Politics

The evidence suggests it doesn't.

It feels like forever since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Following that momentous day, the long-suffering British public have been buried by a blizzard of headlines, briefings, position papers and statements of principle. Everything from security, to the Irish border, through citizens' rights, the "divorce bill" and back to the Irish border has been subjected to the most intense scrutiny and debate. Offers, rejections, accusations and counter-offers have become the new normal for Anglo-Brussels relations.

The only subject consistently absent from this flurry of proposals and propaganda is trade.

Funny that.

It's become increasingly clear that the EU is desperate to talk about everything except trade. It's surely no accident that the first phase of the exit negotiations makes no mention of any future trading relationship between us, and now that phase is concluded, the thorny issue of the Irish border has popped up once again, seemingly from nowhere.

The EU knows perfectly well that its so-called "backstop" position on the Ireland issue is completely unacceptable to the UK. So why go to the trouble of including it in the draft Brexit treaty?

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I donated money to Oxfam last year…and so did you if you're a UK taxpayer. That's how generous we are here in Blighty. We give without even knowing or being asked.

In fact the UK government donated over £200 million of taxpayer's cash to Oxfam alone in 2016. Tax free of course.

That's not charity. It's State policy, sub-contracted through the cuddly sounding "aid sector."

I've no idea how many trillions of dollars the developed world has given away in aid these past decades, but we've seen precious little progress to show for it. With seemingly endless conflict, famine and migration crises, our generosity seems to have done almost nothing to alleviate the Developing World's most acute social and economic problems. A true cynic might begin to wonder if the "aid sector" has any real interest in actually solving any societal and cultural problems. After all, it could be argued that increased prosperity and self-reliance are bad for the aid business as they diminish demand, and overseas aid donations have become big, big business.

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Symbols matter.

We all know they do, despite the fact we often pretend they don't. This enduring truth was never more sharply defined than during the recent spat over the UK's intention to revert to blue passports after leaving the European Union.

Hailed as a step forward by some and derided as a regressive irrelevance by others, it's been instructive to observe not only the varying reactions to this announcement, but also the surprising depth of passion and feeling it's evoked on both sides of the Brexit divide. It's interesting to note that the change of colour will in no way affect the passport's function (except perhaps within the EU itself), but that's done nothing to cool the heat on either side of this increasingly bad-tempered debate.

That's the trouble with symbols. They wrap so many deep-rooted ideas together that they become stronger and more enduring than the multitudes whose lives they touch. Just think of an iconic brand like Coca-Cola, which has become much more than just a fizzy drink and is now an essential part of America's cultural DNA. It's become a proxy symbol for the very idea of America and American culture worldwide.

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With Theresa May's heavily trailed Europe speech rapidly approaching, the commentariat have gone into a kind of speculative overdrive as they feverishly try to second guess the shape and form of any revised Brexit offer the Prime Minister might make. Tales of a two year transition period and a £35 billion Brexit bill have been bandied about for the last week, and will no doubt become even more speculative as the big day draws closer.

People shouldn't get their hopes up. As I explained in an earlier article, it seems unlikely that any deal offered by Britain will be sufficient to satisfy the EU negotiators, regardless of what each member state might privately think.

If, and it's a big if, the figure of £35 billion is even reasonably accurate, it cannot simply be forked over without expecting something in return. Such an offer will surely be conditional on the UK exiting both the Single Market and the Customs Union in March 2019. This would allow the UK to negotiate trade on its own while retaining tariff free access to the Single Market for a short period. It will also deliver on Britain's commitment to the current EU budget period which ends in 2020. This all seems quite reasonable, generous even, but Michel Barnier et al have thus far proved completely unwilling to accept any offer which is not an exact continuation of the current status quo.

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We're supposed to think it is.

Just look at the havoc populism has wrought on our once stable, orderly and deeply contented Western societies. The seismic shock of Brexit, the Trumpocalypse, the rise of Front National and Germany's current coalition woes are just a few examples of populism's pernicious and harmful effects.

At every turn we see populism on the rise, more often than not defined as an entirely negative cultural and political force. We can be certain in our analysis because our moral, intellectual and social betters inside the commentariat bubble have declared it to be so. You know the people I'm talking about; those highly educated, highly paid and infallible analysts who told us Britain would sink into the ocean the day after a Brexit vote. The ones who were certain Donald Trump had a less than 2% chance of becoming president. The ones who wrote off Jeremy Corbyn as a joke.

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Where the hell did that come from?

North Korea's alleged H-bomb test seems to have taken the world completely by surprise. Indeed, when it comes to constructing impossible devices with no resources, Big Kim and his boys would surely give the A-Team a run for their money.

There are two possibilities here. Firstly, that a nation instructing its soldiers to "steal corn from the fields" has somehow managed, in complete secrecy, to expedite such a rapid development in its nuclear program that the power of its weapons has increased fivefold in eighteen months.

The second possibility is that they've had outside help.

Given that Pyongyang's gloating publicity pictures immediately made me think that Sean Connery was about to burst in and beat up the bad guys, I'm pretty confident that, as usual, China is the hidden director behind this latest international drama.

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