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Saturday Sound-off: Blather About Borders and #Brexit

Blather is an old Scots word ultimately derived from an earlier Scandinavian word for chatter or prattle. I could have used any one of many words to denote the nonsense that is still being uttered by British politicians who want the UK to leave the EU. I was tempted to use a crude reference to bovine excrement or an equally unsavoury noun usually associated with a certain part of the male anatomy that comes by the pair.

I caught a segment of the ‘Tonight‘ programme on Irish television earlier in the week in which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was taking part. Asked what was his problem with the Single Market and the Customs Union, he asserted that they prevent the UK negotiating trade deals with non-EU countries, deals which he was sure would benefit Northern Ireland businesses. When it was pointed out that most of those countries, including those who are members of the Commonwealth, prefer to deal with the UK as part of the much larger EU market, he responded by saying he had recently returned from Egypt where he led a trade mission from Northern Ireland, securing lucrative contracts for Northern Ireland businesses.

I felt like shouting at the screen: “membership of the EU didn’t prevent you doing that, then!”

Also this week, Channel 4 News asked a random sample of English people to mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic on a map of the island. The results were astonishing, showing that most people have no idea that, for example, the most northern point of the island, Malin Head, is in the Republic. Britons frequently refer to Northerrn Ireland as “Ulster” – I used to do it myself but have carefully avoided doing so in this post. The fact is that the ancient Irish province of Ulster includes Donegal which is in the Republic, to the west of Northern Ireland.

But whilst this week’s controversy has been concentrated on the land border between the UK and the EU, and the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of any reinstatement of a border between the two parts of the island of Ireland, no-one ought to lose sight of the UK’s east and south coasts with their many ports, from Aberdeen to Southampton, all of which handle traffic between the UK and continental Europe and all of which will need some degree of additional policing if the “best deal for Britain” that David Davis is so eager to achieve falls short of the existing arrangements. And then there are the 16 regional airports*, as well as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead.

I am only an ordinary citizen, although I did once dabble in local politics and even stood as a candidate for the European parliament, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could imagine that any “deal” could be better than the one we already have. I make no apology for repeating again what I said before the referendum, here, and, afterwards, here, and have continued to say in the period since.

As this comprehensive Facebook post from Jon Danzig at Reasons2Remain makes clear, the months of uncertainty, negotiations, and costly preparations that the UK has been forced to endure, and will continue to endure through the proposed two year “transition period”, are utterly pointless if the deal that is struck at the end of the process looks anything like the one we already have. And, if it doesn’t, then businesses that rely on fast freight transfers between the UK and EU will be hampered and their customers, the citizens of Britain, will pay the price.

*For anyone interested the 16 are, in alphabetical order, Birmingham; Blackpool; Bournemouth; Bristol; Cardiff; East Midlands; Exeter; Humberside; Leeds Bradford; Liverpool; Luton; Manchester; Newcastle; Norwich; and Teesside.

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Saturday Sound Off: Media Hypocrisy

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Look at these two headlines. One is from the Irish Sun, the other from the UK edition of the same newspaper. They demonstrate how the paper’s owner panders to the prejudices of its readers in the two nations. (Both titles are owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.)

Behind the headlines is an unpleasant truth: no-one, on either side, wants to see a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. But it’s impossible for the British government to reconcile that fact with the demand, from some of those who voted to leave the EU, that the UK should control its own borders.

As I pointed out last week, the only possible way out of this mess is to admit that controlling this particular border is impossible. And, given the existence of the Channel Tunnel and the frequency of Ro-Ro ferry operations between the UK and continental Europe, controlling those borders is equally impractical and undesirable.

It follows that Britain must remain in the Customs Union.

The idea of dismantling the existing arrangements in order to put in place something that is, in practice, exactly the same, is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and patience, including that of the editors of The Sun on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Taking Back Control – or Not?

union-flagirish_tricolour-1Given that a key #Brexit topic of the moment is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am resurrecting another old post.

On BBC Newsnight last night Kirsty Wark challenged Bertie Ahern to say that he and the present Taosiach, Leo Veradker, would welcome a hard border. Obviously he would not do so. No one in Ireland, or anywhere in the EU, wants a hard border. It is only the British government and the hard core of its EU hating citizens who seem incapable of understanding that you either have a hard border or no border.

The rationale of the decision to leave was that Britain wanted to control its borders. Logically that must include the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But it goes deeper than that. If Britain exits the customs union it is not only the mainland border that will need to have custom controls installed. They will need to be installed at all the ports that serve routes between Britain and the EU. Dover is the busiest of these, but Southampton, Hull, Immingham, Felixstowe and, of course, Hollyhead are also important points of entry and exit. Wikipedia lists 70 major ports around the coast of England and Wales. And that is to ignore the many airports that serve air borne transport between Britain and the rest of Europe.

The BBC regularly points out the magnitude of the problems resulting from the referendum result, including that of policing all of these points of entry if Britain is to gain full control of her borders. The usual response from those who want #Brexit at any price is to call the BBC out for being too negative about the subject.

Others seem to believe that it will all come right in the end because the EU do not want to see the erection of trade barriers between the UK and the other 27 members. To which I ask the simple question: what is the point of spending two years negotiating the UK’s departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union in order to create a new relationship that replicates what has been negotiated away?

If it looks like a customs union and operates like a customs union then it bloody well IS a customs union and all that heartache, all those hours of bureaucrats’ time expended, the uncertainty disrupting British business, are a criminal waste when there are so many far more important problems the government and its employees ought to be tackling.

Stark naked in Tesco

Rebecca Bryn writes excellent historical fiction. Like me she also has opinions which she doesn’t mind sharing. Unlike me she has a natural wit that shines through her writing even when it is opinionated. And, surely, few would  disagree with the views she is expressing here.

Source: Stark naked in Tesco

Saturday Sound-off: Let’s Have Some Perspective on Exploitation.

ap_17119109633539The following is an abbrieviated extract from my novel Transgression. It is set in 1943 but based on an incident I witnessed as a seventeen year old apprentice in a machine shop in 1959. I used it to illustrate the way some men behave towards women. The recent publicity surrounding the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein shows that little has changed in the near six decades since I first witnessed such abuse.

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That said, I question the extent to which Mr Weinstein’s behaviour has dominated the news media in recent days.

Of course such behaviour is unacceptable.

Of course some of the allegations describe criminal acts of a serious nature (which he has denied).

And yes, as so many of those commenting have stated, it illustrates an unacceptable aspect of the relationship between men and women in places of work.

But is it really news that the powerful exploit the vulnerable?

When that exploitation is of a sexual nature, however humiliating, is it really any worse than the many other ways in which we all take advantage of the disadvantaged?

From the slaves of ancient Greece and Rome, through the serfdom of medieval Europe to the exploitation of Africans as slaves in the ‘New World’, to the sweated labour in Asia that produces so many of the things we in the developed world take for granted, the life styles enjoyed by the successful are bought at the expense of those who have no other way of providing the bare necessities of life for themselves and their families.

You, reading this, may see yourself as poor. And you surely are, when compared to the Duke of Westminster or Mark Zuckerberg to name just two of the super-rich 1%. But you are rich enough to be able to own the device on which you are reading, and to pay the subscription to an internet service provider. There is, it seems to me, an irony in the fact that the tax your government levies on the sale of that device is used, among other things, to ensure that no-one in your country is as poor as some of the people involved in its manufacture.

And there is a further irony in the fact that those who support such policies as ‘America First’, or Britain’s exit from the European Union, resent the tiny portion of their taxes that is devoted to the relief of the extreme poverty of the poorest nations.

Whilst Mr Weinstein’s behaviour has been described as evidence of a crisis of masculinity and the continuing inequality of women in the workplace, is it not also true that there have always been, and still are, women who use their sexual wiles to exploit the weakness of men for their own ends, whether career advancement, social climbing or inheritance?

The trauma suffered by a young woman who, upon accepting an invitation to an older man’s hotel room, discovers him naked, cannot be compared to the suffering of thousands driven from their homes for no reason other than their ethnicity or their religion. And yet it is the former that has driven the latter from our television screens this past week.

I know that some of the women who have come forward with such stories donate part of their income both to help, and to highlight, the plight of, people in the most distressed parts of the world, but the truth is that their lives are infinitely more comfortable than those of millions of women experiencing exploitation, both sexual and economic, in parts of Africa and Asia, and in the darker reaches of our own cities.

A SERIOUS IN BETWEEN POST

This is a cruel and evil practice and should not be tolerated in ANY society, certainly not in one that regards itself as ‘civilised’. Resorting to ‘culture’ or ‘religion’ as a justification for ignoring it is not acceptable.

Source: A SERIOUS IN BETWEEN POST

Saturday Sound-off: Who Stole my Country?

A couple of newspaper articles caught my attention yesterday. The first was in the Irish Times: a review of a book about prisoners of war in England during WWII and the way they were treated.

You might expect that, as soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting for Britain’s enemies at the time, they would be shunned, spat at, feared. The reality was rather different. In fact, as the review’s author points out, “it wasn’t uncommon for friendships to be struck up and for POWs to be invited into civilians’ homes for Christmas lunch.”

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Prisoner of war camps in the UK: German PoWs somewhere in England bring in the harvest. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many were permitted to leave the camps in order to work on farms and in forestry projects alongside English (mainly female) workers. It reminded me of my own experience growing up in rural Herefordshire in the 1940s and ’50s. There was a camp in the village which, at different times, held POWs and Polish refugees. One German and one Pole each married local girls and set up homes next door to each other in tied cottages on the farm where both worked.

Their children attended the local school. As a schoolboy I often worked on the same farm and got to know both men.The young woman who married the German POW had a younger brother the same age as me who became my best man at my 1963 wedding.

Values

And then I discovered the other article, in The Guardian, about European citizens, skilled workers resident in Britain for decades, who are returning to the continent, some with their British spouses and all saddened by last year’ Brexit vote and its aftermath in which so many of them were made to feel unwelcome. It made me wonder what has become of the country of which I used to be proud, the country of whose values my father fought and died for.

From being a place that welcomed all comers and extended the hand of friendship to enemy POWs, it has become a place in which many want to shut themselves off from the rest of Europe and embrace the same nationalistic fervour that destroyed Europe in the 1930s and ’40s and which the parents of my generation sacrificed so much to overthrow.

Have the people who voted ‘leave’ not studied history? Do they not realise that, right across Europe, we share more than a thousand years of common history? Admittedly, it was a relationship often characterised by the struggle for domination between the members of the land owning aristocracy. But it seemed for a while, in the 1950s and ’60s, that, having emerged from two terrible world wars, we understood that co-operation was better than conflict. Social liberalism trumped nationalism and the majority of us understood that it was better to share the product of our labours with people like ourselves wherever they were born.

Doomed

What happened? How did so many ordinary British voters come to believe that the EU, and those of its citizens who chose to make their homes in Britain, were responsible for every symptom of their country’s economic failure? Why did Cameron and the other leaders of the Remain campaign embark on a doomed quest to scare people into voting to remain in the EU? Why did the media not give much greater attention to the words of men like Lord Ashdown who made the arguments that mattered with such passion?

I wrote several posts ahead of the vote pointing out the folly of what was being proposed. Now the case for leaving is beginning to unravel as the real implications of extricating ourselves from 40 years of working together in mutually beneficial endeavours, from aviation safety to radioactive isotopes for medical use, become apparent. If only more attention had been paid to these things in May and June last year perhaps the vote would have been different. They certainly strengthen the case for a second vote once the details of the deal are published.