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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 28th May

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 28th May Banner

by Aiken PR

28/05/2021

The Coup at the Crowne.

The leader elect was ready, the so aptly selected Crowne Plaza was set, all it needed was to ensure that party Chair Lord Morrow remembered to bring his rubber stamp and the grand coronation of Edwin Poots would be complete. He would rally the troops and send a powerful and commanding message to the electorate of a unified party ready for the upcoming election dog fight. Instead, utter chaos ensued with major political heavyweights having left the building before Poots took to the podium for his maiden speech. A party that was second only to Sinn Fein across these islands in keeping its internal matters internal, utterly imploded. Seasoned hacks were aghast at the evening’s proceedings as a vote for a secret ballot was narrowly rejected, with 25 speeches from the floor, many vitriolic, with no quarters asked or given on either side. The brutal coup of Arlene Foster became the catalyst for an attempted Coup at the Crowne, with Edwin Poots comfortably winning the vote in the end but at what cost? 

Arlene Foster’s overthrow which was thinly veiled as being policy focused, is more about a titanic power struggle for the future of the DUP with impassioned accusations of internal intimidation and bullying. The old guard which some see as having Junior pulling the strings versus Donaldson, the Dodds, Robinson and Campbell. What happens to these political heavyweights? Has Poots got it in him to reach out and repair the damage? Odds are stacked against that. It has all the hallmarks of the Ulster Unionist crisis of the noughties which saw their influence wither on the vine, seeding in their nemesis with the transfer of personnel and the electorate to the DUP. In Northern Ireland, and in unionism in particular, history has a way of repeating itself and once again Foster and Donaldson are the centre of the story 17 years later. There can be no doubt that this is a very serious dent to the DUP’s target of being the largest party and holding onto the First Minister post at next year’s election with public confidence in the party at its lowest ebb for many years. Having dropped to 16% in the ratings, 9% behind Sinn Fein since Poots‘s elevation but before last night’s debacle, it is a long road back for the DUP with short odds for an ephemeral leadership. As a result, the Beattie bounce just got that bit higher with the UUP and Jim Allister, the Alliance as well as Sinn Fein all closely looking on to see the emergence of any political carcasses and how they can take advantage at next year’s crucial Assembly elections. As the soon to be former First Minister said about politics and leadership, ‘brutal even by DUP standards’.

Then of course at a UK wide level we had what many were billing as the ‘popcorn moment’ of the year if not the decade, well 420 moments to be exact. And it was quite the blockbuster with a captivated audience witnessing what was a far from a flawless performance, but an exhilarating one nonetheless in the genre of black comedy with a bizarre supervillain sub plot. The picture that Dominic Cummings’ painted of the government’s and, in particular, Boris Johnson’s approach to the pandemic was vivid. But of course, as Cummings himself recognised, this was not some bizarre movie but real life with real lives being lost. While some of the material we had heard before, the detail and depth of revelations about the characters involved in the management, or mis–management of the greatest global health crisis of a generation was at times, jaw dropping.

Where to start? Perhaps, confirmation of what the dogs on the street knew, that in the early stages of the pandemic, herd immunity was the only show in town with surreal talk of chicken pox parties and the PM suggesting that Chris Witty would inject him with the virus live on TV to reassure the public. The accusation was that the PM utterly failed to grasp the severity of the pandemic, seeing it as a scare story and the new swine flu with Cummings assessment that the crisis was a case of ‘lions led by donkeys, over and over again’ or did he mean lion? Delays resulted simply because there was no plan. Delays to lockdown, delays to test and trace, delays to any semblance of border controls, with a shielding plan ‘cobbled together in two all–nighters’ with the same mistakes made not once but unforgivingly twice. Heath Secretary Matt Hancock came in for special treatment with Cummings stating he should’ve been sacked 15 or 20 times for lying to Cabinet and for many other misdemeanours.

Using a commonly conjured analogy for Boris Johnson of a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other, Cummings stated his former boss and the man he helped to get into no. 10 was not fit for office. Many may agree and have, unlike Mr Cummings until now, said so explicity and often, yet the fact remains that under Boris Johnson’s guardianship the Conservatives recently took a 20 point lead in the polls. What these revelations mean for that lead, remains to be seen.

That said, despite this being the testimony of only one man there can be no doubt that huge failings during the pandemic were laid bare by with what appeared to be a genuinely contrite figure. However an impartial or reliable witness he is not, and what’s more, one with a considerable axe to grind. Was there a gang threatening to kill everyone in his house? Horrendous if there was. And did he drive to Barnard Castle to test his eye sight? Who’s to know?

While self–deprecating, arguably Cummings’ biggest failure was his contempt for the electorate long before the pandemic, elevating himself and championing to power two people, not one, that he saw as being not fit for office. ‘In any sensible rational government, it is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position, in my personal opinion. I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world. It’s completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just like it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there’. An unholy alliance between a political ideologist with a crusade against the liberal order and the political elite and someone accused of doing anything to be part of that elite, was only ever going to end one way.

Meanwhile… in ROI, corporate tax is the big concern. The Irish Government will be watching the G7 meeting today on global recovery beady eyed, as it seems it is a question of when, not if, new global tax measures will be introduced for multinationals. The low tax regime policies have had a monumental impact on the Irish economy since their inception in the 70s, transforming it from a small farming nation to a leading European economy, in a David vs Goliath style underdog story. Enough seems to be enough for superpowers such as the US and France with plans that would see corporation tax increased from 12.5% to a minimum global rate of 15% to be agreed as early as next week. The Government are predicting up to €4bn worth of loss to the Exchequer’s tax receipts per year and the question now will be whether Ireland’s proposition will remain as attractive with a higher tax rate. The top table has spoken and it would very much appear that the Goliath 7 have finally had enough of small peripheral economies like Dáithí stealing a march.

NI

Health

• Four Covid–19 related deaths were registered in Northern Ireland in the week up to last Friday, 21 May, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra). The government agency said that figure represented a decrease of three on the previous week. It brings Nisra’s total recorded deaths to 2,971.

• Solving the waiting lists crisis is the biggest test ever for NI politicians, a former health chief executive has said. There are 335,000 people waiting to see a consultant for the first time.

Business Supports

• More than £70m in grant payments will be made to businesses which stayed open during the Covid–19 pandemic, according to the Department of Finance. It is hoped it will help some 13,000 businesses which did not qualify for support during the most recent lockdown as they were not forced to close.

Hospitality

• Businesses are facing staff shortages as the hospitality sector reopens in Northern Ireland. Hospitality Ulster said recruitment challenges that existed pre–Covid have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Retail

• Marks & Spencer says Brexit and the Irish Sea border have added about £30m of costs to its island of Ireland business. M&S says it is working on medium and long–term measures to reduce those costs.

Travel

• The NI Executive has agreed to remove its guidance about self–isolating on return to NI when travelling within the Common Travel Area (CTA). The move comes after tourism leaders called for the rules to be clarified.

Brexit

• A unionist councillor has said he is unaware of people stirring up, provoking or suggesting violence over opposition to the NI Protocol. But given NI’s contested and conflicted history, it would be naive to rule it out, Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) deputy leader John Kyle told MPs.

Politics

• The first “significant changes” in 35 years will be made to gambling laws in Northern Ireland. Legislation to allow bookmakers to open on Sundays and Good Friday will be among the changes and it will also become an offence to permit children to play gaming machines.

• The agriculture minister says he intends to bring a second climate change bill to the assembly for consideration. Edwin Poots told MLAs drafting of his bill was well advanced and he hoped to circulate it soon.

• Arlene Foster has said she will resign as NI first minister on Tuesday, instead of the end of June, if Edwin Poots changes his ministerial team. She said she worked closely with her team and “if Edwin decides to change that then I have to go as well”.

• The new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has said his party would welcome any disillusioned members of the DUP and that discussions had already taken place with some councillors.

ROI

Restrictions

• The Cabinet has approved several measures that will allow for a further reopening of society and economy during June, July and August. The following has been agreed:

o Non–essential international travel will resume on 19 July.

o From 2 June, hotels can reopen followed by outdoor service at restaurants and pubs from 7 June.

o Cinemas and gyms will also reopen on 7 June.

o Then on 5 July, bar and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors again.

o The Cabinet has approved plans to hold a number of test entertainment and sports events, with up to 500 people able to gather at outdoor venues in July.

Vaccine

• There are “serious concerns” about the supply of the single–dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) Covid–19 vaccine, the Minister for Health has told the Dáil. He said the country was scheduled to receive 600,000 doses of the J&J vaccine by the end of June, but the best case scenario was that there would be 235,000 vaccines and a worst case scenario was that there would be 60,000.

Supports

• The Government will begin to look at phasing out financial pandemic supports in the final three months of the year, the Tánaiste has told colleagues. Speaking at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Leo Varadkar indicated supports would remain in place throughout July, August and September.

Public Finance

• The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has said the Government’s budgetary forecasts “lack credibility” and its spending forecasts are “not realistic”. In a report published today, the budgetary watchdog described Government budgetary planning as “piecemeal”.

Economy

• The volume of retail sales rose by an historic 90.1% on an annual basis in April, the latest Central Statistics Office show. However, this is compared to April of last year when sales collapsed by almost 37% due to Covid–19 restrictions. The CSO has instead compared last month’s figures to April 2019 and this shows that the volume of sales is up 7.1% compared to two years ago.

Employment

• Small firms’ body ISME has accused the Government of exposing employers to potential legal action by failing to give them “robust” guidance on handling situations where employees choose not to be vaccinated.

Travel

• The daa has said it could be as far away as 2025 until the aviation industry gets back to pre–pandemic levels. Communications Officer Paul O’Kane welcomed the resumption of travel from mid–July and said they would be working with all airlines to resume service as quickly as possible but warned that a return to normal is a long way off.