“Boris, darling, I’m just off to Kenya to drop off some elephants in the bush. Do you want me to get anything for you while I’m out?”

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“I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.”

Yes Minister: Doing the Honours

Sir Humphrey would be aghast at recent developments in Whitehall, in particular the lack of co-ordination by civil servants, but not I imagine surprised at, from his perspective, the usual chaotic behaviour of politicians at Westminster.

Episodes of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister are, as those who take a keen interest in the series know, invariably rooted in fact and even, in some cases, are actually based on real events.

A recent development in Government not anticipated by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, but which I am sure they would have exploited, if writing for the BBC today, is the establishment of an Office of the First Lady at the heart of Government.

The recent ramblings of Dominic Cummings have to some extent only told us what we already knew about Boris Johnson’s style of government, but he has at least added to the evidence of that subject provided by others.  Although, there are some who would deny him even that credit.

His love and latterly hate relationship with Carrie Symonds, now the third Mrs Johnson is, however, rather lacking in corroboration.  Moreover, there is an understandable view that Mrs Johnson should not be held responsible for the actions of her husband.

Notwithstanding the above, Mrs Johnson is not some innocent hayseed who has blown into Number Ten and the arms of her beloved.  She is a player in the Tory Establishment with a direct line to, none other than the Political Editor of The Sun, Harry Cole, an ex-boyfriend.

What other previous Prime Minister has had the date of his wedding (or similar significant event) advertised to the globe in a front page world exclusive in The Sun?  Admittedly, the announcement was followed a week later by the marriage of Ms Symonds to Mr Johnson, fourteen or so months before the date trumpeted by The Sun.

There was a time when such events were announced by the quality, discreetly, through a personal advertisement in The London Times.

In another exclusive on Tuesday 5th July, a comment piece in The Sun, penned by Carrie Johnson and Damian Aspinall and written in the third person, explained why they were flying elephants from Kent to Kenya.

“Director of communications for the (Aspinall Foundation) conservation group is eco-campaigner and Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson – and today she is speaking out publicly for the first time since marrying Boris in May.”

The Aspinall Foundation, planned, the duo said, to transport a total of thirteen elephants, weighing 25 tonnes, more than 4,000 miles on a Boeing 747 to a secret location in Kenya in a “ground-breaking step for this country (one assumes the United Kingdom, given a later revelation) and the conservation movement”.  

Fans of Jim Hacker will know that the success or failure of his personal initiatives are measured in column inches.

The Sun exclusive, first timed on their website at 22:00 on 5th July was reported in a detailed article on the Daily Mail website, first timed at 02:08 on 6th July.  And that article spoke of Damian Aspinall speaking on the record to The Daily Telegraph and a certain Angela Sheldrick, Chief Executive Officer of the Sheldrick Trust, telling The Guardian about the project.

Hacker would have been cock a hoop with such a publicity machine.

Then came the bucket of cold water.

On Wednesday 7th July, the Office of Public Communication of the Kenyan Government’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife put out a terse press release, clearly written in some haste, under the heading of “Purported Relocation of 13 Elephants From Kent Wildlife Park, UK, to Kenya”:

“The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife noted with concern an article published in the Daily Mail, UK, stating that a herd of 13 elephants will be relocated from Kent Wildlife Park in the UK to Kenya in what is referred to as a “wild (sic) first rewilding project” by the publication.

The Ministry wants to state that neither them nor the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been contacted or consulted on this matter.

Relocation and rehabilitation of an animal from a zoo is not easy and is an expensive affair.”

This aspect of the story got wide coverage in the world’s media.

The Daily Mail report of the Kenyan response spoke of previous meetings, discussions undertaken by the Aspinall Foundation etc etc.

The original Daily Mail report had, however, said that the Foundation’s project was actually being run with the KWS and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

One wonders how much oil had to be poured on troubled waters over this incident by the UK’s Ambassador to Kenya.

A task unlikely, one imagines, to have been assisted by Mr Johnson’s outspoken views on Africa; its people; its Governments and, in particular, the Kenyan ancestry of a former President of the United States.

The Aspinalls themselves have a colourful past, linked to the sort of chaps who used to run the Empire and for whom the rules and conventions of society are more like suggestions than anything else.

Sound familiar?

In March this year, against a background of some disquiet in the Kenyan Parliament, members of that Parliament ratified a Kenya United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement.  The Kenyan Parliament had a veto over the agreement, unlike their counterparts in the UK Parliament.

The Agreement is, however, subject to challenge in the Nairobi High Court.  The case there may drag on for months, delaying progress in taking advantage of the agreement.

The UK Government entertains hopes of extending the agreement to other East African Community states.  Kenya being one of the six countries making up the EAC.  The others being Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Progress in Kenya will, therefore, be watched closely in neighbouring countries.

How one wonders will they have regarded the high handedness of the third Mrs Johnson in seeking to plonk thirteen elephants down in the Kenyan bush without the by your leave of the Kenyan Government?

Former colonial masters getting high on their Global Britain fantasies?

More pertinently, what advice did the Prime Minister receive, assuming he sought any, about the advisability of his wife being associated with this scheme, given the sensitive nature of UK Kenyan diplomatic relations?

Moreover, given that Mrs Johnson’s skills in media communications are not that great they would have benefited from significant assistance from a third party, for example, the Whitehall communications machine, paid for by the UK taxpayer, and/or her loving husband with his little black book, containing the telephone numbers of the editors of national newspapers.

Mr Johnson has rung around news editors over Mrs Johnson’s reaction to perceived negative press coverage over their ownership of Dilyn.

The current Government may with impunity set aside the domestic checks and balances of our Unwritten Constitution and ignore long recognised conventions of government with seemingly little serious fear of repercussions to itself.  However, in the world beyond our shores, even the innocent hobbies of a Prime Minister’s spouse may cause serious problems for the UK’s diplomatic relations and its trade.

Odds on, they do not need us more than we need them and they do not, in the case of our former imperial possessions, think they would be better off, if they were still governed by the British.

Who, though, is going to tell Mrs Johnson (and to whom is she accountable)?

Has it come to this? My agreeing with Baroness Thatcher (over Nissan)?

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Baroness Thatcher would have been appalled. She would want to know why a Tory Government, yes, a Tory Government, of self proclaimed free marketeers was writing out a blank cheque in the name of the UK taxpayer to give to a successful, profitable Nippon car company and a Chinese Communist Party owned firm.

My politics are centre left, but I have Thatcherite tendencies when it comes to State subsidies for failing, poorly managed private sector businesses and even more so when it comes to giving a blank cheque drawn on the United Kingdom taxpayer’s account to a successful, profitable company like Nissan and its partner in crime, Envision, a company ultimately owned by the Chinese Communist Party.

Incidentally, it is supposed to be the policy of the Government of the United Kingdom to reduce our economic dependence on the People’s Republic of China.

“The plant can be expanded to 35 GW with £1.8 billion of investment by the Chinese battery company, a statement said.”

Electric Vehicle batteries are weight gaining products. The components are relatively light and easy to transport, but the finished battery is neither. It makes sense to manufacture EV batteries close to where they are needed. Nissan only has one car plant of its own in Western Europe, the one in Sunderland.

Video on Twitter link

Nissan is not turning its Sunderland car plant into a battery plant. There is already a battery plant next door. 80% of which has been sold off to Chinese Envision. Nissan are now “in talks” with the UK government on getting tens of millions of pounds of UK taxpayer funded support to tart up and expand this existing plant. A plant in which another foreign company has already been happy to buy an 80% stake.

That Chinese EV battery maker, Envision is to build a $2.4bn plant in France for Renault with the aim of reaching 9 Gigawatt hours by 2024 and 24GWh by 2030.

Renault has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with French start up, Verkor for batteries. Renault is looking to build 1,000,000 EVs per year by 2030.

Envision’s investment for its Sunderland plant is £450m with an aim of reaching 9GWh (the equivalent of 100,000 cars) and then “if demand for Nissan’s EVs rises sharply” it may invest a further £1.8bn to expand capacity to 25GWh.

In order to switch to EV production in Europe, Nissan needs access to a local supply of batteries for the cars it plans to produce.

Let us now talk about jobs!

This reads like a transcribed press release.

Nissan may directly create 900 new jobs is what it really says. It may also indirectly create 4,500 jobs in its supply chain, but not necessarily all of those jobs would be in the UK.

Given that Nissan already has a supply chain for its Sunderland plant, how many jobs in that chain, not all of which will be in the UK, will be destroyed as it switches over to EV production?

The number that would be destroyed needs to be deducted from the number that might be created (and not all of those jobs will be in the same companies) before one might say with confidence that any new jobs will actually be created in the supply chain in both the UK and abroad.

The article refers to the creation of 6,200 jobs in total.

900 plus 4,500 equals 5,400, leaving 800. These 800 new (?) jobs will it seems be created by Envision in partnership with Nissan as they invest in their existing EV battery plant. One might ask why they have not been added to the 4,500 as they are definitely part of Nissan’s supply chain.

But that way, madness lies.

Jobs safeguarded are not to sniffed at, but they are not on a par with a net creation of jobs.

Will the Government’s investment in Nissan and Envision’s partnership yield such a net creation?

There is no saying that the 900 new jobs that may be created will not go to existing staff. Arguably, the whole of the Government’s blank cheque may prove to have been for a safeguarding operation.

Oh, and somewhere within the figures being quoted for jobs created there may be the weeks of construction required for the battery plant masquerading as permanent employment.

When appraising a capital project for funding it is normal to set aside the number of weeks of work required for construction that amount to temporary full and part time employment as well as any staff appointed to look after the structure on completion. Those jobs being integral to the delivery of the project and not outputs of it.

Net job losses!

Nissan has shed 1,500 jobs at its Sunderland plant since 2016. The 900 jobs that might be created by the promised new electric model do not make up for the jobs already lost.

The bins!

The end of Freedom of Movement has, however, seen increasing labour and skill shortages across the economy, even bin collections are starting to be affected.

Personally, I think pensioners in Sunderland who voted Leave in 2016 and said, damn the torpedoes as far as Brexit and the economy are concerned, will be more interested in 2021 that their bins are emptied regularly and timeously than in almost anything else.

There is no guarantee that Nissan may not seek easements of Home Office rules to fill any positions they feel they may not be able to fill with UK applicants.

Would Priti Patel loosen her corset in such a scenario and ease her prejudices against (im)migrant workers?

More job losses!

Honda will close its Swindon car plant, directly employing 3,000 folk, this month, July 2021. The Japanese owned part of Honda’s supply chain in the UK will make another 6,000 unemployed. Many of those companies are also closing their UK operations this month.

The UK has now lost its top spot as the host of Japanese automotive manufacturers to Germany, with France and the Czech Republic coming up fast on the rails.

519 jobs at GKN Automotive’s plant in Erdington, Birmingham, are to go by the summer of 2022. The work transferred to a plant within the EU.

Unite “said it and its members were “highly dismayed” initial government promises of support to ensure that the factory remains open and is able to play a key role in the electrification of the UK’s automotive industry, have “so far amounted to nothing”.”

GKN Erdington is just around the road from JLR Jaguar, Castle Bromwich. All Land Rover production was transferred from Solihull to a JLR plant in Slovakia a few years ago, now. Jaguar Castle Bromwich is soon to cease producing cars, according to JLR.

The JLR plant in Slovakia has the space to take the Jaguar track from Castle Bromwich.

Border checks!

We do not know how bad things will get with regards to Nissan importing goods and services when the UK finally puts in place checks at its borders to mirror those of the EU.

We do know that Toyota Burnaston’s Just in Time model “is finely tuned, with components arriving every 37 minutes from suppliers in both the UK and the EU. Lorries that supply the plant contain a collection of different components, not a single job lot of brake parts, for instance. That’s because every car is, in effect, built to order. Customers, including dealers, will select the body style, the engine type and size, the colour, the options, making hundreds of variables.”

We do know “the story behind the crankshaft used in the BMW Mini, which crosses the Channel three times in a 2,000-mile journey before the finished car rolls off the production line.”

We also know that our much vaunted trade agreement with Japan has made it cheaper for UK companies to import automotive parts from Japan. Moreover, manufacturing businesses that are inside one of the much talked about Freeports can benefit from cheaper imported inputs and components in comparison to those outside the area.

Blank cheque?

Nissan Sunderland, a leaky flagship of Global Britain’s post Brexit buccaneering ambitions is too big a vessel to be allowed to sink. The UK Government will struggle with might and main to keep it afloat. A prospectus that does not bode well for other EV ventures in the shipyards, the keels for which have not even been laid.

Never forget that Soapy Sunak, the conman hidden in plain sight, has decided to become a cheeseparing 19th Century Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He wants to balance the books.

Dicken’s Fat Boy from Pickwick Papers only wanted to make your flesh creep.

Acknowledgement

A particular acknowledgement to Pernille Rudlin of Rudlin Consulting.

Further reading

How Margaret Thatcher Brought Nissan To The UK

Faraday Briefing, Brexit and Batteries: Rules of Origin

Ministers condemned for hiding £61m aid package for Nissan to build new cars in UK after Brexit

Disgusted of the Royal Borough of Tunbridge Wells shares her woes and refuse contract with Tonbridge

Right Reverend Matt Hancock MP for West Suffolk will now read a lesson on “Faith and Values in Public Life”, yes, he really did in 2018 …

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St Mary’s Church, Haverhill

“There are those professions that we love – nurses, teachers, firefighters – who spend their careers tending to others.

There are those we need – accountants, dentists, engineers.

And then there are those professions we know we need, but we don’t exactly love.

I think it’s fair to say that my chosen profession probably falls into the third category.

Down the ages, the art of politics has been equated to low cunning, skulduggery, and mirth.

So what is a politician doing in a church talking about value and faith in public life, except seeking redemption?

Well, I’m here because another Minister, Ian, a Minister of the Church, intrigued me with his invitation.

And I’m here because I wanted to think about the values of public service that I hold dear.

Now, we English don’t really wear our values or our faith on our sleeve. Tony Blair’s spin doctor – a profession of yet more low cunning and skulduggery – famously said “we don’t do God”. He didn’t mean that the former Prime Minister wasn’t religious – far from it. He meant that he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to answer the question.

But as your local representative I think it’s reasonable that you should ask, and that I should try to answer, so thank you, Ian, for your invitation.

I doubt my own profession of faith is very profound, nor very interesting. It’s certainly very Anglican, in that I don’t take orders on it from anyone.

And not just Anglican, I would say it’s very Church of England: steadfast, resolute, yet unobtrusive. A source of calm contemplation when things don’t make sense, and a source of joy when they do. A source of hope when things go wrong, and a source of humility when the don’t.

It’s certainly based on a strong sense of community. I believe our common faith brings us together, and I believe in a faith that helps us to look beyond our differences to that which binds us together, by reminding us that each and every person is part of something bigger than ourselves, that we have more in common than that which divides us. It is an irony that I believe this holds true between different faiths too. And I hate to see faith used as a source of division. My wife and children are Catholic, and our common faith as a family is a source of strength. After all, denominations are but nuances. I draw great inspiration from my late Grandmother, an ecumenicist who worshipped beyond her hundredth year.

That’s what I believe, it’s very personal, and I doubt it’s very important to anyone else. And I’m grateful, Ian, for you getting me to put it into words.

What I hope is more interesting, is that I think faith calls for and can underpin values in public life.

And this, by contrast, is important.

I believe very strongly in the value of public service. I believe politics, done right, is a public service. It’s one of many, of course. There are many ways to serve your community. And I don’t mean politics doesn’t have other benefits too. It gives purpose. It’s interesting, and lots of fun. Crikey, last week I was at the Brits with Ronnie Wood. Last year I got taken up for a flight in an F15. It has its perks.

Ultimately, I think politics can be a noble calling. Politics after all, is how we organise ourselves when there is no higher authority. The trick is to create and perpetuate a politics that brings out the best in the participants. It’s safe to say that doesn’t always happen. But we should strive for it.

For me, it’s the public service that makes politics rewarding. The sense that the work we do – with my talented and dedicated team – is done to help others. And I don’t know of any politician – and I know a lot of politicians – who does not find reward in helping others. In serving their community. It’s true in my experience of politicians on all sides. We may not always agree on the thing to do, or even on the goals, but by and large we do what we think is right.

That can be hugely rewarding. In my office in the Commons I have a “board of love” – of thanks and mementoes from when we’ve solved a problem for a constituent, or won some battle with bureaucracy to make someone’s life better.

Of course none of this can be done alone. Public service is mostly a team activity – another reason it’s so rewarding. I work with other public servants every day.

In London I work with my Parliamentary colleagues, with my constituency team, and with Civil Servants, who have chosen a career in service of the nation to provide the expert, objective, and stable Government machine that is so vital to make things run properly.

I work with Councillors, prison officers, and council staff here in West Suffolk, who work so hard to serve the community locally.

I pay tribute to servants of the people – and servants of the Church – who could opt for an easier life, but instead choose to serve their neighbour.

But my view isn’t panglossian. We are all fallen. We are only human. We have flaws and vices and failures of character and of resolve. But the best way to keep the powerful honest is accountability – in this world and the next – and the rough, often tough scrutiny of the press keeps us real in the here-and-now.

I think Britain should be proud that we have one of the most robustly accountable systems of Government of all the countries in the world. Is it imperfect? Certainly, yes. Must we strive to do better? Absolutely we must. I try to strive every day to make the community and country I serve a better place. That can only be done by appealing to the values we hold. These are the values I hold dear. I think they’re important and worth defending. And Ian I am grateful to you for asking me to think about them, and giving me the chance to try to articulate them today.”

Faith and Values in Public Life delivered on Tuesday 27th February, 2018, at St Mary’s Church, Haverhill

A gentleman proposes and a lady disposes …

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“Advisers advise, and ministers decide – but some ministerial decisions require far more than reliance on advisers.”

Why prime ministers and ministers should read the legal texts for which they are responsible and not leave it to summaries and advisors

I always thought it was a gentleman proposes and a lady disposes …

Any way, civil servants respect Ministers (and others) who read their papers and ask intelligent questions.

The degree of disrespect, if not contempt, held by officials for the current shower must be prodigious.

The likely successor to Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Unite, Gerard Coyne, fingers crossed, is widely respected by people on both sides of the negotiating table and the aisle, partly because he does his homework.

I have to confess, though, that Coyne is from Birmingham and he was the member of a board I served for a few years (and I know him in other contexts). I like the man.

Coyne read his papers and asked informed questions. Other board members, but not all of them, all of the time, did not and it was very frustrating (and wasteful of time) to point out the answer to a question they posed was in paragraph five on the first page of the relevant board paper.

Time is money, even in the public sector.

There is, I think, a broader point to make here. Boris Johnson attends meetings with world leaders. He will, of course, be attending fewer such gatherings from now on, because of Brexit, leaving him more time for his other Prime Ministerial duties.

That notwithstanding, Johnson will be meeting with the leaders of other nations without an army of advisers and lawyers at his beck and call in the conference chamber or the Gents. A lot may be agreed at the urinal, away from the prying eyes of the media and other meeting representatives.

If your woman or man is not familiar with their papers, how do you guard against them giving away the farm or the fishing quotas in an intimate moment? And Johnson gave away a lot before Christmas without any moments of particular intimacy.

I know there was the dinner with Van Leyen, but we heard a lot about how that went. A poorly prepared Johnson, and it was his fault he was not adequately briefed for the occasion, made an ass of himself and that before we consider the impact of his racist remarks on the negotiations.

As it happens, I sat as a representative, if not a plenipotentiary for the organisations of which I was a member, on the Birmingham and Solihull European Funding Sub Regional Group. I had to know my position inside out, particularly on the rare occasions when I was being held to account at the meeting, a fairly novel position for a civil servant in Birmingham.

I also had to have read the papers of the others at the meeting that had been issued with the agenda. First and foremost, to learn how their content related to the work of my organisation. Did it have a negative, positive or neutral impact on our work or was it something outside of our remit?

My appraisal of the content of the papers shaped my approach to the meeting.

Secondly, it was a matter of courtesy to familiarise oneself with the positions of others, even when outside of one’s remit, and displaying that insight generated goodwill with the chair, minute taker and the others around the table.

Thirdly, one might support an individual to put their case to the meeting more effectively and, thereby, support the chair. More goodwill created, especially if the matter fell outside of what was known to be your remit.

As an aside, I had been well trained in making meetings work and part of the training was about how you might help to make meetings both useful and time bound, even if you were not the chair.

Fourthly, if you have built up some goodwill, you will find it easier than otherwise to get people to listen to your concerns about their proposals. You will, all other things being equal, also find yourself getting their support for proposals you are making.

Fifthly, civil servants are not especially well liked. The fact that the stuffed shirt in the three piece suit and the bowler hat, a tale for another day, had done a sceptic the courtesy of reading their paper and, on opening his mouth, revealed he had not only read it, but understood it, broadly approved of it and was supportive of its aims, went a long way to dispel any animosity in the room.

The art of diplomacy includes seeking advantage wherever it may be found and one may not do that, if one is not well informed.

And then there is the ‘small’ matter of empathy.

This has a particular relevance in the context of negotiations, because if I know the other person’s position, I have read their papers and other briefing, but I am not happy about some (or all) of what they are seeking, I may search for alternative propositions with which I am happy and which one hopes meet their essential requirements. Some times people do ask for more than they really want and will, ‘grudgingly’, settle for less.

I fear David Frost and Johnson may not have grasped that Donald Trump’s Trump: The Art of the Deal is mostly a work of fiction.

And that even busking it requires putting in hours of hard work, of preparation and great dedication to the task in hand.

That is what marks out Prime Ministers like David “I want to sit down with the expert in this policy area and pick their brains” Lloyd George; Winston “one side of well argued A4 to get my attention” Churchill and Clement “democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking” Attlee from many another British Prime Minister.

They chlorinate chicken in Australia, don’t they?

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Divergence seems to be an example of a freedom passionately sought by the ignorant about trade and industry, on behalf of a group of people, many of whom do not want it, because they will have little use for it.

A company that exported to Europe on 31st December 2020, still doing so today has no option, but to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

On Twitter, it is not unusual for a certain type of Brexiteer to pop up and say, but only a small proportion of UK based businesses export into EU27.

Got you!

That is true, but there are plenty of UK based businesses who do not themselves export into the EU27, but supply goods and services to those who do. If those suppliers wish to retain that business then they, too, will have to continue to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

Enter the star spangled chlorinated chicken. If you export ready meals with chicken in them to Europe and, at some point in future, US fowl is suspected of having entered your supply chain then you may well kiss goodbye to any future business with EU27 countries.

In addition, many countries around the world have adopted EU rules, standards and specifications as proxies. Why bother designing your own national rules, standards and specifications when someone else has already endured the pain of doing so?

And, of course, if companies in countries around the world want to export into the EU then they too will have to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

And a UK based company that exports nothing to Europe, but supplies goods and services to companies in third countries that do export into the EU27 will also … I think you know where I am going with this?

For the uninitiated, the EU Single Market is the largest single market in the world, measured by per capita disposable income. I gather even Australia is eager to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU27.

By the way, they chlorinate chicken in Australia.

I would observe that I and others have had Brexiteers tell us companies might run two production lines, one producing an inferior product for sale into markets not applying EU rules, standards and specifications.

Phrases like cost effectiveness, break even points, Just in Time, fixed and variable costs have no meaning for them. Just in Time is particularly baffling to some older Brexit voters, who lasted worked decades ago.

Of those who finally come to understand an innovation like JiT, many say as it was not around when they were at work then companies will just have to drop it, build cavernous warehouses and so on.

They never say where the money will come from to pay for such unremunerative expenditure.

Finally, there is the ‘small’ matter of implied racism.

Put simply, what does it say about your mind set, if you think a consumer of your product in Buenos Aires will be happy to purchase an inferior version of the one you are selling to a consumer in Paris, just because he or she lives in South America and not Western Europe?

And if you choose to go down that road, what is to stop someone setting up to produce for the Argentinian market a better quality version of the product you are trying to sell in Buenos Aires?

The underlying rationale for divergence seems to be partly based on a pile it high, flog it cheap approach to business. The sort of nonsense that helped get us labelled the Sick Man of Europe before we joined the EEC.

Adapting to life as a business in a third country

Trading the orchard for an apple

What is sovereignty? A word …

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“We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.”

“Well, ’tis no matter; sovereignty pricks me on. Yea, but how if sovereignty prick me off when I come on? How then? Can sovereignty set-to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Sovereignty hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is sovereignty? A word. What is in that word “sovereignty”? What is that “sovereignty”? Air. A trim reckoning! Sovereignty is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.”

With due apologies to the chap who lived a few miles down the road and Falstaff.

To summarise, “Fine words butter no parsnips.”

Herr Johnson, “I will do whatever’s needed, including bringing my marriage forward a year, to avoid my having to make difficult decisions that will make me personally unpopular.”

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“There are three possible reasons why Hitler evaded these risks in the military field. First, he may secretly have felt that he lacked the military ability to cope with them. This being so, he was even less likely to credit his generals with having it. The second reason was the fear, common to all dictators, that his prestige would be shaken by any setbacks … Thirdly, there was Hitler’s intense dislike, rooted in his lust for power, of giving up anything on which he had once laid hands.”

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein , Lost Victories.

“There was, as Manstein went on to describe, another factor. When confronted with a difficult decision, particularly where the only real option was to do something that he did not wish to do, Hitler would prevaricate and put off the decision for as long as he could, perhaps in the hope that circumstances would change and make the decision unnecessary. This was such an occasion: all of the professional opinion suggested that it was foolhardy in the extreme to leave Sixth Army in Stalingrad, but withdrawal was so contrary to Hitler’s instincts that, even before he had discussed matters with Luftwaffe commanders, he was already thinking in terms of keeping the surrounded army alive by supplying it by air.”

Prit Buttar, On a Knife’s Edge.

Divergence! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing …

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Divergence seems to be an example of a freedom passionately sought by the ignorant about trade and industry, on behalf of a group of people, many of whom do not want it, because they will have little use for it.

A company that exported to Europe on 31st December 2020, still doing so today has no option, but to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

On Twitter, it is not unusual for a certain type of Brexiteer to pop up and say, but only a small proportion of UK based businesses export into EU27.

Got you!

That is true, but there are plenty of UK based businesses who do not themselves export into the EU27, but supply goods and services to those who do. If those suppliers wish to retain that business then they, too, will have to continue to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

Enter the star spangled chlorinated chicken. If you export ready meals with chicken in them to Europe and, at some point in future, US fowl is suspected of having entered your supply chain then you may well kiss goodbye to any future business with EU27 countries.

In addition, many countries around the world have adopted EU rules, standards and specifications as proxies. Why bother designing your own national rules, standards and specifications when someone else has already endured the pain of doing so?

And, of course, if companies in countries around the world want to export into the EU then they too will have to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

And a UK based company that exports nothing to Europe, but supplies goods and services to companies in third countries that do export into the EU27 will also … I think you know where I am going with this?

For the uninitiated, the EU Single Market is the largest single market in the world, measured by per capita disposable income. I gather even Australia is eager to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU27.

By the way, they chlorinate chicken in Australia.

I would observe that I and others have had Brexiteers tell us companies might run two production lines, one producing an inferior product for sale into markets not applying EU rules, standards and specifications.

Phrases like cost effectiveness, break even points, Just in Time, fixed and variable costs have no meaning for them. Just in Time is particularly baffling to some older Brexit voters, who lasted worked decades ago.

Of those who finally come to understand an innovation like JiT, many say as it was not around when they were at work then companies will just have to drop it, build cavernous warehouses and so on.

They never say where the money will come from to pay for such unremunerative expenditure.

Finally, there is the ‘small’ matter of implied racism.

Put simply, what does it say about your mind set, if you think a consumer of your product in Buenos Aires will be happy to purchase an inferior version of the one you are selling to a consumer in Paris, just because he or she lives in South America and not Western Europe?

And if you choose to go down that road, what is to stop someone setting up to produce for the Argentinian market a better quality version of the product you are trying to sell in Buenos Aires?

The underlying rationale for divergence seems to be partly based on a pile it high, flog it cheap approach to business. The sort of nonsense that helped get us labelled the Sick Man of Europe before we joined the EEC.

Adapting to life as a business in a third country

Trading the orchard for an apple

Johnson says his National Flagship will be promoting an economy mired in “chronic British short-termism, inadequate management … culture of easy gratification & under-investment in both human & physical capital & infrastructure.”

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Back in the early 1980s (or so I was told):

“Hello, Mr British Shipbuilder, we would like you to build us a supertanker.”

“I’m, sorry, I don’t build supertankers, but I will build you two ships amounting together to the tonnage you are after.”

“Hello, Mr South Korean Shipbuilder, we would like you to build us a supertanker.”

“How big?”

I am afraid it is too easy to blame the collapse of, for example, shipbuilding on Thatcher and/or the trades unions when they were bit players in comparison with the managers and owners of and investors in UK manufacturing.

There is even some evidence that certain UK shipyards back then took a rather cavalier attitude towards Government contracts, because they were confident the Government had no choice, but to buy British.

Back in 2013, Boris Johnson said that leaving the EU would not address “chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

We did not need to leave the EU to address those issues, but on leaving the EU, we are not yet addressing those issues and there is no definite evidence that the Government is planning to do so.

But then, may be now Johnson is Prime Minister those issues are of little matter as is evidenced by the ability of the PM to focus on trivia like a national flagship?

If not, then the national flagship would be promoting an economy mired in “chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

No, that cannot be right, not with Captain Boris Johnson at the helm of the HBS Free(loading) Enterprise.

“Boris, darling, of course I’d just love to break a bottle of Bolly across the bows of your little flagship. Pity about our Garden Bridge, but, hey, you can’t win them all as I said to Pat Macnee, some time or the other. Love to Caz.”

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The lack of a business case for the national flagship is, perhaps, not unsurprising, given Boris Johnson’s track record with iconic projects.

The Garden Bridge project being a case in point. These extracts are from Architect’s Journal article on 15th October 2019:

“A new report by the London Assembly has accused former mayor Boris Johnson, Transport for London (TfL) and the Garden Bridge Trust of a ‘reckless’ use of public money, heaping pressure on Parliament to investigate.

The report concluded that the risks of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme were ‘downplayed’ by TfL to satisfy the former mayor.”

“The report said that at the board’s subsequent meeting on 14 January, chair of the trustees Mervyn Davies discussed the prospects for signing the construction contract but advised fellow trustees not to read the contract in full.

Instead, Davies suggested they make their decision based on a summary report because ‘issues arise when trustees with little or no experience are asked to submerge themselves into something that they may not fully comprehend’.

Nevertheless, the report noted, some trustees expressed concern that the trust might be acting in a ‘reckless’ manner in signing the contract, given that they still did not have full funds in the bank and that the project was facing 22 significant risks.”

I was gobsmacked when I read those last three paragraphs. I could well imagine the reaction had I, as the chair of governors of a secondary school, told my colleagues that they were not competent to assess the project on which we were deliberating and that they should just back it.

Boris Johnson’s cavalier approach to such projects bends out of shape the very processes needed to at least try and deliver them.

Vague technical solutions were once in the offing to defuse the SS Richard Montgomery, preparatory to building the Boris Island Airport in the Thames.

In 2012, a spokesman for Boris Johnson said, “Clearly the wreck of the SS Montgomery would need to be considered however some of Britain’s finest engineers have already closely studied the area and concluded it would not prevent construction of an airport.”

Are these the finest engineers who will be designing and building the HBS Free(loading) Enterprise?

A 2004 report by the New Scientist stated, if the sunken ship did explode it would be one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever.

Johnson has for years never had a lot of time for experts with whom he disagrees. That does not bode well for his latest vanity project.