Brexit apparently good for New Zealand says British Minister

As we watch Britain lurch ever more unsteadily towards Brexit, arguing with itself and with the French and German officials at the same time, U.K. officials are already starting to think about the trade negotiations with various Commonwealth nations waiting to be started. Come whatever eventually will on 01 November 2019, there is a British Government official saying that New Zealand has nothing to fear from Brexit and that the United Kingdom wants rapid talks to get underway once the process is done.

That will depend on how well the next several weeks go and what kind of U.K. we have on 01 November 2019. Will it be a U.K. that has some how managed to secure a Brexit deal against the shadow of the infighting, the legal uncertainty and the politicking? Will it be a U.K. now on the cusp of falling to bits as it reckons with a dodgy new post Brexit reality? Or will something nobody has foreseen happen?

On one hand trade deal between the two countries would be great and I suspect conducted on far more friendly terms than an American trade deal – if we ever get one with Washington – is likely to be done. On the other, I cannot help but get the feeling that it will be lost in the hullabaloo that is going increase by orders of magnitude, drowning out rational conversations especially if there looks like being no serious prospect of an exit deal that Britain AND the E.U. can live with.

New Zealand needs to be realistic. As much as we are liked and respected in London, there are plenty of other bigger, more interesting fish for the U.K. to cook, which will compete with New Zealand for the attention of U.K. Trade Secretary Liz Truss. Canada, Australia, India among others are going to be actively seeking out U.K. officials to put a good word in their ears about doing a deal with their countries.

But before any of this happens, we need to know what form of U.K. we are going to wake up to on 02 November New Zealand time. We need to know that they will be in a position to negotiate, which might not be so easy if a no-deal Brexit occurs and they find hard borders springing up around them. And if they can start negotiations, will the terms of reference involve things New Zealand holds dear like Pharmac’s independence, whether there will be changes to visas for New Zealanders with U.K. connections and so forth.

Another question is whether Britain goes to the polls again or not. And after the votes are counted will it still be shades of navy blue of the Conservatives or the bright deep red of Labour, or will the Liberal Democrats have managed to smudge their colours all over the country?

Time will tell.


Boris holding United Kingdom hostage

I have come to the conclusion that Brexiteers who are determined that Britain should leave, deal or no deal, are virtually holding the United Kingdom hostage. When the Labour Party actually has Conservative M.P.’s openly working along side it because they have realised that this is the only way some semblance of order can be maintained and are actively trying to derail the Prime Minister, is not there something seriously wrong?

Yes, sure Britain voted to leave the E.U. Yes it was meant to be done and dusted on 29 March 2019, but when the United Kingdom voted to leave on 23 June 2016, how many of the voters actually had a clue what they were doing?

My guess is not very many.

How many politicians actually honestly knew what they were doing? My guess is as a percentage, even fewer than the voters. But they voted “LEAVE” anyway, and now in 54 days time – barring a miracle – we will see… well… something. It might be what some think will be a knock out blow to the United Kingdom; or it might be a few weeks of turbulence that settles down and life for the most part trundles on.

But we don’t know what Mr Boris Johnson is thinking, except that one thing I think is certain: Britain will exit the E.U. in some form on 31 October 2019. And to that end, like some sort of deranged mad man, he is desperately plunging ahead, using whatever means he sees fit – suspending Parliament with the Queen’s permission was always going to cause a backlash, but did Mr Johnson see or think about who the casualties might be, and more to the point is he likely to anytime soon? Probably not.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May is not likely to be remembered kindly for her time at No. 10 Downing Street, but she might at least be recognized as continuing to push for a deal the entire time even if what she brought to the negotiating table was anything but palatable. Mr Johnson on the other hand is determined to have Britain exit in whatever form it finds itself on the day.

And maybe the ex-Minister who is thought to have deliberately leaked a document showing the very worst we could expect from Brexit was being a whistle blower on a potentially horrible outcome for Britain. A Brexit where just about everything at the becomes contentious. A Brexit where a hardened Irish border forms again, potentially pointing to a return of the Troubles. A Brexit where Scotland, which did not vote for Brexit decides now is the time to push for an independence referendum.

From here, like the rest of the world I can only watch and wait to see what happens next. I can only hope that in the worst case my New Zealand friends have thought to get a New Zealand passport organized so that their freedom of movement is not curtailed and that they realise what a great thing our passports are. I can only hope that some sense is seen and the determination that the next 7 weeks in British politics are not the end days of the U.K.


What the appointment of a buffoon as U.K. Prime Minister means for New Zealand

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges was right to do so when he called Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the U.K., a buffoon. Despite Mr Bridges later backtracking and calling it an endearment it was – coming from a conservative New Zealand politician – a surprisingly appropriate estimate.

So, what does Mr Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of an increasingly rabid Conservative Party, mean for New Zealand?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the appointment and noted that Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters has a warm relationship with him. Mr Peters, who was photographed last year with Mr Johnson trying out the phones at the War Rooms of war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill supports Mr Johnson’s pledge to exit the European Union with or without a deal on 31 October 2019.

But is Boris Johnson really the Prime Minister of the U.K. that New Zealand wants or needs to do business with? Granted that he might be forgiven for probably not having read the Defence Capability Plan that Minister of Defence Ron Mark released a couple of months ago, Mr Johnson’s knowledge of New Zealand government policy did not get off to a good start, suggesting that we might be about to purchase several naval frigates from the United Kingdom. Whilst eventual replacements for the frigates have been timetabled into the D.C.P., the timing is not until around 2028-2030, and no ideas about who might be given the contract have been mentioned as yet.

Mr Johnson’s promise of a Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and New Zealand is another potential stumbling block. The trade deal can only happen if the United Kingdom exits the European Union. Whilst this is likely to happen, it is likely to be subject to significant delay as the U.K. Parliament refuses to allow a no-deal Brexit to happen. As chief proponent of no-deal Brexit Mr Johnson is therefore going to find himself and the idea of no-deal Brexit severely challenged in the next few months.

Resistance to the policy platform of Mr Johnson is likely to come from other places as well. An enigma on U.K government policy, he has shown himself to be more liberal on issues around taxation and gay marriage despite being conservative, but at the same time consistently voting against measures to contain and reduce the United Kingdom’s contribution to the worlds man made carbon equation. Mr Johnson has also supported selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite substantial evidence that they are being used to commit war crimes in Yemen.

As a politician who has supported the highly divisive anti-immigrant and anti-European Union, Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party, Mr Johnson is not likely to win himself much support from the left – if any at all. As a politician seen to be cut from the same crude cloth of United States President Donald Trump, with a disregard for the establishment and the rule of law both domestically and internationally, Britain’s reputation as a leading light of the west could be in jeopardy if he swings too far to the right.

For a little country in the south Pacific that tries to comply with international law and maintain an emphasis on everyone having a fair go, Mr Johnson’s appointment might not be the most helpful thing the U.K. has done for New Zealand.



Cricket World Cup final one for the ages

Long after the last column is written about the 2019 Cricket World Cup Final, people will remember it for the drama. They will remember it for the extraordinary overtime – how one team came to be victors, and how the losers came to symbolise all that is good and great about the game: grace, composure, humanity. There may not be for a long time to come, such an epic Cricket World Cup Final as that which played out at the home of cricket over night 14-15 July 2019 NZT. It was truly one for the ages, irrespective of which team you were supporting.

Despite being massively disappointed with the outcome of this final, the fact that two nations who had never lifted it before the finalists, will make the time spent watching it despite knowing the outcome well worth the effort. The fact that they played scintillating cricket right throughout the match, driving it into the cricket equivalent of over time after managing to tie on the last ball of regular play and the fact that the Super Over has never had to be played before, makes it an utterly unforgettable match.

Could I be any prouder of New Zealand? Probably not. The boys gave it their absolute all. Stunned, shattered players who knew it could have gone either way, who could have never have anticipated having to play the Super Over, this will be one where they can say they left a bit on of themselves on the field. It will take awhile for them to get over this. And no one, absolutely no one, can blame them.

At one time or another a number of us have probably wondered what Martin Guptill was doing in the team. I confess to having doubts about his batting. His run out of M.S. Dhoni in the semi-final against India was brilliant, and gave people pause for thought. Unfortunately his batting woes were not so kind on him. But tonight can we just help the poor guy back on to his proverbial feet, and let him grieve the loss of what could so easily have been the greatest day in his career.
Spare a thought for Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain and batting maestro. On his short frame, the weight of expectation must have seemed immense. Calm and collected despite probably having a hundred different problems bouncing around in his head, I never once saw him express frustration with his players. But having to watch the match he had every reason to believe his team could win, slip away before his very eyes as a result of some unlucky events, he must have wondered what side the cricket gods were on.
Ross Taylor might not get another chance to be on a winning team. At 36 years, one of the greatest batsmen New Zealand has ever had is getting on towards hanging up his gloves. Several of the others including the king of swing Trent Boult and the other half of the old Tim and Trent show – Tim Southee – will be in or approaching their mid 30’s by the time 2023 comes around.

As for England, they have as much reason to be absolutely delighted with the outcome. England went into this tournament as one of the favourites. They had been enjoying a revival in recent years that was enough to make any team pause and think about their approach. This was going to be a great day for cricket irrespective of who won because neither team had lifted the World Cup before. But in the end someone had to win and someone had to lose. England were playing before vociferous fans on the home ground of cricket. Whether it was Eoin Morgan or Johnny Bairstow with the bat propelling England on their way to the target of 241, or Jofra Archer with the ball this would be England’s day.


Legacy of the Maybot – and what it means for New Zealand

British Prime Minister Theresa May quit on Friday night New Zealand time. After two tumultuous years at No. 10 Downing Street, during which time in equal measure she earned ridicule and contempt but little praise. Mrs May announced she was standing down on 07 June 2019. As New Zealand and the world watch to see who will replace her, it is useful to have a look at the legacy of Mrs May – otherwise derisively known as the “Maybot”.

It will be defined in part by a burning tower on a beautiful summer evening in London in 2017. The Grenfell tower fire was a man made tragedy that in large part could have been avoided, and will be better remembered in four parts:

  • the robotically cold officialdom that utterly failed to show any humanity;
  • the fire fighters who had to fight the fire and will be forever haunted by what they saw (watching a Youtube clip of them remembering the dead was hard on the eyes);
  • very obviously from across the broad spectrum of backgrounds they came, the victims themselves and their families who are no closer to finding out how this happened;
  • the many people who saw it and wondered how this could be happening in 21st Century Britain

This was Mrs May’s first big test and a spectacular failing of her leadership, her compassion and her ability to make anything politically useful out of the fire. Disasters are not meant to be political capital making exercises, but a public figure who pulls all the right levers in the appropriate time – high visibility, seen to be caring about the victims, offering what relief might be possible – and it can become a significant unintentional exercise in exactly that.

In New Zealand the Grenfell fire caused a brief ripple of concern about high rises in New Zealand that might have the same or similarly flammable cladding on them. And then, just as quickly, perhaps overtaken by our looming election, it dropped out of sight and I am sure many New Zealanders will have completely forgotten about it. In London that is not so easy.

As an Amnesty International member and activist, the willingness of the British Government to sell armaments to Saudi Arabia as the latter comes under renewed fire for its alleged war crimes in Yemen, this is like a cheese grater on my conscience. I can’t ignore it and the idea that a western nation admired and respected by New Zealand thinks arming war criminals to commit more war crimes really does not sit comfortably. I have tried to start, as well as sign numerous acts of activism against this in the hope that Saudi Arabia will put the cluster bombs and the American and British combat jets that were used to drop them on Yemeni schools, hospitals and houses, away.

But it will be that awful mess on the common table shared with the European Union that will define Mrs May. Call Brexit what you will, but can anyone honestly say nearly 3 years after the referendum and over two years since the exit process was triggered, that they absolutely know what needs to happen and how? I certainly cannot. From a New Zealand stand point it is as clear as mud, just like it was on the day the two year Brexit process began.

Because of its muddy clear clarity, I can offer you the following assessment: I have no idea what is going on, except that Boris Johnson wants Mrs May’s job and has said Britain will be – deal or no deal – gone by the end of October 2019. But with possibly up to 20 people challenging or considering challenging for Mrs May’s job, Mr Johnson must first get the job.

So, when Mrs May departs, she will – despite being warm to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and showing respect for the Christchurch mosque attack victims – largely be remembered for being a Prime Minister who operated in a fog as impenetrable as the Brexit mess she was handed, and will hand on to her successor.