New row looms with Europe over Northern Ireland trade

Boris Johnson

 Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks by a fleet of parked ambulances as he visits the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service HQ in Belfast on August 13, 2020.  

Photo credit: AFP

Ruminating about history, a character in Alan Bennett’s prize-winning play, The History Boys, described it as, “just one ******* thing after another.”

That could be the way a lot of British people are feeling about the history they are living through right now.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not gone away, but masks are much less visible, the media no longer headlines the issue, and the latest weekly total of hospital admissions was well down – 6,892 against 9,178 the week before.

So what is the history boy’s new (expletive deleted) thing?

Look around and take your pick: Fears of the Russian war against Ukraine taking on dreadful new, perhaps nuclear, dimensions? Worries over the cost of living, with the number of people struggling to pay for food rising by more than 57 per cent in three months?

Asylum seekers

Anger and shame over the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, mixed with apprehension at the high number of would-be immigrants crossing the Channel to these shores?

Or that old chestnut Europe?

A recent election in Northern Ireland raised the complicated question of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This requires checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland in order to allow an open border with the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the European Union.

The arrangement is part of the Brexit deal under which Britain left the Union. However, ministers have threatened to rip up the deal because it puts stability in Northern Ireland in peril. At the same time, there are fears the EU will use the unrest to seek a better deal for itself.

* * *

Millions of Britons who rely on cash for their everyday dealings are facing problems caused by the closures of banks and cash machines.

A new report by the consumer group Which? calculated that nearly a quarter of cash machines in the UK have vanished since 2018 and 4,685 bank branches have shut since 2015, with 226 more to go this year.

These figures represent a seemingly unstoppable trend towards digital banking. However, many people, especially the elderly, are uncomfortable with cash cards and online banking.

Which? said the disappearance of face-to-face banking was having a “devastating impact” on older, vulnerable and less mobile people.

It urged the government to reaffirm its promise to protect cash by announcing legislation next month.

The Federation of Small Businesses said 40 per cent of shops affirmed that cash was still the first choice of most customers.

* * *

Ask the inhabitants of these islands about important issues of the day and invariably their picture is dark and gloomy.

For instance, we believe that immigrants constitute about a quarter of the population, that 17 per cent of the nation are Muslim, that 18 per cent are unemployed.

Clearly an element of fear underlies these responses, but not only are they pessimistic, they are wildly wrong.

The reality is that immigrants are 11 per cent of the population and Muslims five per cent, while the true unemployment figure is four per cent.

Researchers say the public also overestimates the level of crime and the number of single parents and we think prisons are fuller than they are.

In other words, we constantly fear the worst.

The polling company, Ipsos Mori, suggests that these “misperceptions” as it calls them, derive from what is in the forefront of the news – usually topics such as rising immigration, numbers of terrorist incidents involving Islamist extremists, increasing unemployment and violent crime.

We fear these things, we worry about them and turn them into ogres.

We exaggerate the source of our fears.

Time to calm down. And, if possible, cheer up!

* * *

A nice story, but perhaps not for the old folks in my item about banks.

Tom’s cell phone quit as he tried to let his wife know that he was caught in a traffic jam and would be late for their anniversary dinner.

So he wrote a message with her number on his laptop asking other motorists to call her, printed it on a portable inkjet and taped it to his rear windscreen.

When he finally arrived home, his wife gave him the tightest hug ever.

“I really think you love me,” she said.  “At least 70 people called and told me so.”

* * *

There is a proper grammatical designation for sentences where the second half comes unexpectedly at odds with the first, but I cannot remember what it is and it’s not important anyway. What’s fun is reading the sentences.

I asked God for a bike, but I know God does not work that way, so I stole a bike and asked God for forgiveness.

The Evening News is where they begin “Good evening”, then tell us why it is not.

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”


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