Tuesday musings and the picture of the day…

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I’ve just returned from a long walk at dusk, right as the valley is disappearing into the low clouds and the drizzle accompanying them. It’s a very still night with nary a breeze, but the clouds still managed to appear from somewhere!

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After a day where I’ve been spent mostly glued to a computer and a screen it’s lovely to get out and enjoy the countryside – even if it’s not exactly behaving like the height of summer. The roads and paths are covered in shredded leaves and branches of various sizes as a result of the gales we had last week. The heavy rain’s merely added to the carnage. I’ve not even plucked up the courage to start sorting out the battered front garden yet – but then I’ve not had the time either.

Despite the fact we remain in lockdown it’s a busy time as I’ve several projects on the go. Yesterday I chose the shortlist for the photography competition at the Community Rail awards, with 97 photos whittled down to a handful. Next week I and the other judges will pick the final shortlist via Zoom. Despite Covid and the chaos it’s caused we’ve had no shortage of entries this year. Now i’ve the ‘It’s your station’ category to sift which has also had a record number of entries. Myself and Mark Barker (my fellow judge) are having a busy time going through all the entries before we start talking to the entrants.

As if that isn’t enough I’ve got several articles in the pipeline, including another one which has come about as the result of my last blog on the impressive progress with the new High Speed 2 railway.

All this means that I’m going to be glued to a desk and screen pretty much all of this month. Then I’ve household stuff to sort out – and an eBay account I’ve set up which I’m slowly loading with various railway goodies before I spring it on an unsuspecting world. Trust me – I’ll let you know when I do. To make time for everything else I’m taking a break from the time-consuming job of scanning old slides. After all, they’ve been waiting 20-30 years to see the light of day, another month isn’t going to matter!

OK, let’s head over to todays picture of the day, which (this time) comes from glorious Greece in 2001. It’s a place Lynn and used to visit regularly, especially when she ended up managing Actionaid’s Athens office for several months!

I love island hopping by ferry and here’s one place that’s very impressive when you arrive by sea – Santorini! This is the view from Fira town, with a couple of cruise ships moored in the flooded caldera of the original volcano, whilst tourists relax by one of the swimming pools built into the crater sides.

T11902. Swimming pool and crater. Santorini. Cyclades. Greece. 26.9.01crop

I must admit, on a damp July day like today, I’d love to be right here, right now…

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6th July picture of the day…

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I took today’s picture in Indonesia in July 1992.

T3933. Craters and mist at Mt Bromo. Java. Indonesia. July 1992crop

This unearthly landscape is Mount Bromo which is in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java. The picture shows Mount Bromo crater, Mount Batok, and Semeru. It was taken from the edge of Segara Wedi (the “Sea of Sands”) atop Mount Penanjakan. You can walk here in a few hours from the nearby village of Cemoro Lawang, which is where most people stay overnight as you get up very early to make your way to the crater edge for sunrise. It’s one of the most surreal landscapes I’ve seen as – at first you’ve no idea what you’re going to see as it’s dark – but it’s certainly worth the trip.

The volcanoes here are still very active and have erupted several times recently in 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2015.

I was here travelling on my own and I have to say I rather fell in love with Indonesia. I’d arrived in Java by ferry from Sumatra, then made my way overland by bus and train from Jakarta via several stops before catching the ferry to Bali, where I stayed for a few weeks before making my way by ferry and bus through the islands of Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Komodo and finally to Kupang, Timor before flying out to Darwin, Australia. It was an epic trip which one day I’ll get around to writing about. I doubt very many people still travel that route nowadays due to visa restrictions and cheap flights!

If you want to see more of my pictures from Indonesia, just click on this link.

 

 

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5th July picture of the day…

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OK, this one combines railways and travel.

Back in 2011 Dawn and I visited Vietnam as a side trip from time in Thailand. It’s a country I’d always wanted to visit so we made it happen. Sadly, I took my eye off the ball somewhat as I’d got a lot going on at the time, which meant I didn’t do the research I should have. We flew into Bangkok and had a great time in balmy temperatures. Knowing we’d be coming back, we left a lot of our clothes in a hotel storage room. Big mistake..

We flew out of Bangkok and arrived in Hanoi to a real shock. The weather was bloody freezing. Hanoi was more like the UK in January than Thailand and we’d not brought the right clothing and I’d only brought sandals! We were so cold we ended up sleeping in our clothes for several days. It was so bad I had to go out and buy some enclosed shoes. As I didn’t want to waste any money (I’d only need them for a couple of weeks) I bought the cheapest pair of trainers I could find. They were shiny white plastic of the sort you’d expect to see a pimp wear – but who cares? Well, at least they gave Dawn a laugh!

Whilst we were in Hanoi I took this picture. Talk about ‘the railroad runs through the middle of the house…

DG72015. D19 E-921. Hanoi. Vietnam. 8.1.11.crop

I have to chortle when I remember stuff like this, then think about the Nimbys in the UK who’re objecting to the fact our new rail line (HS2) will ‘ruin their lives’ by passing 100s of metres away! If you want to see the rest of the pictures from our trip. You can find them in this gallery.

 

 

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High Speed 2 (HS2), the project’s picking up the pace…

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I thought it was about time that I wrote another blog about HS2 as, finally, after years of arguments. delays and uncertainty, the project is very much underway.  After 11 years of planning and preparation, HS2 finally received ‘Notice to Proceed’ in April. Now, even seasoned observers like myself find it hard to keep track of progress as the speed and scale of events means it feels like there’s a new announcement on progress every week – despite the Covid hiccup. It’s easy to miss things, after all, this is a massive project that’s around 124 miles long and that contains dozens and dozens of worksites (large and small) covering a whole range of activities. There’s archeological surveys, utilities to divert, vegetation clearance, mitigation works, the establishment of site compounds as well as some major civil engineering ready for the launch of tunnel boring machines of the construction of viaducts and bridges.

What I’m going to do in this blog is give an overview of what’s happening where, as well as some of the major announcements that have taken place in the past few months. If you want to find details of work being carried on in specific areas, HS2 Ltd have an excellent website called ‘HS2 – in your area’ which keeps people along the route up to date. You can find it here. This blog is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure there will be some things I’ve missed because of the sheer size of the project.

Firstly, let’s look at some of the major announcements.

2nd July. The contract for the overhead power lines on phase 1 and 2 a to Crewe is announced.

Worth around £300 million the system will cover 589 single track kilometres, including 62 viaducts, 293 bridges and 15 tunnels

24th June. Birmingham Curzon St station construction shortlist announced

The following companies were shortlisted for the contract to build the £570m contract to build the station.

BAM Ferrovial (a joint venture consisting of BAM Nuttall Ltd and Ferrovial Construction (UK) Limited)

Laing O’Rourke Construction Limited

Mace Dragados (a joint venture consisting of Mace Limited and Dragados S.A. UK Branch)

The station recently became the first HS2 station to gain planning approval. It’ll be net zero carbon in operation and adopt the latest eco-friendly design and sustainable technologies, including capturing rainwater and utilising sustainable power generation, with over 2,800m2 of solar panels located on platform canopies.

22nd June. Telecoms supply contract announced. 

The winner of the contract – worth around £300m – will be responsible for the design, manufacture, supply, installation, safety authorisation, testing, commissioning and initial maintenance of the operational telecommunication systems and the route wide security systems on Phase One and 2a, between London and Crewe.
The scope of the work includes 2,760 km of fibre optic cabling, 140 trackside cabinets, dozens of equipment cabins and radio coverage across 230km.

11th June. Pictures of the massive site where the Chiltern Tunnel boring machines will be launched from were released

Anyone thinking that work so far has been small beer about grubbing up a few hedgerows or diverting a few water mains were in for a shock when these pictures were released. The site at South Heath in Buckinghamshire is massive (136 acres) – but it’s escaped attention because protesters have ignored it so haven’t drawn attention to it. Hardly surprising at it shows just how ineffective they’ve been.

South Portal

The two TBM’s that will be launched from the site in 2021 are currently under construction in Germany.

28th May. Cleveland Bridge Co supply girders for the first major HS2 bridges at the M42.

Another solid good news story as a British company supply pre-assembled steel bridge sections.

26th May. Details of the Chiltern Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) under construction in Germany are released

Two of these state of the art machines are being built by Herrenknecht in Germany. 170m in length and weighing around 2000 tonnes apiece, the machines will run virtually non-stop for three and a half years.

20200506_074237

19th May. Old Oak Common station gains planning approval. 

Set to be the largest new railways station ever built in the UK, The station will have 14 platforms with a mix of six high speed and eight conventional service platforms. Expected to be used by around 250,000 passengers each day it’s set to become one of the busiest railway stations in the country when it opens.

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15th May. The signalling contract is announced

The contract covers the design and build of the signalling systems between London, Birmingham and Crewe and up to 25 years of technical support.

4th May. Track systems contract is announced

The search is on for specialist contractors to deliver around 280km of state-of-the-art high speed track between London, Birmingham and Crewe – although Contracts covering rail, switches and crossings and pre-cast slab track systems will be awarded separately – with the track systems suppliers coordinating the design and installation.

1st May. Curzon St is the first HS2 station to gain planning approval.

Three planning applications for the new station and the surrounding landscaping were approved by the Council’s planning committee on 23 April, with the Council’s report concluding the station design “is truly world class”.

On the same day, it’s announced that…

Birmingham Interchange becomes the first railway station globally to achieve the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ certification – a measure of sustainability for new and refurbished buildings – putting it in the top 1% of buildings in the UK for eco-friendly credentials.

Of course, work continues at both the Curzon St station site in Birmingham and at London Euston and the surrounding streets where demolition of many old properties that have to be removed to make way for the new station has already been completed. Here’s a excellent time-lapse video from Network Rail showing the demolition of the old Western ramp up to the parcels deck atop the station.

Whilst the big announcements catch the eye there’s continual progress on the ground as the project gathers pace towards its biggest and busiest period which will be between  2024-25. That said, there’s plenty to look forward to in the next couple of years. The first tunnel boring machine is set to be launched later this year.

Contractor BBV plans to start creating the tunnel under Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire at the end of 2020.  This includes the creation of a compound and upgrading Ridgeway Lane to support the future transportation of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). In autumn, the TBM will be delivered to the Welsh Road main compound via the upgraded Ridgeway Lane. It will be transported in parts and assembled on site.
Following assembly of the TBM, tunnelling will start in December 2020. BBV will bore two tunnels under the wood, emerging near the A452 and Dallas Burston Polo Club. Once completed the TBM will be removed from site.

So, as you can see, there’s a huge amount going on, despite the temporary hiatus caused by Covid. It’s not all about Phase 1 and 2a either. On the 23rd June the DfT issued new safeguarding instructions for Phase 2b whilst on the 26th outline details were revealed of the HS2 route wide ground investigation’s programme for phase two – a contract estimated to be worth up £250 million and delivered in up to 8 years.

And what of the protests and opposition to the project? It’s generated a lot of hot air and some media attention but achieved nothing. Not a single HS2 worksite has suffered serious disruption or been closed down for more than a day – despite the claims to the contrary. The half dozen protest camps are tiny with many under the constant threat of eviction. One has to wonder how the handful of protesters think they can stop the largest construction project in Europe when they can’t even stop themselves being evicted! Extinction Rebellion did organise a walk along the route from Birmingham to London but this only attracted a few dozen people. The irony was that whilst they were wasting show-leather on this futile exercise they weren’t able to disrupt any work on the HS2 sites! Such disruption have reached farcical levels, such as their last stunt where a solitary protester glued his hands together through an unused gate on the Denham work site. The level of disruption he caused for the couple of hours before he was removed was zero! Some like to paint the protesters as ‘heros’. Anyone who’s watched their antics on social media knows the truth about their (often) abusive behavior, assaults on HS2 staff and destructive antics. You can read about the whole sorry saga around Harvil Rd in this statement which was attached as evidence to back up the latest High Court Injunction.

It’s the same with the Crackley ‘protection’ camp. Whilst they did cause disruption, they didn’t stop any work from being completed and the camp is now pretty much redundant as the last few trees that need to be removed to make way for HS2 will be cleared at the end of the nesting season.

Attempts to disrupt HS2 in the courts have also failed. Hero Grainger Taylor’s attempt at a judicial review about the Camden cutting was rejected by judges on the 5th June, with no realistic chance of an appeal. (link).

‘Environmentalist’ Chris Packham is in court again this next week when judges will hear his crowdfunded appeal on the 8th July. Expect this to end in another humiliation as nothing substantive has changed. Here’s what the judges said last time.

HC Packham

No doubt I’ll be blogging about this after the event!

Apart from Extinction Rebellion’s ineffective efforts there’s nothing going on. Campaign  group (and I use that term very loosely indeed) StopHs2 are moribund and irrelevant with nothing going on apart from ‘rent a quote’ Rukin giving the occasional pointless, blustering interview. With the Government desperate to get the economy back on track and inject some life into it HS2 is needed more than ever – a point those opposed to the project refuse to grasp.

As soon as restrictions on visits are relaxed I’m expecting to be able to bring you some updates from worksites along the route so watch this space as this exciting project  continues to gather momentum in scope and scale.

 

 

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4th July picture of the day…

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I’d hoped to have been able to blog today but we’ve had a busy day out and about picking up supplies for Dee’s parents, which meant a trip out to Huddersfield and also into Sowerby Bridge. This gave us chance to observe ‘Super Saturday’ as some sections of the media are calling today due to the fact so much of lockdown has been rescinded, allowing pubs, restaurants and hairdressers (amongst others) to reopen.

Us? We’re steering well clear of licensed premises of any variety right now – and having seen some of the antics first hand, I believe it’s not a question of ‘if’ there’s going to be a second spike, more a question of just how bad it’s going to prove.

The Wetherspoons in Sowerby Bridge has reopened. Looking at it from the car as we passed it looked like God’s waiting room – in more ways than one…Huddersfield wasn’t too bad. We passed several pubs where a small number of drinkers were making the most of the new found freedom – but in a responsible fashion. Mind you, the weather here in West Yorkshire’s been pretty crap today with drizzle being the main feature. We did see one pub in Waterloo that looked like disaster waiting to happen with groups of blokes swilling lager outside with no concept of social distancing, whilst young families with kids running in and out of the pub sat next to them. Having seen TV footage of even worse scenes in London I really do wonder what the rest of the world thinks of us. Meanwhile, a half-cut Stanley Johnson (yes, the PM’s father) gives an interview to a TV crew in Greece, the country he’s buggered off to on holiday – yet again proving it’s one rule for them and another for everyone else. Is it any wonder ordinary people are ignoring the rules now?

OK, enough of my spleen-venting. Here’s the picture of the day.

In 2002 Lynn and I visited Brazil for business and pleasure. At the time Lynn was working for the international Charity ‘Actionaid’. On reflection, it was one of the happiest times of her life. We decided to tag a holiday onto the trip and I flew out with her as I one of the projects she would be visiting was the infamous favela (shanty town) known as the ‘City of God’ – which was later featured in a famous film. I was going to be helping with a photography project but in the end it was agreed that it would cause too many problems if I went into the favela with a camera as it would mean the local groups would have to compromise themselves with the drug barons who called the shots. I could write a whole blog about our experiences there as it was one of the most threatening places I’ve ever visited, even though we were escorted by favela residents.

After the work trip the two of us headed off up North and visited Recife, then flew to a very special place, the beautiful island of Fernando de Noronha

which is out in the South Atlantic. Brazilian colleagues had recommended it as a ‘must see’ and they weren’t wrong. The island is rich in wildlife, has some stunning beaches and a fascinating history.

T13890. Cachorro and Conceicao beaches. Fernando de Noronha. Brazil. 16.08.2002crop

This view shows Cachorro and Conceicao beaches which are dominated by Morro do Pico which is the tallest part of the island, standing 323 metres above sea level. If you want to see the full selection of pictures from our Brazilian adventure, you can find them here.

 

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Picture of the day…

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My apologies for not having the time to blog about anything in depth much recently, but there’s just too many things for me to do – despite the Covid paralysis. I’ll get back to commentary soon (I’ve a large blog on HS2 half-written) but right now I’ve paid writing and a load of  judging to do.

What I will do to keep you entertained is make the picture of the day a daily feature. It may be of railways, it may be from some far-flung part of the world that I’ve been to – or it might be about some social issues or even just a pretty picture that I’ve taken. Whatever it is – it will have a story and be personal to me. So. here’s today’s.

T3300. Sadhu in the square. Bhatakpur. Kathmandu valley.Nepal.1992crop

The expression ‘don’t try this at home’ springs to mind. This picture was taken in Bhatakpur in Nepal back in 1992 when I was spending a year travelling. A old Sadhu (Holy Man) was displaying his prowess in Yoga to earn a few rupees. What was impressive was the fact he kept this posture up for way over an hour!

 

 

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Brexit: a ‘game’ of consequences plays out towards the end…

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With the planet in the midst of a global pandemic I’ve pretty much stayed away from blogging about politics, despite being sorely temped to vent my spleen at the populist stupidity on display in countries like the USA, Brazil and of course (to a lesser extent) the UK. I’ve also avoided talking about the looming deadline of Brexit. Well, haven’t most people? Their attentions have been elsewhere. The problem is, whilst everyone’s been looking elsewhere, the clock hasn’t stopped ticking and the Government has made sure of that by its mad insistence that – whatever happens – there will be no extension to the transition period, so on the 1st January 2021 we’re out, deal or no deal.

It’s becoming increasingly likely that ‘no deal’ is exactly what we’ll have…

Of course, the Governments narrative is that will be the fault of an intransigent EU. That narrative will be backed up by the Brexity newspapers like the Mail and the Express, and a lot of people will fall for it, both because they want to – and also because – if Brexit has shown one thing, it’s how ill-informed the majority of the population are about politics in general and the EU in particular.

Here’s a stark warning of what’s about to happen. You won’t find it covered in detail in most of the media – if at all. It makes too uncomfortable reading for some. This is the full text of a speech delivered (over Zoom) to Eurofi, which is a European financial think tank – by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, yesterday;

“My sincere apologies for not being able to join you in person.

As you may know, we agreed with the UK to intensify our negotiations, starting this week. We do this to give the negotiations every chance of succeeding.
I continue to believe that an agreement is possible.

The EU will work for this.
We will remain calm, pragmatic and determined until the very end.

Because of the new negotiation agenda this week, I have had to reschedule many meetings.
But I wanted to address you this short video message all the same.

These are difficult times.
The coronavirus pandemic has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.
Global and EU economies have been hit hard.

Amid the uncertain outlook, I understand you would like clarity on the Brexit negotiations and the ongoing process for assessment of equivalences.

So let me tell you briefly where we stand on these two points.

As you know, the key instrument to regulate interactions with the UK financial system will be our equivalence regimes.
These are autonomous, unilateral tools.
And, as such, they are not part of our current negotiations.
I will come back to these in a moment.

Next to this, as part of our negotiations, we are proposing to include, in our future agreement, a chapter on financial services, in line with what we have in other Free Trade Agreements.
Our proposals would give UK operators legal certainty that they would not face discrimination when establishing themselves in the EU.
And the same for EU operators in the UK.

The UK, however, is looking to go much further. I will be blunt: its proposals are unacceptable.

Firstly, they would severely limit the EU’s regulatory and decision-taking autonomy.
For instance:

 The UK is seeking to create a legally enforceable regulatory cooperation framework on financial services in our agreement.
 It is attempting to frame the EU’s process for withdrawing equivalence decisions; trying to turn our unilateral decisions into co-managed ones.
 It wants to limit the scope of the so-called prudential carve-out.

There is no way Member States or the European Parliament would accept this!

Secondly, the UK is trying to keep as many Single Market benefits as it can.
It would like to make it easy to continue to run EU businesses from London, with minimal operations and staff on the continent.
For instance:
 It wants almost free reign for service suppliers to fly in and out for short-term stays (‘Mode 4’).
 It proposes provisions on the performance of back-office functions that could create a significant risk of circumvention of financial services regulation.
 It wants to assimilate British audit firms to European ones to meet ownership and control requirements.
 It wants to ban residence requirements for senior managers and boards of directors, to ensure that all essential functions remain in London.

Let me be clear: The UK chose to no longer be a Member State.
It chose to leave the EU Single Market and stop applying our common ecosystem of rules, supervision and enforcement mechanisms.
In particular, it refuses to recognise any role for the European Court of Justice.

These choices have consequences.
The UK cannot keep the benefits of the Single Market without the obligations.

In the EU’s view, our future cooperation should be voluntary and based on trust.
We would like to set up a voluntary framework for dialogue among regulators and supervisors that would allow for intensive exchanges on regulatory and prudential issues.
We already have well-functioning dialogues of this kind with other major financial services jurisdictions.

As for the equivalence assessment process, which is under the responsibility of Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis and led by experts in DG FISMA:
As you know, the Political Declaration committed us to “best endeavours” to finalise our respective assessments by the end of June.
The European Commission has therefore sent questionnaires to the UK, covering 28 areas where equivalence assessments are possible.

So far, the UK has only answered 4 of these questionnaires.

So we are not there yet.

These assessments are particularly challenging.

Firstly, because they have to be forward-looking, given the UK’s publicly stated intention to diverge from EU rules after 1 January 2021.

Last week, the UK published a paper on its future regulatory framework for financial services.
This is a useful document. We are now analysing it in detail to gain clarity on how UK rules will evolve.  But let us have no illusions: The UK will progressively start diverging from the EU framework. This is even one of the main purposes of Brexit.

Secondly, the size of the UK financial market and the very close links between the EU and UK financial systems mean we need to be extra careful.

We need to capture all potential risks: for financial stability, market integrity, investor and consumer protection, and the level playing field.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I know that many of you would like the level and ease of access to our mutual markets to remain the same.

I know that many hope our equivalence decisions will provide continuity.

Many believe that “responsible politicians” on both side of the Channel should make this happen.

But things have to change. The UK and the EU will be two separate markets, two jurisdictions.

And the EU must ensure that important risks to our financial stability are managed within the framework of our Single Market ecosystem of legislation, supervision and jurisdiction.

Having been Commissioner for financial services, I can reassure you that I know well the EU’s capital markets and the role of the UK in some parts of that market. As does Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis.

However – especially in the context of Europe’s economic recovery – we must look beyond short-term adaptation and fragmentation costs, to our long-term interests:

Building our Capital Markets Union. This means strengthening our independence when it comes to financial market infrastructures;

Further deepening the Banking Union and;

Fostering the international role of the euro.

And so, we will only grant equivalences in those areas where it is clearly in the interest of the EU; of our financial stability; our investors and our consumers.

What does this mean in practice?
It means that you need to get ready for 1 January 2021!

We now know that the transition period will not be extended.  The EU was open to an extension. But the UK refused. It is the UK’s choice.

So, 1 January 2021 will bring big changes.

UK firms will lose the benefit of the financial services passports.

This should not come as a surprise to you. We have been warning about this for the past 3 years.

Furthermore, as you know well, in some areas – such as insurance, commercial bank lending or deposit-taking – EU law does not provide for the possibility to award equivalences that would grant market access to third-country firms.
In these areas, if British firms want to provide services in the EU, they must ask for an authorisation in the EU. Or comply with all the relevant national regimes of those EU Member States where they want to continue to be active.

Nothing in the agreement that we are negotiating will change this!
These are automatic, mechanical consequences of Brexit.

If you are not yet ready for these broad changes that will take place – whatever happens – on 1 January 2021, I can only urge you to speed up preparations and take all necessary precautionary measures!

I know how mobile and dynamic the financial industry is.

I trust in its capacity to adapt to new times and continue to contribute to developing the Capital Markets Union and Single Market for financial services.

We cannot do this with regulation alone.

You all have a crucial role to play. As of now.

Let us look to the future not with fear of the unknown but with confidence in our well-regulated and supervised markets.

Thank you to all of you for your attention. And thank you, David, Didier for your invitation.

I hope to see you in person next time! ”

To recap one very important point “So, 1 January 2021 will bring big changes.
UK firms will lose the benefit of the financial services passports”.

This is going to be devastating to the UKs financial sector and it didn’t need to happen at all. Instead, it’s about to happen in the midst of a global pandemic, when firms are struggling to cope with the consequences. It is utterly, utterly mad, but it’s solely the British Governments decision and no-one else’s.

Covid 19 has caused the worst contraction to the UK economy in 41 years.

Every day we get news of more companies shutting. Today TM Lewin announced its closing all its UK stores whilst sandwich seller Upper Crust has warned 5,000 jobs could go. Yesterday Airbus announced 1,700 UK jobs will be going. The list is growing every day and Brexit is only going to make that worse. We’re the only economy that’s doing this to itself, no-one else is that stupid.

Still, all these newly unemployed folks will be able to get work abroad, won’t they? Oh, wait, the Home Secretary and Tory backbenchers are taking great delight in announcing that Freedom of Movement is ending on January 1st.

patel

If you ignore the obvious oxymoron in the first sentence, you’ll notice a glaring omission. Freedom of movement is a two way street. The Government is boasting of ending OUR freedom of movement too – and it’s worse. Much worse. The EU 27 know they’ve had their freedom of movement reduced by just one country. We’ve had ours reduced in the opposite direction. We’ve lost it to 26 nations, not 1. Yet many Britons still seem blissfully unaware of what’s about to happen – and don’t even start me on the utter stupidity of retired folk owning homes in countries like Spain and Portugal who voted Leave….

Of course, due to the Government making a mess of handling the pandemic, many thousands of Britons have already had their freedom of movement removed. Permanently.

Despite the richness of the English vernacular there simply aren’t enough expletives to describe the utter shit-show this country has become over these past few years.

Meanwhile, the political game of “look over there” is played out in Government as Johnson announces his economic ‘new deal’, comparing it to FDR’s new deal in America in the 1930s. In this deception he’s relying on an uncritical media and an ignorant public. Not only is the £5bn he’s announced peanuts in comparison, it’s not even new money. It’s yet more re-announcements of earlier spending commitments. The BBCs ‘Fact Check’ blew the whistle on this here. It makes depressing reading as the scale of Johnson’s con is laid bare. For example…

fact check

But the party faithful will lap it up, and it will work as yet another dead cat as the arguments over it detract from the unfolding coronavirus scandal and Brexitshambles until its too late.

How I wish I could get the hell away out of this mess and watch it unfold from somewhere where it had no impact on me. Sadly, we really are caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment. But only one of them is truly of our own making, not that those responsible seem in the slightest bit willing to take responsibility for it. This is like being trapped in a slow motion car crash. You know the result will be awful for all those involved – including yourself – but you are utterly powerless to stop it…

 

 

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Too much to do…

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So much for Sunday being the day of rest! Sometimes I envy those people who can sit with their feet up on a Sunday because they’ve nothing to do. Today’s been a mix of DIY, researching articles, scanning pictures, ploughing through emails and dodging showers whilst exercising.

The weather here has couldn’t have been less summer-like. We’ve had heavy rain and gusting winds, which has made walking through our local woods adventurous to say the least! The amount of broken branches and leaf detritus that’s evident makes you nervy to say the least. I felt as twitchy as Corporal Fraser in the opening credits to ‘Dad’s Army’.

Dawn’s been just as busy too as today was the final day of her ‘virtual retreat’ so the living rooms been pretty much out of bounds to me as it was converted into Dee’s gym and yoga centre (amongst other things)…

Another thing I’ve been working on is a long HS2 blog detailing what’s going on with the project right now – which is a huge amount. I’ll try and get it finished tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll end with…

Picture of the day.

T9675. The Alfred High school. Alma Mater of Gandhi). Rajkot. Gujarat. India. 13.02.2000crop

This is another from the series of pictures from India that I’m swapping between with railway shots from 1995. The picture was taken on the 12th February 2000 in Rajkot, India. The building is the Alfred High School, which was founded on the 17th October 1853 during the days of the British Raj. Why was I interested in taking pictures of the school? Because of an old pupil, who changed the course of history. His name? Mohandas K Gandhi – although most people only know his last name…

 

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More stormy weather…

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We’ve had a fun day here in the Calder valley as the weather really hasn’t known what to do with itself. One minute the valley’s blanketed in murk, then that clears to welcome clear blue skies, then the next apocalyptic cloud front appears to literally darken our door and the heavens open for a few brief minutes before the sun’s cracking the flags again!

If nothing else, it’s been fun to watch. Dawn’s into day 2 of her ‘virtual retreat’ but we did get out for a walk together earlier, kitted out in waterproofs and with brollies to start with, then the sun arrived so we stripped off, then the rain came back! Still, it keeps us fit – and occupied, plus – it’s glorious to watch the skies change as we have a grandstand view. Here’s how the skies over Sowerby Bridge looked like earlier as the next storm blew in.

storm

Whilst Dee’s been busy on her retreat I’ve been keeping myself occupied researching articles and sorting out old images, which brings me on to…

Picture of the day

Here’s another one from India. This one was taken in Rajkot in the state of Gujarat on the 11th February 2000. I’ve always loved Indian street scenes. You just never know what’s going to appear. I often find a strategic location to sit and wait to see what might catch my eye. It doesn’t normally take long for something of interest to happen, especially as Rajkot’s a busy little place with people flocking in from the countryside to bring their produce to market.

T9638. Women sit atop sacks on a motor rickshaw. Rajkot. Gujarat. India. 11.02.2000crop

Here’s a group of women sitting atop their wares as they arrive into town on the back of a three-wheeler which is the front end of a motorcycle with a trailer tacked on the back.  They’re very common in the countryside but you used to see a variant even in New Delhi back in the 80s-90s where a Harley-Davidson was converted into a taxi trike. They were almost always driven by Sikhs and plied specific routes around the capital. They were horribly polluting so they were banned many years ago but out in rural areas these contraptions still exist.

If you want to see the rest of the pictures from India that I’ve added to my website, follow this link, which will take you straight to the India gallery.

 

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If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us locked-down freelances need all the help that we can get…
Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Stormy weather…

The run of glorious sunshine we’ve had these past couple of days has come to an abrupt end thanks to the arrival of some very unsettled weather. Today we’ve had blustering clouds that didn’t amount to anything, clear skies and sunshine where the UV was akin to Superman’s X-Ray vision and finally, a thunderstorm that produced lots of noise and torrential rain, but little lightning – which was rather disappointing as I do love a good storm. For most of the day I was trapped inside, slaving away over a hot laptop as I researched some articles and also sorted out a variety of old pictures. As is often the case the day flew by and the Friday night quiz seemed to come around in no time. This week we extended it as Tony Allan had some old copies of the ‘Pub Paper’ so we went back to what was topical in 2015 – which seems like another world now.

This weekend Dawn is on another ‘virtual retreat’, so I’ll be staying in the background and working on various different projects whilst trying not to get in Dee’s way. After all,  it’s not like I’ve nothing to fill my time with.

OK, enough of the present, let’s move on to today’s…

Picture of the day.

This is a very special place and one that I would dearly love to go back to, although it’s harder than it used to be, which is rather odd in this day and age.

T7623. Storm over Maninjau lake. Sumatra. 1992.

This is Lake Maninjau in West Sumatra, Indonesia. I took this in (I think) July 1992. It’s an absolutely stunning place. The lake is actually inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. I stopped here for a few weeks during a trip overland through Sumatra and used it as a base to visit the Mentawai Islands (another long story and pictures) during a year long -solo trip in 1991-92. This was taken from the verandah if the little homestay I’d found a room in. You can see the clouds boil in over the edge of the caldera on the opposite side of the lake approximately 4km away as a storm came in from the West. You could relax as you knew it would be at least another 20-30m before it reached our side of the crater.

When I did this trip I caught a ferry from Georgetown in Malaysia to Medan in North Sumatra, then travelled overland by bus via Lake Toba and across the Equator to Maninjau. Nowadays the ferry’s finished and visa restrictions mean few travellers come here anymore.

I’ll explain more tomorrow when I have time to add to this blog. In the meantime, if you want to see more pictures of Sumatra, follow this link.