I don’t know about you, but watching last night’s traumatising scenes on BBC’s Blue Planet Live of a seagull taking off with a baby turtle moments after it was released back into the wild may have been as ‘peak 2019’ as it gets for me.
So thank goodness, dear reader, for April Fools’ Day. In light of recent politics, and the fact live TV also now seems to have gone rogue on us, I’d suggest we take what little light relief we can get.
But when reviewing today’s papers for the best annual wheeze (a 2018 highlight being the EU’s trolling of Brexit Britain by introducing blue passports, for example), I was left questioning whether some of today’s headlines were really fact, fiction or just retweets from The Daily Mash. Take The Times. It today reports that the ‘Flat white’ sector has given the economy a boost (fact), alongside news that you can now enlist the help of a drone for dog walkies (fiction… I think). When you look around, the news – or perhaps just the headlines - is really quite absurd.
That the jokes this year have a political bent should come as no surprise. In a ruse that probably runs a bit too close to the bone for some of its pro-Brexit readers, The Telegraph jokes that this year’s fun has been prohibited by an archaic parliamentary order from 1653. And with no hint of humour, the article ends by saying, “Our message to the public is this: if you hear a spine-tingling warning on the radio about Brexit and leaving without a deal, it’s not a joke - it’s Government policy.”
True comedy, of course, is rarely make-believe. In a headline I spotted over the weekend that seemed too ridiculous by half, the Centre for European Research think tank estimates that the UK economy is now 2.5% smaller than it would have been following a Remain vote; which in real terms equates to about £360 million a week. I don’t think we need that emblazoned on the side of a bus to appreciate the irony.
MPs will vote later today on a further round of indicative votes affecting the UK’s departure from the EU. Among the amendments tabled for selection by the Speaker of the House of Commons are a customs union with the EU and a referendum on any deal which parliament may agree – both options which topped a first round of voting on March 27, but which failed to gain a majority. Voting is expected to begin from 8pm.
A series of election results in Slovakia and Ukraine have indicated a swing towards the Europhile centre. An anti-corruption and pro-EU candidate, Zuzana Caputova, yesterday won Slovakia’s presidential election, making herthe country’s first female head of state. In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy – a pro-EU candidate who is a comedian with no political experience – has won the most votes in the first round of the country’s presidential elections. Zelenskiy received 30.4% of the vote ahead of a run-off on 21 April.
Meanwhile, Turkish local elections have revealed a setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party with opposition parties claiming victory in Ankara and Istanbul. The elections coincide with an economic downturn in Turkey and were widely being viewed as a referendum of Erdogan’s record in office.
Japan has unveiled the name of its new imperial era to coincide with the accession of Crown Prince Naruhito on 1 May. “Reiwa” – signifying order and harmony – was announced yesterday by the Japanese Government’s Chief Cabinet Secretary by holding a up a board with handwritten characters on it. The highly-anticipated name, or “gengo”, is used by rulers to set the tone of public debate for upcoming decades.
Business & Economy
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has suggested a Labour government would create a competitor bank via a nationalised Post Office branch system. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show yesterday, McDonnell said the move would “protect community banking” at a time of branch closures and floated the possibility of retaining Royal Bank of Scotland in public ownership. He estimated that running “Post Bank” through the Post Office network could create up to 3,600 branches.
Mark Zuckerberg has called on government to play more of an active role in policing the internet. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Saturday, the Facebook CEO highlighted the need for regulation of harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. In a detailed list of proposals, he suggests this could include a common rule book for all social media sites, publishing tech ‘transparency reports’, and the inclusion of social media in electoral law.
Sara Thiam has been announced as the new chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI). Thiam, who is currently the director of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Scotland and a member of the Scottish Government’s newly-formed Infrastructure Commission, is expected to focus on skills, technology and tackling climate change. She succeeds Mark Bevan who stepped down in August.
The week ahead
Brexit will continue to dominate with parliament kicking off the week by voting on a further round of indicative votes later today. A majority in favour of a customs union, single market membership or a so-called ‘Common Market 2.0’ arrangement is likely to see currency markets respond favourably, whilst failure to agree a deal, or greater explicit support for no-deal, could undermine confidence. The markets will be closely watching the prime minister, however, who could attempt to hold a fourth vote on her deal as early as Tuesday, depending on MPs actions.
On Wednesday, US-China trade talks will lurch to their latest potential flashpoint when Beijing’s top negotiator, Liu He, travels to Washington DC. Trade tariff increases originally intended by the Trump administration to take effect from March 1 have been delayed, which economists now believe could be suspended if agreement is reached this week. The latest US employment figures will also be released on Friday.
Two diplomatic sideshows to keep an eye on include a visit to Italy today by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, alongside a three-day visit to Israel by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Euro-Italian elations are currently tense and could be further exasperated if an OECD economic survey expected later today delivers – as predicted – a damning view of the country’s finances.
Globaltrans Investment GDR (Reg S)
Belimo Holding AG
Big Sofa Technologies Group
UK Economic Announcements
(09.30) PMI Manufacturing
Intl. Economic Announcements
(08:30) PMI Manufacturing (GER)
(09:00) PMI Manufacturing (EU)
(11:00) Unemployment Rate (EU)
(13:30) Retail Sales (US)
(14:45) PMI Manufacturing (US)
(15:00) Business Inventories (US)
(15:00) Construction Spending (US)
(15:00) ISM Manufacturing (US)
(20:30) Auto Sales (US)
Columns of Note
The Times runs with an interview of BBC political editor Laura Kuenssbergdiscussing her take on Brexit and what it takes to access the most senior positions in journalism. Even though she was privately educated and studied at Edinburgh University, Kuenssberg makes the point that she is still treated as an outsider by certain parts of Westminster. (£)
In The Sunday Times business pages, David Smith wrote that a customs union with the EU may be on the horizon, and it shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to the UK’s trade growth. He suggests a key gap in public awareness is that a customs union doesn’t require the UK to sign to the EU’s common commercial policy, meaning it could seek some trade deals, principally in services, independently.
Did you know?
For each mile of British railway laid between 1820 and 1914, there was an average of three work related deaths.
House of Commons
Home Office (including Topical Questions)
Business Motion relating to the Resolution of the House dated 27 March
Relating to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from and future relationship with the European Union
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Animal Health, Seed Potatoes and Food (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Michael Gove
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Protecting against the Effects of Extraterritorial Application of Third Country Legislation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Dr Liam Fox
Blaydon quarry landfill site - Liz Twist
House of Lords
Link between anti-establishment politics and vaccine hesitancy - Lord Faulkner of Worcester
Ensuring all providers of short-term lets are identified by HMRC and are paying an appropriate amount of tax - Baroness Gardner of Parkes
Immediate steps to tackle the issue of rough sleeping - Lord Roberts of Llandudno
The analysis by the Office for National Statistics, published on 25 March, that nearly 1.5 million jobs may be at risk of being lost to automation and that those most at risk are female workers - Lord Fox
Report from the European Union Committee 'Brexit: the customs challenge' - Baroness Verma
Report from the International Relations Committee 'Yemen: giving peace a chance' - Lord Howell of Guildford
Report from the European Union Committee 'Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon programmes' - Lord Jay of Ewelme
No business scheduled
House of Commons
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (including Topical Questions)
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Banknote Diversity - Mrs Helen Grant
First Report from the Committee of Privileges - Andrea Leadsom
Consideration of Lords message
Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords]
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Geo-Blocking Regulation (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Greg Clark
Reform of business rates - Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
House of Lords
Forthcoming review of tobacco harm reduction - Viscount Ridley
Encouraging the use of precision agriculture techniques to reduce carbon emissions - Baroness Redfern
Reforming entry criteria for joining police forces in England and Wales - Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
Deployment of Russian troops in Venezuela - Lord Lee of Trafford
Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill - Third reading - Viscount Trenchard
Orders and regulations
Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2019 - Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
That this House takes note of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of NATO and its continuing role in the United Kingdom’s defence and security - Earl Howe
Topical Questions (if selected)
Stage 1 Debate
Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) (Scotland) Bill
Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Debate
Changes to Code of Conduct Rule
Stalking Awareness Week 2019 – Rona Mackay