World Review: Brexit, China, Korean famine and the French at large

In most China shops I have visited there has been a prominently displayed sign that reads: “If you broke it you own it.” The same sign needs to hang over the door of 10 Downing Street. Boris Johnson led the Brexit campaign. He was elected on a “Get Brexit done” platform. He and his Brexiteering cabinet have broken the British economy with shortages of food, gas, petrol, turkeys and even children’s toys; and yet they refuse to own responsibility for their actions. They blame it on the pandemic and international circumstances. To be fair, the pandemic and world conditions are major contributing factors, but Britain is suffering more than any other Western country and the reasons—as trade association after professional body keeps telling us—is Brexit. The fact is that Johnson and Co had no plan A, B or C beyond the exit door.

To make matters worse, the China (the world’s second largest economy) is battening down the energy hatches. Faced with a shortage of carbon-emitting coal, the government has imposed widespread energy blackouts causing hundreds of factories to suspend production. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party has decreed that energy companies should start purchasing stocks of natural gas, coal and oil “whatever the cost”. This will have an inevitable impact on prices and supplies elsewhere in the world and add to the problems caused by the potential collapse of giant Chinese property developer Evergrande.

China’s role as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon makes it a prime target for the COP Climate Change conference in Glasgow next month. Next on the list could well be Australia which supplies a big chunk of the coal that fuels Chinese power stations. Unfortunately both Australia’s Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison and China’s Xi Jinping have said this week that they are unlikely to make the trip to Scotland. The Chinese have refused to decouple climate politics from security considerations and are furious at the formation of AUKUS and the US-UK-Australian nuclear sub deal. Scott Morrison is also saying he may not attend. He offers the weak excuse that he is fed up with having to quarantine after foreign trips. But it is more likely that he doesn’t want to be castigated for his climate change denial policies. Another national leader who is unlikely to visit Glasgow is Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. He is steward of the world’s largest rain forest and an irredeemable climate change denier. The absence of these three key players would seriously weaken any decisions made at the summit.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is losing weight. This could be because his doctors have told him that his rolls of fat are a serious health hazard or that he is on a sympathy diet because of the famine that is sweeping through North Korea. People are dying from starvation and coronavirus. They cannot grow enough food to feed themselves and supplies from China have stopped as the Sino-Korean border has been closed because of the pandemic. At the same time, Kim has been firing off missile after missile. This could be to take the people’s mind off their stomachs and it could also be a stick to push the South Koreans into sending food northwards. As a carrot, Kim has suggested that the North-South hotline be restored and there is a suggestion from Kim’s politically active sister (Kim Yo-jong) that North Korea could agree to a peace treaty to formally end the war on the Korean Peninsula. So far, the North Korean leader has rebuffed American proposals for talks.

Attention is still focused on the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal and is spreading to French military interests elsewhere in the world. This week New Zealand said it would ban the submarines from its territorial waters; talks between the British and French defence ministers were called off and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was reconsidering its proposed trade deal with Australia. The French are stressing that they are more of a Pacific power than the British with 7,000 troops protecting two million citizens spread across several territories. This week the French also announced the sale of a frigate to Greece. Macron is painting the sale as a move towards a European defence agency by claiming it is meant to protect the Eastern wing of the EU. But this has not impressed either the US, the rest of NATO or EU partners because the deal is clearly aimed at supporting Greek claims in the Aegean over incursions by fellow NATO member Turkey. Then there is Africa. For several years France has had 5,000 troops supporting Sahel countries threatened by Islamic Jihadists. Joining them have been a limited contingent of British and Germans. But the war effort is unpopular in France, so Macron has announced a reduction to 2,500 troops with greater participation from other European countries. This has infuriated the Sahel governments. Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga told the UN General Assembly that France was abandoning his country and it was quickly revealed that Mali was turning to Russian mercenaries to replace the French. The first Russian helicopters and weapons arrived on Friday. France, Britain and Germany have warned the Malians that they are supping with the devil. If Macron plans to project international political power through the barrel of a gun, he must find a way of securing domestic support.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” was published on 15 October.

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18 Comments

  • Callum Hawthorne 3rd Oct '21 - 9:25am

    I think the answer to the first paragraph is that Bojo is the proverbial bull in the china shop. There is little vision beyond securing and maintaining power.

  • Nigel Hunter 3rd Oct '21 - 10:19am

    Mali–Bringing in Russian mercenaries. Mercenaries fight for money.Who is to say Putin does not pay them more than they are being paid at the moment leading to a coup.Macron playing politics could be a bad move.
    Chinese actions of closing factories leads to delay in goods coming to the UK as ships clog up the harbours. A person I know (computer geek) is waiting for parts to build a computer for his business.We need to become less reliant on Chinese goods.Small businesses in the UK (as in before the industrial revolution) could supply or needs with local power produced by wind ,solar or hydro.

  • He and his Brexiteering cabinet have broken the British economy with shortages of food, gas, petrol, turkeys and even children’s toys;

    The shortage of HGV drivers has little or nothing to do with ‘Brexit’. Since 2016 only 9,000 EU nationals have left the profession compared to 37,000 British drivers. There are currently around 28,000 EU nationals driving HGVs in the UK almost three times more than the 10,000 in 2010. Over the last decade drivers wages have risen by only 19% – half that of office staff (Source: All ONS).

    It was our membership of the EU ‘single market’ with its ‘free movement’ of labour which suppressed wages resulting in many drivers leaving and making the profession unattractive to young people. The shortage has been building for years and was brought to a head by Covid causing the cancellation of 40,000 tests while many drivers were retiring or switching to light delivery vans. The recent imposition of IR35 has not helped. The EU imposed Driver CPC is also a major reason why many drivers take early retirement or leave the profession. Outside the EU, we are now free to change the regulations to help solve the problem. The EU imposed limit on driver’s hours was relaxed for specified deliveries back in July and more recently driving tests have been streamlined to make 50,000 more available.

    Several EU countries have more critical shortages than the UK…

    ‘IRU report forecasts alarming jump in driver shortage in Europe’ [March 2020]:
    https://www.iru.org/news-resources/newsroom/iru-report-forecasts-alarming-jump-driver-shortage-europe

    According to IRU’s report, Poland and Romania are two of the most heavily impacted European countries. In Poland, driver shortage stands at 22% and is expected to jump by 15 points this year.
    In Romania, the situation is even more critical as the 50% driver shortage recorded in 2019 is foreseen to reach 62% this year.

    ‘Truck driver shortage crisis now spreading across the whole of Europe’ [2018]:
    https://www.bifa.org/news/articles/2018/dec/truck-driver-shortage-crisis-now-spreading-across-the-whole-of-europe

    In Germany, the DSLV transport union reports that in the next 15 years, two-thirds of drivers will retire. Germany is facing a shortage of 45,000 truck drivers, with around 30,000 leaving the profession every year. This compares with only 2,000 people receiving truck-driving qualifications each year.

  • nigel hunter 3rd Oct '21 - 1:27pm

    To entice people into being a driver does need to increase the wage.However other factors need to be improved The rest time also should be paid for,not just travel time.Facilities need to be improved at motorway services both food and rest (beds) areas.If the country is moving into a new era a lot has to change

  • John Marriott 3rd Oct '21 - 6:41pm

    It’s a pity that we have become so reliant on the HGV. We ought to have kept and increased our rail capacity for long haul transport journeys. It’s probably now too late to change.

  • Remainer Forever 3rd Oct '21 - 8:34pm

    I think this website rabidly is becoming UKIP Voice.

    Xenophobic, economic illiterate comments about EU workers ‘suppressing’ wages are now the norm.

    Besides, true liberals shouldn’t be supporting nativist protectionism – that’s called national socialism, not an efficient social market economy that liberals and LibDems should be aiming for.

  • Peter Martin 4th Oct '21 - 5:24am

    “Xenophobic, economic illiterate comments about EU workers ‘suppressing’ wages are now the norm.”

    It’s true that workers have always been concerned about “outsiders” coming in to lower their pay. Anyone, with no family connections, who tried to get a print job in the old Fleet St will know all about that. It wasn’t much easier in the old London docks. So it’s not just about foreigners or even about the EU.

    But you are quite right that immigration need not suppress wages. More workers will mean more aggregate demand which should push up the demand for labour. However, if government is unnecessarily restrictive in its economic policies and doesn’t provide the extra money into the economy, ie is running a too tight fiscal policy aka austerity, then wages will be suppressed.

  • Peter Martin 4th Oct '21 - 5:25am

    Cont/

    Under such circumstances workers will put two and two together and likely get the answer of five. They should be campaigning for higher govt budget deficits and a relaxation of fiscal policy but that’s never likely to happen. Instead it will be, and has been, the EU which has been the target. UK neoliberals who supported EU membership, and EU based neoliberals, have no-one else to blame but themselves for allowing this to happen both in the UK and the EU.

    At the moment wages are rising relatively quickly so it looks, from a UK perspective that having fewer EU workers is leading to higher wages. However, governments everywhere have been running massive deficits during the Pandemic. Those deficits mean that more of what the government has spent has stayed out in the economy giving more people more spending power. These didn’t cause inflation when lockdown restrictions were in force because there was much less opportunity for everyone to spend that money.

    But now that restrictions are coming to an end spending will increase, and inflationary pressures will build. Prices will rise and wages too. Workers will feel less need to move around in the EU to look for work. Which is at should be. The EU should not be encouraging the depopulation of the peripheral regions to provide cheap labour for the more prosperous central and Nordic countries. But as soon as we get back to something like normal the old austerity economics will return – so it won’t last.

    There will be a need for some fiscal tightening to control inflation but govts in the EU and the UK can’t be trusted to not overdo it and thereby bring about an economic slump. Especially if they tighten up monetary policy and raise interest rates too.

  • Jeff: “ Outside the EU, we are now free to change the regulations to help solve the problem. ”
    How are EU regulations arrived at?
    Who decides to introduce them?
    Which country was the most eager to bring in more regulations?
    Which country “gold plated” those regulations more than other?
    Look beyond tabloid headlines, in reality we had virtually absolute control over the introduction of new regulations, we only have to look in the mirror for the last two points.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Oct '21 - 11:33am

    The French are selling the Greeks ASW frigates, and the Germans are selling the Turks diesel electric submarines. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Andy Hyde 4th Oct ’21 – 8:48am:
    …we had virtually absolute control over the introduction of new regulations,…

    We had little control. Take eCall, for example. The Conservatives, Green Party, and UKIP were all opposed (for different reasons), but it was imposed on us anyway…

    ‘eCall – a New Big Brother Style Bug Technology Will be Introduced in Every Car from Next Year’ [May 2014]:
    https://www.carengines.co.uk/blog/ecall-new-big-brother-style-bug-technology-will-introduced-every-car-next-year/

    A new ruling by the European Commission has ruled that by October 2015, all new cars and vans sold across Europe must be fitted with the technology. […]

    UK has strong opposition to this new policy and in a letter to MPs, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill writes: ‘The basis for our opposition is that costs to the UK outweigh the benefits.

    ‘Unfortunately, there is very little support for the UK position and no possibility of blocking this legislation. We are working with other member states to minimise the potential burdens on manufacturers and the potential cost to consumers.’

    There’s a plethora of EU regulations for the government to get rid of, streamline, simplify, and in some cases tighten up (e.g. fire regulations for cladding material). They’ve made a start…

    ‘Wine-lovers to save £130m as Brexit frees imports from red tape’ [July 2021]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2021/07/25/wine-lovers-save-130m-brexit-frees-imports-red-tape/

    Each bottle could become 13p cheaper, according to the industry, thanks to the abolition of the VI-1 forms – a bureaucratic exercise which includes lab tests to verify the acidity of the wine, something which is not done for other drinks such as beer or spirits. […]

    Officials estimate the saving for consumers at £130m, while the industry believes it will save £100m on non-EU wines and avoid imposing costs of £70m on those from the continent. […]

    It has long argued that the paperwork is simply a barrier to protect EU winemakers from foreign competitors.

  • David Evans 4th Oct '21 - 12:31pm

    Jeff,

    Sorry but your one liner is just that – a bit of a joke.

    The problem wasn’t the EU regulation on cladding, but the total failure to implement it properly in the UK within the entire field of Building Control and Planning. That coupled with businesses deliberately aiming to mislead on the effectiveness of various products and the laxness of the British legal system, repeatedly over decades failing to hold businesses to account in so many areas – tax dodges, corporate negligence etc., shows how massively things have deteriorated from a society where justice was blind (even if having lots of money helped) to one where the whole system is deliberately skewed in favour of the rich, even before money comes into it.

    We are in a British made mess and getting out will only just begin once Boris Johnson and his toadys are consigned to the rubbish bin of history.

  • Peter Martin 4th Oct ’21 – 5:24am:
    immigration need not suppress wages.
    The price of labour is set at the margin just like any other market. If there is a plentiful supply of cheap labour then wages will be suppressed. if there is a shortage of labour then wages will rise. It’s what the Leave campaign said was happening. That was denied by remainers. Now we can see who was right. Since 2004, the distribution of hourly pay rates has become less progressive…

    ‘Low and high pay in the UK: 2019’ [October 2019]:
    https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/lowandhighpayuk/2019

    Over 10% of employee jobs were paid within 20 pence of the National Minimum Wage in 2019. […]

    In 2004, the distribution shows that many jobs were paying between £5 and £6 per hour, with the number of jobs being paid more than this gradually decreasing as hourly pay increased. By 2009 a spike of jobs being paid around the National Minimum Wage rate appears and becomes more pronounced in subsequent years with a large concentration of jobs paid within 20 pence of the National Minimum Wage in 2019.

    We can compare the UK with the Isle of Man where their Work Permit system prevents the free movement of most cheap labour into the country…

    ‘Results published for the Isle of Man Earnings Survey 2020’ [May 2021]:
    https://www.gov.im/news/2021/may/06/results-published-for-the-isle-of-man-earnings-survey-2020/

    Median earnings in the Isle of Man were 4.3% higher than the UK median. […]

    2.5% of employees earned the Minimum Wage, a reduction from 3.1% in 2019 and 3.4% in 2018.

  • Andrew Melmoth 4th Oct '21 - 2:53pm

    We have low pay and poor working conditions across whole swathes of the economy as a result of successive UK governments anti-union legislation and deregulation agendas. Leaving aside the bizarre spectacle of the Tory party posing as the party of high wages after a decade of cuts to the pay of public sector workers perhaps we should look to other European countries that have delivered above inflation pay rises to transport and logistics workers through sectorial agreements between unions and employers. Provoking a rolling series of inflationary crises across the economy hardly seems like the best plan to secure real terms wage growth.

  • John Marriott 3rd Oct ’21 – 6:41pm:
    It’s a pity that we have become so reliant on the HGV. We ought to have kept and increased our rail capacity for long haul transport journeys.

    Rail freight is still extensively used, but mostly for bulk cargo and shipping containers. The tonnage moved is around half what it was in the early 1950s with a fall in recent years due to the closure of coal-fired power stations…

    ‘Freight in Great Britain : Decoupling of freight demand from economic growth’:
    https://www.mdst.co.uk/freight-in-great-britain-decoupling-of-freight-demand-from-economic-growth

    As you say it’s mostly suitable for long-haul such as containers going to and from a port. A lot of goods transported by road are from regional distribution depots on pallets or multi-drop which would be uneconomic to move by rail particularly where inter-modal road journeys are needed at both ends.

    I guess Lincoln’s nearest rail freight terminal would be Doncaster?

    iPort Rail Doncaster:
    https://www.iportrail.com/

  • Jeff, British lorry drivers were EU drivers, you can’t just count continental drivers! My friend used to do a turnaround at Heathrow fro Devon in 2 hours, but since 1st January it’s been 17 hours, thanks to Brexit. Away from home and unpaid to sleep in and look after the lorry. No thanks.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Oct '21 - 3:01pm

    Regarding non-attendance at COP16, there will be consequences. Attendance cannot be forced though carrots might be useful if this government can use them effectively. The world needs to move towards penalties for not complying with agreed targets. Making environmental infringements a climate offence and extending the ICC or creating an environmental one will be necessary at some stage.

  • Peter Martin 8th Oct '21 - 1:52pm

    @ Jeff,

    “The price of labour is set at the margin just like any other market. If there is a plentiful supply of cheap labour then wages will be suppressed. if there is a shortage of labour then wages will rise.”

    You’re saying if there is a glut of apples they will be cheaper than if there is a shortage. This is true. But apples aren’t also consumers in the same way as workers are. Workers spend their wages but apples don’t spend the price paid for them. Workers create more of what they are paid to produce. Apples don’t.

    Having said this Govt needs to play its part too. So although more workers could make us all better off if Govt does that, the price of labour will fall if it doesn’t. This might suit some affluent Lib Dem workers in Richmond who are looking for a cheap nanny but it won’t suit the nannies!

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