Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 5.2.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Last year saw tourism receipts reach a new record here, though not by very much. See here and here for details. Brits play a large part in this bonanza but this could change soon, of course. One encouraging sign is that per capita spend has increased above the overall growth rate, hinting at some success at getting better-heeled tourists to come here. 
  • Energy costs here are among the highest in Europe. Scandalously so, say some. In an article I read the other day, it was claimed that the typical cafĂ© had seen its energy bills double in the last couple of years. Which can't be good for breakfast prices.
  • There's a program on British TV about how wild animals around the word are increasingly moving into town and cities. Think urban foxes in the UK. Here in Galicia, it's not uncommon to see packs of wild boar wandering down the main street of our towns. Less common, I think, is to see them rummaging through bins on the Costa del Sol.
  • By pure coincidence, yesterday's Voz de Galicia ran an article on a new book the 1702 Battle of Rande. The author claims that, during it, the British and Portuguese governments secretly agreed to carve up southern Galicia between them. The Brits were to get Vigo, I believe. As a nice port to have. 
The UK 
  • Here's an interesting article on the False Narrative of the New British Culture War. The comments about British attitudes to immigrants will surprise at least some Remainers.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North today: Everybody is playing with words in an attempt to find a magic formula which will convince enough MPs to vote with Mrs May and thus avoid a no-deal Brexit. The game has long lost any meaning and most of those who have followed the issue closely are having trouble finding enough will to continue living. . . The backstop is not going  to melt away, no matter how much it is seen as a barrier to the agreement of a deal. Although the EU would prefer the withdrawal agreement to be settled, they will tolerate a no-deal as the price for protecting the integrity of the Single Market. Eternally repeating the mantras, therefore, is going to have no impact at all on events. The positions are settled and, while the EU is prepared to make cosmetic gestures, there is no chance of any substantive change.
  • In the other camp is the writer of the article below, who believes the riddle of the backstop is 'eminently solvable'.
  • President Fart gave a lunch of fast food to some sports team a week or so ago. Here he is asking a pertinent question:-

The World
  • Here's how to survive this year. But, before you read it, ponder this summary of the last 10 years, from the same article:- The global tsunami of liquidity (i.e. thin-air money printing) released by the central banking cartel has been the defining trend of the past decade. It has driven, directly or indirectly, more world events than any other factor. And one of its more notorious legacies is the massive disparity and wealth and income resulting from its favoring of the top 0.1% over everyone else. The mega-rich have seen their assets skyrocket in value, while the masses have been mercilessly squeezed between similarly rising costs of living and stagnant wages.
  • And here's some pithy advice on dealing with what life can throw at you:-
  • And here's a comment on the developed world's priorities/obsessions:-

Social Media
  • The boss of Instagram has been asked to meet the UK health secretary this week over the platform's handling of content promoting self-harm and suicide. It comes after links were made between the suicide of teenager Molly Russell and her exposure to harmful material.
Nutters Corner
  • Earlier this year, Obama warned that “people cling to power instead of seeing the power in other people” and asserted that this country has “a deficit of leadership and we need new blood.” McDonald and Taylor claimed that Obama’s comments were actually a secret message that a purported network of elite satanic pedophiles who supposedly control the world are “losing their influence,” thanks to President Trump.
  • Odd old word:- Sockman: 'A tenant bound under his lease by certain restrictions and to certain services. From sock, a ploughshare (Latin sulcus - a furrow.)
Finally . . .
  • I discovered yesterday - when looking at my father's birth certificate - that I'd had a Spanish connection way before I entered the world. For his parents lived in Trafalgar Road, Wallasey. Noticing that Google maps now shows a small supermarket where their house should be, I recalled being told they'd been bombed out during WW2.

Backstop: The politics and economics of Brexit's most important, but most eminently solvable, riddle: Liam Halligan, The Telegraph.

Last week’s parliamentary votes made clear that, were Brussels to drop the backstop, Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement would likely get through Parliament. With that, the vexed issue of the Irish land border has shifted centre stage.

For months, arguments about this 320-mile frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have loomed over British politics, complicating the Article 50 process.

Events in the House of Commons last Tuesday mean it’s now undeniable that resolving this border dispute is a necessary and possibly sufficient condition if the Prime Minister is to honour the June 2016 referendum result and take Britain out of the European Union. Unless, that is, she leaves with no deal.

With Brexit’s fate now squarely contingent on the backstop, public discourse about regulating the Irish land border after March 29 has been replaced by mutual recrimination and finger-pointing. I’m now reading anti-Irish sentiments in UK newspapers, and anti-British outpourings in the Irish press, that take me back to my London-Irish childhood in the Seventies.

For someone of my mixed heritage, the pain associated with tension between Britain and Ireland is seared into my soul. And the anguish as the precious rapprochement of recent years is threatened is made far worse by knowing that today’s Irish border issue is eminently solvable.

For the sad truth is this essentially technical problem is being exploited by an increasingly irate anti-Brexit coalition across the UK, Ireland and among Brussels Eurocrats. Their cynical judgment is that if fears about a return to The Troubles are whipped up enough, then the biggest expression of democracy in the history of these islands might yet be thwarted.

As someone who crossed the border many times during that conflict, and now frequently visits Irish family and friends, my English accent doesn’t stop me understanding that sectarian sensitivities remain real. They could indeed be inflamed if, post-Brexit, customs posts or other new infrastructure appear on the border.

But the troops and military watchtowers of the Seventies and Eighties are long gone. Nobody wants them back. Governments in both Dublin and London have confirmed that, whatever happens with Brexit, nothing will physically change at the Irish frontier. What is now largely a virtual border will remain exactly that.

This border already copes with different currencies and variations in VAT and other taxes and duties. Yes, there is smuggling in rural areas but authorities in the UK and Ireland have built a system of intelligence sharing and collaboration to keep contraband trade in check.

There is no reason at all that the same invisible Irish land border coping with differing taxes cannot now handle minor post-Brexit differences in trading standards. Such variations, of course, would be even more marginal if the UK and EU got beyond this confected backstop nonsense and finally negotiated a free-trade agreement.

Soon after the Brexit referendum, under Taoiseach Enda Kenny, UK and Irish civil servants set to work in good faith. Proposals were developed using authorised economic operator and trusted trader schemes, continued away-from-the-border checks and derogations for local small firms.

Such methods were deemed entirely adequate to monitor cross-border trade flows, which, while vital to local communities, are really rather small. Northern Ireland accounts for just 1.4pc of the Republic’s goods exports.

In June 2017, though, not only did Mrs May lose her Commons majority, becoming dependent on DUP support, but Kenny was replaced by Leo Varadkar. Determined to exert leverage over Britain, the new Taoiseach ordered an end to direct
UK-Irish collaboration, combining with Brussels to cook up the backstop – preventing the UK from leaving the EU’s customs union unilaterally, while drawing a border, incendiary to any British government, down the Irish Sea.

Varadkar has bashed the Brits in a bid to draw nationalist support to shore up his own minority government. Brussels, meanwhile, wants Britain trapped in the customs union so UK consumers and businesses keep paying the common external tariff on imports from outside the EU. Four fifths of those revenues – billions annually – go directly to Brussels.

The customs union stops London cutting bespoke trade deals suiting UK, rather than French or German interests, with the rest of the world. The head of HMRC has repeatedly said no additional Irish border infrastructure is needed “under any circumstances”, even with Britain outside the single market and customs union. His Irish counterpart said in May 2017 he was “almost 100pc certain” of the same. Since then, no doubt under political pressure, Dublin’s tax officials have changed their tune.

Yet numerous independent specialists have told parliamentary committees the Irish border can remain invisible after Brexit – comments barely reported.

The WTO, visiting Ireland last year in a bid to spread common sense, confirmed no new border infrastructure is needed.

Even the text of the ghastly backstop agreement concedes that, in the absence of a broader UK-EU settlement, “facilitative arrangements and technologies will be considered” to develop “alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing”.

So such solutions aren’t “magical thinking”, as the anti-Brexit lobby claims. They can be explored, but apparently only after the UK has signed a cul-de-sac Withdrawal Agreement from which it can only escape by making endless additional concessions.

Those who want good Anglo-Irish relations should convince Varadkar to climb down from his maximalist position on the Irish backstop. He is currently ensuring no deal – an outcome that harms the Irish economy more than any.

And anyone concerned about sectarian violence needs to acknowledge this ghastly backstop changes Northern Ireland’s constitutional status without consent.

That’s what imperils the precious 1998 Good Friday Agreement, not minor changes to the humdrum administration of the island of Ireland’s somewhat limited cross-border trade.

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