Holiday from reality

All aboard for the fantasy rollercoaster. We are in for a new season of irrational excess. The winner of the competition for UK Prime Minister (PM) is to be a character out of Westminster folklore.

Mythology is powerful. It permeates our lives in the snap assumptions, unconscious bias, and it races through the pages of the tabloid press and social media.

I’m culpable. It’s that click-bait headline that stimulates an instant response. It can be as few as six words. “PM chews gum and walks too.” Immediately, the instinct to disagree is triggered in my mind. How can that be? So, I unwittingly join an avalanche of rancour and feed the machine.

People are more than the professional polarisers would like us to think. However, the idea that is a let-out clause for preposterous nonsense is not one that should stick. A candidate who wins votes by peddling blatant right-wing gibberish is dangerous.

For all the Brexit promoting fiction he is guilty of, in this case, former Minister Michael Gove[1] is right. It’s a nice journalists turn of phrase, being “on holiday from reality”. This is addressing Truss’s proposal to cut taxes as inflation takes-off and the cost-of-living presses hard on us all.

Pertinent when the Johnson, caretaker PM is holidaying. His would-be successor likes to pretend to be a next generation Thatcher but never has such a claim been more wayward. Thatcher wasn’t an advocate of ungrounded economics.

Back to the human capacity to believe political fantasies. It’s hard for progressives and more rational thinkers to accept but it’s real. Once upon a time there was a “centrist” wing of the UK Conservative Party that would debunk childish economic fictions. With a few exceptions, those people are now mute or considering their futures.

Since the 2016 EU referendum, the UK Conservatives Party has been transitioning into a version of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). These crude libertarian junkies have taken control. Brexit is not permanent. In fact, healthy national politics is dynamic and in-tune with what people are thinking. Unfortunately, a small self-selecting constituency is picking the UK’s next PM.

Get ready, the national rollercoaster ride is about to get a lot scarier.


[1] https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/michael-gove-says-liz-truss-is-on-holiday-from-reality-as-he-backs-rishi-sunak-for-pm/ar-AA10Rtgq

Foot shooting

In the 1970s and 80s, Europe’s aviation industry strove to create common airworthiness codes. In 1983, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed that bring together 11 national authorities, including the UK. These countries agreed to improve European safety regulation; develop common codes and common interpretation of those codes and extend cooperation.

Given the immense efforts the UK applied to creating the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) and subsequently the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) it is unsurprising the hope of continuing involvement remained until the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was signed.

Leaving the European system of aviation safety regulation is a consequence of the political choice of a hard Brexit. Exiting EASA membership was not accompanied by leaving other European institutions. However, the implications of no longer being an EU Member State have rippled through out the whole aviation system. As the UK becomes less Eurocentric so the rest of Europe becomes more Eurocentric. Yet, the UK will surely wish to continue to exercise influence within regional bodies. This is incongruous but it is a political choice, and such choices have consequences.

Another case of immense efforts, the UK applied, was to collaborative working in aerospace research. UK organisations and academic institutions benefited significantly from participation in the Horizon Europe project and its predecessors. This is being run down despite assurances given in the TCA. An impasse has arisen over the political shenanigans related to the Irish border.

Now, the lawyers have got involved there is surely nothing good that will come if it[1]. The overall message is negative. With Conservative leadership candidates stirring up anti-EU sentiment just to get votes, it’s hardly likely there will be a reconciliation any time soon.

Yet again, the UK is perfecting the art of shooting itself in the foot. A sad situation. By the way, I do think this situation will be resolved in the fullness of time. The EU published a Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe in November 2021. To quote:

(g) Global engagement: Develop a coherent global engagement strategy and common tools, promoting shared European values and principles for R&I in terms of international cooperation and capitalising on the attractiveness of research in the Union; ensure the Union’s scientific and innovation strategic autonomy while preserving an open economy; promote a level playing field and reciprocity based on fundamental values; enhance R&I partnerships and strengthen, broaden and deepen collaboration with third countries and regional organisations.

The last line ties in nicely with the TCA and creates a need to solve the issue of UK engagement. That would be wise for both parties in the end.

POST 1: The consequences are real Thanks to Brexit, I lost a €2.5m research grant. I fear for the future of UK science | José R Penadés | The Guardian

POST 2: Grants lost At least 115 UK researchers to lose their ERC grants – Research Professional News


[1] https://sciencebusiness.net/news/uk-launches-legal-case-against-eu-over-horizon-europe-association

Everyday Brexit

We can look at social media. We can follow the News. We can read literate articles. However much we do all three of these there’s not much new to say about Brexit. Every fact, every option, every prejudice has been stripped bare. Themes have been regurgitated. Mantras bombard each other like artillery fire. Billions of words have been written and spoken over the last 6-years.

In consequence, the British political dial has shifted but not as much as might have been expected. In a purely rational world, the dial should be bouncing off the end stop by now. The human capacity to dig in despite facts, evidence and experience is what makes us such strange political animals.

I’ve found, revealing, and likely more insightful are the unprompted conversations that touch on the subject matter. Now and then, disclosures, often unintentionally open true feelings, and emotions.

Like last evening, a casual conversation starts off in one direction and then stumbles into the swamp that is Brexit. Passing the time of day, I got talking to a woman doing a part-time job. She was retired. She had got fed up with her profession and was now working freelance for a bit of extra cash. Likewise, I told her my story. We moved on to how the world has changed. It was an inquisitive good-natured chat. I mentioned Brexit. Not in an overtly political way but simply as one of the changes that has upset the way people work. Within a second our friendly chat ended. It was clear that she would not tolerate any criticism of Brexit, whatsoever. I was left feeling that such an unnatural gulf in understanding is a heavy burden to bear. Deep entrenchment cannot be healthy.

It must be said that I’ve had the opposite conversation too. Social gatherings are good places to catch-up. At a recent funeral reception, chatting with someone I hadn’t seen for several years, we went through the topics of family and holidays. Then – how’s business? Immediately, there was an opening-up as to how awful Brexit had been and the impact on exporting to Europe. There was no prompt needed. Not only feelings but real lived experience poured out in this exchange. Time, money, energy, and opportunity had all be wasted climbing new mountains of paperwork.

So, in August 2022, we are still in British Brexit’s first world war trenches. Each national camp is not making a move. Every day, bombastic slogans, and simplistic rhetoric are hurtled over the top. It’s a zombie like ritual.

Now, I’m sure this sharp polarisation is not entirely universal. There are, believe it or not, some people who are ambivalent. Bored with the topic. Disengaged and positively avoiding any step near these deep trenches. What’s distressing. What’s truly unhealthy for the country. What continues to set us back is the pandering of Conservative politicians to only one of these camps. The on-going party leadership race is pitted with appeals to their hard-core Brexit minded membership. I’d go as far to say the Conservative party, as it was known for decades, no longer exists. The UKIP party has been absorbed and integrated. There is no such thing as a broad church, or one-nation Conservatism. That traditional political formula simply doesn’t exist anymore.

POST 1: Unwise. Let’s keep Brexit safe. Playing to the in-crowd without a care for the outcome https://twitter.com/RishiSunak/status/1556590394170818560

POST 2: Unworkable. There’s party members votes in bashing the EU. https://twitter.com/trussliz/status/1554066408128012290

Regulatory Freedom

Not for the first time a Conservative Minister[1] under pressure was asked to defend Brexit and the answer they gave was: “regulatory freedom.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it isn’t often that an audience is given the opportunity to critically assess what it means. So, let’s explore what those two words mean in the context of Brexit. Naturally, it’s highly political given that the word “freedom” is used to imply that a freedom has been acquired that was once was denied.

There are two basic points that come to mind.

  • One: European Member States work together to make new laws and regulations. The UK was highly influential in shaping European policy, laws, and regulation. The UK Parliament once kept a close eye on the progress of the significant developments in Europe, and
  • Two: For all the time of the UK’s membership of the EU, most of our laws and regulations were made by the UK. Since the Member States hadn’t given the EU the competence to act of defence, crime, welfare, direct taxation, national security, and health, for example.

It is sad that Conservative Ministers continue to lie about these facts. Honestly, with 6-years under our belts since the referendum, you would think that a senior British politician would have no need to lie about such matters.

I expect Minister Jacob Rees-Moog[2] is, at this moment documenting the ways in which this myth can be perpetuated. What would be even sadder than sad is if the motivation to change British laws and regulations was just to be different for the sake of difference.

The UK Government has established a Brexit Opportunities Unit[3]. Again, with 6-years under our belts since the referendum, you would imagine that whatever opportunities there are they would be well known by now. Reading the published 4-page report on regulatory-reforms it is thin to say the least.

The face palm[4] I had when reading one line talking about reviewing restrictions on selling in pounds and ounces was a massive one. Did we really go though all that pain for something so trivial? Please don’t answer that question.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0014b4c/question-time-2022-10022022

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jacob-reesmogg-what-is-the-brexit-opportunities-unit-b2010570.html

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/brexit-opportunities-regulatory-reforms

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facepalm

Reflection

Without wishing to sound too much “told you so”, looking back on what I’ve written here over the last 5-years, it’s evident that a lot of it was on the money. Overall, the experience of the last 5-years has diminished our national prosperity and damaged reputations.

There’s a number of central points that shine through the fog. 

For a start, Brexit was not just one event which when delivered would bring an end to decades of introspection about Britain’s place in the world. If anything, the subject is higher on the agenda than it has been for a long time. All twists and turns are analysed in terms of – where are we going?

The underlying theme of the recent years has been to try to restore an imagined past. For some people this is an imperial role. It’s a lamenting of a time when the school map was red with the British empire.  This is, in part, a culture war like that played out by Trump in his term in office in the United States. Instead of applying the immense variety of our heritage as a solid foundation it’s being weaponised. 

Political deception has been fuelled by an age of ubiquitous social media. When so much information, true and false, is pumped out every moment, opinions eclipse facts more frequently than in the past. The louder the incessant shouting, the more money backing the campaigns, the more likely the result impacts policy and decision making.   

Perpetual uncertainty is now expected. Any deals, agreements or working arrangements, however magnificent, are viewed as moments that pass. The traditional phrase “my word is my bond” has no meaning amongst a large band of politicians. Maybe this is a tactical chasing of public opinion data that’s pushed aside any strategic thinking. 

The question can be asked: was all this inevitable? Would it have happened in one form or another even if the referendum vote of June 2016 had gone a different way? On this one, I’m pessimistic.  The idea that a public vote won or lost by a very small margin puts a subject to bed for all time is childish, to say the least.  Such votes are an indication of something deeper.

Yet again our technology speeds ahead of us, far exceeding our ability to cope with it. Both our salvation and our prison warden, we can articulate grander visions but are tied by primitive instincts. 

In my view this is the great merit of social liberal politics. The need for balance. The need for fairness. Instead of letting the libertarian monster out of the bag or denying our human frailties, taking them both into the mix is far wiser than our current destructive course.   

A British politician once said all political careers end in failure. That failure can be avoided, like a mature sports personality, stepping down at the optimal time. For Prime Minister Johnson, all indications are that he’ll crash the ship of state rather than change direction.  Let’s hope the choice is taken from him by a change made by the public. The humble voter.

Flight, Risk & Reflections 10.

Today, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ran a European Union (EU) exit webinar for aircraft Maintenance Organisations (Part-145)[1].  Negotiations between the UK and the EU on aviation safety requirements continue.  This series of UK CAA hosted webinars is to update civil aviation on what the UK may look like from 1st January 2021. 

It’s worth noting that the Chair of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Sir Stephen Hillier[2] will be on a Royal Aeronautical Society webinar on the 19th November 2020.  Questions and comments on Brexit are sure to come up. It’s clear the UK will leave Europe’s aviation safety regulator at end of 2020.

I’m writing at a moment when the News is again sounding pessimistic about the UK-EU negotiations. The time remaining on the clock for a possible deal is running out. Once a final legal text is agreed there are still numerous parties who must read it and take it all in. 

In England, until 2 December businesses are in lockdown routine. Everyone is doing what they can to stop the spread of coronavirus. The time left to change how businesses operate and adapt to a new UK-EU relationship is ebbing away rapidly. 

Even in November, because of COVID-19 we are being told to open windows regularly to let fresh air in. One hope is that they are doing this in the rooms where the UK-EU negotiations are taking place. 

In a recent speech former UK Prime Minister (PM) John Major pointed out that Brexit set to be “more brutal than anyone expected”[3].  It doesn’t take much to see why. Given that the referendum vote was back in June 2016 it’s astonishing that UK-EU negotiations are not wrapped up by now.

My impression is that a referendum and the subsequent General Elections have put our entire political system into perpetual campaigning mode. The problem is that Governing mode and campaigning mode are not good bedfellows.  At this moment that clash is being played out inside Number 10 Downing Street. 

I’d like to sound optimistic but there’s more dismantling going on than building.  It’s easier to smash up the house than it is to build a new one.  


[1] https://info.caa.co.uk/uk-eu-transition/

[2] https://www.aerosociety.com/events-calendar/raes-webinar-brabazon-named-lecture-2020/

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54879209

No Mandate

There’s no mandate whatsoever for a No Deal Brexit[1].  None.  Having the false assertion out there, and so widespread that this is a great danger to our democracy.  Pushing forward with a policy based on a lie, that everyone can see is normally the preserve of dictatorships and communist regimes.

The new British Foreign Secretary Mr Raab has been speaking falsely.  The new UK Government has no mandate for a No Deal Brexit.  In fact, there would be no need to blame the European Union (EU), as Mr Raab has started to do if there was a true mandate for a No Deal Brexit.

Before the 2016 EU referendum, the lead Leave vote campaigners were saying that the UK would be mad to leave the European Single Market.  That European market that Britain had fought so hard to establish.  They were explicitly proposing a Norway-type deal and stating that getting such a deal would be quick and easy.  Leave vote campaigners sold Brexit on the basis that there was little risk as we held all the cards in any negotiations.   It doesn’t take long to survey the archives of British media from 2016 to understand just how far we have drifted from reality.  There’s an abundance of recorded evidence.  There’s no mandate for a No Deal Brexit.

If we move to the UK General Election of 2017, I don’t recall a No Deal Brexit being part of the last Conservative Party manifesto.  Yes, there was a commitment to negotiate a Brexit deal but not to give-up and walk away.

Now, I can hear a Brexiter saying but it’s the “default” position.  This word “default” is somehow used to justify what is in truth an active policy choice.  The UK Government has the power to stop a No Deal Brexit right up to the moment before it happens.  Unfortunately, at the moment, Johnson’s new Government does not have the will or the common sense to do so.

The lie that there is a mandate is likely to be sustained by the Johnson Government because it’s the only way they can justify “turbocharging” the preparation for No Deal Brexit planning.  Essentially that means throwing billions of taxpayers’ money at something they can’t define, and most people don’t want.

This morning the British Foreign Secretary told the big fib on BBC Radio 4.  It’s recorded and the rest of the world listening knows it’s a fib.  So, why would anyone take talk of any future negotiations seriously having heard his radio interview?

Also, let’s remember that the British Foreign Secretary who says the UK will do a No Deal Brexit on 31 October 2019 if the “undemocratic backstop” isn’t scrapped, is the same Mr Raab who was a Brexit Secretary.  Whatever happened to the The Ministerial Code?

Our sad state of affairs will leave us wandering in the wilderness for many years to come.  There’s an alternative.   Stop Brexit by a simple act of revoking Article 50[2].  Eat the humble pie and save Britain.  Action now.

[1] #NoDealBrexit

[2] #RevokeA50

Aviation & Brexit 90

Minister Michael Gove says the UK Government is “working on the assumption” that the United Kingdom (UK) will leave the European Union (EU) without a deal on Thursday, 31 October 2019.  A huge No-Deal Brexit public information campaign is on the way.  This doesn’t much change the facts on the ground, but it does put a bright red flag up to the whole Country and beyond.  There are denials that a UK General Election is on the way.  At the same time the new UK Government appears to be on an election footing.  Now, the architects of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum hold power in the UK.  It’s reasonable to ask; how on earth did we get to this point?

If you didn’t see the BBC documentary on the Brexit Crisis[1], I can thoroughly recommend it.  You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer.  It objectively tells the story of the Brexit negotiations, from behind the scenes on both sides.  The programme is not about aviation but that subject, just like 101 others is caught up in the incomprehensible political maelstrom that is Brexit.

As I write here, opinion polls give the new UK Government a slight bounce.  Those who say; “let’s just get it over with”, do seem to be getting a degree of support.  However, this feeling people may have, is very far from reality.  Those who think that a No Deal Brexit would at least be a way of moving on are wrong in every possible way.  It just means that after the 31 October there will be the beginning of a whole new round of painful negotiation and general frustration.

For a moment then I’ll assume the new British Prime Minister (PM) pushes through all the opposition to deliver a No Deal Brexit.  By any international measure this will be an indication of failure that other nations will observer and draw appropriate conclusions.  Putting aside domestic considerations, it’s irrelevant who may or may not be to blame for such an outcome.  It’s a failure.

In that international context; how long will it take for the UK and EU to come back to a close, cordial and stable relationship?  Initially, temporary measures, continuing uncertainty and periodic instability will undoubtedly prevail.  Using the past as an indicator, I will estimate at least a decade of competition, division and turmoil are likely.  That takes us up to 2030.

Certainly, by that time a great number of the people who voted to Leave the EU in 2016 will no longer be with us.  In fact, most people will have forgotten what all the fuss was about.  Much as few people can describe Suez, the humble pie and the bill[2].  But there will be humble pie and a bill.

If Brexit happens, in the coming decade, I am sure Scotland will become an independent nation.  The future of Ireland is less easy to predict.  The pound sterling will decline further as we sell more of the family silver.  UK’s ability to act on the global stage will be more dependent upon America.

This week, the new British PM talked of sunny uplands that would make Britain the best place in the world by 2050.   That’s an aspiration we can all share but the direction we are going in isn’t the one that will deliver success.   How long will it be before the new PM echoes one of his predecessors of 60 years ago and says: “You’ve never has it so good[3]”.

Personally, I hope I’m not writing these blogs in my 90s.  Still, you never know.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0006wj2/panorama-britains-brexit-crisis

[2] 1959 and The Anglo-Egyptian agreement

[3] UK Prime Minister MacMillan in the 1960s

Aviation & Brexit 81

It’s about a month ago since I last wrote.  This has been a busy month.  European Parliamentary elections took place on Thursday in the UK.  The results of those elections will not be known until late on Sunday.  A long process of local and regional counting will take up most of Sunday.  What it will mean in the UK is still unclear but at least these were real votes in real ballot boxes.   The outcome of which should be a sound indication of the current public mood.

The UK is now in the position where if it ratifies the existing EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA) before 31 October 2019, an EU withdrawal will take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedures.  However, there are no signs that national ratification is on the cards.  The UK’s two largest political parties have given-up on negotiations to come to a compromise on Brexit.  This should be no surprise since a deal between the Conservatives and Labour would still have to pass the through a grid-locked House of Commons (HoC).  A compromise involving the UK staying in a Customs Union (CU) is more than the hard core Brexit supporting Conservatives can accept.  Now, as if the above wasn’t enough, the UK’s Prime Minister is stepping down.  A starting gun has been fired on a that leadership race and it’s unlikely to be helpful to any potential political compromise.

The Brexit stasis continues to have a pressing and disruptive impact on the aviation and travel industries.  Recently, the travel firm Thomas Cook reported a £1.5bn loss for the first half of the year[1].  Behind this were several factors but one of the bigger ones was potential customers putting off their summer holiday plans.

With Brexit delayed until later this year, the UK is exporting people.  Now record numbers are applying for Irish passports[2] and that may give a boost to aviation in Ireland.  As an indicator, I’ve had a conversation with a person prepared to relocate his businesses if Brexit remains unresolved.

In the technical regulation arena, the objective would seem to be to maintain as much continuity as possible[3].   Our international rules-based system assumes that Countries will work together to improve conductivity.   But the situation remains fluid between the UK and EU, and there are still big questions to answer before we reach 1 November 2019.

The power-play going on between US and China is not a good background in which to continue with the uncertainty of Brexit.   The UK should be defending multilateralism in this situation.  A choice needs to be made since the UK’s aviation future need not shift from an influential rule-maker into a rule-taker.  In this region, retaining membership of EU Agencies, like EASA remains a viable option.

Brexit is now in a go / no-go position.  I’m more of the opinion that the project must be terminated and quickly.  Even if it is not, close alignment with the EU still has major benefits.   Is there the political vision in the UK to steer Brexit to a conclusion?  It’s going to be well into July 2019 before we even have a hint as to the answer to that question.   3-years since the UK referendum and its only uncertainty that is certain.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48292318

[2] https://www.irishpost.com/news/how-to-get-irish-passport-166453

[3] https://ebace.aero/2019/news/latest-news/ebace2019-session-looks-at-impending-brexit/

 

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