of this threat. Within days of the reports breaking into global headlines, the Chinese authorities were all-over it and had imposed travel restrictions across 5 other major Chinese cities within a couple of weeks.
By the end of the month, we were seeing cases of Coronavirus cropping up in several other countries including US, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Australia, Philippines, India and the UK. This is despite huge commitment and swift action from the Chinese authorities across the county and suspension of key international flights by the major operators. Two days ago, (30th January) the World Health Organisation declared Coronavirus as a global emergency. As yet, no deaths outside China have been attributed to this virus.
The UK Government announced (this week) that Huawei would be granted license to deploy limited non-core equipment into Britain’s 5G network. This comes after extensive technical consultations, risk assessments and much debate and politics in the UK. The decision goes against the grain with several other influential countries including the US and Australia. It seems to me we may just let the burglar into the garden where we can keep an eye on him?
On 31st January 2020, The UK and Gibraltar formally left the EU. The people may have voted, based on what they were informed through all media channels. The government has delivered. My fear is that future generations may be disappointed and saddened by the current political elite of this country for leading ‘the people’ along this path. I hope that my worst fears are misplaced. Have we been bold or have we been reckless?