Section: UK

Recipe

Our mam’s recipes

Julia Mazza

It was a huge steaming rectangle, not the small buns of the Godless South, that she’d cut into wedges and we’d smother in thick gravy. Only after we’d polished off the pud would come the roast.

Opinion

The Brexit deal: taking back control?

Carlos Conde Solares

Yet let me spare a thought for the UK government’s ‘choice’ to cease to participate in the Erasmus programme. This is a gratuitous, nasty, vindictive intergenerational middle finger to the British young, whom overwhelmingly voted Remain in 2016. Of all issues, Erasmus was by far the easiest to resolve.

Opinion

Happy Friday

Yvonne Wancke

No Prime Minister can cancel Christmas: no more than he can damage our resolve and our spirits. He cannot take away what we value most, family, friends, hope, determination, love, peace and justice. Solidarity friends.

Reading habits: books for the holiday season

Julie Ward

A book to read:
Poems from a Runaway, A True Story by Ben Westwood – An autobiographical anthology that charts Ben’s life as a serial runaway, evading the care system and the law, sleeping rough in London before finding salvation in music and poetry, and eventually reuniting with his family. I had the privilege of meeting Ben when he was a keynote speaker at a conference in the European Parliament organised with Missing Children Europe and the Child Rights Intergroup (which I co-founded). You can find out more about Ben and buy his book here

Poetry Corner

25.12.20 A Hymn to Science

Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

Frozen H20 floats immiscible on ponds As blades score surface with festive bonds. Snowflake fractals float upon a breeze Defying gravity, concealing lost leaves. Ilex aquafolium bleeds a hoary frost, waxy cuticle, cloaks shivers – no water is lost. Satsuma segments of time zones split and the world’s turn slows on the axis as tinselly-string […]

In the shadow of the stones

Summer Oxlade

English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited Castlerigg stone circle in 1799 with William Wordsworth and noted that “the mountains stand one behind the other, in orderly array as if evoked by and attentive to the assembly of white-vested wizards”.

Poetry Corner

The ballad of father Boris

Alistair Cowan

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse
However, outside
That wasn’t the case
Father Boris was waiting
A mask on his face.

Recipe

Christmas biscotti

Robina Jacobson

Once, in a fit of Christmas enthusiasm, we experimented with three days of exclusive holiday dining on red and green meals.  Lobster, an obvious choice, was behind an unassailable paywall but good fun was had with popcorn and red and green food dye.  Of all the new combinations of ingredients we tried, this for red […]

MP’s letter to the PM: back to normal after Easter?

Carol Westall

With cases once again rising across the country combined with the relaxation of restrictions over Christmas, we can already expect another deadly surge in cases early in the new year. The NAO’s worrying findings, however, raise the prospect of further spikes throughout 2021 and contradict the government’s claim that we will be ‘back to normal after Easter”.

Letter to a conservative MP

Nicola Tipton

I would argue that this latest, and necessary knee jerk reaction, is a result of the shambolic response to Covid-19 from the beginning. The government has been late in its reactions. The government has learned nothing from being late in its reactions through the year, and totally squandered time during the summer when this should have been planned for. The Tories are responsible for not being prepared from the pandemic exercises several years ago.

First commons debate on Long Covid is secured by Layla Moran MP

Jane Neville

Layla Moran MP said: ‘I’m pleased we’ve been able to secure this important debate on Long Covid, which is long overdue. The APPG on Coronavirus, which I chair, has submitted recommendations to the Government on this, and the debate will give us the opportunity to hold them to account and represent our constituents suffering from it.

Opinion

Gordon Brown, the Scotland problem and the tale of two Brexits

Scott Hunter

Now it would be unwarranted to deduce from the opinion of a single bigot, the mindset of English Brexiters as a whole, but we have all seen comments like this before; in recent years applied in equal measure to the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland. So, while the Libertarian ideology of Cummings and his associates does not exclude Scotland per se, parts of England’s electorate do.

New poll: Brexit transition needed as transport crisis deepens

Carol Westall

We have seen images and videos of trucks at a standstill, unable to cross the border. BBC News 21/12/2020 reported: ‘The government and trade groups have warned of “serious disruption” after France blocked arrivals of UK passengers for 48 hours over concerns about the new coronavirus variant. Freight lorries cannot cross by sea or through […]

Trucking hell

Robin Tudge

Why would they come? Even if they could cope with the added discomfort of waiting for days either side of the Channel, by dint of turning Kent into a massive Portaloo park, it doesn’t work. With the opportunity cost of missed work elsewhere thanks to delays, that hauliers are paid by the kilometre, and inertia earns nought, and the risk of penalties for later deliveries and spoiled goods … they won’t come.

Poetry Corner

Solstice

Judi Sutherland

In these northern latitudes, the light is sparse and winter bares its white and weathered fist against the fastnesses of night. We decorate the darkness, cannot stand its plain finality. Daub it with tinsel dress it in baubles, switch on season’s greetings in the streets. Perhaps God is dead; perhaps the shortest day will dwindle […]

Opinion

It’s beginning to (not) look a lot like Christmas: greetings from Ireland

Judi Sutherland

Here in Ireland we had a longer autumn lockdown than you’ve suffered in the UK, including a 5km travel restriction from mid-October to December 1st, and even now, a request to stay within our county. In our case, that would allow us to sample the delights of Dublin City, but we have restrained ourselves, having no wish to actually go looking for the virus, like the famous shellfish vendor; “She died of a fever, and no-one could save her, and that was the end of poor Molly Malone”.

Parental grief: coping with bereavement at Christmas

Carol Westall

Henry Dancer Days is a charity supporting children with cancer and helping their families with life changing essentials. This includes providing support with physiotherapy equipment to help with winter heating bills, and even buying tablets and mobile phones enabling the young people to have a crucial connection with loved ones during their long spells in hospital getting treatment.

Virus at the centre of Britain

Kim Sanderson

“I’ve really got a bee in my little Northern bonnet today. The ‘Breaking News’ that London is moving into Tier 3 has really highlighted how embarrassingly biased and London-centric this country’s media is. When the focus was on infection rates in the North, we were branded ‘rule breakers’ and the restrictions deemed ‘too complex for people to understand’. Now that infections are rising in the South East, the focus is entirely on a new strain of the virus and how this MUST be affecting the rise in infection rate. Hours and hours on @bbcradio4 explaining how Tier 3 affects what you can and can’t do. Where was this programming for those in Newcastle who have lived under the harshest restrictions for months? Both the government and media in this country treat the North as if it’s a grey, distant land of simpletons and quite frankly, I’m f****** bored of it. #NorthernNotStupid”

Are we still a nation of homeowners?

Stephen Lambert

For millions, owning your own home is still an aspiration. 29% of people, known as ‘generation rent’’, are trapped in costly, insecure and often grotty private rented accommodation up from 11% a decade ago. One in four adults, aged 20 to 34, are still living with their parents. In the meantime houses have soared by 75% since 1995, overtaking both inflation and salary increases. The average house price is now eight times the average wage. For the hosing pressure group a growing number of people could be ”locked out of homeownership potentially for ever”. According to the English Housing Survey in 2007, 72% of those aged 35 to 44 owned their homes. By 2014, this had fallen to 52%.

An isolated Christmas

Peter Lathan

t’s going to be seven-ish at the earliest before I’m ready to eat again. I always find Christmas Pudding too heavy, so perhaps a classic Panettone (dried fruit rather than the chocolate variety) would make a good replacement. I had considered making a Panettone bread and butter pudding but I think I’ll have it with custard. Not very Italian, I know, but I love custard and as I’m cooking for me and me alone, custard it shall be!

Is Poland already an authoritarian state?

Michal Chantkowski

Poles, especially young ones are now saying enough is enough! That also includes those who have made the UK their home. Still recovering from the fallout of Brexit, we see similar* forces to those that took Britain to the edge destroying the country of our birth. We have had enough of misogyny, patriarchy, hypocrisy, intolerance and hatred our (second) government is cultivating in Poland. Many of us now refer to Poland as an authoritarian state. Is Poland authoritarian?

Poetry Corner

Robins

Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

There’s a Robin in the meadow,
Nocturnal soloist in darkest night
Sing your song, as notes fade to dark
but burn bright, with breast alight.

No deal, no good

Keith Burge

Get Brexit Done. The three-word slogan that won a General Election, turning red seats to blue in parts of the North East that had never seen the like in decades, if ever. And yet, here we are just over 12 months on, and that victory is not so much ringing hollow as sounding a death knell for crucial elements of the region’s economy.
According to ONS there are around 3,500 exporting businesses in the North East. The North East is unusual among the regions of England in having a trade surplus in goods. Exports account for a higher proportion of regional output than in any other English region (26 per cent).
More specifically, the North East relies disproportionately on the European Union as its largest export market. In 2019, around 60 per cent of the value of all North East exports went to the EU, significantly higher than the UK average of just over 48 per cent and indeed the highest of all English regions.
But as from 1 January 2021, everything changes. The Government is imploring business to ‘Check. Change. Go.’ Which is all well and good, apart from the minor details of being unable to tell them what to check, what to change and where to go. Of course, this will hurt businesses across the UK, but given the disproportionate reliance of North East exporters on EU markets, the region looks set to suffer more pain, in relative terms, than any other part of the country.
The North East Chamber of Commerce – which has been lobbying on behalf of and providing practical support to exporters for decades – recently hosted a ‘Brexit Support Week’, a series of 13 sessions on different Brexit-related topics that will impact businesses including new customs responsibilities, data regulation etc. These events attracted around 850 attendees, representing many hundreds of businesses, all of which want to prepare, have not had the information to be able to do so and see the cliff edge looming. It seems likely that many of them will each already have spent thousands of person hours making preparations for different scenarios, at a significant cost to their businesses. For the smallest exporters, lacking capacity and unable to make that sort of investment, it seems to be more a case of shutting their eyes and hoping they survive the impact. Ordinarily, many would rely on the expertise of freight forwarders, logistics providers and customs specialists, but their capacity is limited and a massive increase in demand has seen their prices increase markedly.
And of course, some of those attending these events will have been importers, trying to work out how they can continue to work with suppliers across the EU. It has been reported anecdotally that some are so fearful of disruptions to supply chains and higher costs brought about by a combination of a deteriorating exchange rate, the application of tariffs and an abundance of bureaucracy, that they have been trying to find alternative suppliers within the UK. Import substitution: that has to be a winner, no? Well, maybe, but then if it was such a good idea, why haven’t buyers done this already? The usual answer is quality and/or cost.
As an alternative, some manufacturing businesses whose operations rely on a continual supply of goods entering the UK from Europe, have been stockpiling goods. The cost of this additional warehouse space is another unwelcome burden.
And whilst businesses employing staff from EU countries face no immediate pressures in theory, in practice there are reports of some EU nationals opting to return to their countries of origin amidst the uncertainty (and, in some instances, to escape the toxicity of Brexit). Replacing lost staff or trying to hire additional staff from outside the UK using the new points-based immigration system may well be a daunting prospect for many employers.
Still, it isn’t as if businesses have had anything else with which to contend over the past 9 months.
So how might things look under a No Deal Brexit (or even a last gasp hard as nails deal)? Firstly, there is the bureaucracy. But that’s OK, say the champions of Brexit: businesses already export around the globe and are used to this. Except, many businesses who export to (and import from) the EU have no dealings outside the EU and so have never been exposed to the bureaucracy of non-EU international trade. According to the head of HMRC, the cost of all of this new paperwork will amount to £7.5 billion a year. A year! How much this will cost North East businesses is difficult to estimate, but will certainly run into hundreds of millions of pounds. A very high cost from which they will derive no benefit whatsoever.
Secondly, there are tariffs. Farmers will see the cost of their exports rise to unaffordable levels and demand collapse. Manufacturing and processing businesses face the double whammy of having to pay tariffs on imported components and raw materials and then seeing their final product having a tariff imposed upon it, thereby eroding their competitive position. For example, under WTO rules there are tariffs of 4.5% on car parts and 10% on cars. In its evidence to the House of Commons International Trade Committee, Nissan said that tariffs will add £500m a year to costs. It then has to try to absorb those costs, rather than pass them on in the form of higher prices, given that cars exported to the EU (its key market) become 10 per cent more expensive anyway.
And that’s not all of it. Which brings us to problem number three. The Nissan plant relies wholly on operating on a Just-in-Time basis. At any one time it holds a maximum of half a day’s stock and if it runs out of parts that is very serious. Honda reckons that an hour’s lost production costs it several millions of pounds. So why not stockpile? Build some warehouses? Toyota has said that if it built such a warehouse it would be the third biggest building on the planet.
Many businesses and their representative organisations have raised concerns about the digital infrastructure required post-Brexit. The fact that these are either set to be finished or upgraded in the next few weeks means that businesses will have very little time to get to grips with them. This increases the risk of mistakes being made and the associated problems that would then arise e.g. border delays and additional costs to businesses. Of course, anything that risks border delays presents a serious risk for Just-in-Time supply chains.
Fourthly, EU Rules of Origin require producers of final goods to include a minimum proportion of that item by value to be sourced within the EU. With the UK outside of the EU that means UK manufactured components no longer count. Anecdotal evidence suggests that UK suppliers are already being excluded from supply chains in favour of EU27 suppliers who enable producers to continue to comply with EU Rules of Origin. A trade deal may or may not have been able to address this; a No Deal Brexit certainly will not.
So, all in all, pretty terrible. Oh and I nearly forgot: all of this uncertainty has meant that new investment – especially from international investors deciding whether to invest further in their North East-based plants or place investments elsewhere – has stalled. Of all English regions, the North East has the highest percentage per head of jobs created by Foreign Direct Investment, with overseas-owned firms employing tens of thousands of people across the region. If there are two things international investors hate they are uncertainty and instability.
And if you’re looking for flowers – as a mark of sympathy or to cheer yourself up – that too might be problematic. Of all flowers sold in the UK, 70 per cent come from the Netherlands and are delivered fresh every day. In the first three years after the EU Referendum 1900 florists closed, seemingly due to the 20% devaluation in Sterling caused by Brexit which made importing unaffordable. After 1 January, the deliveries won’t even get through.
Photo – Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums wikimedia