Wed. Aug 4th, 2021

What do we have today?

There’s Covid, (going badly) Brexit, (going worse) and Northern Ireland (what can one say?). Democracy is under threat from the Home Office (isn’t everything?).  The NHS is under threat from its inadequate and shamefully unannounced pay rise. Marcus Rashford is under threat from The Spectator, but has an irrefutable answer to their questions, The Loadstar reports on government attempts to make up for the driver shortage (inadequate) and while Johnson apologises for the “pingdemic”, the Standard reports that imminent shortages for your barbeque this summer are not just down to transport.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Arctic and Siberia have a bad case of flatulence . . . and in their case, it could be fatal.

Covid

If you want a round up on the latest Covid news, the website https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/uk/ has the statistics, which are also here: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/  

Meanwhile, on Monday, there were 4,567 patients in hospital with coronavirus – 611 of whom were on beds with ventilators – and from 8-14 July the figure rose by 38.4%. Recent government figures show that in the middle of July – six weeks ahead of the forecasted peak and just before removal of England’s coronavirus restrictions on 19 July – the UK had already reached 745 daily hospital admissions and this has continued to rise. The i reports that if admissions exceed central estimates – that daily hospitalisations in the UK will peak at the end of next month at between 1,000 and 2,000 and daily and deaths will reach 100 to 200.

  So this is the state of play today:

Meanwhile, face masks and other Covid restrictions could be reintroduced in England in as little as three weeks if hospital admissions rise above anticipated levels, scientists advising the government have warned. Members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have reportedly said Boris Johnson should be ready to take action in the first week of August to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed, advising that some measures such as mandatory masks and working from home advice should be reinstated at the beginning of August.

Of course, Parliament will be on recess from close of play tomorrow: this means that technically we are left without the pilot at the helm of our ships of state. (Although since he’s as ineffectual as a bilge rat at steering it, will anyone notice.) If Parliament has to be recalled, here for interest

https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/occasions/recallparliament/

is how it would be done. If you want to see exactly how au fait members are with what is happening, however, you cannot do better than look at this series of three tweets by Anthony Costello, ex-director of WHO, Professor at UCL, co-chair of the Lancet Climate Countdown, and member of Independent SAGE, who comments,  “I’ve heard three serious examples of misinformation on BBC programmes in the past 24 hours from Professor Robert Dingwall of JCVI, Lord Sumption and Sir Charles Walker MP.”

https://twitter.com/globalhlthtwit/status/1417470938766000137?s=20 https://twitter.com/globalhlthtwit/status/1417470946873589762?s=20 https://twitter.com/globalhlthtwit/status/1417470955505569793?s=20 .

Under the circumstances, we might be better off without them. And in view of the rising case numbers, this tweet https://twitter.com/amrakunj/status/1417907620082593792?s=20

 Claiming that tonight there are no intensive paediatric beds in the whole of England, is exceedingly worrying – if as yet unsubstantiated. (I’m looking.)

Brexit, oh Brexit . . . and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He negotiated it. He signed it. He praised it. And now Frost wants to ditch it . . .although not, it appears by invoking Article 16. Not quite. While Frost was making a statement to the Lords, the Northern Ireland Secretary, the hapless Brandon Lewis, had this to say to the Commons. (Link to full document here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/secretary-of-state-for-northern-ireland-brandon-lewis-mp-oral-statement-wednesday-21st-july-2021 )

A relevant excerpt:

“We have therefore had to consider all our options. In particular, we have looked carefully at the safeguards provided by Article 16 of the Protocol. They exist to deal with significant societal and economic difficulties, as well as trade diversion.

There has been significant disruption to East-West trade, a significant increase in trade on the island of Ireland as companies change supply chains, and considerable disruption to everyday lives. There has also been societal instability, seen most regrettably with the disorder across Northern Ireland at Easter. Indeed, what can be seen as a false, but raw, perception in the unionist community of separation from the rest of the United Kingdom has had profound political consequences.

These are very serious effects which have put people, businesses and the institutions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement under strain. It is plainly clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16.

Nevertheless, we have concluded that it is not the right moment to do so. Instead, we see an opportunity to proceed differently, to find a new path.

To seek to agree with the EU through negotiations a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland, to the benefit of all. It is in that spirit that today’s Command Paper outlines the new balance we wish to find. It is a balance which needs to ensure that goods can circulate much more freely within the UK customs territory, while ensuring that full processes are applied to goods destined for the EU.

It is a balance which needs to enable all in Northern Ireland to continue to have normal access to goods from the rest of the UK, by allowing goods meeting both UK and EU standards to circulate there.

And it is a balance which needs to normalise the basis of the Protocol’s governance, so that the relationship between us and the EU is no longer policed by the EU institutions and the Court of Justice. We should return to a normal Treaty framework, similar to other international agreements, that is more conducive to the sense of genuine and equitable partnership we seek.

We also recognise our share of responsibility in helping the EU protect its single market. We are willing to explore exceptional arrangements around data-sharing and cooperation; and penalties in legislation to deter those looking to move non-compliant products from Northern Ireland to Ireland. And I repeat – all of this is entirely consistent with maintaining an open border, without infrastructure or checks, between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

These proposals will require significant change to the Northern Ireland Protocol. We do not shy away from that. We believe such change is necessary to deal with the situation we now face. We look to open a discussion on these proposals urgently. At the same time, we must provide certainty and stability for businesses as we do so.

So we believe we should also quickly agree a “standstill” period, including maintaining the operation of grace periods in force, and a freeze on existing legal actions and processes, to ensure there is room to negotiate and to provide a genuine signal of good intent to find ways forward.”

In order to do this, Frost has produced a 28 page document (full report later) which you can find here In a 28-page document,  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1004581/CCS207_CCS0721914902-001_Northern_Ireland_Protocol_PRINT__1___2_.pdf

In sum, the UK government suggested changes to:

    remove customs checks on goods where the GB-registered businesses sending them have declared their final destination is Northern Ireland

    get rid of certificates and checks for food products “only ever intended to be consumed in Northern Ireland”

    remove medicines entirely from the scope of the protocol

    allowing labelled goods conforming to UK rules to circulate freely in Northern Ireland alongside EU-registered products.

Calling it a “Command paper” is ludicrous: a case of “some assume greatness, though they have it not” Such ridiculous rodomontade, bragging and bullying from an inferior position – but that’s Frost for you! What is fascinating about this is that the government has decided not to invoke Article 16. The Spectator, and various other right wing oracles, are claiming that what the government should do is to pull out of the Withdrawal Agreement/TCA completely: they should recognise that generally speaking the “withdrawal method” is ineffective as a method of preventing the production of miscegenate bastards. But to my mind, the tone of that communiqué, despite its loud title, is more pleading than anything else. One to wait and see for though – and a 28 page document to be read and carefully studied, as no doubt it will be by an EU that actually reads its treaties before signing them.

Democracy in Decline?

It certainly is. The Guardian has an interesting report on the law which is going to replace the current official secrets act, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jul/20/proposed-secrecy-law-journalism-spying-home-office-public-interest-whistleblowing  reporting that the Home Office now wants harder and more extensive secrecy laws which would have the effect of deterring sources, editors and reporters, making them potentially subject to uncontrolled official bans not approved by a court, and punished much more severely if they do not comply. Although portrayed as countering hostile activity by state actors, the new laws would, if passed, ensnare journalists and sources whose job is reporting “unauthorised disclosures” that are in the public interest.

Endorsed by the home secretary, Priti Patel, the consultation argues that press disclosures can be worse than spying, because the work of a foreign spy “will often only be to the benefit of a single state or actor”.

Calling for parliament to consider “increased maximum sentences”, the Home Office claims that there is now not necessarily a “distinction in severity between espionage and the most serious unauthorised disclosures”, including “onward disclosure” in the press. Journalism could even create “far more serious damage” than a spy. Yet the 66-page document does not mention “journalism” once, and refers only to “onward disclosure … without authorisation”.

The Law Commission is definitely unhappy with the scope of the proposed Bill: https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/reforms-to-uks-antiquated-spying-laws-published-by-law-commission/

They recommended that “a statutory public interest defence should be created for anyone … including civilians and journalists, that they can rely upon in court”. Journalists and sources should not be convicted if it was in the public interest for the information disclosed to be known by recipients. An independent, statutory whistle-blower commissioner “should be established to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing or criminality”.

However, as usual with this government, the entire bill appears to be a done deal: the “consultation period” allowed for it began in late May, and ends . . .https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/legislation-to-counter-state-threats closes at 11.45  tomorrow.

For a final word on this subject, one always hesitates to recommend the Daily Heil, but in this case, their assessment is fair: embarrass the government and be imprisoned: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9806517/Journalists-face-14-years-prison-embarrassing-Government-proposed-law-change.html

 Perhaps Dominic Cummings – so vocal, at the moment, isn’t he: hell hath no fury like a SPAD scorned – should be a little more careful, lest he end up in clink. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49101464 . And Laura Kuenssberg should consider, as she sits and smirks at his revelations, and he sits and smirks back, both of them so delighted with their own cleverness, that “who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.”

Mind you, if everyone were imprisoned for “embarrassing the government”, then several ministers would fall – among them Patel, and quite definitely Hancock: the inadvertent viewing of those osculatory antics was acutely painful to any person of sensibility.

NHS

In the Commons Helen Whately, the social care minister, made a statement about the NHS. MPs were expecting her to announce a 3% pay rise for NHS staff, but she did not. Health unions have accused ministers of treating NHS staff “with contempt” after the government pulled an announcement about this year’s pay rise at the last minute without explanation.

Whately was due to announce that staff in England would receive a 3% increase, three times higher than the 1% first planned, in a statement on Wednesday in the House of Commons. But she did not mention health service pay at all in her “NHS update”, prompting frustration, anger and strongly worded criticism from Labour and NHS staff groups. Instead, she covered various other topics, including the new autism strategy being announced today.

When asked what had happened to the pay rise announcement, Whately said the government would make an announcement as soon as it could.

MP Rosena Allin-Khan, who still does shifts as a doctor had this to say: do go and listen. https://twitter.com/DrRosena/status/1417849896913326087?s=20 She made her point – “The Government are clueless as to the real needs of NHS staff. Today, Helen Whately heard some hard truths. After everything our NHS staff have done for us, when will the Government finally make them feel valued and thank them with real pay, not just claps?” and others are making theirs. The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, said the pay rise was disappointing and that junior doctors and some GPs could miss out on it altogether. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the BMA, said many doctors had not taken annual leave in the past year and now “face a gruelling year ahead with millions of patients on waiting lists, and the country in the midst of another Covid-19 wave”. Samantha Batt-Rawden, and ICU doctor, pointed out that many would not get it. https://twitter.com/sbattrawden/status/1417899581858324480?s=20

Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders described the new pay rise as a “U-turn” and called on the government to “make our NHS and key workers feel supported and valued after all they have done for us”.

The only people who feel supported and valued by this government are this government’s cronies. And it’s our blood, sweat and tears that support them.

Rashford

Marcus Rashford is in the news again; yesterday he defended himself against a potential take down from The Spectator. (I cannot find anything other than this in the Spectator today https://www.spectator.co.uk/tag/marcus%20rashford –  a rather anodyne piece by “Steerpike” a commentator named after Mervyn Peake’s malevolent, manipulative and murderous upstart anti-hero in his celebrated Gormenghast Trilogy.)

Rashford has defended his off-field partnerships in response to apparent claims he has financially profited from his campaigning work. (His interventions have also forced the government into U-turns over free school meals, which he received as a child: hence the Spectator’s loathing for him.)

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/marcus-rashford-defends-charity-deals-against-claims-he-profits-from-campaigning-3lmj6wf0q

The England and Manchester United footballer had heard that The Spectator was “planning to run a story about how I have benefitted commercially in the last 18 months”. He wrote on Twitter: “To clarify, I don’t need to partner with brands. I partner because I want to progress the work I do off the pitch and most of any fee I would receive contributes to that.”

Rashford, 23, has backed multiple child food poverty initiatives and this year became the youngest person to top The Sunday Times Giving List by raising £20 million — 125 per cent of his net worth — in donations from supermarkets for groups tackling the subject. How can you give more than your net worth? He did a lot of fundraising. The Spectator, one feels should shut its mouth.

Shortages, Shortages: Another Brexit Dividend

The Loadstar is unhappy with the government’s plans to tackle driver shortages: https://theloadstar.com/new-uk-measures-to-tackle-driver-shortage-wont-relieve-crisis-say-hauliers/ so get used to the idea that there might be supply issues over the summer.

The Department for Transport (DfT) yesterday sent a letter from secretary of state Grant Shapps to the logistics industry, outlining new measures to tackle the driver shortage crisis, which the Road Haulage Association claims has now reached 100,000.

The new measures largely focus on increasing the numbers of new HGV licences issued by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) from around 1,500 passes a week to 2,000.

It also promises greater support for driver training schemes through greater funding via apprenticeships, while the Department for Work and Pensions has also created a pilot HGV driver training scheme to attract jobseekers. However, it explicitly ruled out the prospect of issuing temporary visas to non-UK drivers.

The Standard has something to say as well about the subject of shortages as well:

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/nhs-covid-app-pingdemic-food-shortages-b946861.html

and in the week when self-isolation, and the confusion over whether people should or shouldn’t do it was painfully evident at governmental levels, there might also be a threat to petrol supplies, as the BBC indicates, with some BP garages having brief – and not sustained – issues with supplying petrol stations. Not something to panic about, but definitely something to keep an eye on.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57912922

After retailers, food suppliers and manufacturers warned of crippling shutdowns if the “pingdemic” of isolation alerts continues without change, Johnson, apparently, apologised (with his usual sincerity: none) to businesses for the disruption caused by close contact isolation orders, saying that they were necessary and important. (But that’s today: tomorrow might be different.) The amount of hot air he emits, although concerning, is minuscule compared to the gases emitted by the warming Arctic and Siberia, however. When it’s possible to look away for a moment from the train wreck of out government, it might be a good idea to keep up one’s global perspective on what is happening to our train wreck of a planet: do read Sky’s report.

https://news.sky.com/story/russias-permafrost-is-thawing-and-it-could-make-melting-polar-ice-caps-look-like-a-sideshow-12359940

If you’re not up to speed on the consequences of melting permafrost, do have a look at these links. Yes, the first one is extremely simple, but functions as a primer to the concepts. The second is more detailed: please do use it to inform yourselves and others.

https://climatekids.nasa.gov/permafrost/ https://www.thearcticinstitute.org/permafrost-thaw-warming-world-arctic-institute-permafrost-series-fall-winter-2020/

It’s important not to lose the macrocosm by focusing too hard on the microcosm, even when the microcosm seems to be screaming for our attention. It’s also important not to overdose on news: look after yourselves in the midst of all of this.

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