It is a tradition that she has overseen in studied neutrality since assuming the position over 60 years ago, but - whisper it - the Queen’s appearance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in London yesterday bordered closely on becoming political.
Speaking in front of the leaders from the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth at Buckingham Palace yesterday, the Queen said it was her “sincere wish” that the Prince of Wales should continue the work started by her father by assuming her position as Head of the Commonwealth when she steps down.
Discussions about a formal succession are due to take place at Windsor Castle today. The speech was warmly received at the palace and talk of a rival claimant was nowhere to be heard. If anything, the mood was sombre for the passing of an era. President Akufo-Addo of Ghana offered a toast, “expressing the depth of our collective regret that she will no longer automatically be present at our proceedings.”
But in 2018, can such an explicitly governmental role be assumed to go hand-in-hand with the ticking over of a royal succession? Going one further, The Times this morning even runs with news of Charles’ “anointment” (£). Undoubtedly, a life spent in preparation for the role makes the Prince of Wales a more qualified candidate than anyone else. But viewing the leadership of the Commonwealth as a foregone conclusion misses an important opportunity to look again at the purpose and format of the organisation for the 21st century.
And the evidence suggests the jury may still be out. A Sky Data poll today reports that only 44% of Britons think the Prince of Wales should take over from the Queen, while 32% think it should instead rotate between representatives from other Commonwealth countries.
It is a novel idea, and one which should be given further thought as the UK also reassesses its international outlook in the post-Brexit age. The role may be largely symbolic, but I can think of few better endorsements of the UK’s commitment to the Commonwealth, and of an organisation that lives up to its namesake, by letting others take up the post.
The Telegraph reports that senior EU diplomats are set to “comprehensively reject” British proposals for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland, casting doubt on the UK’s ability to leave the customs union. During five rounds of technical negotiations in Brussels which included the UK’s lead Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, sources suggested that “none of the UK’s customs options will work”, and the UK government may be forced to remain in the customs union. (£)
A memo written by former FBI director James Comey has claimed President Trump held conversations with Vladimir Putin shortly after the US election, raising the possibility of communications channels between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. The memo was published by Associated Press as part of a series delivered to the US Congress in the ongoing Mueller investigation, which document conversations held between Comey and Trump in January 2017, and in which Comey comments that the president had “serious judgment issues”. Mr Trump responded to the claims by tweeting that the memos were “self serving and FAKE”. (£)
Sir Alan Parker, chairman of Brunswick, hasquit his roles as chairman of Save The Children International and Save the Children Association following allegations of sexual harassment. Sir Alan said that the decision was taken as the Charity Commission had opened a statutory inquiry into the handling of complaints by directors of Save the Children UK, regarding inappropriate behaviour by Brendan Cox, then policy director, and Justin Forsyth, then chief executive. (£)
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
A potential bidding war for control of Irish drugmaker Shire broke out into the open yesterday as it rejected a £42.2 billion takeover offer from Japanese rival Takeda. Shares in Shire, which had leapt 5.9% during London trading, closed lower in New York after US Botox-maker Allergan also ruled itself out later in the day. Shire has said it will remain in talks, in a deal which analysts value at up to $81 billion. (£)
The European Investment Bank has reduced the number of deals it has agreed with UK venture capital and private equity groups by more than two-thirds since the Brexit vote. According to internal documents reported in the FT, the UK accounted for eight per cent of the EIB’s equity investments in 2017, compared with 27% in 2016. The beneficiaries, with the highest share of funding in 2017, included France (19%), Germany (14%) and Italy (11%). (£)
Mark Carney has cast doubt on the possibility of an interest rate rise in May, following a stalemate in Brexit discussions and a recent series of weaker sales data. Speaking in London yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England commented that the Monetary Policy Committee included “some differences of view”, and that he was “conscious there are other meetings over the course of this year”.
What happened yesterday?
London stocks clung onto modest gains on Thursday as investors looked past disappointing monthly sales data, which showed an overall drop 1.2% in retail transactions, including a fall of 7.4% in fuel purchases. Supermarket sales fell by 1.3%, and department store Debenhams (down 1.32%) reported an 85% drop in half-yearly sales. By close of trading, the FTSE 100 stood at 7,328.92 points, 11.58 points – or 0.2% - higher.
Shire (up 5.89%) led the gainers on the FTSE 100. Marketing and advertising giant WPP (up 3.58%) was also buoyed on speculation that the departure of its chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell could spark a break-up of the firm.
Cigarette makers British American Tobacco (down 5.43%) and Imperial Brands (down 2.66%) were among the day’s biggest losers as Philip Morris said sales growth had slowed for its new product rangers, raising doubts about whether the companies can compensate for declining cigarette sales. Standard Life Aberdeen rounded off the fallers list, ending down 3.39%.
On the currency markets, the pound remained stable against the dollar at $1.42, but climbed 0.3% during the afternoon against euro to regain the €1.15 level lost earlier in the week.
Bank of Ireland Group
Bank of Ireland (Governor & Company Of The) Non-Cum Prf ‘A’ Liquidation
Byblos Bank Sal GDR (Reg S)
PAO Novatek GDR (Reg S)
Intl. Economic Announcements
(07.00) Producer Price Index (GER)
COLUMNS OF NOTE
Philip Collins comments in The Times that the current political chaos sparked by the Windrush crisis will only get worse after Brexit. Referencing Danny Boyle’s opening to the 2012 London Olympics as a positive vision of Britain as a country at ease with racial diversity, Collins suggests the government live up to their rhetoric of “Global Britain” by matching this with an equitable immigration policy as a bare minimum. (£)
Writing in the FT, Martin Wolf suggests a second Brexit referendum would only exacerbate current divisions in the UK. Brexit may not yet be a foregone conclusion, Wolf argues, but that only speaks to the divisions yet to heal in society.(£)
DID YOU KNOW
On April 18, 1930, the BBC news announcer had nothing to communicate. “There is no news,” was the script of the 20.45 news bulletin, before piano music was played for the rest of the 15-minute segment.
House of Commons
No business scheduled
House of Lords
No business scheduled
No business scheduled