From David Maughan Brown in York: Shutters

Connectedness

June 24th

So it is now five years to the glorious day since those fateful few hours when UK voted by 52% to 48% to shake off the stifling bonds of EU bureaucracy, regain our national sovereignty, freedom and independence, and leap forward into a future of limitless enterprise and boundless opportunity.   So how has that worked out then?

Our Prime Minister, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (really), the Honourable (truly) Member pf Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, thinks it has gone swimmingly: ‘This government got Brexit done and we’ve already reclaimed our money, laws, borders and waters.  The decision to leave the EU may now be part of our history, but our clear mission is to utilise the freedoms it brings to shape a better future for our people.’*

That better future on the sunlit uplands will, for those of us fortunate enough to have our present Tory government leading us onward into it, be based on all the bountiful free trade deals we can strike with the rest of the world.  Trade deals like one we will benefit from when we obtain membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.  It may be a bit of a stretch to see ourselves as part of the Pacific rim, but we are now Global Britain and our prospective trade deal with the CPTPP will increase our post-Brexit GDP by as much as 0.08% (although if Malaysia continues to refuse to come to the party that may only be 0.017%). A 0.8% GDP gain is less than one fortieth of the GDP loss we are scheduled to suffer from our exit from Europe, which happens to be a bit closer than the Pacific rim, but the fact that it has been freely entered into as an assertion of our sovereignty more than makes up for a mere 39% hit to GDP.

In terms of ‘reclaiming our money’ the Office for Budget Responsibility, not exactly a radical left-wing think-tank, estimated in March last year that about two-fifths of the damage Brexit would do to our economy had already been done.  Ben Chu, The Independent’s Economics editor concludes from this that, based on our 66m population, ‘the cost of Brexit so far on average is around £480 per person, with a further £720 to go.’  The title of Chu’s article sums it up very succinctly: ‘The real ‘Brexit dividend’? Minus £800m a week – and counting’**

In terms of ‘reclaiming our borders’, thousands and thousands of asylum-seekers and refugees are risking their lives by crossing the English Channel in overcrowded small boats in the absence of safe ways of reaching our shores.  The Guardian reported that 538 arrived last month and predicted that many more will be arriving through the rest of the summer.  ‘Reclaiming our waters’ hasn’t gone a lot better, with UK fishermen, many of whom voted ‘leave’ on the strength of the empty promise to reclaim our waters now finding themselves out of work, having been ‘betrayed’, as Lord Heseltime, the former Tory deputy prime minister bluntly puts it, along Johnson’s way to ‘getting Brexit done’ – or not, in fact, ‘getting Brexit done’, given the years of further negotiations that await.  Next in line to be sold down the river after our fishermen were our beef and mutton producing farmers whose livelihoods will be steadily eroded over the next fifteen years by the trade deal with Australia – for a possible best scenario 0.02% boost to our GDP.  

Johnson’s unprincipled and mendacious government will try in perpetuity to brush the stupidity and economic illiteracy of Brexit under the Covid-19 carpet. And, for those of us who don’t live in Northern Ireland and are retired and not at risk of losing our jobs and falling into destitution, five years on, the tangible day-to-day impact of Brexit remains relatively imperceptible – prices in the shops going up, goods ordered on line taking longer to arrive etc. ­ This was well summed-up by Thiemo Fetzer, a University of Warwick economist quoted by Ben Chu: ‘The problem is you don’t know how the UK would have unfolded if it hadn’t been for that vote.  Brexit is death by a thousand needles, it’s not an earthquake.  You don’t hear about each of the pricks of the needle.’

Five years on I don’t feel any less sad than I did on the morning after the outcome of the referendum was announced.  A sadness which informed a poem I wrote soon afterwards: 

Shutters

(June 24th 2016)

Someone came last night 
and shut our shutters,
unexpectedly.

We do not know precisely
who it was, or why,
or even whether they knew why.

In Italy and France and Spain
the shutters mediate the heat, 
allowing strips of light to filter through
open windows
bringing snatches of talk and song
in other tongues.

Azure and ochre, deep cerulean blue,
indefinite shades of rose and red,
their shutter-palette sings
Manet, Monet and Van Gogh.

Here, there is no heat to mediate:
our shutters used to signify
connectedness 
across a continent  

until someone came last night
and shut them
unexpectedly.

Can it really be 
they want to shutter out 
all talk and song in other tongues?

Our house is darker now.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Common Sense

May 14th

Boris has defended his much ridiculed shiny new ‘Stay alert.  Control the virus. Save lives’ slogan by asserting that he is relying on people to use their common sense.  His increasingly tetchy Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, by contrast, has adopted the tactic of responding to anyone who asks what the slogan is supposed to mean by boldly asserting that everyone obviously knows what it means.  Given that the First Minister of Scotland has asserted that she has no idea what it means and will stick to the original easily understood ‘Stay at Home’ slogan, thanks very much, one can only conclude that the United Kingdom is not as quite as united as it says on the tin.

Common sense appears to be in short supply, so Boris is gambling once again.  One of the BBC correspondents gave us the “shocking news” recently that the sales of new cars had gone down by 97% in the UK in April.  Anyone one who is “shocked” when he discovers that car sales have gone down in a month when every motor showroom in the country has been closed should not be allowed near the air-waves.  The more interesting question was how, in those circumstances, even 3% of previous sales had been maintained.  The news that GDP fell by 2% in the first quarter when it was only the last ten days of the quarter that were affected by the lockdown has similarly led reporters to scurry around asking economists whether they think that means we might be heading into a recession.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who is the only cabinet minister who gives the impression that he has any idea what he is doing (in spite of apparently being a Brexit supporter), must have had his tongue firmly in his cheek this morning when he said he thought it possible that those figures might suggest a recession could be on its way.

The government guidance on how to interpret the new slogan is not, in itself, a shining example of common sense.   We are allowed to play basketball in the park, but people can’t meet both their parents in a park simultaneously, even if they remain socially distanced.  The First Secretary of State had to be corrected when he said he thought common sense dictated that the latter would be OK, and one can only assume that nobody responsible for the guidance has ever watched anyone playing basketball. Similarly, I can drive 50 miles to take a walk in the Lake District but I can’t take a flask of tea and sit down for a chat, appropriately socially distanced, in a lonely friend’s garden.  Why?  Because I might have to go through the house to get to the garden, and it isn’t permissible to meet people in their houses.  My daughter, who I know has been rigorously socially distancing, can’t come to my house, but any estate agent, who might for all I know be stupid enough to shake the hands of Covid-19 patients, can.   One can only conclude that common sense isn’t so common after all.  If you are looking for some from a government, try New Zealand or Scotland.