Here’s where we are, I think.

May is a month of rebirth. Trees look greener than they do all year round. A fresh breeze and light rain fans this greenness as the natural world wakes up. It’s a good time for looking at life anew.  Sunny spells and showers come and go as we take stock of the spring. 

Worldwide COVID-19 pandemic deaths are up to just over 3.3 million[1].  Despite the successes of its suppression in the UK, the virus continues to rage around the world.  Sadly, desperation continues to spread across India.  On the positive side, vaccination plans are successfully being implemented. I’m more than ready for my second jab in just over a week’s time. 

What hasn’t changed is that aviation chiefs continue to provide roadmaps to bring back some semblance of normal but often sit back mystified at Government reactions and peculiar decisions. 

For international travel, to and from the UK, a curious traffic light system[2] is being put in place in the UK.  Unfortunately, there’s a lack of transparency as to why countries are categorised as they are in this unique national system.  Obviously, it’s better than a national lockdown with unending uncertainty but there’s little to be happy about. 

On entry control, the practice of quarantine hotels is unpopular and of highly questionable effectiveness. They are a crude measure that is discriminating, expensive and unsustainable.

The European Union (EU) has been slow in reaction and is still testing COVID-19 vaccination, test, and recovery certificates.  There are reports that this system is on-track to be rolled out next month.

It’s a miserable time to travel across borders. Plans are made and cancelled and re-made. Travellers are often left out of pocket and in limbo.  Yes, these are extraordinary circumstances but as advanced nations our general performance in managing the situation is remarkably poor. 

Although UK Government decisions are said to be guided by evidence and the science, there’s a fair amount of ideology driving decisions contrary common sense. 

Surprisingly, if the recent round of elections is anything to go by, the UK Government is sitting pretty. Now, its political opponents who are the ones who are struggling.  Commentators have speculated that this is a kind of national Stockholm syndrome[3]. I wonder. 

Post Coronavirus recovery of UK air traffic may not be seen until the end of 2022. 

The EU has developed a broad system of relationships with neighbouring states. Post Brexit there remains lots of loose ends in the relationship between EU and UK.  In fact, it’s probably time to stop using the word Brexit altogether. It’s not a meaningful word looking forward.    

Calls for a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) between the EU and UK are muted but their importance remains.  Aviation and aerospace industry voices are being ignored. 


[1] Worldwide (from Johns Hopkins): Deaths: 3,322,294.  

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/traffic-light-system-safe-return-to-international-travel

[3] What is Stockholm syndrome? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22447726

Brexit & Aviation 78

The political cartoonists are having a field day.  Brexit is giving them so much ammunition.  There’s never been a more fertile time for creative portraits of the ridiculous antics of politicians.  Every metaphor you can think of has been tried at least once.  For me a picture of headless chickens just about sums it up.  UK MPs have had the chance to identifying a way forward but keep coming back to stalemate.

Unfortunately, that leaves the worst-case scenarios still on the table in law.  The worst-case being a No-Deal Brexit outcome.  Study after study[1][2] shows that a No-Deal Brexit threatens to put the aviation and aerospace sector at a significant competitive disadvantage in the UK.  Failure to secure a sound Brexit deal that maintains a good strategic partnership will cause significant supply chain and investment problems.  We must remember that an aircraft may have over 4 million parts. These components come from all over the world to be integrated into a product.

Although some politicians remain in denial this should not come as any surprise.  For one, the EU’s Single Market has over 500 million customers and an economy over 5-times bigger than the UK’s.  Before 2016, the Single Market was often championed by the UK because it made it easier and cheaper for UK companies to sell their products.  Now, we are in the Brexit Twilight Zone[3] there’s a pretence that these facts don’t matter.

In a sad way, it’s ironic that many voted for Brexit and leaving the EU in June 2016 with a view to protecting their jobs in fear of globalisation.  Now, UK jobs will be lost as it’s clear that the civil aviation and aerospace sector is entrenched in the EU.  Miltary spending alone can not support the thriving sector we have come to take for granted.

In a recent statement, the European Commission said: “A No-Deal scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario”.   A “disorderly” Brexit by accident is still avoidable but it may mean a UK General Election or a further referendum, and if there was a long extension, there maybe participation in the 2019 European elections due to take place between 23-26 May 2019.  Since there’s still no coherent strategy coming from the UK Government, I suspect a long extension is inevitable.  The possiblity of a so called #flextension is already built-in to the existing treaty.  This could be agreed until say; 31 December 2019.   Such an extension could be shortened only if both sides agree.  That would be time enough to work up a coherent strategy with a workable majority in the UK Parliament.   

Update: Now the UK Prime Minister is seeking a further extension from the EU to delay Brexit until 30 June 2019.  So, that’s the starting position with an aim to try to aviod European elections being needed in the UK.  

[1] https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/01/no-deal-brexit-threatens-future-of-uk-aerospace-industry-report-warns/

[2] http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/1-oscar/reports-policy-statements-and-documents/imeche-brexit-and-aerospace-report-final.pdf?sfvrsn=2

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightmare_at_20,000_Feet

 

May Vote

IMG_2351What do the May local elections tell us?  The message is important since this was the biggest test of public opinion since the UK General Election in 2016.  It was real votes in real ballot boxes.  I see the outcome in three parts.

Firstly, two old dinosaurs locked in a never-ending battle.  Both looking bruised and battered.  One wins a bit and the other loses then the other wins a bit and so on into perpetuity.  Stale leadership and tired policies leave both in the doldrums.  The two fossils of British politics: Labour and Conservative Parties.  Neither has a vision for the future.

Secondly, the good news is that the Liberal Democrats are climbing back to represent a real force in British politics.  The Party has a younger spirit than the rest.  Its energetic and hard working.  Big wins represent an endorsement of their position as a Party with ideas and competent deliverer of services.  They are the main ones to see the true folly of Brexit.

Thirdly, it’s also good news to see that UKIP has breathed its final breath.  If there’s any justice, the BBC and the newspapers will now stop paying so much attention to this antiquated relic.  UKIP is no more however much its corpse wriggles.

In addition since I didnt want to say fouthly; the Greens continue to have a patch of ground that they alone occupy.  They do split votes and upset outcomes but that’s all part of our dreadful first past the post system for local elections.

May 2018 may not have been transformational, but it does firmly point a direction.  Yesterday’s Party policies and sound bites are running out of steam.  Neither of the two biggest UK Parties have much to offer except more of the same.  This is not a good situation of a mature Country to be in at a moment when its about to step into the unknown.  It’s time to turn around and set a new direction.

Simple Unity

Fundamentals remain the same. Arguments rage, careers rise and fall and it’s easy to get lost in the tidal wave of media. There’s noise everywhere trying to obscure the essential facts. The basic question is a simple one. Regardless of the flurry of questions that get asked there will only be one on the voting paper on 23 June 2016 – remain in or leave the European Union. All the huge complexity of Europe then boils down to heads or tails, on or off, in or out. Most critically, that basic question is only going to get asked once in a typical lifetime. The long-term consequences for Britain, right or wrong are massive. It’s a trip without a return ticket.
I think long-term. It’s the EU in a world where China, India and South America are powerful. Keep that in mind. It’s a more interconnected world where goods and services move ever faster. It’s a world where disasters natural and human caused will need commitment, coordination and resources used for the best interests of everyone.
My position is that Europe, working together can meet the challenges coming our way. There’s a strength in diversity and unity. These two are complementary but there is real effort required to succeed. Britain has what it needs to take the lead in the EU. A vote to remain is a confident vote. It’s a vote with a plan. It’s the choice that makes sense for future generations.
On another subject, perhaps its time to look for positive spin-offs from this UK referendum. For the moment, let’s assume that Britain remains in the EU. There are a couple of good outcomes that will help address problems highlighted during the debates on the big question.
For a start, after the vote there will be many more British people acquainted with how the EU works. Consequently, that should encourage more engagement with elected representatives and officials. This is not just for the general public but there’s a clear need for Councillor, MPs, MSPs and MEPs to talk to each other more often. To bring down barriers and work constructively together more often.
Additionally, the EU reports already published for the sake of accountability, openness and transparency should get a greater readership as interest in knowing what goes on, how and why grows. In time, greater feedback from the public will help improve the information provided.

Europe sets standards

Oh brother! “You don’t need a trade deal to trade”. “Just look at all the goods in the UK shops that say: Made in China”. This simple nonsense is coming from the LEAVE campaign. Its’ deception. What seems harmless enough isn’t. There are several reasons why this proposition is wrong.
To start, if you buy goods at any standard the seller offers then sooner or later you’re going to have problems. But if you don’t want say; lead paint on children’s toys then you have to insist on specific safety standards being met. The exporting Country accepts the deal and meets your standards. So, the – Made in China – goods we see in the shops in the UK have to meet European standards. The opposite is true. European exporters have to meet Chinese standards if they are to accept our exports. When a formal trade deal is finally done one aim is to harmonise standards as much as possible to make more future trade possible.
If we didn’t have common standards in the European Union, then even in the European market you could have 27 different arrangements for each Country. The combinations and permutations get complex, expensive to implement and keep track of as they change over time. The results are of little benefit except to those who profit from processing the piles of paperwork. Ask anyone who has worked as an export clerk before we joined the Common Market.
Next, if you have common standards that work well then inward investors line-up to make products in the UK so as to access a large European market. If those investors were only offered access to the domestic market, then they are more likely to go elsewhere.
Next, if you are sitting at the table and voting on the European standards to be used then its advantageous for you and your exporters. Standing back and letting others do that work leaves a Country in a vulnerable position. Modifications to standards can wipe out an industry overnight.
Next, in reality parts, components and supplies come from everywhere. So, even if you don’t care about anything other than the UK domestic market for your products then trade deals still make a difference. For example; you might be making an artisan cheese that sells to a few retailers in a small area but the machinery in the creamery comes from Europe.
On this subject the REMAIN campaign is about holding on to these advantages, maintaining influence and increasing prosperity.

Elections

The polls closed at 10 pm on Thursday. I’ve been wearing my yellow Lib Dem rosette and people have been waving enthusiastically. Must be a good sign. This has been a complicated mix of elections. Being in Surrey, just outside of London then the mayoral elections didn’t have an impact. The only vote I had was for the election of a police and crime commissioner. However, we had campaigned in a by-election for the Staines South and Ashford West Division of Surrey County Council.
Although an increasing number of people vote by post there is nothing quite like turning up and putting a mark on a ballot paper. This being a by-election the turn-out of voters was not expected to be high. That’s a euphemism for saying; large numbers of people don’t vote in local elections. In my mind, not voting is an act of submission. There’s no rebellion in sitting on ones hands.
I spent the evening meeting local people as they went to vote at Buckland School. Yes, school buildings are often used as polling stations in the UK. There was a steady flow of people returning home from work and then popping out to vote. It’s a very civilised affair. Even the local Party banter is generally civilised. At least it was on that sunny spring evening. There was only myself, as a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative activist standing outside the school collecting polling numbers.
An evening with the voters can provide some interesting moments. There are those who shun any kind of contact as if a conversation might invalidate the secret ballot. There are others who keenly want to chat about a local problem or bring up a subject like the coming referendum.
Talking to one guy we found we were on different sides of the argument about continued European Union membership. What we did both agree is that the best result for the UK would be a clear decisive result. If in June this year, the final outcome of the referendum is say; 51% to 49% either way, no one is going to be happy. A decisive vote to REMAIN would be good for stability. It would mean that we will get back to acting on the issues that matter to people like; education, health and the environment rather than endlessly talking about institutions, regulations and structures.
As it got dark so it got chilly standing outside the polling station in Staines. That’s how it will be if people who support Europe don’t come out to vote in June. A chill wind will blow over our country. So, step up and don’t let a noisy bunch of merchants of doom dictate our future.