Flying, Democracy and Safety 5.

jet cloud landing aircraft
Photo by Pixabay on

4-years ago on Magna Carta Day in the small Surrey town of Egham, I was campaigning to stay in the European Union (EU).  On 11 June 2016, when referring to the UK referendum, I said: “I’d like to estimate that the overall experience indicated a better than 50/50 outcome is on the cards.” Meaning that remaining in the EU was a likely outcome of the UK referendum but only by a small margin of votes. As we know it went the other way by a small margin of votes.

In the whole of history, 4-years isn’t much, a blink of an eye, but in that time the UK’s political, social and economic landscape has changed by quite a lot.  I’d argue that it has changed for the worse and that huge opportunities have been thrown away because of dogma, groupthink and a blindness to the reality.  If we’ve learnt anything in those years, it’s that when a UK politician says something is certain it’s likely to be far from certain.

Despite all the rocky road and ups and downs of 4-years, no one was adequately prepared for a transformation that nature threw at us. The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in modern times.

UK economic growth fell by over 20% in April, the largest fall since monthly records began. Aviation has been hit hard. It’s said that at least 70,000 jobs are on the line in the UK aviation industry[1]. There are pleas for the UK Government to act to protect jobs and support the long-term viability of the sector. Many other Countries have stepped in to support their industries.

Although a slight recovery of air traffic is underway[2], we are heading into the most painful time. As the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme[3], or furlough scheme closes to new entrants, so industry layoffs are likely to increase. Businesses are reorganising to stay alive during an extended period of low demand for air travel. It’s going to be grim for at least the next year.

I’m optimistic for the long-term future of air travel. I always find it surprising that only about 5% of the world’s population have ever stepped foot on an aircraft, even now. I think, wanderlust is set in our core. Just as the low-cost operators made it possible for today’s young people to explore more than previous generations, so I don’t think they will wish to give that up. Aviation shrunk the globe and it will continue to do so.

But what of UK politics? The transition agreed as part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, ends on 31 December this year. The agenda for the second meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has been published[4]. This key meeting takes place on Friday 12 June.

The UK is saying that it will not ask for an extension to the current transition period. This flies in the face of what business and industry wants. This seems to be illogical given the combination of the circumstances of COVID-19 and an abrupt termination of the WA.

I believe most of the arguments against extending the transition period are either tribal Party political or bogus or both. The reality is that more time is needed. The reality is that ratification of any new deal will need time. The reality is that brinkmanship doesn’t deliver good results. The OECD[5] is saying of the UK: “The failure to conclude a trade deal with the European Union by the end of 2020 or put in place alternative arrangements would have a strongly negative effect on trade and jobs.”

That is not a state of affairs to be welcomed.






Brexit & Aviation 115

It’s January.  There’s no doubt that we have entered a new political era in the UK.  It’s 13 days into the new decade.  Although the basic issues haven’t changed much the manner of the debate about what might be possible has changed beyond recognition.  Unlike in 2017, the UK General Election (GE) has given us a solidly “Leave” Parliament.  Whatever most of the people in the Country may think or wish, the lawmakers we have are predominantly Eurosceptic.

The UK’s pro-European movements will keep fighting for their views to be represented in UK politics.  There’s an important place for those who would have preferred to “Remain” in the European Union (EU), but their voice is diminished.  Now future of relationships on trade, transport and security must be determined within the lifetime of this new UK Parliament.  Given the size of the political majority, I assume it will last for 5-years.

Most experts with experience of Government negotiations know Brexit won’t be “done” in 2020[1].   British businesses, including aviation will not be fully ready for next December.  Any EU-UK deal agreed this year will probably be limited in scope[2].   No one, outside a small group on Ministers, knows if that will include international aviation.

The European Commission (EC) Task Force for Relations with the UK has just published slides that show how they see the start of negotiations.   These slides were provided for information purposes to the Council Working Party (Article 50) on 13 January.  They show the huge gap between a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Single Market.

British MEPs are arriving at the Strasbourg Parliament for the last time[3].   On the agenda this week are such subjects as an EU-China Agreement on aspects of air services.  It does seem strange that the UK will no longer be part of the debate on such subjects post-Brexit.  Surely there will be a continuing interest in such debates.

In the news is the fact that Europe’s biggest regional airline Flybe are fighting for survival less than a year after being bailed out by an industry consortium.  Some deny that this is Brexit related.  Others disagree: “Brexit and the way the government’s aviation taxes hit a regional airline like Flybe have been a double whammy,” says Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw[4].   They fly from Exeter airport.  The company, as a member of the European Regions Airline Association[5] based in Surrey, no doubt supports the view that the aviation industry shouldn’t suffer the brunt of political inadequacies.

Note: 15/01/2020.  Flybe has been saved from a potential collapse after the UK Government and company shareholders agreed to provide emergency funding.






People’s Vote in Epsom

IMG_6372 (2)A good way of judging what’s perception and what’s reality to stand on a street corner campaigning for what you believe in.  This Saturday morning, with a cold wind blowing but sunshine in the sky a group of us stood in the centre of the Surrey town of Epsom.  It’s a well to do town with levels of prosperity that parts of England would love to share.   Being connected to London there are major service industries that ensure Epsom flourishes.  Its not just Derby Day.

The Brexit deal on the table provides no clarity or certainty about the future.  The signs are that Brexit will become a never-ending nightmare if we go through with it.  However, it’s both evidence and emotion that shape our view of the world and no more so than with Brexit.

Regardless of political views, in a public place there are people who engage and there are those that don’t.  On a British High Street in winter, most are busying themselves about their business and are not keen to dwell.  It’s more often that those with stronger views are the ones who take the time to engage in conversation.  My approach is to try not to impede anyone but to make it clear that I’d like to talk.  It’s easier with a leaflet in hand and a simple introduction.  So, I start: “we’re campaign for a People’s Vote – Would you like a leaflet”?  Then it’s a question of quickly gauging any response.  As a flavour of the comebacks that I got here are a few sentences on what happened.

Those who welcomed our campaigning efforts were more than happy to express a view.  A positive warmth and support came to the fore without prompting.  Frequently, there was an astonishment that the Country had got itself into such a ridiculous situation.   Everyone has a story to tell about how Brexit is affecting their lives.  Younger people were concerned that opportunities previous generations had will be cut off.

I got a warm answer from a French woman, but as she whispered – I don’t have a vote.

One middle-aged man seemed sullenly pragmatic about the affair.  His expectations were so low that he anticipated nothing better than an unholy mess.  He was grateful to see us campaigning, but he held out little hope that it would make any difference.  It’s a pessimism and sad resignation that more than a few must feel.

One guy suggested that I go back to Germany if I liked the Europe so much.  When faced with this, politeness is the only way to be.  There’s little I can say in that moment to transform his outlook.  Little Englanders are not new.

I got a couple that told me they were bored with the whole subject.  They had gone past caring what happens next.  It’s like it’s not my problem and another version of the sad resignation I mentioned earlier.

Believe me, I am not being biased when I say this, but the angrier people are Leave supporters.  It’s like they have an inner rage.  One or two will swear without any provocation whatsoever other than just seeing a European symbol.   All you hear is negative slogans right out of the Daily Mail.

Overall, the hours we spent were productive and I’m sure we offered a hope for those with a positive assessment of our role in Europe.  The indication was masses of dots on our chart calling for a People’s Vote.   Concluding, it’s clear that the last couple of years have not healed the wounds of the referendum.  Opinion on the streets is just as divided as it was when I was campaigning in early 2016.  No wonder Parliament is divided when the Country is divided.  It’s only by going back to the people that there will be any resolution to this impasse.

Brexit and Aviation 42

The roller-coaster that is Brexit continues to roll.  One day positive news and the next negative.  This week, British MPs were told that a Brexit deal would be done by the end of November.  A few hours later the Minister’s department was forced to correct the record and say there was no set end date for UK-EU negotiations.  With less than 150 days to go to the Article 50 end date, it’s like an aircraft on approach without any idea if there’s a runway ahead.  Government would do well to remember the rule about flying – Every take-off is optional. Every landing is mandatory.

There are several rules of the air that could apply to the current situation:

Flying isn’t dangerous. Crashing is what’s dangerous.

Never let an aircraft take you somewhere your brain didn’t get to five minutes earlier.

Remember, gravity is not just a good idea. It’s the law. And it’s not subject to repeal.

I’ve written often this year.  Now, 42 there’s a number to get to grips with as we reach November.  If you are not familiar with THHGTTG then you have missed out big-time.  Author Douglas Adams made that number the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  Nothing I write here can ever match that answer.

Of note in the recent news is the European Parliament vote confirming relocation of European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority after Brexit.  UK loses out on influence as these two Agencies move to ensure minimal disruption to the EU’s Single Market beyond March 2019.

Views of the foreign Press don’t make nice reading.  The German media have had quite a bit to say about how Brexit will affect everyone[1].  In Canada, they see the UK as being gripped by a self-destructive madness[2].  In the US, CNN says; Brexit is like a screaming child[3].  It’s clear that Brexit news won’t be slowing down any time soon.

The Treaty of European Union, known as The Maastricht Treaty, came into effect on 1 November 1993.  Today is the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty.  It was signed by Ministers from the then 12 Member States.  This Treaty is the one that avid Brexit supporters dislike so much.  I remember the political climate that year as being one of change and turmoil.  Change to the extent that I was elected as a County Councillor in Surrey along with 28 colleagues.

One innovation the Treaty brought to flying was that airport queues, solely for UK travellers were abolished in 1997.   The Treaty introduced free movement for EU citizens.  Now, the intention seems to be to dismantle that innovation, at least for British subjects.  Maybe that’s one reason the Chancellor put and extra £500 million in the budget for preparations for leaving the EU.







A day in Egham

036Here’s just a quick reflection on today’s escapade. It was Magna Carta Day in the small Surrey town of Egham.  This is an annual event that has been going since the 1990s.  Last year, at this time, there was the Magna Carta 800th anniversary commemorations.  So, here we are having a fundamental referendum on our relationship with Europe in the 801th year since the signing of the Magna Carta.

One of this Surrey town’s more notable establishments is the Royal Holloway, University of London.  Fortunately, Royal Holloway and its students had stepped in at the last moment and organised a street stall.  Sue and I, and a few of our local Liberal Democrat colleagues joined the Stronger IN stall in the High Street.  This was nicely decked with union jack flags and one big blue European flag.  It was a great to be working with the enthusiastic young students on the stall.

Much literature was given away and the vast majority of people we met as they passed by were pleased to see us. Even a couple of mild mannered leave supporters said they were glad both sides of the referendum debate were represented.

The most rewarding part of the day was talking to the diverse range of undecided voters. In conversation, that’s when the personal touch really does make a big difference.  A few well-chosen words can swing an outcome towards REMAIN. One woman told me her partner was away and he was a signed-up Kipper but she wasn’t going for the leave camp. Oh the beauty of a secret ballot.

Polling speculation that younger people tend to lean towards Vote REMAIN seemed to be borne out by our chats to one and all.  It was evident to me that the more open minded people were the more they valued Britain’s membership of the EU.

I had a discussion with a retired British Airways pilot about the differences between Boeing and AIRBUS aircraft. He had flown Boeing aircraft but commented that his daughter was flying AIRBUS.

I chatted about the Cross of Nails representing reconciliation in Coventry Cathedral to one woman. Briefly talked to a French mathematics student who was enjoying a short stay working in Egham. We compared the problems in France with the problems in Britain.

Not too much xenophobia came our way but one or two people made a point of telling us who they hated. One strange man objected to the union jack flags and European flag being together.

Disappointingly, Runnymede borough’s mayor, who kicked-off the town’s event carefully avoided our stall for the whole day.

One guy wearing a little red leave badge came up to me and started a rant that sounded like he was reading the cover story from the Daily Mail to my face. I smiled with a vaguely disinterested look.  He got bored and went away.  Engagement is not a good idea when someone is so monochrome.

Rain didn’t dampen our spirits.

Overall there was a good positive reception for REMAIN. I’d like to estimate that the overall experience indicated a better than 50/50 outcome is on the cards.  However, in Egham town the older demographic probably favours Vote Leave.