12th September 2019
Written by Scott Reid (Associate Partner)
Blessed be the fruit. Margaret Atwood's The Testaments arrives in print, as Scott Reid picks up on a worrying trend in our literature to capture our current political anxieties.
Praise be! A fresh copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments in hand, and a chance to escape into a world ravaged by constitutional revolution and dystopian chaos from, well, much the same really, now that I think about it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Britain in 2019 is about to plumb the puritanical depths of a patriarchal tyranny like the Republic of Gilead – a nightmare imagined successor to the modern day United States, for those unfamiliar with Atwood’s 1985 prequel, The Handmaid’s Tale. But in a week where we’ve seen Scotland’s highest civil court brand our prime minister’s attempts to prorogue parliament illegal, the government preparing for panic on the streets of any which UK city you care to pick as part of its no-deal Brexit preparations, and the newly minted Sir Geoff Boycott suggesting he doesn’t “give a toss, love” about historic violence against women, you have to wonder. Moreover, whether or not you care for Atwood’s catastrophising of what possible worlds await us – and judging by the comment pages of The Spectator, she’s already ruffled some feathers – you have to admit that literature has a canny knack of revealing each generation’s deepest-held anxieties. (On that theme, I can also thoroughly recommend Robert Harris’ prophetic interview in The Sunday Times just past.) Anyway, I digress. Back to our daily dystopia… Yesterday was a bumper day for Brexit news as the government scurried out a press release late last night containing a five-page summary of “Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions”, after the House of Commons voted to force its hand on Tuesday. Despite the government’s protestations to the contrary, its predictions – including shortages of food, fuel, and medicines, and three months of expected border delays – look curiously similar to details splashed by The Sunday Times last month. The Scottish Court of Session’s judgement yesterday has kicked off quite the war of words between Tories north and south of the border. Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng yesterday suggested the ruling would make “leave voters… [begin] to question the impartiality of judges”, a notion that colleagues on several sides were quick to denounce and distance themselves from. In today’s The Times Red Box, SNP MP Joanna Cherry writes that questioning the courts was “the kind of behaviour one would expect in a dictatorship”. Go figure. Reality really is stranger than fiction sometimes.
Jeremy Corbyn has rejected proposals tabled by his Labour deputy, Tom Watson, for the party to back a Remain vote in all circumstances and press for a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU before the next general election. Meanwhile, The Times reports this morning that up to 20 Labour MPs are preparing to support a repeat vote on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement if it returns to the House of Commons. Labour MP Harriet Harman has also announced her candidacy to replace John Bercow as speaker of the house.
White House officials have suggested the departure of John Bolton as national security adviser has helped clear the way for an Iran-US nuclear deal. Ahead of a joint meeting later this month, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani urged Donald Trump to “put warmongers aside” when choosing Bolton’s replacement. In response, Trump suggested the US was “not looking for regime change. We hope that we can make a deal and if we can’t make a deal that’s fine too.” (£)
The dissolution of Canada’s parliament yesterday has marked the official start of campaigning ahead of a general election on October 21. Despite securing a record 148 seats in 2015, prime minister Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberal party is currently trailing the Conservatives in opinion polls. Trudeau was recently found to be in violation of ethics laws after he pressured the attorney-general to terminate a criminal prosecution against engineering company, SNC-Lavalin.
Business & Economy
The Financial Times reports that the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) is poised to reject a £29.6 billion merger proposal received from Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) yesterday. LSEG has since said it remains committed to progressing its proposed $27 billion acquisition of data and trading group, Refinitiv. Under City rules, HKEX is now required to make a firm offer by October 9. (£)
Sir Martin Sorrell has suggested his digital advertising start-up agency was on course to double in size by 2021 after securing several high-profile clients. S4 Capital, which Sir Martin founded after his departure from WPP in 2018, has signed deals with Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Sprint. Sir Martin has also indicated S4 Capital intends to acquire two new agencies, one in the UK and the other in South Korea. (£)
A consortium led by Babcock International has won a tender process to build new Type 31 frigates for the Royal Navy. The Ministry of Defence has pledged to buy at least five of the warships, also hoping to sell them to other governments. It has aimed to award the £1.3 billion contract by the end of 2019, with the first ship expected to begin sea trials in 2023. Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard and Glasgow’s Ferguson Marine Engineering are considered to be among the likely manufacturing sites.
What happened yesterday?
Positive developments in ongoing trade negotiations between China and the US helped the London market finish firmly in the black on Wednesday, after the Chinese finance ministry exempted 16 US products from additional retaliatory tariffs. The FTSE 100 was up by 0.96% at 7,338.03 points, whilst the pound fell by 0.24% on the dollar at $1.23, but was up on the euro by 0.22% at €1.12.
The London Stock Exchange Group was the FTSE’s high flier after Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing tabled a £29.6 billion offer for the company. LSE shares ended the day up nearly six per cent, retreating from earlier gains of 10%, which analysts suggest may indicate some investor scepticism in the offer despite early fanfare.
AstraZeneca (+1.02%) was up after Citi rated its stock ‘buy’, as was JD Sports Fashion (+3.43%) whose shares continued to benefit from well-received interim results on Monday.
Following a receding of fears surrounding the UK economy on the back of positive economic indicators, and hopes that a no-deal Brexit may be avoided on October 31, shares in housebuilder Persimmon also rose (+4.02%).
Whats happening today?
Igas Energy Morrison (WM) Silence Ther.
Atlantis Japan Miton Global Montanaro Providence Res. Reneuron Scancell Holdings Trident Resour WHIreland Xps Pensions
UK Economic Announcements
(00.01) RICS Housing Market Survey
Intl Economic Announcements
(13:30) Producer Price Index (US) (15:00) Wholesales Inventories (US) (15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
Columns of Note
The New Yorker’s Campaign Chronicles column looks at the lingering appeal of Bernie Sanders to the youth vote in the early primary state of Iowa. Despite losing to Hillary Clinton last time, Eren Orbey suggests Sanders has a chance this year as the Democrats begin to speak to the youth vote as “co-organisers” instead of an age bracket to be pandered to with tokenism and gimmicky merchandising. (£)
In the Financial Times, Philip Stephens suggests German voters have never really bought into Euro integration, partly because they’ve never needed to. Instead, Stephens points out that the euro project is a relatively hidden area of German political debate and has always been intended to target elites in the country’s financial capitals who influence policymaking behind the scenes. (£)
Did you know?
During the First World War, due to a shortage of cotton, German Army uniforms were made of stinging nettles.
House of Commons
No business due to prorogation. Will next sit on Monday 14 October.
House of Lords
No business due to prorogation. Will next sit on Monday 14 October.
First Minister's Questions
Members' Business Scotland's Drug Death Public Health Emergency - Monica Lennon
Portfolio Questions Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
Justice Committee Debate Post-legislative Scrutiny Report on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012
TOMORROW House of Commons No business due to prorogation. Will next sit on Monday 14 October. House of Lords No business due to prorogation. Will next sit on Monday 14 October. Scottish Parliament No business scheduled.