22 November 2018
Lens on the Week
GOVERNMENT: As Mrs May carries on courageously the forces besieging her government move closer to the walls. Her allies in the DUP regard the draft withdrawal Agreement as unacceptable because the backstop arrangement would impose EU standards on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Treating Northern Ireland differently undermines the basis on which the DUP give the Government its support. Then there are the Brexiteers, alarmed that the backstop could result in Britain remaining a permanent part of the Customs Union with no say in the rules governing the market. They call for renegotiation, something the EU has dismissed, or even the no deal Brexit which appals business. Remainers call for a rerun of the referendum in the pious hope that the result would be different second time round. Politically ambitious challengers seek to bring down May on the basis that they would do better. Labour urges a general election on the same basis.
Something has to give somewhere but for the moment Mrs May’s strategy has to be right. Put the agreement to the Commons and see what happens.
POLICING: Ken Marsh,chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation has spoken out after video footage of officers being attacked was shared on social media, criticising the public for lack of support. Home office guidance prohibits officers from calling for public support when making arrests but Mr Marsh said that matters were coming to a point where officers would have to let violent criminals go when they could not detain them.
IRAN: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is understood to be pressing the cabinet to pay some £400 million to Iran in respect of an order for chieftain tanks which were not delivered after the fall of the Shah. The exact amount due has not been agreed but payment might lead to the release of charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The trouble is that it might also contravene sanctions or be seen as a payment to secure the release of a hostage. Boris Johnson, the previous foreign secretary, failed to persuade the cabinet that payment should be made.
APEC: In Papua New Guinea, this year’s trade summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation failed to conclude with a joint leaders’ statement. A statement had been prepared, but the Chinese delegation tried to change it and forced their way into the office of the foreign minister of Papua New Guinea when he refused to meet them. Police were called and the four highly vocal Chinese officials left only after being threatened with arrest. The statement was abandoned.
The summit had been fractious even before its collapse. President Xi of China and US vice-president Mike Pence clashed with each other about trade and security. Australia and the USA, both worried about China’s growing military and economic influence in the area, announced that they would together re-develop and expand the naval base of Lombrum, off Papua New Guinea.
Even before it started, the summit had been criticised for its extravagance in one of the poorest and most deprived countries in the world: £20 million of Chinese aid was used to build the convention centre which was its venue; China donated 50 coaches and 35 minibuses for officials; Australia provided more than £78 million towards its costs; and the government of Papua New Guinea spent £5.5 million on Maseratis and Bentleys to transport delegates around the island.
INTERPOL: This week, Interpol’s general assembly will vote for a new president. The favourite is Alexander Prokopchuk, a Russian interior ministry major-general who is the Kremlin’s nominee for the post as head of the international crime-fighting organisation. Mr Prokopchuk has been criticised for allegedly issuing Interpol’s Red Notices – a type of international arrest warrant – against opponents (who have sought safety in exile) of President Putin’s regime, the regime which is widely believed to have flouted international rules of law and order by authorising the Novichok attacks in Salisbury.
The position became vacant last month when Interpol president Meng Hongwei disappeared on a trip to his native China from the international police agency’s base in France. The authorities in Beijing then informed Interpol that Mr Meng has resigned as its president. He appears to have been arrested and apparently put under investigation for corruption. China has also been accused of using Red Notices against activists who have offended the governing regime.
CYBER SECURITY: Three cheers for Mr Yoshitaka Sakurda, the minister in charge of his country’s digital security. Japan’s cyber security tsar admitted in a press conference that he had never ever used a computer. “I have always directed my staff and secretaries to do that kind of thing” he said. After all, the only way to guarantee cyber security, he might have added, is to never use a computer.
LOW CARBON: Not noted for its green credentials, the motor racing industry nevertheless claims that by being at the forefront of research and the use of technology, in the long run it does much to help lighten the tyre load of the motor car on the planet. McLaren, best known for its super sports cars and role in Formula 1 motor racing, is slowly moving to become, if not a mass producer, certainly a leader in sports cars, utilising the latest technologies to make cars faster and much more fuel efficient – indeed, it expects that most of its production will be electrically powered within 10 years. As part of that drive, it has opened a factory in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, which is building carbon fibre chassis (“buckets”) for its new range of road cars. McLaren is a world leader in the use of carbon fibre in vehicles and the new factory – which replaces an external supplier’s plant in Austria – is key to its plans to get production over the 4,700 or so cars that it expects to sell and build by the end of this year. A carbon bucket is much lighter than anything metal, but at the moment more expensive -though McLaren expect that to change as more development takes place. The plant will be fully operational by 2020 when it should employ around 200 people.
HIGH CARBON: From the ground huggers to the star gazers. Britain currently builds 40% of the small satellites in the world, a sector in which we are industry leader. It is an advanced technology which has grown rapidly; revenue last year was around £14bn, and is projected to grow over the next ten years to £40bn pa, creating perhaps an extra 100,000 jobs. These are not vanity projects, but vital carriers of communications media for many commercial projects and enterprises. Many firms (and some government users) need to have, if not their own, at least a share or lease of secure platforms through which communications can pass; and to have reliable alternates and back-ups. Satellites have a limited life and a profitable business has evolved in building them and putting them in to space.
The biggest builders are Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer, and Eutelsat, who are space specialists, and they have just announced two new projects to build the components of two larger satellites in Britain at the Airbus plants in Portsmouth and Stevenage, creating new revenues of around £35m for four years. The components will then be taken for assembly at Eutelsat’s plant in Toulouse. Although Airbus has in the past expressed concern about the timetable and structure of Brexit, and continues to do so, the company spokesman announcing the new projects said that Britain’s expertise in space vehicles overcame any Brexit concerns.
CARBONISED INK: We have been following the travails of the Johnston Press here for several weeks, perhaps with a vague feeling of guilt – the demise of the newspaper group is blamed on the rise of digital news. The saga ended at least one chapter over the weekend when Johnston’s bondholders took the business over, paying more for it than any other offer received, effectively writing off a large lump of the £220m bonds due for repayment next June, leaving the group with £85m in debt They have also injected £35m in cash to enable investment in digital technology so the group can attempt to move from paper to electrical impulses. Whether the readers will follow is another matter. As is the deal for pensioners, which we we cover elsewhere this week, in “Bad Times for Capitalism”.