Should the UK Have an Opinion on Catalonia?

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from Letter to Britain

As long as the UK remains a fully paid-up member of the 28-member European Union it seems fair that the government should have a position on Catalonia’s recent move toward greater autonomy. Which in recent weeks, has grown beyond simple autonomy within the Spanish federal government architecture to seeking full independence, but the attempt has since been knocked down by the Spanish authorities.

Had the UK passed the Brexit threshold by now, it would be difficult indeed for the British government to have any public opinion at all as it then becomes a very different thing. It’s fair comment to opine on the internal politics of a fellow EU member state, but it is quite another for a non-member to criticize the goings-on in a foreign country.

For that reason, it’s well within Theresa May’s purview as the Prime Minister of a paid-up member of the European Union to comment on issues Catalonia.

Nigel Farage MEP certainly didn’t hold back from informing his viewers about his opinions on the Catalonian situation and it’s difficult to find flaws in his argument. See video here.

Certainly, it was a tragedy that 900 mainly peaceful protesters were injured and/or arrested by Spanish federal police, although many of those charges against protesters may be dropped in exchange for the much more serious charges against the police being dropped.

Look for this to happen on a case-by-case basis. Many of the police are reputed to have used excessive force against the (most probably annoying, but otherwise peaceful) protesters.

Until such times as Britain is no longer an EU member state, the UK and its citizens have every right to comment on the unfortunate Catalonian situation, but after Brexit I hope the UK government feels constrained about commenting, as it will then be a comment on the internal affairs of a political bloc (the EU) a sovereign nation within the EU (Spain) and a state within that nation (Catalonia)


“What Goes Around, Comes Around”

This has been true since the universe began and were the British government to attempt to unduly affect the outcome (either way) in Catalonia, eventually it could work against the United Kingdom and conceivably against the Commonwealth as there are rumours from time to time about disaffection among jurisdictions in either entity.

Therefore, it’s best for the UK government to comment in good form only and avoid trying to make political hay against the EU bloc simply because some in the UK may have other frustrations with them.

Hey, they’re frustrated too. It isn’t a one-way street. Let’s just get the Brexit done and not unduly antagonize the EU Parliament or its individual member states in the meantime, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because that works better for the UK in the long run.


Related Graphic:
Catalonia referendum 2017

It’s time to grow the market! (and not fight over market share)

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LettertoBritain

A sea-change is upon the United Kingdom whether some have come to that full realization or not

The relationship between the UK and the rest of the world is beginning to change as the UK exits the European Union. Not only that, but the relationship between the UK and the other Commonwealth countries is changing. And while all of that is occurring, it is also a time of change in the postwar international order.

These changes are coming and we have no ability to stop them. What we do have though, is the ability to choose whether these changes are ultimately negative or positive for Britain.


The days of ‘Win-Lose’ politics are over

When every second country (seemingly) has WMD weapons, suddenly Win-Lose doesn’t work anymore. Do we really want to solve every issue between nations with nuclear weapons? Because eventually, that’s what it will come to.

It’s great if you ‘Win’. But then you ‘Lose’ because the fallout from large nuclear explosions travel around the Earth a few times per season and nuclear particles continue to exist in the environment for decades (some isotopes linger for 20,000 years) and as everyone needs to breathe the air, eventually you will inhale and, well, (do I really have to tell you this?) your lungs will filter the radioactive isotopes out of the air.

The ‘Winners’ of a WMD conflict will also become ‘Losers’ of that conflict within months. It’s nonsensical to consider nuclear war in the 21st-century.

All of which means, that in the final analysis, international hot points must henceforth be solved by the cool hand of diplomacy.


The days of fighting for Market Share are over

More than any other country, fighting for market share no longer makes economic sense for the UK, because every other country/corporation is likewise fighting for market share.

Larger countries with serious export expertise and fully developed and long-term foreign client relationships have a distinct advantage over a born-again United Kingdom re-entering the exporting world. Fighting for market share against far superior marketing superpowers like Germany and China is like paddling upriver in a hurricane, and good luck with that.

Rather than fighting for Britain’s slice of the pie, the UK should be the one country in the world that works to make the pie bigger for everyone! wherever free markets exist.

In that way, whatever global growth occurs will benefit all exporters equally — including Britain’s born-again export economy, because the UK will have as good a chance as any to capture some of that growing pie — as opposed to fighting companies well entrenched in foreign markets and trying to steal tiny percentages of their total market share. See the difference?

“Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.” — Erwin Rommel

Rommel was right. And to adapt his truth to Britain’s new place in the world, fighting for market share in countries that are already well-served by European and Chinese exporters will gain British exporters very little and could create trade frictions between Britain and the European Union which is still the UK’s largest trading partner in the 21st-century. We don’t want that.

Grow the entire market instead of fighting for tiny increases in market share
Grow the entire global market — instead of fighting for tiny annual increases in market share.

‘Win-Win and Growing the Market vs. ‘Win-Lose’ and fighting for Market Share

Win-Win political thinking and growing the global market is the best prescription for Britain’s economic future.

Countries with rapidly growing economies like the BRICS countries and many Commonwealth nations are the best places for Britain to concentrate its export efforts. By helping those countries to succeed more than they would have without the UK’s assistance, Britain can grow its export base by selling to people in rapidly growing developing nations enjoying their newfound discretionary income.

It’s all about rising Disposable Income in Developing Nations

The example of India is most poignant, because in that country the average discretionary income of citizens is doubling every five years; All Britain’s leaders must do now, is to work respectfully with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers to the end that British exports to India are welcome and that Indian exports to the UK are just as welcome. (It helps if both countries aren’t manufacturing and selling the same items, of course) If India sells toasters in both countries then Britain should sell kettles in both countries, if you take my meaning. The less overlap, the better.

A few years from now, when a larger percentage of India’s 1.5 billion population can afford to buy a new car, perhaps Indian companies will offer tuk-tuks, small cars and farm trucks for sale in India and the UK, while the UK sells family sedans and Landrovers in India and the UK.

Any other method of working to each country’s strengths — without stepping on each other’s toes — would also be profitable for companies of both countries. What matters is that whatever method is chosen works for companies in both countries.

With the right approach to rapidly growing countries and some standardized and respectful trade rules, the UK could help to grow the global pie, dramatically increase its own exports, keep good relations with exporting superpowers in Europe, China, and America, and be seen as a ‘White Knight’ to developing nations by playing a pivotal and ongoing role in helping them to build their economies.

That future is so much better than bickering over fractions of market share with other (and economically superior) exporting nations — the very countries that Britain depends upon in many ways.

Here’s to ‘Win-Win’ paradigms and growing the global economic pie; A plan that will work for the United Kingdom more than almost any other country — while preventing harm to Britain’s present and important trade relationships.

Northern Ireland and the ‘Soft Border’ Option

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from Letter to Britain

Thanks to the dedication of thousands of people, the problems that plagued Northern Ireland for decades have all but disappeared. While we mourn those lost during ‘The Troubles’ we must move forward and provide the best possible future for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The best way to continue to move forward is for a ‘soft’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so that the free movement of people and unimpeded trade may continue along the 310 mile border.

Many people on both sides of the border meet for tea, travel across the border to shop, or are employed on the other side of the border and it would be unfair to require these people to face a regular border crossing twice daily. And a hard border would definitely hinder trade, which trade is a vital part of the local economy along both sides of the divide.


A dedicated ‘Commonwealth and Ireland’ line at UK ports of entry

The smartest thing the Home Office UK Visas and Immigration department could do is to create a separate queue line at all UK ports of entry and mark it “Commonwealth and Ireland” so that people from Commonwealth countries or from the Republic of Ireland have a dedicated and streamlined entry into Britain.

In this way, goods and people can move much more efficiently between those jurisdictions.

If it sounds like I want to favour people from Commonwealth nations, you’re right. If it sounds like I want to favour people from Northern Ireland who may decide to fly to Britain, you’d be right. And if it sounds like I want Republic of Ireland citizens to easily travel to any part of the UK, you’d be right in that assumption.


Special Treatment at UK ports of entry: A ‘Nexus Card’ for frequent travelers between Ireland and any UK port of entry

Here in North America, citizens who cross the U.S. / Canada border can apply for a Nexus Card or an Enhanced Driver’s Licence — either of which dramatically speed border crossing times for holders of those cards — and not incidentally, also lowers wait times for the people in the non-Nexus lineups because fewer people (or vehicles) are traveling in that particular queue — it’s a bonus for frequent travelers in North America.

Such a streamlined customs experience should be extended to all Irish citizens as a courtesy — and for the Republic of Ireland in exchange for their help in patrolling and securing the soft border with Northern Ireland.


The UK Government (UK.gov) Paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland

Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image courtesy of visitbelfast.com

“The UK government pledges to protect the Belfast Agreement and Common Travel Area in new position paper published August 16, 2017.

The Government has today published a comprehensive paper which outlines the UK’s position on addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the land border with Ireland.

The position paper — which has been published ahead of the August negotiating round — states that the Government will protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations.

The paper also puts forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods — making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border — and plans to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market.” — From the UK.gov website


Trade Between the UK and the Republic of Ireland

Billions of pounds sterling in trade crosses between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and a significant amount of it is spent in the small and medium-sized business (SME) trade. Keeping the border open, yet enhancing security will be a challenge for both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but with good will and some visionary thinking it shouldn’t be too difficult to get an agreement that benefits the largest number of people.

Brexit - Ireland and UK trade
Brexit – Ireland and UK trade in numbers. Image courtesy of cso.ie

A Soft Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is in everyone’s interest

For as long as the Republic of Ireland remains a member of the European Union it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep the soft border arrangement and to work together to enhance security on both sides of that soft border by any reasonable means.

If that means having facial recognition technology and vehicle license plate readers at all government buildings and properties, ferry terminals and international airports in Northern Ireland and Britain, it’s a small price to pay to preserve and enhance security for the EU, for the Republic of Ireland, and the UK including Northern Ireland.

The soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must work for citizens of each country, for small (and large) business, and it must ensure a high level of security for both the EU and the UK. This is one Brexit negotiation that must succeed for the benefit of all.


Related Article:

 

The Brexit Team: Swiss Watch or Contraption?

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LettertoBritain.com

One of the most credible economic stewards to serve Britain in a long time is the inscrutable Philip Hammond who has done nothing but improve the UK economy since the day he was sworn in to the post. Which was merely an extension of him having been born for the job, it seems.

It’s not only that; Mr. Hammond’s word carries a lot of weight in foreign capitals, and in the EU his word is his bond. Soft-spoken, adroit and adept, Hammond is one of the darlings of financial capitals everywhere and it’s a great thing to see him in his element.

So began Prime Minister Theresa May’s summer vacation, where she and her husband (also named Philip) went off to Switzerland to take the mountain air and hold long and meaningful conversations at full stride up the Matterhorn.

Leaving the country in the capable hands of Philip Hammond must be a comforting thought for Theresa May as she and hubby blow past the tourists struggling to get to the top for a selfie. My advice: Just get out of their way or you’ll get run over. Seriously.


The Exchequer comments on post-Brexit Immigration

However wonderful it is having a powerful Exchequer, there is the temptation for them to overstep their bounds and cross over into the areas of responsibility reserved for the Prime Minister.

And just as predictably as that; Before Theresa May had gotten her first alpine air, Hammond told reporters, “there should be no immediate changes to immigration or trading rules when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.” (Sky News)

It’s forgivable, and probably wise for Conservatives to be seen voicing the concerns of voters on both sides of Brexit. However, Exchequers should stick to their primary interest (the economy!) and let others, whose direct responsibility it is, to hold forth on immigration issues.


With Theresa away, the Remainers will play

While Theresa May gets some mountain air, the Remainers in the Prime Minister’s cabinet are clearing the air by presenting their side of Brexit — and that’s fine. But let’s make certain that fair play rules are enforced; Which means that cabinet officers publicly comment only on their primary area of responsibility. Only the Prime Minister has the authority to publicly comment on all matters, otherwise it looks like a circus.

Every misstep is celebrated in foreign capitals. People in the EU who may be opposed to Brexit are incredibly strengthened by each implied criticism directed towards the Prime Minister by members of her cabinet.

The entire period of Brexit is a highly unique time, a time where all Britons must pull together and come to the realization that many in the EU are fighting for a ‘Win-Lose’ outcome, an outcome where Britain loses vis-à-vis the European Union.

Meanwhile, the best of the Brexiters are fighting for a ‘Win-Win’ outcome where both Britain and the EU win. And those are the people I’m putting my money on.


Clear Lines + Clear Thinking = Positive Results

There’s nothing wrong with MP’s on both sides of Brexit informing the public about how they would proceed on any matter — as a sort of trial balloon to gauge public mood. That can be useful moving forward by keeping those who voted Remain interested and engaged with Brexit, and there is every opportunity that Remainers may come up with excellent ideas related to soft Brexit implementation within their field of expertise.

But greater care must be taken to avoid strengthening the hand of anti-Brexit forces in the EU, now that Britain has finally! asserted her rights.

Government ministers must draw the distinction between legitimate discussions about how Remainers (read: Soft Brexiters) or vocal Brexiters (read: Hard Brexiters) would handle any Brexit issue — and how the wrong sort of discussions or even the wrong tone of discussions could work against Britain in foreign capitals. The wrong public discourse works against both versions of Brexit.

Let’s not be naive. Each misstep by anyone in the UK government is celebrated at the EU Parliament and certain EU capitals. Whatever is going on behind the scenes within the UK government, a unified face must be presented to the world in order to obtain the best Brexit result.


Controlling the Narrative: Job #1 for Every Prime Minister

UK government ministers, and possibly even the Prime Minister herself may not yet realize the extent to which the world now sees the United Kingdom as a completely different entity. The UK no longer exists as only one of 28 EU members, and what the UK will eventually become, is unfolding every day like an onion being unpeeled.

Is the UK destined to become a nation of cross-talkers, mixed messages and unreliable partners? Or is Britain starting with a clean sheet to become all that she can and should become in the 21st-century?

Only the Prime Minister knows, as she’s the one holding the pen. Let’s see what script she writes.


Related Article:

This Week in Brexit: The Conservatives weak negotiating hand

by John Brian ShannonReposted from LetterToBritain.com

This Week in Brexit

One of the reasons that I’m a Theresa May fan is that she took a highly principled position by calling an election prior to Brexit, presumably to further legitimize her premiership with voters and thereby gain a stronger negotiating hand heading into Brexit negotiations.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May had been an MP for 20 years and served as Home Secretary for 6 years — and only then was she named to the post of Prime Minister by the Conservative Party when former PM David Cameron stepped down. Which is to say, Theresa May is as legitimate as any UK Prime Minister ever appointed (but not elected to) the PM’s chair.

Nevertheless, at the most important political moment in since the end of WWII, Theresa May decided to further legitimize her premiership by calling a snap election and (hopefully) cause her party to rally ’round her in time for the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Thereby empowering Britain in its dealings with the European Union.

By any definition it was an admirable plan.


It Worked! (Somewhat)

Except for the Conservative MP’s that didn’t campaign hard for her and were only interested in maintaining their position as a Member of Parliament, and excepting the millions of former UKIP voters — only some of them supported the Conservatives on election day.

All in all, a surprising result.

Perhaps three terrorist incidents in the UK within 90 days of the election changed the mood of the electorate, or maybe when confronted with an actual Brexit complete with veiled threats emanating from some EU capitals it’s possible some British voters felt cowed into lowering their Brexit expectations.

If so, that would be a shameful indictment on the British people, the people who succeeded admirably even after suffering horribly in two world wars and are a people who carry-on through all manner of terror attacks, other social upheavals, recessions, and Britain’s famously inclement weather.


Now with a ‘weaker hand’ Theresa May must pull-off a reasonable Brexit

How to do more, with less? That’s the job facing Prime Minister Theresa May over the next five years.

It’s an unenviable position for a longstanding British MP (20 years) with 6 years as Home Secretary to her credit and 1 year as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who deserved better from her party and from voters.

At least 42.4% of UK voters agree with Theresa May (see BBC election chart here) which was a gain of 5.5% for the Conservatives since the last election when David Cameron became Prime Minister. The business community likes the progress on the economy, and she is highly regarded by foreign leaders.

She deserves better than she’s gotten.


Methinks there are strings being pulled in places that we know not…

But just for the record, let’s look at a July 17 poll result from an internationally recognized polling firm.

One year on from the Brexit vote and business sentiment remains high
One year on from the Brexit vote and business sentiment remains high

One year on from the Brexit vote and business sentiment remains high (Says it all, doesn’t it?) Click image to enlarge.


Another chart for the doubters

One thing that Britons have every right to be proud of is the National Healthcare Service (NHS) and in recent years it has begun to score well in the prestigious Commonwealth Fund rankings. In fact, the 2017 ranking puts the NHS in 1st place over 10 other wealthy nation healthcare systems. But you’d never think it because (according to some) the NHS is falling apart at the seams.

Just as former PM David Cameron was rightfully proud of the 2013 Commonwealth Fund ranking (1st place) so Prime Minister Theresa May should feel proud of the 2017 NHS ranking (1st place) even as some of the countries named in the study improved on their 2013 rankings.

UK and 10 other countries, Health Care System Performance Rankings
UK and 10 other countries, Health Care System Performance Rankings

UK and 10 other countries, Health Care System Performance Rankings, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2017) Click image to enlarge.

For comparison purposes, I’ve included the 2013 Commonwealth Fund ranking graphic below.

UK tag, The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2013)
The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2013)

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2013) Click image to enlarge.


One more chart that uses actual facts to combat negative perceptions — shows how well the UK is faring

This chart shows GDP in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which illustrates that purchasing power of both UK citizens and expats is increasing — even though (according to some) the sky is falling every day!

UK GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity PPP
UK GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity PPP

UK GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity PPP. Source: tradingeconomics.com Click image to enlarge.

With all of that going for the UK in 2017 (and more positives that I haven’t included because I don’t want to drown you in charts) you’d think that Prime Minister Theresa May would get plenty of respect from her party, from certain media outlets and from voters.

But apparently in the United Kingdom, almost-perfect scores aren’t good enough to get the Prime Minister the majority she needed to allow the country to cruise through Brexit. And that’s a shame.