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The Briefing

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 23rd July

AIKEN Weekly Digest – 23rd July Banner

by Aiken PR


The Cummings and goings of Dom.

One full working day, 420 minutes to be precise, giving your version of events on any given subject matter would be enough for any man or woman I’d have thought, even those seeking reprisals or retribution. Not so for the once, self–proclaimed, quiet man of the political anti–establishment Dominic Cummings who swapped a Commons committee room for a media studio this week. Someone who always appeared to have a visceral dislike of journalists which nicely balanced that well documented distaste of the political elite at Whitehall, it could be argued that the pull of another prime–time slot with the ultimate marmite journalist of British politics to set the record straight was too hard to resist. After all, it was Laura Kuenssberg and Laura Kuenssberg only that the senior political advisor was briefing during the pandemic. Cummings as always, shot from hip and was refreshingly trenchant. And to be fair to the BBC’s Political Editor, while rumours abound about a staged interview, she appeared to be genuinely flummoxed at some of Cumming’s blatant disregard for democracy and his ambivalence on the merits of Brexit, with anyone portraying surety of its success as having a screw loose. Well, except perhaps for he himself. Still though, Paxman she certainly was not with many opportunities to go after Cummings’s inconsistencies missed.

Leaving aside any Brexit allegiances, it was hard not to have a sneaking admiration for the role that Cummings played in the Leave campaign as it was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel 4’s Uncivil War. Yet, that now seems an eternity ago. Successfully elevating the man he perceived as completely incapable of holding high office into high office and planning a coup with three dozen faceless others days after that stunning landslide Commons victory as being the next step in the strategy, seems somewhat fanciful even within the most bizarre of political tales. And it appears, that was the beginning of the end. The great political strategist now seems anything but. A great political campaigner yes but long–term political strategist no, as he snipes from the side–lines intent on delivering a dish best served cold having been pushed out of the game by someone he deems as being unfit to be prime minister. The more he says, the quieter Boris can be. Don’t expect Dominic Cummings to go quietly, and with the nature of the man meaning that a resurrection of Lazarian proportions cannot be completely ruled out, his credibility as a trusted advisor, his ambition to transform Whitehall and his reputation as the great political strategist is certainly not what it was.

Back to Brexit….and the UK Government this week, published a command paper on Northern Ireland protocol, which some see as an attempt to tear up the agreement whilst others view as an attempt resolve the serious challenges posed by a border in the Irish Sea. The 28–page paper essentially seeks to remove all customs formalities for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland unless they were explicitly destined to cross the Border into the EU’s single market. Instead, a trust and verify system for traders would be put in place with penalties for those traders who refused to comply.

It is seemingly another attempt from Boris Johnson to renegade on the deal he signed himself in 2019, the deal that created the protocol in the first place and the deal that he continues to urge is unsustainable. The EU’s and Ms von der Leyen’s position is still clear in that they will not renegotiate the original deal. Unsurprisingly, the Unionist parties have welcomed the statement and urged the EU to engage, however, in a slight change of tone, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance instead urged the UK government to reach a veterinary agreement to reduce checks, a change of tone that may well reflect the challenges faced by businesses.

In a change of tact, the UK this time gave advanced notice to the EU and the US ahead of the announcement in what they consider as act of good faith, but this only resulted in the EU being relatively unphased by the command paper. Threats of triggering article 16 have been suggested by the UK but crucially the trigger has not yet been pulled and the announcement itself seems to be no more political posturing from the UK heading into the negotiations that will run until September 30th.


Update on Health

• More than 60% of people admitted to hospital in Belfast in recent weeks due to Covid–19 have not been vaccinated, according to the medical director of the Belfast Trust. Chris Hagan explained that there were also “rising numbers of young patients” in the 20–39 age group. The total number of hospital admissions in the Belfast Trust have doubled over the last week, from 27 to 60.

• Westminster has directed Stormont’s Department of Health to set up full abortion services in Northern Ireland by no later than next March.

Update on Employment

• The Economy Minister has been asked to reconsider his stance on introducing legislation for a ‘right to switch off’ rule for workers here, after he said he would leave it to individual businesses.

• Belfast’s booming financial services sector with US banking giant Citigroup and local firm FinTru are among those planning to add hundreds of jobs in the city. Citi has said it will hire 400 more Belfast staff over the next two years, taking its total headcount to in the city to 3,600. FinTru will double its NI headcount to 1,600 in the next five years.

Update on Economy

• Smart Nano NI, a specialist consortium created to develop nanotechnology manufacturing in Northern Ireland, has secured a £42 million grant from the government’s national science funding agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Smart Nano NI, which is led by Derry–based data company Seagate Technology, has the potential to cement the north’s place as a global leader in new technologies, according to politicians and academics.

• The opportunities offered and frictions caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol are clear, the chief executive of Invest NI has said. Kevin Holland, chief executive of Invest NI, said there was now more clarity for businesses and investors after a long period of uncertainty when the Brexit deal was being negotiated.

Update on Travel

• Northern Ireland has introduced interim arrangements for travel abroad before the official vaccine certificate scheme starts. Travellers can apply for digital Covid–19 vaccine certificates, a downloadable certificate and QR code which offers security against fraud. Anyone travelling after July 25 should wait for the launch of the app next week.

• The Department of Health has announced that fully vaccinated arrivals to Northern Ireland from France must continue to quarantine.

• Most Irish passport holders who live in Northern Ireland will not be able to use the EU Digital Covid Certificate. That is in spite of Taoiseach Mícheál Martin and other senior Irish government ministers indicating that they would.

Update on Trade

• Officials have warned that a trade war between Britain and the EU is now “inevitable” due to the UK refusal to back down on its new demands for post–Brexit rules on Northern Ireland.

Update on Hospitality

• A decision on whether to reopen theatres and concert halls has been delayed by the Northern Ireland Executive until next week. Venues were expected to reopen on 26 July, but minsters want more time to consider the health implications. Ministers will meet again on Monday to decide if theatres can reopen.


Update on Health

• A further 1,378 cases of Covid–19 have been confirmed in the republic, according to the Department of Health, as the Tánaiste warned the Delta wave of coronavirus could peak at 4,000 cases a day. There are 96 people in hospital with the disease, of whom 22 are in intensive care. Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has warned of a “significant increase” in hospitalisations and intensive care admissions if incidence of Covid–19 continues to rise.

Update on Vaccines

• HSE says Covid–19 herd immunity needs 90% of people to be vaccinated, raising the prospect of a mass vaccination programme for children.

• Fully vaccinated people over 65 are among the Covid–19 deaths this year the HSE said today. It has been shown that of the 70 Covid–19 deaths 12 were in fully vaccinated people and only two had been vaccinated for more than 14 days when there is full protection.

Update on Hospitality

• Final talks to agree indoor dining regulations are taking place today. The Attorney General is meeting with Government officials and Fáilte Ireland to finalise the regulations which will provide the legal underpinning for the system to allow fully vaccinated, immune and recovered people to dine indoors. The aim remains to have indoor hospitality reopened next Monday and it is hoped that the regulations will be published, followed by the operational guidelines for the sector.

Update on Travel

• Ireland has implemented the EU Covid Certificate, allowing people who are fully vaccinated to travel freely. The certificate has been in place in other EU countries since July 1st. The lifting of restrictions on travel saw thousands of people going on holidays while others travelled back to Ireland to visit family and friends.

Update on Housing

• A shortage of apprentices in key trades is hindering efforts to tackle the Republic’s housing squeeze, builders warn. The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) says that the crisis in hiring new entrants has worsened since a report highlighted the problem a year ago which is affect the sector ability to address the housing shortage.

• Ireland is short of more than 100,000 homes as strong population growth has sparked a boom in demand. In a damning report, Sherry Fitzgerald managing director Marian Finnegan says the country has ‘consistently failed to meet the housing demand of its population’. In the decade of 2011–20 housing demand has reached approximately 230,000 but just 113,000 homes were built leaving a shortfall of 117,000 dwellings.