Day 136 – Brexit in a Nutshell . . .

A very good summary of what is now known about the Leavers’ marvellous Brexit benefits . . .

Remember what the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others promised us to win their referendum four years ago?
How are these promises turning out?

  1. On trade with the EU, vital for our supply chains and exports, with millions of jobs at stake:
    We were promised the ‘exact same benefits as now’. It turns out in reality that we’re not even close. The EU has said we’re welcome to have unfettered access to their market, as a non-member, provided we play by the same rules as everyone else: keeping comparable standards on food safety, fair competition, workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protection. These are, after all, standards we helped develop as a member. They already apply in the UK. The government at first said it would keep a level playing field. But now, the negotiations are in deadlock because the Johnson government is reneging on what it agreed with the EU when the Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated (and approved by Parliament), wanting to abandon our European standards to instead make a trade deal with countries which do not apply our high standards.
  2. On trade deals with the rest of the world:
    We were promised that new trade deals with countries around the planet ‘will be ready to sign on day one’. They weren’t and still aren’t. When we eventually negotiate them, they’re likely to be worse than what we have now. The deals we had previously negotiated as part of the EU, with the clout of the world’s largest market behind us, are unlikely to be as good when we negotiate separate deals for Britain alone. Already various countries are trying to impose difficult conditions on us: that we accept their sub-standard products, that they have favourable access to NHS contracts, and so on.
  3. On Money.
    They said there would be more money for the NHS (remember the red bus?). In fact Brexit is costing a fortune – and far more than what our previous annual contribution to the EU budget. This was was never more than two percent of public expenditure, and was often about saving money by sharing burdens and pooling resources. We’re now discovering what we lose, and the extra costs of customs officials, red tape, border checks on goods, duplicating EU technical agencies on chemicals; pharmaceuticals and air safety.
  4. On Northern Ireland
    They said there would been no changes. But if you leave a customs union, you have a customs border. It has to go somewhere, as Johnson eventually conceded in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement, but then denied afterwards
  5. On Security
    They said police co-operation would be maintained. They lied. We’re leaving Europol and the shared police databases that enable us to check people at the border, as well as the European Arrest Warrant that enables us to easily bring fugitives from justice home for trial.
  6. On Citizens rights
    They said these will be fully protected. In fact all Britons are stripped of their freedom of movement across Europe along with EU citizens living here before.
  7. On Immigration
    They said this would be drastically reduced because of ending EU freedom of movement. In fact, most migration to Britain was always from outside the EU, entirely a matter of UK rules, nothing to do with the EU. Freedom of movement within the EU was a reciprocal right, with over a million Britons living in other EU countries, who are now losing their rights. It was always subject to conditions that Britain chose not to enforce (such as not being a burden on the public exchequer). Brexit hasn’t reduced migration anyway, simply altered the balance of where people come from.
  8. On Scientific co-operation.
    They said they’d even strengthen our co-operation in science and research. Not true. We’ve lost the European Medicines Agency which has moved from Britain to Holland. We’ve not secured any access to the common research programmes that were so beneficial and good value for money, not least on medical research.

All in all, those who sold us Brexit are turning out to be the biggest fraudsters in British political history.

About the author, Richard Corbett

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Day 132 aka 26 July 2020 – “Hearts and Minds”

In “The Observer” today the editorial is all about Paulette Wilson who has recently died. I confess that although I have tried to follow the Windrush saga her particular name had escaped me. I do not reproduce it all but the gist can be gathered from the first two paragraphs . . .

“Paulette Wilson, the Windrush campaigner who died last week aged just 64, played an essential role in exposing one of the worst injustices inflicted by the British state in recent years. Wilson was the first member of the Windrush generation who bravely went public with her plight to the Guardian in 2017. Her story shocked the country – as someone who had moved to Britain from Jamaica aged 10, she had lived and worked legally here for decades. Despite that, she had her benefits withdrawn and was wrongfully arrested, detained at Yarl’s Wood and almost deported to a country she had not lived in for 50 years. Her story paved the way for others to come forward with equally dreadful accounts. Wilson has since campaigned tirelessly for justice; just last month, she and other campaigners presented a petition with more than 130,000 signatures to Downing Street calling for the full implementation of the independent Windrush review.

What happened to the Windrush generation is an indelible and ugly stain on this country; one of the most dreadful examples of the institutional racism we like to think of as long banished but that still lingers everywhere from police stop and search, to the over-representation of black young people in young offender institutions, to the high unemployment rates among young black men. As a direct result of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, members of the Windrush generation, who had been actively encouraged to come to the UK from the Caribbean Commonwealth to take up public service jobs, including in the NHS, have wrongfully lost jobs they had had for decades, been denied NHS treatment for life-threatening conditions and been detained then deported to countries they had not visited for decades.”

The article concludes thus . . .

“The hostile environment is the direct consequence of a government that views migrants not as people who have much to contribute to the fabric and culture of the UK, but dehumanises them as convenient fodder for prejudice; as numbers that get in the way of unachievable and arbitrary immigration targets. Even as Boris Johnson launches yet another racism review, his government continues to pursue policies that are racially discriminatory. The only way to honour Paulette Wilson’s legacy is to immediately scrap the hostile environment (my italics) and for us all to embark on a period of self-reflection as to how and why the terrible injustices inflicted on the Windrush generation were ever allowed to happen.”

Scrapping a policy is easy to do. The minister writes a memo or two, papers are put through a shredder. The Minister’s speech is recorded for posterity in Hansard. But this is not what matters. What is needed is a change for the better of hearts and minds. Changing the mental attitude of a Conservative hard liner is not easy. Until some line of thought hits them positively and personally they are a pretty impervious lot. It took (if I remember aright) some thirty years of campaigning for the question of slavery to get to the point of abolition in the UK Parliament – and was only achieved after great opposition and the payment of an enormous sum in compensation to the people who would lose by slavery’s ending.

So it will be with this immigration problem – for that is what is is. “Windrush” is a shorthand journalistic term for the whole problem of hostility to immigrants. We had a good and most helpful neighbour where we last lived who referred to anyone with coffee coloured skin as a “pakky” – usually spelt paki, and regarded them as inferior human beings. I recollect a clergyman (sympathetic to immigrants) who laughed at a skirmish he saw in Middlesbrough where a crowd of whits lads drove a similar crowd of immigrants (Bangladeshis ?) off the street and into their homes. There the immigrants regrouped and emerged, suitably armed, and drove out the white lads in disarray ! My father, the mildest and most well balanced of men was very critical of “the Jews”. Not all Jews, but those who had moved into his old home area of Hackney (we are talking the turn of the Century here) and lowered the tone of the place as he saw it. Getting over Mrs. May’s hostile attitude (which was never her’s alone) will take a long, long time. It arises from the natural paranoia of the human being to fight against or flee from something new, or strange, or different. It is reason against instinct and that is a long educational process of which I shall not see the end.

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Day 128 – aka – 22 July 2020

Our man is at the bottom left. An out and out right winger and sycophant.

“When in that House M.P.’s divide,
If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too,
They’ve got to leave that brain outside,
And vote just as their leaders tell ’em to.”

Iolanthe

Daily Telegraph – or Torygraph.
No date.
Culled from Twitter – so it must be correct !

And this is informative too – https://twitter.com/i/status/1285672735339958272

So, we face a future with a messed up, or non existent National Health Service, and food shortages from January next for an unknown period.  The unacknowledged underground war of ideologies is going well, but for whom ?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

There is often great surprise on social media as to why so few people know much about the European Union, Brexit and its likely effects. The above cartoon, although American, shows all too clearly the attitude many of us have to important news liable to affect us (boring !) as against easy entertainment. This theme is repeated often about C-Dog and his habits, but it needs to be, as it is a constant reminder.

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Day 123 – We return to the past

In 1949 with some trepidation, and paid for by my parents, I set off on a trip to Switzerland – a school party, the first to be organised since before the War. We had to go through all the regulations or the time, visas, foreign currency (French and Swiss), traveller’s cheques and a restriction on the amount of currency you could take of the country. I presume we also arranged some form of travel insurance – or maybe the school did ? Now the Government tells us that we are making a great leap backwards to those days. I wonder whether the French will provide trains for UK travellers with wooden seats such as we sat on ?

Here is the text of today’s post by Professor Chris Grey of Royal Holloway College . . .

Friday, 17 July 2020
Brexit gets more real, Brexiters get more unrealistic


This week, the practical realities of what Brexit is going to mean came into central focus for perhaps the first time, with a new government information campaign. Although there have been earlier exercises in ‘no deal’ preparation – when that meant no Withdrawal Agreement – now the public are being told what ending the transition period that followed the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) will mean.

The Border Operating Model

Much of this will apply whether that period ends with a trade deal or not (i.e. ‘no deal 2.0’). Given that, one might ask why it is only now, with less than six months to go, that these preparations are being communicated and in some cases being developed. For example, the £705 million border investment just announced was going to be needed anyway, as was the huge lorry park in Kent for which land has only just been purchased (it will be one of over ten similar sites). Moreover, despite Boris Johnson’s bluster and lies, it has been known for months that new processes, which were announced this week with the Border Operating Model, were going to be needed not just for UK-EU trade but for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland yet the facilities for this are only now beginning to be developed.

After all, it has been UK policy to leave both the customs union and the single market since January 2017. To have left matters so late is not just incompetence but, very likely, reflects the refusal to understand or accept that the result of that policy was necessarily going to entail increased border friction. That is politically significant because, recalling the circumstances of 2017-2019, it is at least conceivable that had the government admitted this, rather than pretending that a “frictionless” trade deal was possible, the closely-fought battle over a second referendum would have gone the other way.

Not only is it very late in the day, with significant doubts as to whether either the government IT systems or businesses will be ready in time, but also the new Border Operating Model is still very far from providing all the information that businesses will need in order to comply. For small trading businesses, in particular, this is an impossible situation in itself. Worse, as the full complexity and costs (£) become known some, at least, will simply cease to be viable, especially coming during the ongoing pandemic crisis. For those, large and small, that do continue these new costs will have to be absorbed in some way or passed on to customers.

The cost of customs

These costs – just as regards customs declarations, before any other costs are considered – will amount to £7 billion a year (£) to UK businesses trading with the EU, rising to £13 billion (£) when EU businesses trading with the UK are included. It’s worth reflecting on these figures. They compare to the approximately £9 billion net contribution the UK made to the EU in 2018. It’s not a one-off, but a recurring annual cost. And, to repeat, it exists whether or not there is a trade deal – it is nothing to do with any tariffs that may be levied or any other trade barriers that may arise.

The slogan for the information campaign is ‘Let’s Get Going’, which some businesses might reasonably take as a suggestion to relocate abroad while there’s still time. Individuals might take it as cue to go on holiday but if so they, too, need to be quick as they are now having it spelled out in more detail what Brexit will mean for them when they travel to the EU in terms of new border controls, health insurance, and pet passports.

For those who have been paying attention, none of this will be a shock – although seeing the practical details of what it means may still be a surprise. For others, it may be puzzling. For they were told before the Referendum and ever since that such Brexit effects were just Project Fear, then that Brexit had been done on 31 January with no obvious changes, and throughout that a deal would be negotiated which – although the ‘exact same terms’ lie has been long ago dropped – by implication would mean things pretty much carrying on as normal.

In fact, many of the things that remainers have long warned about are set to happen. Perhaps this is why the government resolutely refuse to describe them as being about Brexit (£) but, instead, as “the UK’s new start”, a new start which is said to bring ‘exciting opportunities’. What these are has not been specified and there is a reason for that, too: there are no exciting opportunities. It’s simply a self-inflicted change for the worse. A new start, perhaps, but the start of new barriers to trade and travel, new costs, new regulations and new bureaucracy resulting from leaving both the single market and the customs union. To coin a phrase, “only a madman would actually leave the market”. Britain is that madman.

What new madness is this?

The speaker of those words was, of course, Owen Paterson MP (whose explanation of the ‘madman’ comment is here; apparently ‘leaving the market’ and ‘leaving the single market’ are different things, so now you know) who has cropped up again this week, being listed as one of the contributing authors of a new report by the Centre for Brexit Policy (of which he is also the Chairman). Entitled ‘Replacing the Withdrawal Agreement’, this is being widely publicized, with coverage in the Daily Telegraph (£) and of course The Express, and a write-up by the Centre’s Director-General, John Longworth, on the Politico website. So it has the look of a concerted campaign.

The report itself, as its title suggests, propounds the extraordinary idea that the government should unilaterally create a new ‘Sovereignty Compliant Agreement’ to replace the WA and present it to the EU. If they do not agree, the UK would no longer regard itself as being bound by the WA. The report lists many ways in which the WA is not ‘sovereignty compliant’, including the Northern Ireland Protocol, and within that the role of the ECJ, as well as the ECJ’s role with respect to Citizens’ Rights and other matters, and the size – and by implication even the existence – of the financial settlement. Contained within all this seems to be a bemusement that the terms of the WA hold whether or not there is a trade deal. The authors – and David Davis in a tweet endorsing them – seem to imagine that the withdrawal terms were contingent on the trade deal, reprising the ‘row of the summer’ of 2017 that Davis famously threatened and then lost (or didn’t fight) which has rankled with the Ultras ever since.

It’s important to be clear – and the report is – that this isn’t about questioning this or that detail within the WA, it is that “the entire WA and Protocol are incompatible with UK sovereignty” (p.7). They want to revisit every single part of the Article 50 negotiations. But those negotiations are over. Unsurprisingly, a European Commission spokesperson immediately ruled out a renegotiation. The Longworth article gives full rein to the sentiments underlying this proposal: they are that the entire WA is a “poison pill” deriving from May’s lack of belief in Brexit, and the way her “government worked hand-in-glove with Remain elements of the British establishment and in cahoots with Brussels and foreign powers”. So Britain remains in “Teutonic chains” paying “reparations” and faces (yawn) a “Dunkirk” moment. It is a spectacularly vicious piece of writing.

Re-writing history

There are some very obvious problems with this proposal – even leaving aside the legal issues involved in breaking the WA – which involves a substantial re-writing of history. The UK signed the WA less than six months ago, as an international treaty. It was signed by Boris Johnson, following his much-trumpeted re-negotiation, and was put to the electorate as the ‘oven ready deal’ which was the centre piece of his re-election. At that election, the Brexit Party initially threatened to run a candidate in every seat if Johnson didn’t scrap the WA but then withdrew that demand and did not field candidates in Tory-held seats. John Longworth, then a Brexit Party MEP (he was later expelled from it), welcomed this change of strategy (£) on the grounds that “the Government’s exit agreement is Brexit and, whilst it has drawbacks, could result in a good deal”. No talk of a “poison pill” then. The Brexit Party itself garnered 2% of the vote and did not win any seats.

Thereafter, the WA Act was passed by a large majority in the House of Commons with support from ERG MPs, including Paterson. Did they not want the British Parliament to make its own decisions? It may be that some MPs did not read or understand it: if so, tough. They should have done their job properly. It may be that they believed it was all up for re-negotiation in the future: if so, tough. They were wrong. As for Longworth, as a, by then, Conservative MEP he also voted (in the European Parliament) for the WA and at the time said that as a result we will leave the EU and “become once again an independent, sovereign nation”. Now he says it was drawn up by “fools or knaves” and is incompatible with being “a truly sovereign nation”.

The proposition that Johnson had no time to re-negotiate properly is nonsense both because the time frames were of his choice and because he himself declared it to be “a great new deal” and the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 election also described it as such. The Conservative Party website explicitly said that those who criticized it (in context, this presumably meant Farage) were wrong and that the deal did indeed “take back control”. And even – to be far more charitable than is warranted – if none of that were true, it’s simply absurd to think that any country can conduct itself in such a manner as to rip up major international agreements within months of signing them because it hadn’t created an adequate process to consider the commitments it was making.

The Ultras have never accepted the WA

The roots of this latest outburst from the Brexit Ultras go deep, as regular readers of this blog will know. Immediately after the 2019 election I wrote:

“I suspect that many in the ERG will now be thinking that Johnson’s deal was only the bastard offspring of May’s ill-fated premiership and the ‘remainer parliament’, and feel no allegiance to it. They kept quiet during the election campaign, which required them to pledge support for Johnson’s deal, but that won’t necessarily last. For one thing, many of them are rebels by temperament, with a track record going back in some cases to John Major’s premiership, and ruthlessly indifferent to party loyalty or discipline …. With all that said, in the aftermath of his fresh election victory and on a scale that was so unexpected, it is far more likely that the ERG will keep their powder dry. But all that means is that even as Brexit ‘gets done’ they will hold on to the belief that the WA meant that ‘this was not really Brexit’ and will be watching keenly – in both senses of the word – for further ‘betrayals’.”

That suspicion has now proved correct – though how much overt support the current campaign against the WA will have amongst Tory MPs remains to be seen. It might be tempting to dismiss he CBP Report as the work of a fringe minority group of cranks. But that would be a very serious mistake. Over and over again, this group or one of its other incarnations has quickly seen its initially outlandish positions become mainstream, aided by the way that, as new research shows (figure 2), MPs affiliated with groups like the ERG and Leave means Leave (co-founded by John Longworth) get disproportionate media attention. The concerted way in which they are pushing this new message leads me to think it could rapidly gain traction.

Indeed, as I suggested in a more recent post, there have already been ominous signs that the government – and, implicitly, Dominic Cummings – regard the WA as ‘defective’, with the potential to lead Britain down the path to international pariahdom. I thought then, and still think, that even this government would not renege on an international treaty at least unless no trade deal is reached in which case the pressure to do so will intensify perhaps to irresistibility. The proposition in the CBP report, of course, is that whether or not there is a deal the WA should be ditched.

It is, frankly, an insane idea – politically, legally and diplomatically – but it grows from the long-evident way that the Ultras are never satisfied with Brexit, however hard and in whatever form. This is partly because the ideas they have of what is possible are total fantasy, and so as soon as they encounter reality, as they did in the Article 50 negotiations, they are doomed to be ‘betrayed’. But the deeper issue is that there is, actually, a desire to be betrayed, a desire always to be campaigning for something even more extreme, always to be insisting that Brexit is being denied them. In the most recent example, as in the past, this extends to denouncing as betrayal even things that they themselves have supported or voted for in the past. It is a pathology which has totally deformed British politics so that, now, at the moment of their victory, they are still complaining, still unhappy, still spitting out vitriol, still blaming remainers.

The prospect of endless Brexit battles

Clearly, there are significant and dangerous connections between these demands to scrap the WA and what is emerging about the effects of Brexit. For as these effects unfold the Ultras will never admit that all (or anything) that they were warned of was true. Instead, they will insist that the effects are the consequence of Brexit not having been done properly. In this way, they keep their dream and their pathological victimhood intact, whilst blaming remainers for the effects of the policy they themselves advocated. It is a form of politics that is deeply immature but, worse, totally destructive, endlessly revisiting the same battlefields until there is nothing left but dirt and ashes.

Its consequence is likely to be that even as we all suffer the many adverse consequences of the Brexit they forced on us with lies and fantasies we do not even get the consolation prize of an end to their complaints, their taunts, and their vicious slurs. Any kind of hope – as proposed in my recent post – of initiating a new post-Brexit conversation with and about Europe is dashed as a result. Any idea of healing domestic divisions is destroyed, because these Ultras do not want to heal divisions: they thrive upon them. So we get Brexit and we also get endless screeches of Brexit betrayed. They now call the WA a “poison pill” but it is their own poison, one which has now infected the entire body politic.

There’s still the slimmest of chances of an antidote – but unfortunately it rests almost entirely with Boris Johnson, though others may have some influence. Perhaps it could be possible to finally say to these Ultra Brexiters than enough is enough. It is simply insane for a country to keep putting itself through – or being put through – this torture. We’ve had years of it, and the Brexiters have got their Brexit. Every possible thing to accommodate them has been done. We can’t just go on and on revisiting it, lurching endlessly from one crisis to another in order to satisfy the whims of a tiny minority of politicians and commentators. We can’t poison every domestic and international well with their needs, their priorities, their insatiable obsessions.

In his article, John Longworth writes that “the battle to leave the EU is coming to an end. The battle for Britain is just beginning”, and invites Johnson to be (of course) a Churchill not a Halifax. But Britain is being destroyed by this endless desire of the Brexit Ultras to engage in battles. If we really must use these constant war analogies, with Brexit having happened, what we need from Johnson is an Attlee-like rebuilding of a battered, broken, and nearly broke country. It’s unlikely it is in his range, but if he can’t find it, and won’t go, then I fear that Longworth and his ilk will drag us all yet again into a pointless, debilitating, destructive conflict.

If so, there will be no victors, just as there have been none from Brexit. For the most remarkable and the most tragic thing about Brexit is how rare it now is to hear anyone – and certainly the Brexit Ultras – speak of it as something that gives them any pleasure.

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Day 117 – aka 11 July 2020 – The Mists begin to Clear, or Do They ?

H M Liars
(For our overseas readers – if any – “H M” in the UK is generally “His or Her Majesty or Majesty’s”.)

Gerard Batten a UKipper politician said, on 17 February 2017, “Trade relations with the EU cold be sorted out in an afternoon over a cup of tea”. Just one of the many specious statements made by Brexiteer politicians over the last four years – see the image above (not my work incidentally). So far as I am aware Liam Fox never achieved any trade deals of note, and we still await details of how we are to trade with the EU Countries ( 27 of them, remember) in the coming years. Now, via the usual accidental, deliberate, or preplanned “leaks” we begin to see what the legion of civil servants employed on Brexit arrangements has been beavering away at.

Excerpt from the leaked document.

It seems that a 99 page document has been leaked with an outline of proposed arrangements which to the uninitiated viewer look to be horrendous, and which I have read elsewhere in “The Guardian” are not expected to be actually working in practice until the end of 2021. What happens during 2021 is anybody’s guess. Some seem to think that the Government will have to go to the EU and beg for further time, an extension of, the existing Withdrawal Agreement arrangements. And these are only proposals. They are yet to be discussed and ratified, and then they have to be disseminated to civil servants, commerce and industry for them to absorb them and to begin to make the necessary arrangements, and to train up the people who are going to have to work the new system. The red tape which was to be eliminated is proliferating, but perhaps one upside is that new jobs will of necessity be created to cope with the work load. Firms will need to put up their prices and new levels of taxation for us all will have to be calculated – enormous amount of money have been committed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and now more will be needed to run this scheme. How this is better than the benefits of EU Membership it is difficult to understand.

Proposed Lorry Park in Kent, UK.

That the Government is aware that there will inevitably be hold ups to lorries is evidenced by plans now emerging of their intention to build lorry parks to accommodate the waiting traffic. What will happen to fresh food or Dutch cut flowers one dreads to think.

It would be nice to think that some of the people who told these egregious lies over the past few years might be brought to justice one day, but I think it unlikely, or if it did happen it would probably be 20 years or more down the road when it would all have become ancient history and many of them will have died.

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Day 113 – an Irish and EU Viewpoint

The following is from the Irish Examiner of 6 July 2020 – no I don’t read it, I culled it from the universal source of news – Twitter.

Until the British side actually approaches the negotiation in a way that’s consistent with what they committed to doing at the start of this negotiation when the when the political declaration was signed, it’s hard to see how we make progress“.

By Daniel McConnell
Political Editor of the Irish Examiner

Follow @mcconnelldaniel
Monday, July 06, 2020 – 06:00 AM
Last Thursday in Brussels talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom on a proposed post-Brexit trade deal ended abruptly.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, complained bitterly of a lack of respect and engagement by the British government. The two sides ended the week’s talks – the first held in person since February – a day ahead of the jointly agreed schedule amid evident frustration at the lack of progress. Both Barnier and his UK counterpart, David Frost, confirmed that “serious” disagreements remain. “Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement,” Barnier said in a statement. “However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.”

This is an increasingly worrying situation for Ireland and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, returned to his position in the new government, is to bring new readiness plans to government in the coming days in case a trade deal is not reached in time. In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Coveney gives a sobering assessment of the British attitude to talks and the “difficult place” such a stance has placed the talks. “Where are we in relation to getting a future relationship and a trade deal? The honest answer to that is, we are in a difficult place. There have been five rounds of negotiations and very, very little progress has been made,” he says. He makes clear it’s been a frustrating process.

“Both sides have agreed to intensify negotiations this week into next week, and I suspect through the month of July. Michel Barnier and his team will be in London next week and while both negotiating teams have been quite tight-lipped about the negotiations in the week just past, Michel Barnier has made it pretty clear that there hasn’t been much progress,” he adds. Mr Coveney puts the blame for a lack of progress at the door of Boris Johnson, the British prime minister and his team, who he accuses of walking away of commitments made less than six months ago when the withdrawal agreement was finalised alongside the political declaration as to who talks would proceed. “It’s difficult for the two sides to get an agreement when both are looking for completely different outcomes. And the biggest problem here is that the UK is simply not adhering to the approach that was agreed by both sides only six months ago in the political declaration that was signed off at the same time as the withdrawal agreements.

Until the British side actually approaches the negotiation in a way that’s consistent with what they committed to doing at the start of this negotiation when the when the political declaration was signed, it’s hard to see how we make progress. “The main problem here is that the approach of both sides is entirely different than what the UK seems to be looking for is sectoral deals in areas where Britain has an interest. “So, the financial services sector, getting a trade deal that avoids tariffs and quotas. But what the EU is insisting on is that there’ll be a package of things that are all agreed and prioritised and at the same time. Because if you don’t have a level playing field – it is not fair competition between businesses in the EU single market and in the UK – well then you cannot have contact barrier-free trade between the two,” he said.

So where does all of this leave Ireland? His response is stark.

“Time is running out yeah that’s true. But there’s still six months before the end of the year. Six months a very, very short period of time in terms of getting a trade deal place. There are 11 different areas where there are negotiations taking place, all in parallel with each other. The idea we can get agreement on all 11 is totally unrealistic,” he says candidly. “What is possible, though, is a basic trade deal that avoids the introduction of tariffs and quotas, which is very important in an Irish perspective, which is what WTO trading rules would probably result in if there was no deal.” As a result, Mr Coveney reveals he is bringing to the new Cabinet a significant memo next week, both in terms of scale and importance, as to make Ireland ready for all possible scenarios, including the worst case one of where a deal is not reached.

“I’ll bring a fairly big memo to government in relation to where Ireland is at in terms of our preparedness for whatever outcome may happen in the autumn. “Whether it’s a worst-case scenario – which is no trade deal Brexit – or not, we have to be ready just in case or other variants of that,” he adds. But he warns that no matter what happens here there’s going to be change. “And no matter what happens here we’re going to require customs checks in Irish ports and in our airports, and we’re going to have to have other checks as well on live animals, and on standards checks and so on goods coming from the UK.”

He points to the €30 million already spent at Dublin Port making it Brexit ready, the investment in Rosslare and also Dublin Airport, but said businesses must be prepared for whatever happens. Mr Coveney, despite all the challenges, is still confident a deal can be reached. “I think we can get a trade deal that avoids tariffs and quotas. But in order for that to happen, there needs to be an agreement around the level playing field issue. “I am hopeful that there will be a deal. But I would be naive to say that they that a no-trade deal isn’t possible.

“It’s possible, but I think it would be such an act of self-harm and such a failure of politics that I believe, politicians and governments will find a way of getting a deal. Maybe not until late October. “Hopefully, we can do it over the summer. But we’ll do everything we can to support Irish business interests, to protect our place in the single market, and also protect our really close and important relationship with the UK,” he concludes.

The paragraph at the head in bold, and that in italics is my emphasis and expresses my opinion of the point about which this whole thing revolves – can the UK Government be trusted ?

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Day 111 – We have become a Triarchy

Andrew Rawnsley writes in “The Observer” – Sunday, 5 July 2020 . . .

Andrew Rawnsley
From Google images

There’s a metaphor borrowed from the corporate world in circulation at Westminster to describe the power structure of this government. Boris Johnson is the chairman and Michael Gove is the chief executive. This is more flattering to Mr Gove than it is to Mr Johnson, for it implies that the prime minister is merely the performative face of the regime while the levers of power are operated by his old frenemy from the Cabinet Office. As for Dominic Cummings, Number 10’s visually challenged genius-in-residence probably regards himself as the chief innovation officer. I suspect that both he and Mr Gove do indeed think of Mr Johnson as the frontman for what is ultimately their project.

I focus on this trio because that is where so much power is hoarded. Boris Johnson doesn’t get called a “control freak” because his shambolic appearance and blustery speechifying seems to deny it. Yet I can think of no previous regime at Number 10 that was more determined to concentrate power in its own hands – and that includes those of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

One of the shared convictions between the top trio is that the destiny of nations is governed by a small and select number of supernatural individuals who have a grasp of the true path that eludes others. Mr Johnson is a fervent believer in the Great Man theory of history, with himself cast, at least in his own head, as the Great Man of this period. After a lifetime wanting to be Winston Churchill, a more recent aspiration is to be compared with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ludicrous that may be, but it does reflect how his mind works. Michael Gove is a believer in the power of tightly knit groups of driven men to effect revolutionary change. He used to keep a picture of Lenin, a Great Man if not a great man, on his office wall. Mr Cummings is the same, only more so. He recently issued a reading list to ministerial special advisers. One of his recommended titles is High Output Management, written by Andy Grove, who was a transformative boss of Intel. His most celebrated quotes are macho ones: “If you’re wrong, you will die” and “only the paranoid survive”.

Trying to explain why the other two men are so dependent on Mr Cummings, one senior Tory recently suggested to me that they envied the single-mindedness with which he pursues his agendas and his complete indifference to anyone else’s opinions. “Both Boris and Michael know they can be undisciplined. They think they need Dom’s ferocity to keep them focused.”

One consequence of rule by this Gang of Three is the degradation of the cabinet. According to several plausible accounts, the weekly cabinet meeting is an empty ritual with many present privately complaining that they are merely going through the motions because all the significant decisions are made elsewhere. The surprise is that they are surprised. This is a cabinet appointed not for its competence, but for its compliance. Whether we are talking about ministers or officials, Mr Johnson prefers to be surrounded by people who are indebted to him. He’s not the first prime minister to prize loyalty above merit, but few have done this quite so obviously. Most of his cabinet acquired their seats around the table not for their independence of thought or record of achievement, but for their devotion to a hard Brexit and obeisance to Number 10. With the possible exception of Rishi Sunak, and him only for so long as the chancellor is being judged to have had a good crisis, everyone at the high table knows they are dispensable at the whim of the central trio. Sajid Javid discovered that earlier in the year when he demanded that the prime minister choose between his then chancellor and Mr Cummings and the prime minister chose his adviser.

The Gang of Three have a shared conviction that they are uniquely gifted to guide the destiny of Britain, a conceit that was amplified by their victory in the Brexit referendum and then the 2019 election. “They basically think they are God’s chosen,” remarks one former cabinet minister. This certainty in their own rightness has not been disturbed by the multiple blunders they have presided over during the coronavirus crisis. Because they can’t be at fault, someone else must be culpable and a scapegoat has already been selected. Blaming the inadequacies of civil servants is not only politically convenient, it is also mentally comfortable because it fits with their pre-existing prejudices about Whitehall. Mr Cummings has never made a secret of his low regard for the civil service, a disdain so great that it exceeds even the contempt he has for most of the cabinet and Tory MPs. After a period of keeping his head down in the wake of his rule-breaking excursions to and around Durham, he announced the resumption of his war on the institutions by letting it be known that “a hard rain is coming” to the civil service. He did so by his usual method of making this very quotable remark to a room full of ministerial aides, from where it was magically disseminated into the media.

The storm clouds opened almost instantly and swept away Sir Mark Sedwill, who was effectively sacked as cabinet secretary after months of anonymous briefing against the country’s most senior official. Sir Philip Rutnam had already quit as permanent secretary at the Home Office, complaining that he had been the “target of a vicious and orchestrated campaign against him”. Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office and another name on a Downing Street “shit list” of officials they wanted gone, is on his way out. To lose one of the country’s most senior civil servants might be unfortunate. To lose three looks like a plan.

And there is a plan. The purge of Whitehall’s top rank not only gets rid of officials they don’t like or don’t rate; it also strokes a chilly finger down the spines of all other civil servants by sending a warning message of the fate that awaits them if they don’t get with the Gang of Three’s programme. The decorous version of their project was presented by Mr Gove in his recent Ditchley lecture on civil service reform. Whitehall has too many generalists and not enough specialists, he argued. Its senior levels are populated with too many people who write jargon-laden position papers and not enough people capable of effective implementation of policy. He further complained that Whitehall suffers from “groupthink” because departments “recruit in their own image” and government needs a “broader and deeper pool of decision-makers”.

You could, of course, say the same with knobs on about the many ministers who are non-specialist bluffers with no talent at delivery. The education secretary is a former salesman of fireplaces. Messrs Gove and Johnson both made their names as newspaper columnists. Mr Cummings is a humanities graduate whose only proven skills are as a political campaigner and the fabulator of implausible explanations for breaking lockdown rules. That said, there is a wide agreement that the coronavirus has exposed serious weaknesses in the machinery of government. There is much in the Govian diagnosis that a lot of people would agree with, including many who work in Whitehall. The big question is whether he and the rest of the Gang of Three have a genuine aspiration to improve the machinery of government or simply seek a civil service that stops speaking truth to power and becomes as slavishly subservient as the cabinet.

Given the high levels of suspicion that the latter is their true ambition, they would surely make a great effort to avoid any hint of cronyism about what they did next. Yet the very first senior appointment announced after Mr Gove’s speech was to award the role of national security adviser, made vacant by the coerced departure of Mr Sedwill, to David Frost. “Frosty”, as he is known in Number 10, has a resume that includes a spell as chief lobbyist for the Scotch Whisky Association as well as being the prime minister’s point man for the unfinished Brexit negotiations. He has no known expertise in intelligence, defence, cyberwarfare or counter-terrorism. “Why is the new national security adviser a political appointee with no proven experience in national security?” asked Theresa May. A good question to which the answer must be that “Frosty” is regarded as a loyal lieutenant.

“Groupthink” turns out to be something they deplore in others, but hugely admire in those who are part of their group and think the same way as they do. The Gang of Three are no keener to have senior officials who will challenge them than they are to have people in the cabinet who will argue with them.

• Andrew Rawnsley is Chief Political Commentator of the Observer

A good and telling analysis of our present deteriorating situation.

Definition of ’triarchy : Government by three people, a country ruled by three people

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Day 106 – aka 30th June – Driving Lessons

Some years ago – about 65+ at a guess – I was asked, surprisingly looking back, to go out with a gentleman who lived opposite and who had a Rover saloon. I think this may have been laid up as many cars were during the war (so that German invaders could not easily make use of them) and had been resuscitated. It was a nice car (I was allowed to drive it I remember) and introduced me to the free wheel (lockable and unlockable) with which it was fitted. Unlocked it seemed to me all too easy to run away down a slope since there was no engine braking and if your brakes were to fail would put you in a very tricky situation.

Rover 14, Sports Saloon, c. 1935.
The one referred to below was similar to this and was this same colour. Nice car.
Culled from Wikipedia.

The said gentleman was a bit uncertain about his driving and seemed to think that I ( at the grand old age of seventeen and a bit) might be a good pilot. We drove out several times I think and I noticed that he would speed up gradually to say 40 mph (which was quite fast in those days on the roads as they were) and then slow down again equally gradually. So I asked him why he didn’t keep an eye on the speedometer and give the engine a bit more throttle when going up a slope and lift his foot off when going down and so keep the speed constant ? I think we were stationary at the time. He got out his glasses and put them on, looked down at the dashboard (which I think was in the centre of the car) and said, “Its that one isn’t it ?” But he couldn’t drive with the glasses on so we never really resolved that one. My assistance was no longer required after a time and so that episode ended, but it left me with a great admiration for Rovers, which was not alas borne out when in later years I bought one second hand. It was a Rover P3 whereas I think my neighbour’s car was probably a pre-war model of a more modest style (see photos above and below).

Rover 60 aka Rover P3 1595cc September 1948.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Edit : On reflection I remember that I did not pass my driving test until 1953, at which point I would have been 19 and in my twentieth year. So my statement in the post above of being at the grand old age of seventeen and a bit needs to be amended upwards by two years at least, maybe even three, but likely no more, as by 1955 I was in the process of enlisting in HM Forces.

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Day 102 – A neat summary of the Downing Street press briefings

I only watched a very few of the Downing Street coronavirus press briefings, and those only because my OH had the TV on and watched them assiduously. Being deaf makes such things both more or less incomprehensible, and the effort of trying to watch becomes very tiring, so that in fact you get less and less as the briefing goes on. The Researchers at Action on Hearing Loss speak of a sort of fatigue which sets in and I had decided that this was what was happening before I read their research.

You will find below a neat summary of the whole series of press briefings copied and pasted from the blog of a firm called DRD Partnership about whom I know somewhat less than nothing, but a younger member of our family works there and is in fact the author of the piece. I wouldn’t like you to think that I am boasting or anything like that, you understand.

@ @ @ @ @ 

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS… RIGHT?  

26 June 2020

DRD’s Senior Associate Fflur Sheppard looks back at the impact of the Downing Street Covid-19 press conferences, which ended this week – and ponders what might come next…  

Our daily dose of coronavirus press conferences has come to an end.  Weaned off our dependency to weekdays only for the past month, we’ll now be going cold turkey until the government and its advisers have “something really important to say.”  

Since Monday 16 March we’ve had the opportunity to tune into more than 90 daily press briefings.  Despite his spell in both self-isolation and intensive care, the Prime Minister racked up 16 stints behind the lectern. Our most-seen minister was health secretary Matt Hancock with 24 appearances, followed by foreign secretary Dominic Raab on 12 – all manageable figures for even our home secretary, whose innumeracy led to one of the briefings’ best gaffes.    

They came about following a few days of confusion about what the official health advice was at the start of the outbreak. A key issue was an anonymous briefing given to ITV’s Robert Peston suggesting that the over-70s would need to stay at home for months — a line which at the time contradicted official policy and other messaging. The Daily Mail et al had a field day, the government desperately needed to get control of its messages and their timing, and the daily press conference was born. 

Take-up was initially impressive.  26 million people tuned in for the first major lockdown announcement, on closing businesses and schools, but by the end of May, viewing figures  were under three million – so did something go wrong, or did they simply run their course? 

Their impact in those early spring days was undoubtedly emphatic.  Boris Johnson “levelling” with us that many families would lose loved ones before their time packed a punch.  Each time we saw chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, reminded us (if not Michael Gove) why we had always liked and respected experts all along. 

The appearance of these and other experts (Snapshot’s favourite being the deputy chief medical officer who openly challenged the behaviour of Durham-bound Dominic Cummings) was a savvy communications decision.  They were relied upon as the government sought to demonstrate scientific and medical support for its approach. 

Clever too was the introduction of questions from the public via video, giving a sense of engagement in what was always essentially a one-way broadcast. 

Whether we felt we needed one or not, a daily briefing a day to keep the virus at bay didn’t initially feel like over-communication. They were intended to make us feel that the government was on top of every detail, sharing every development, and chasing down every shipment of PPE… which, of course, leads us to some of the pitfalls of providing a running commentary – the expectation for news when there isn’t any, the risks of different ministers delivering mixed messaging, and the traps you can set for yourself (and your colleagues) when you over-promise and under-deliver. 

Over time, it was probably inevitable that, as a viewing public, we would both tune in less and pay less attention to what was being said.  But if there’s a defining moment that led to an actual and mental switching of the channel, it was the communications cardinal sin that was committed in mid-May: the well-understood “stay at home” slogan was replaced with the much-mocked “stay alert.”  Patience, worn thin through weeks of confinement in said homes, reached breaking point with such a vague directive.  Memes in their plenty appeared of what “staying alert” meant – and as we all now know, once something goes viral, good luck regaining control.   

So, what next?  Now off-air, will Sir Patrick and Prof Witty grow lockdown beards?  How will households across the country know that it’s almost time for tea?  More importantly, how worried will we be for our newly-promised freedoms when we’re told “something really important” will be announced that evening? 

Going forward, how the government chooses to communicate during “local flare-ups” (such as those in Anglesey, Leicester and Cleckheaton) and in the event of a “second wave” may be seen as a barometer for how they’re coping with the crisis.  A return to over-communication, or muddled slogans, or ministers that don’t seem to be on top of the data, could frighten the viewing public as much as a rising R-rate.  Calm, clear and consistent communications will be what we want to see.

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Day 100 – A thought provoking post

CWGC Cemetery Plan

Below is the history information from the CWGC web site about Perth Cemetery aka China Wall Cemetery. I happened to read it today in reference to a Tweet from a visitor and I was struck by the way in which it tells you so much about WW1. In this one cemetery there are remains from as far as I can make out, about 30 or 31 smaller cemeteries of all nationalities dotted about the area east of Ypres (today – Ieper). This tells you so much about the chaos and the deaths that occurred in that area – and when you see that 1,369 are unidentified, there are 27 memorials to people “believed to have been buried there” and 104 memorials to people known to have been buried in the various cemeteries but whose graves could not be found. It is not surprising that bodies are still being found all over the Western Front area and with painstaking research can sometimes actually be identified. And to end on a personal, somewhat political note, this is why I think European Union is better than European War.

History Information.


The cemetery was begun by French troops in November 1914 (the French graves were removed after the Armistice) and adopted by the 2nd Scottish Rifles in June 1917. It was called Perth (as the predecessors of the 2nd Scottish Rifles were raised in Perth), China Wall (from the communication trench known as the Great Wall of China), or Halfway House Cemetery. The cemetery was used for front line burials until October 1917 when it occupied about half of the present Plot I and contained 130 graves. It was not used again until after the Armistice, when graves were brought in from the battlefields around Ypres and from the following smaller cemeteries:- BECELAERE GERMAN CEMETERY No.1 (246th RESERVE INFANTRY REGIMENT), close to Becelaere Church, contained about 500 German and two British burials. BELGIAN CHATEAU CEMETERY, VLAMERTINGHE, in the grounds of a chateau 2 Kms South-West of Ypres. It contained the graves of 12 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 11 from Canada, and one French soldier, dating from 1914 to 1917. BROODSEINDE GERMAN CEMETERIES, ZONNEBEKE. These contained the graves of 27 British soldiers, who fell mainly in 1914. Broodseinde gave its name to the Battle of the 4th October 1917; and the Memorial of the 7th Division, which fought here in 1914 and 1917, is a little South of the hamlet on the road to Becelaere. DURHAM CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, at the North end of the village, was used from December 1915 to March 1916. It contained the graves of 52 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 39 of whom belonged to Territorial battalions of the Durham Light Infantry. GARTER POINT CEMETERY, ZONNEBEKE, on the road from Zonnebeke to Westhoek, was used from September 1917 to April 1918, and contained the graves of 19 soldiers from Australia, eight from the United Kingdom, one from New Zealand, three of unknown units, and one German. GORDON HOUSE CEMETERY No.2, ZILLEBEKE, at Gordon House, contained the graves of 30 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in 1915 and 1917. HANS KIRCHNER GERMAN CEMETERY, POELCAPELLE, 1.6 Kms South-East of Poelcapelle village, contained the graves of four soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in October 1914. HOUTHULST GERMAN CEMETERY, at the East end of the village, contained the graves of about 1,000 German soldiers and one R.F.C. Officer. KEERSELAERE WEST GERMAN CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, a little West of the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road, contained the graves of 29 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell mainly in October 1914. KEERSELAERHOEK GERMAN CEMETERY, PASSCHENDAELE, about 180 metres North-East of Tyne Cot Cemetery, contained the graves of twelve soldiers from the United Kingdom and two from Canada who fell in 1914 and 1915. LANGEMARCK GERMAN CEMETERY No.7 (also known as TOTENWALDCHEN), 1.6 Kms North-West of the village, contained the graves of four soldiers from the United Kingdom. LANGEMARCK GERMAN CEMETERY No.8, just beyond the railway on the road to Houthulst, contained the graves of 27 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in October 1914. L’EBBE FARM CEMETERY, POPERINGHE, about 1.6 Kms North-West of the town, contained the graves of 21 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in 1915 and 1918. MANNEKEN FARM GERMAN CEMETERY No.3, ZARREN, in the South-East part of Houthulst Forest, contained the graves of about 700 Germans and 13 British soldiers who fell in 1917. MANOR ROAD CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, at the railway halt 800 metres South-West of Zillebeke village. It contained the graves of 17 soldiers of the United Kingdom (mainly Royal Field Artillery) who fell in 1917 and 1918. NACHTIGALL (or ROSSIGNOL, or VIEUX-CHIEN) GERMAN CEMETERY, GHELUVELT, 800 metres North of the Rossignol Cabaret on the Menin Road (near the hamlet of Vieux-Chien), contained the graves of 1,130 German soldiers and 69 from the United Kingdom, most of whom fell in September-October 1915. POELCAPELLE GERMAN CEMETERY No.2, about 1.6 Kms South-East of the village, contained the graves of 96 soldiers from the United Kingdom and Canada who fell in 1914 and 1915. POELCAPELLE GERMAN CEMETERY No.3, 800 metres South of the village, contained the graves of 23 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 19 from Canada who fell in 1914 and 1915. RATION DUMP BURIAL GROUND, ZILLEBEKE, on the road a little South of Gordon House, contained the graves of 28 soldiers from the United Kingdom (mainly London Scottish and Liverpool Scottish) and one from Canada. REUTEL GERMAN CEMETERY, BECELAERE, on the North side of the Reutel-Zwaanhoek road, contained a very large number of German graves and 125 soldiers and airmen from the United Kingdom, two Canadian soldiers and one from New Zealand, who fell in 1914-1917. ST. JOSEPH GERMAN CEMETERY, HOOGHLEDE, on the North side of the hamlet of Geite or St. Joseph, contained the graves of four airmen from the United Kingdom who fell in 1918. ST. JULIEN COMMUNAL CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, contained the graves of six soldiers of the 14th Canadian Battalion who fell in April 1915. ST. JULIEN EAST GERMAN CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, on the Langemarck-Zonnebeke road, contained the graves of 65 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 31 from Canada who fell in October 1914 and April 1915. SCHREIBOOM GERMAN CEMETERY, 800 metres East of Langemarck village, contained the graves of 34 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in October 1914. TRANSPORT FARM ANNEXE, ZILLEBEKE, 180 metres South of the South-West corner of Zillebeke Lake, and a little East of Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm), contained the graves of 27 soldiers from the United Kingdom (16 of whom belonged to the 1st Dorsets) who fell in November 1914-June 1915. TRENCH RAILWAY CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, on the West side of the hamlet of Verbrandenmolen, contained the graves of 21 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in 1915 and 1916. TREURNIET GERMAN CEMETERY, POELCAPELLE, on the road from Poelcapelle village to the railway station, contained the grave of one Canadian soldier. WALLEMOLEN GERMAN CEMETERY, PASSCHENDAELE, 180 metres South of the hamlet of Wallemolen, contained the graves of 20 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 15 from Canada who fell in 1915. WEIDENDREFT GERMAN CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, at Weidendreft Farm, used by the Germans from October 1914 to August 1915, contained the graves of 98 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in the Battles of Ypres, 1914. WESTROOSEBEKE GERMAN CEMETERY No.2, 366 metres North-East of the village on the road to Hooghlede, contained the grave of one R.A.F. Officer who fell in August 1918. There are now 2,791 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 1,369 of the burials are unidentified and special memorials are erected to 27 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials bear the names of 104 casualties buried in the cemeteries concentrated here, whose graves could not be found. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

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