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Brexit: Are We There Yet?

by John Brian Shannon

As the Brexit negotiating process drags on perhaps Theresa May has a grand negotiating strategy - leave everything 'til the end - and then, negotiate furiously.

As the Brexit negotiating process drags on, perhaps Theresa May’s grand negotiating strategy is to leave everything until the end — and then negotiate furiously. Let us hope!

As of today, we’re 286 days from the official Brexit date and much remains to be done, and for all the squallering about it, not much has happened. At least, not that the public can see.

Yes, a final Brexit date has been set, Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to pay a £20 exit fee (or perhaps as much as 40 billion according to some reports) to the European Union, there may (or may not be) an interim period when the UK is partly in and partly out of the UK (and without EU representation during that interim period — even though the UK will continue to pay billions to the EU) no trade deal has been agreed, nor have customs issues been resolved.

And all of it built upon the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ which means that the UK has effectively nothing if negotiations go awry.

Further, the Good Friday Agreement could be endangered if the ‘no agreement’ scenario comes to pass.

Not very confidence inspiring.


Perhaps All is Not Lost

Negotiators have different ways of obtaining agreements and sometimes the most effective strategy is to wait until the end of the negotiating cycle and hit ’em hard with a deal they just can’t refuse just as the last few days tick off the calendar. Which is a legitimate negotiating plan, if, if, if, that’s what the plan is.

There’s something to be said for playing ‘defence’ (watching the other side to get familiar with their tactics and devices) as EU negotiators play ‘offense’ using all their ammunition to try to slow, obfuscate, or completely derail Brexit.

In short, it might be better for the UK to let the EU expend all of its effort — and withstand that barrage — then at the last-minute, the United Kingdom suddenly offers up a trade deal that the European Union can’t pass up.

If that’s Theresa May’s strategy to deliver Brexit to UK voters, it’s a good one. But only if she and the MP’s whose constituents voted for Brexit can withstand the ongoing negotiating and media blitz for 286 more days.

Otherwise, she will fail, and so will Brexit.

Risky (if you have a weak team) and brilliant (if your team is strong)

We shall see…

Austerity Has Changed How the World Views the UK

by John Brian Shannon

Why, for the love of God, don’t governments utilize the most obvious solutions to solve their budgetary challenges whenever a global financial crisis hits, instead of defaulting to budget cuts that can appear either inept or mean-spirited?

Finance Ministers don’t set out to craft inept or mean-spirited policies during times of economic crisis, but that’s how it plays out in the media and in living rooms across the country or wherever people gather to discuss the economy.

In the UK, this manifests itself in the names that people call their political parties.

If government austerity cuts don’t affect you, you continue to call the Conservative Party by its rightful name. But if austerity hits you hard, then you’re one of those who’ve taken to calling the Conservatives ‘The Nasty Party’ — and they’ll never get your vote ever again, etc., etc. (Yes, I do empathize, BTW. But that’s not what this blog post is about)

It just depends upon which side austerity hits you.

And budget cuts (at least budget cuts perceived as unfair by a significant percentage of the population) almost always result in either a lost election or loss of parliamentary majority at the next election. Check out those stats! (You’ll see how true that statement is)

Theresa May’s ‘hung Parliament’ election result in June 2017 is 100% attributable to the UK austerity budgets that have been in effect since 2010, and hers is just one example out of many majority governments around the world that have suffered as a result of their austerity policies.


There IS a Better Way!

Due to market conditions, about every 25-years a recession comes along in the capitalist countries. You can almost set your clock by it. It’s the ‘nature of the beast — carry on’ is how recessions are described by economists, and nobody tries to prevent recessions, as such ‘resets’ help to prevent even worse economic crashes in the future.

Still, there’s a way for countries to survive economic downturns WITHOUT shooting themselves in the foot every day of the recession. (A novel idea!)

The public knows an economic downturn when they see it. In fact, they have enough experience in their own lives balancing family finances when times are good, let alone when domestic financial challenges appear such as a job loss or (suddenly) another mouth to feed. Therefore, they know the government must compensate whenever the country faces a financial challenge.

The question for governments is how to do it and not lose the next election. Or the one after that.

And the answer is; To do it fairly.

That is; Apply cuts that will be perceived as ‘fair’ by a majority of the public  — instead of deep cuts to some departments while other departments see no cuts at all, or worse, are able to increase their spending.

Does it seem fair to you while in recession that Health or Education should receive deep cuts, while spending on the military or the environment is unaffected? (I’m just using hypotheticals here for an example. Every Briton knows their military is chronically underfunded and few begrudge the UK military being exempted from budget cuts)

Back to the subject at hand; Every department in practically any organization on the planet has 5% ‘fat’ built-in to it. It’s just the way of organizations.

Budgets tend to be tightly managed in the first few years, then, over time, surpluses accrue or unused properties aren’t sold off as quickly as they could be, or in other ways there’s potential for either budget savings or revenue increases. Or, depending on the department, perhaps a combination of selling off unused assets and departmental savings could meet the new budget targets set by the government.

If you’re a large organization like the UK government and you expect your revenue to fall by 7% (for example) here’s the way to do it fairly!

Simply inform your departments of the 7% budget exigency, and instead of arranging deep cuts for some departments and zero cuts to others which sets the seeds for future electoral defeat, inform all departments to cut their budget by 7% — or alternatively — tell them to find ways to increase their revenue by the shortfall amount.

Let me be clear, if former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had simply told every government department in 2010, “We’re facing a 7% (or whatever percentage) cut in revenue, therefore, each government department must cut 7% from their annual budget until further notice,” each department would’ve done exactly that and hardly anyone would’ve noticed. (Remember, every organization/department already has 5% ‘fat’ in their system, so only a 2% budget challenge remains in this hypothetical example. At that point, accounting for the final 2% equates to selling off surplus real estate assets until that amount is obtained)

On the other hand, some departments might be real estate ‘heavy’ and could counter their entire 7% budget challenge by simply unloading their surplus real estate, thereby meeting the government’s directives to cut costs by 7% or increase revenues by 7% (or any combination thereof) to hit their departmental budget targets.

Wouldn’t that have been much better than the pain inflicted on the bottom-two economic quintile people in Britain (and which cost Theresa May a parliamentary majority) all of which has conspired to cheapen the ‘British brand’ around the world?

Read here, in the New York Times just how ‘fairly’ or ‘unfairly’ (depending on your worldview) the United Kingdom’s austerity plan has been portrayed around the world.

A country’s fortunes (fairly or unfairly) can rise or fall based on the perceptions of large numbers of people. Let’s hope that future UK budget cuts will not only be fair, but be seen to be fair by large numbers of Britons and by people around the world.

Full Citizenship for the Windrush Generation: What’s the Delay?

by John Brian Shannon

In 1948 during a time of labour shortages in the immediate postwar era, 492 Jamaican citizens (many of them children travelling with their parents) were permitted to board the Royal Navy troop ship HMT Empire Windrush to travel to Britain for the purpose of employment and residency.

At the time, they were promised eventual citizenship if they chose to stay in Britain and contribute to British society, or they could work for a time and return to their home country with some cash in their pocket. Their choice.

Since 1948, hundreds of thousands of ‘Afro-Caribbean’ people travelled to Britain to work and to live, contributing much to the country it must be said.

Many found work in the Royal Navy, in the National Health Service (NHS) and in other sectors of the economy during a time of unprecedented GDP growth and record low unemployment.


The 1971 Immigration Act

In 1971, a new law was passed by the UK House of Commons that limited the ability of people from Commonwealth countries to live and work in the United Kingdom — therefore, those people who’ve relocated to the UK since 1971 have done so under very specific legal terms and conditions and are not considered part of the Windrush Generation.

The 1971 Immigration Act stipulated that those from Commonwealth countries already living in the United Kingdom were granted the right to continue living in the UK indefinitely, but henceforth, new immigrants from the Commonwealth were required to have 1) a work permit and 2) prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK. — BBC News

Anyway, back to those who moved from Commonwealth countries to Britain during the 1948-1971 timeframe.

After contributing greatly to Britain in the postwar era and raising their British-born children and grandchildren in the UK and all of it done on the strength of a verbal promise by Britain’s government, some of them are having problems accessing government services, others have been threatened with deportation, (and yes, hard to believe) some have been incarcerated until their case was eventually adjudicated by faceless bureaucrats in the Home Office whose final decisions weren’t open to appeal.

Most of the Windrush Generation weren’t given any kind of documentation to prove their status in Britain in 1948-1971 and it seems that the Home Office won’t let them stay unless they can produce documentation to prove they’re legally in the country! Facepalm!

It almost seems like a spoof episode entitled, The Three Stooges: Bureaucrats on Acid.


How to Fix This Debacle?

Obviously, these people possess a birth certificate from their home country or they can access a copy of their birth certificate from their country of origin — and if they were born in a Commonwealth country and emigrated to Britain between 1948 and 1971 they should automatically qualify for British citizenship, have the same rights as any other British citizen, and be able to access the same government services as any British citizen.

Further, some might be owed an apology from the government for delays, arbitrary or wholly unfair Home Office decisions — and financial compensation should be paid in cases where disrespect or outright racism was displayed by Home Office employees.

Windrush people who have been seriously inconvenienced by Home Office staff (either deported or incarcerated for not being able to produce the paperwork that had never been issued by the Home Office in the first place) should expect to receive a payment from the government in the most egregious cases. But there needs to be a maximum cap on the amount paid per individual of £50,000 and the individual would need to sign documentation waiving any right to civil litigation on such matters against the Home Office or other departments of the government.


Children of Windrush

Any children born in Britain to the Windrush Generation are already British citizens, but if born outside the UK (obviously) are citizens of the country in which they were born — although their naturalized UK parents should be able to easily apply for them to become UK citizens at any future date.


Non-Windrush Generation Immigrants

Any non-UK citizen who wishes to live, work, go to school, or retire in the UK should be required to supply an up-to-date criminal records check from their home country with their initial application and pay £100 per year for the privilege of living in the UK, and supply their up-to-date phone number and home address to the Home Office via an easy-to-understand and easy-to-pay website that should take each individual less than 10-minutes per year to complete.

Windrush Generation people and their UK-born or UK-naturalized children would, of course, be completely exempt from such requirements and should henceforth be treated the same as any other British citizen.

Thank you again to the Windrush Generation for their work in building the United Kingdom that we see today. Well done!