i’d call it “absolute chaos & moronic bedlam,” myself

‘Utter rubbish’: Theresa May incredulous at Michael Gove’s Brexit claims
Groon, Oct 20 2020

Theresa May has expressed contempt for the government’s post-Brexit policing plans by appearing to mouth “utter rubbish” as Michael Gove declared the UK could do “better” without joint law enforcement operations. The former prime minister made her feelings known as Gove claimed the UK could “cooperate more effectively” in many areas over border security outside the EU than “we ever could inside.” She was caught on camera grimacing and mouthing an incredulous “what?” when Gove said the UK had “a variety of methods and arrangements open to us, open to Border Force and open to our security and intelligence services” after Brexit. A PA Media reporter in the Westminster press gallery said that off-camera May also appeared to mouth “utter rubbish” as Gove went on to explain the no-deal contingencies.

Why worry about no-deal Brexit? If Gove says it’ll be better that’s good enough for me
Marina Hyde, Groan, Oct 20 2020

Lorries on the A256 north of Dover, Kent, taking part in a trial of potential
post-Brexit traffic problems, Jan 2019. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP

The Derbyshire village of Coton in the Elms is the place farthest away from the sea in all the United Kingdom, suggesting it cannot be long before it is selected by Boris Johnson’s government as a border site. We are soon to be so in control of our borders that we will establish them in places long prevented from being borders by such iniquitous entities as the EU, and physical geography. In recent weeks, the government has announced exciting plans for “inland border sites” in places such as Warrington, Birmingham and Epping Forest. There will be no place too landlocked to be left out of lorry tailbacks and additional layers of red tape, previously the preserve of coastal elites, suggesting the government’s levelling-up agenda is already deeply and meaningfully under way. In Kent, near what was once the so-called border, any 7,000-lorry queues will be equipped with state-of-the-art roadside amenities such as portable toilets, stand-pipes, and receptacles in which to dispose of plastic waste or hitchhikers. In Suffolk, the Financial Times reports that Felixstowe, Britain’s biggest container port, has been ground to a virtual halt in peak hours by Covid restrictions, and a shortage of labour to respond to them. Happily, Felixstowe has a high-level adviser in the shape of … hang on, let me get my lorgnette … ah yes, a Mr Chris Grayling. You may be familiar with his work. No doubt he comes very highly recommended.

In retail, the Tesco chairman has warned that fresh food shortages could last for up to “a few months” post Brexit, sure to enchant the only populace in the world who got this far through this year of pandemic and thought: how can we make this a bit extra? How can we make the experience more immersive, more internationally eyerolled, more character building? Or to put it another way: how on earth can we still have one foot left? Be a love and pass us the gun. Meanwhile, home secretary Priti Patel continues her plans to deter migrants from making Channel crossings by placing UK processing borders as near as Ascension Island and Papua New Guinea, as well as with such things as wave machines and floating walls. Consider this Total Wipeout: English Channel Edition, and accept that Netflix buying it would mean we could tick the “Global Britain” box at a stroke. We could become the leading exporter of dystopian factual entertainment content, sure to make up for losing everything else. In the meantime, you will recall the recent row as to how stories such as the wave machine and so on were making it into the public domain, which took in conspiracy theories such as the notion that Patel’s long-suffering civil servants were having grotesquely terrible ideas on purpose, to make her look stupid.

Given this full-spectrum sunny outlook, which is all slated to unfold whether there’s a deal or no deal, it was really no surprise to find Michael Gove explaining yesterday evening to the Commons that the UK could actually provide “better” security for its citizens without even joint law enforcement operations with the EU. Clearly, the millstone of access to live passenger data and the European arrest warrant is a mere hindrance to UK police and intelligence services, who Gove knows will regard it as “better” to guess which flights suspected criminals are on, and “better” to wait over a year to extradite fugitives in complex ways as opposed to completing the process in a frictionless couple of months. Taking an alternative view, however, was Theresa May, who asked the question that provoked this interesting response, and was subsequently caught on camera mugging the word “WHAT?!?!” May’s post-career commentary is certainly becoming far more entertaining than her playing days ever were, rather like her idol Geoffrey Boycott. As for Gove, what you can say? I remember being in one of the hideous post-debate spin rooms during the 2010 general election, when Michael was barrelling round trying to condemn Nick Clegg for having referred on air to the recently deceased Polish president’s far-right party as “nutters”. Gove kept repeating to anyone who’d listen:

This is the sort of comment that no one who wants to be taken seriously should utter.

What a long way we’ve come. Michael Gove himself utters three comments less serious than that every time he goes on air. We’re talking about a man who declared, back in May, that he had “on occasion” driven to test his eyesight. He is arguably the leading expert in unserious comments. And thanks to Michael Gove, we know what Britain feels about experts. Random fibs/expertise he uttered at the dispatch box last night included the suggestion that Michel Barnier’s offer to intensify the abandoned Brexit talks was a “constructive move” that he welcomed. As it goes, despite the EU seemingly meeting every one of the UK’s demands to restart talks, Downing Street immediately insisted it won’t return to the table.

Again we come back to that word, “seriously,” which like many vocabulary items that have had the misfortune of being co-opted by this government of chancers, now only seems to mean its opposite. This is an administration where sarcastic air quotes come as standard. According to every representative of the government who has honked on to the airwaves over the past fortnight, the EU has not been negotiating “seriously.” And yet, has a country ever acted less seriously than the UK has spent the past four years doing over Brexit? Around the world we are viewed with the ironic bemusement of which we used to regard ourselves the leading exponents. The UK is now the only entity which takes the UK seriously. It is the sort of crackpot place where some artless third-tier cabinet minister is sent to stand up in its own parliament and confirm the government’s plan is to break international law, in order not to adhere to the terms of its own treaty, which it told everyone was a triumph, then fought and won a general election on the implementation thereof. Back in April, a cabinet minister insisted to the Times:

We’ve built a hospital in nine days, they can do a Brexit deal in nine months.

Well, it won’t be long before we find out how that one went, though perhaps it is mildly relevant to consider that Downing Street and its chief negotiator, David Frost, did not themselves physically build any Nightingale hospitals. If they had done, it would surely be a place designed to make its patients feel seriously worse, with serious medicine shortages by design, where accidental amputations are dressed up as a fantastic opportunity to live with fewer limbs, and which was staffed by nurses who wear the uniform with all the reassurance of Heath Ledger’s Joker. And 10 minutes after cutting the ribbon on it, they would blow the whole place up to prove a point. We know this is an administration that has always loved a catchphrase. But of all the ones by which to be governed, we surely drew the shortest straw with “why so serious?”

Business Associate of Government ‘PPE Tsar’ Awarded £300k Contract
Sam Bright, Byline Times, Oct 20 2020

Deighton at the launch of the National Infrastructure Plan 2013. Photo: Yui Mok/PA

A company with close business ties to Lord Paul Deighton, the Government’s ‘PPE Tsar,’ has been awarded a £300,620 deal for the supply of human resources (HR) to his department, Byline Times can reveal. The HR firm Chanzo Limited was granted this deal on Aug 25, a redacted Government document shows. The contract relates to the provision of services between Apr-Sep 2020, seemingly drawn up four months after the work began. The contracts spells out the scope of work, including the provision of a full-time chief-of-staff role to the PPE Tsar, alongside the provision of a temporary HR team, assisting in the selection of PPE suppliers, and helping to organise a “new PPE organisation.” Chanzo is majority-owned by Jean Tomlin, who has worked closely with Deighton for several years. The pair are both directors of Hakluyt & Company (until this year called Holdingham Group) a “strategic advisory” firm based in London.

Deighton sits as chairman of the company, while Tomlin holds a non-executive director role, having been appointed in Sep 2018. Their alliance seems to stretch back to the 2012 London Olympics, when Deighton was appointed as CEO of the organising committee. Soon after Deighton assumed his role in Dec 2005, Tomlin was appointed as director of HR, workforce and accreditation, serving in the position until Apr 2013. After the Olympic Games, Deighton was nominated to the House of Lords and appointed as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury by David Cameron. Tomlin, meanwhile, was awarded an OBE. The close working relationship between Deighton and Tomlin is emphasised on Chanzo’s website. Tomlin’s profile features a glowing endorsement from Deighton, which reads:

Aside from being a true leader with a passion for delivering excellence, Jean has a proven track record of operational delivery in senior roles and a wealth of Human Resources expertise. I remain a firm advocate of her business acumen, which is a unique blend of expertise.

Chanzo’s PPE contract was formally awarded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which had previously appointed Deighton as PPE Tsar on Apr 19. The former Goldman Sachs investment banker was tasked with filling the country’s rapidly-diminishing stockpile of health equipment, a situation that was putting health workers at risk. Deploying its budget of £13.8b, the Government claims it has purchased more than 32b items of PPE, accumulating a four-month stockpile. However, despite this apparent success, there have been questions raised about the nature of the Government’s spending splurge.

Primarily, the suitability of certain suppliers has been scrutinised. The Government commissioned thousands of companies to supply PPE at rapid speed and some of the firms seem to have odd backgrounds. For example, Byline Times has revealed that a month-old firm, a company owned in a tax haven, a dormant company, and several firms linked to an evangelical sect have all been awarded Government deals worth millions of pounds. It has also been difficult for journalists and MPs to understand these deals, with the Government’s modus operandi to divulge as little information as possible. Although Byline Times revealed last week that one company had been paid £2.3b for the supply of PPE, only a small proportion of this spending had been released on the Government’s contracts portal. In sum, it is believed that Boris Johnson’s administration has failed to release more than £3b worth of PPE procurement contracts, now the subject of a legal battle between campaigners and the Government. Ministers have even been intransigent to scrutiny from MPs, several of whom have seen enquiries ignored by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister.

This hasn’t helped to quell widespread concern about the recipients of the Government’s procurement binge. Especially when, as exposed by Byline Times, at least £364m in PPE contracts have been awarded to firms with ties to the Conservative Party. In the case of Deighton and Tomlin, the latter clearly has a wealth of HR experience, and the pair will benefit from an established working relationship. However, any suggestion of seemingly closed-shop agreements paid for with taxpayer cash does not counter the perception that many deals have been awarded to friends of Johnson’s regime. Lord Deighton and Chanzo Limited did not respond to a request for comment.

Government Gives Arms Industry Extra Tens of Millions of Pounds During COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Stein, Byline Times, Oct 20 2020

BAE-SYSTEMS-scaled-910x0-c-defaultThe fourth Astute-class nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Audacious, outside its
indoor building complex at BAE Systems in 2017. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA

The Ministry of Defence has forked out hundreds of millions of pounds to its favoured clients in 2020, in the face of the economic ruin caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Byline Times investigation has revealed multi-million-pound contracts signed by the MoD surged by more than £30m between Apr-Jul 2020, despite the economic toll of the Coronavirus pandemic. In comparison to 2019, the ministry’s 10 top contractors, headed by BAE Systems and Babcock International, took in an extra £32m worth of profits from contracts with the MoD. The MoD paid the 10 companies a total of £712.4m for contract work in just four months, in comparison to £679.6m in the same period the previous year. Statistics firm Statista revealed that these 10 companies were the MoD’s “leading suppliers” in 2018-2019. While contract data is vague, some of the expenditure has been traced back to the industry giants. BAE Systems, which was the highest paid MoD contractor in 2018/2019, received £200m worth of funding towards its dreadnought submarine work in the six months leading up to Jun 2020. Much of that period was spent under lockdown, which began in England on Mar 23. The documents do not disclose when exactly the £200m was spent on the submarine fleet.

The dreadnought submarines, expected to cost £7.2b by the end of production, will replace the Royal Vanguard class of submarines, which carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Overall, BAE took £353.9m of the MoD’s money between Apr-Jul, an increase of more than £45m on the same period in 2019. The British security and defence firm, which refers to the MoD as its “main customer” in its most recent half year report, has been criticised repeatedly for exploiting the much-publicised ‘revolving door’ of government positions and the arms industry. BAE’s chief lobbyist, Oliver Waghorn, previously worked as a special advisor to Conservative MP Liam Fox while he was Defence Secretary. Under Prime Minister Theresa May, Fox was then made International Trade Secretary, which involves managing trade regulations with other countries. BAE continues to secure large contracts with countries including Saudi Arabia. In August, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) said:

A disturbing number of senior government officials, military staff and ministers have passed through the ‘revolving door’ to join arms and security companies. This process has helped create the current cosy relationship between the Government and the arms trade, with politicians and civil servants often acting in the interests of companies, not the interests of the public.

In total, BAE made £559m worth of profit in the six months leading up to Jun 2020, according to its half year report. The scale of the UK’s arms exports, from 2015 to 2020. The two countries which received the most exports were Saudi Arabia (£5.4b) and the USA (£2.8b). Data from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade
Campaigners have called for the nuclear deterrent, also known as Trident, to be scrapped for moral and economic reasons, with the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying last year that she has “a moral objection to weapons of mass destruction.” Byline Times’ investigation further suggests that the defence industry is a top priority for the Government. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the expenditure on these 10 firms dwarfed the Government’s expenditure on ventilators as the virus peaked. According to a National Audit Office report published in September, £569m was spent on ventilators during the pandemic, in comparison to the £712m spent on defence contracts with these 10 companies alone. Andrew Smith, a spox for CAAT, which monitors and campaigns against the UK’s arms industry, told Byline Times:

This report helps to expose the warped priorities of Government. The COVID crisis has been mishandled from the start, yet Government has continued to spend huge sums on extravagant military projects that do nothing to protect us from real threats like financial instability and pandemics. Once the crisis is over, there must be a full evaluation of UK security policy. It cannot be right that billions of pounds are being spent on aircraft carriers and weaponry, when nurses and doctors have struggled to get protective equipment. Our security is strengthened by building a fairer and more equitable society, and by investing in public services, not by lining the pockets of arms dealers.

Questions should be asked about why the Government worked to keep money flowing into the arms industry at the height of the pandemic, despite the economic shock of the virus leading to businesses around the UK suffering, and some closing. Annual statements by contractor Babcock, the second-highest earner from the MoD in 2018-2019, reveal that its work in the defence industry was “declared to be critical and our people designated as key workers” during the pandemic. In a statement, the company’s chief executive, Archie Bethel, said:

All of our major sites remained open.

Key workers during the pandemic included doctors, nurses, teachers and policemen, and other workers who provide an essential service to the UK. Babcock’s contracts with the MoD include a substantial £1.25b agreement signed last November to produce five frigate ships for the Royal Navy. The contract will come to an end in 2028. An MoD spox told Byline Times:

Following Government guidelines, contractors critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs were classed as critical workers. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has praised the MoD’s partnership with Britain’s defence industry, which maintained its critical output during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Babcock’s chief executive Bethel also thanked the Government in his company’s yearly report, saying:

I am also extremely grateful to HM Government and in particular the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence who acted quickly and decisively to ensure that contracts continue to be funded and that cash flowed effectively through the main suppliers and down into the supply chain.

At the same time, a report by business recovery specialist Begbies Traynor revealed that half a million British companies were in financial distress owing to the impact of COVID-19 back in April. That figure is likely to be much higher now. The MoD spox said:

Defence is incredibly well-placed to support the Government’s building agenda, with our investment securing first-class equipment and more than 300k direct and indirect jobs. It is only right that we continue to invest in and drive forward key defence programmes.

A spox for BAE Systems said:

We spend £3.7b/yr with around 6k UK suppliers and, working with our customers, we’ve maintained the cashflow to our business and into our supply chain throughout the pandemic. We’re also providing additional assistance and financial support where needed, so that together we can continue to deliver critical defence and security capabilities to our customers.

Babcock International refused to comment.

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