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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "ireland"

WATCH: Taoiseach – more clarity needed on plans for Irish border

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

European Workers Draw Paychecks. American Workers Scrounge for Food.

LONDON — In the southeast corner of Ireland, Brian Byrne’s event-planning business was confronting a calamity. It was the middle of March, and the coronavirus pandemic was nearing peak lethality. As the government barred gatherings like music festivals, his revenue disappeared, forcing him to consider laying off his four full-time workers.

But a swiftly arranged government program spared their jobs. It provided 70 to 85 percent of their wages, enabling Mr. Byrne to keep them employed.

“It oddly hasn’t been a stressful time,” he said. “I can keep the team together, keep them motivated. We’re basically doing everything we can to be ready for when the restrictions are eased.”

Across the Atlantic in New York, the pandemic cost Salvador Dominguez his job selling Manhattan real estate. He eventually qualified for an emergency expansion of federal unemployment benefits, but not before 72 agonizing days of waiting. He borrowed from friends and family members to pay his rent, and he harvested food from the trash at a high-end grocery store.

“How can I describe it?” said Mr. Dominguez, 39, taking a breath. “It was very tough.” He added, “I didn’t feel alone, because I knew a lot of people like me were doing it.”

The pandemic has ravaged Europeans and Americans alike, but the economic pain has played out in starkly different fashion. The United States has relied on a significant expansion of unemployment insurance, cushioning the blow for tens of millions of people who have lost their jobs, with the assumption that they will be swiftly rehired once normality returns. European countries — among them Denmark, Ireland, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Austria — have prevented joblessness by effectively nationalizing payrolls, heavily subsidizing wages and enabling paychecks to continue uninterrupted.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_170768268_0a652fe1-491f-41f8-b66f-acdb96e1e992-articleLarge European Workers Draw Paychecks. American Workers Scrounge for Food. Wages and Salaries United States Economy Unemployment Insurance Unemployment Spain Shutdowns (Institutional) Recession and Depression Layoffs and Job Reductions Labor and Jobs ireland Europe Economic Conditions and Trends Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (2020) Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

As cases increase at an alarming rate in much of the United States, the reliance on an overwhelmed unemployment system — the next infusion of money perpetually subject to the whims of Washington — leaves Americans uniquely exposed to a deepening crisis of joblessness. Europe appears poised to spring back from the catastrophe faster, whenever commerce resumes, because its companies need not rehire workers.

“You just send an email, and that’s it — you’re ready to go,” said Jonathan Rothwell, principal economist at Gallup, the American polling firm, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “There’s no recruitment or negotiation.”

Some have argued that the differing approaches are functionally equivalent. European taxpayers are writing checks to employers who wind up paying workers. American taxpayers are furnishing relief through unemployment payments.

“I think it’s a real open question,” said Jason Furman, an economic adviser to President Barack Obama, “which of those will be better in the long term. They might be more similar than everyone thinks.” He was speaking during a recent discussion with Stephanie Flanders of Bloomberg.

But conversations with recipients of government relief in Europe and the United States reveal one substantial difference: In many European countries, wage subsidies have enabled paychecks to continue without a hitch, sparing people the anxiety of managing bills while awaiting relief. For Americans, hellish tangles with bureaucracy have become legion as tens of millions of people have deluged the unemployment system, crashing websites, tying up phone systems and standing in parking lots for hours outside benefits offices.

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

Far from an accident, this reflects the values animating American capitalism, in which social safety nets are minimal, leaving people to struggle with scant relief. The pandemic “exposes the fact that we have a system problem,” said Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate economist. “A system where 50 percent of the people are on the edge is not a resilient system.”

The American Paycheck Protection Program has similarities to Europe’s wage subsidy programs. It has directed $520 billion in loans through private banks to small businesses. If American employers limit layoffs, they do not have to repay the money. Five million businesses have received funding, but bewildering rules and technical glitches have limited broader participation.

Washington also increased standard unemployment benefits by $600 a week, often giving recipients more than they earned in their jobs. But in requiring that workers transition from payrolls to the unemployment system, the government effectively consigned people to torturous delays.

Credit…Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Jobless data reveals how the pandemic has assailed American workers with exceptional force. The unemployment rate in the United States has soared nearly eight percentage points since February — it registered 11.1 percent in June — while France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands have all limited increases in the jobless rate to less than one percentage point.

“By and large, the European social model has proved quite adept and robust for this kind of crisis,” said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

None of this offers guarantees about the future. In many countries, the United States included, pandemic aid programs are set to expire in coming months. Given persistent fears about the virus, an abrupt elimination of relief would be damaging.

In Britain, nine million workers have officially been furloughed while continuing to draw paychecks under a government program. But as many as a fourth are at risk of being fired when the government reduces the subsidy in September, according to Bloomberg. In the United States, extra jobless benefits expire at the end of July, prompting worries that the removal of this aid will spell a loss of spending, further damaging businesses and producing another spike in unemployment.

For Americans, the risks are heightened by the fact that the nation lacks a national medical system — a feature taken as a given in Europe — leaving most people reliant on their jobs for access to health care.

For now, European programs are insulating workers from the consequences.

In Spain, the terrifying spread of the virus prompted the government to order a halt to nonessential services in mid-March. That threatened the livelihood of Ana Ascaso, a mother of three who works as a waitress at a popular bar in the center of Zaragoza, a city of 700,000 people in the northeast of the country. Her husband had been out of work for more than a year.

Credit…Edu Bayer for The New York Times
Credit…Edu Bayer for The New York Times

Within hours of announcing the state of alarm, the Spanish government also approved an “act of God” wage subsidy program. Ms. Ascaso and the other eight employees at the bar would technically be furloughed — their jobs awaiting their return — while the government paid 70 percent of their wages.

“It was very sad seeing the rising death rate, but I felt lucky that the only thing I had to worry about was my health and the health of my loved ones,” she said.

The bar where Ms. Ascaso works reopened late last month. The tables are set farther apart than before. She wears a mask as she serves drinks and tapas.

“For me, the wage subsidy was a gift,” she said.

Isabel Santander, who has long worked in a Zaragoza factory that makes automobile dashboards, endured a two-month delay for her government-furnished wage subsidy. But her bank advanced the money while she waited.

Credit…Edu Bayer for The New York Times

“I was able to feel relaxed at home,” she said. She spent time with her two daughters. Her company plans to resume production in early July, bringing back all 200 employees.


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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


In Ireland, the wage subsidy approach has not merely prevented workers from falling into arrears. It has also maintained their sense of cohesion.

Ian Redmond operates several nightclubs and bars in Dublin, employing over 100 people. He opened a tiki bar in January, right before the pandemic, assembling a team skilled in the art of cocktails. The wage subsidy program has spared him from having to start over.

“The government has been very proactive,” he said.

As Mr. Byrne, who runs the events, looks ahead to a new era of music performances and comedy shows with smaller crowds and social distancing, his employees have been able to carry on with their lives. One of his workers had been in the process of buying a house.

“If she was unemployed, she would have had a lot of difficulty getting a mortgage,” Mr. Byrne said. She was approved, and the sale is going ahead — presumably setting up future business for carpenters, electricians and a range of other services sustained by homeowners drawing paychecks.

Credit…Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

The Irish government sought to protect jobs in two rapid bursts. First, in mid-March, it unleashed payments of 350 euros ($395) to all who were out of work, regardless of their earnings. Then, it followed up with the wage subsidy plan, agreeing to cover up to €410 in pay per week at companies whose revenues dropped by at least 25 percent.

“These two schemes,” Mr. Byrne said, “they have really kept the country open.”

The American approach, by contrast, has barraged the unemployment system with people in dire straits, exceeding its capacity to deliver.

Normally, Mr. Dominguez, the Manhattan real estate agent, would not have been eligible for unemployment, because he was a contract worker. But the pandemic prompted Congress to make benefits available to freelancers and self-employed workers.

When he initially applied, he was told that he had to be rejected for state benefits before he could qualify for the federal benefits — a cumbersome, time-consuming requirement.

After New York petitioned the federal government to change the rules, Mr. Dominguez applied again through the website and was told he would hear back within 72 hours.

Days turned into weeks and then months as his bills mounted. He dialed every state number he could find to plead his case. He joined Facebook groups with other jobless workers awaiting relief. He contacted his political representatives.

He did receive a $1,200 stimulus check from the federal government, supplementing that money with borrowed funds to cover the $2,800-a-month rent on his one-bedroom apartment.

Credit…Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
Credit…Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

He signed up for distribution at a food pantry. Then, a friend tipped him off to what passed for a gold mine in such times: Citarella, a famously expensive purveyor of fresh seafood and other gustatory treasure, tossed out expired food daily. He began stopping by the store after closing time, rooting through the trash for nourishing discards.

More than 10 weeks after he applied for unemployment benefits, Mr. Dominguez received word that he had qualified.

He was still awaiting his first check — $170 in state benefits, plus the $600 in expanded federal relief. And the money was effectively spent: He had to pay back what he had borrowed.

Peter S. Goodman reported from London, Patricia Cohen from New York, and Rachel Chaundler from Zaragoza, Spain.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Roderick Crawford: The EU must drop its maximalist approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol

Roderick Crawford works on conflict resolution in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq, and on Brexit-related matters. He is a former editor of Parliamentary Brief.

Any final agreement on the future relationship is dependent on the successful implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement; not surprisingly, it is the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol where British and EU positions are furthest apart.

The UK and EU have always viewed the protocol through different lenses. In part this difference is because the EU doesn’t fully understand the Belfast Agreement and was incredibly slow to recognise that it undermined rather than supported many of its positions.

Having framed the protocol as a defender of the Belfast Agreement, the EU struggled to accept that the agreement upheld east-west relations as well as north-south ones in ways the protocol undermined. In the context of the political constraints and crisis of last autumn, the concession on consent did bring the protocol sufficiently in line with the Belfast Agreement for the UK to accept it, however unsatisfactory the protocol remained constitutionally, politically and as practical policy.

Now at the implementation stage, both parties are again looking at the protocol through their different lenses. Last month the Government published its approach to implementation; the Commission’s response showed no sign of welcoming a light-touch regime favoured by the UK, stating: “the UK will have to meet all the requirements of the Protocol, rigorously and effectively. That includes putting in place all the necessary checks and controls for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. That includes applying EU rules on customs and sanitary and phytosanitary protection”.

The strict requirements of the protocol secure the EU’s primary interests, but not those of the UK, so the EU has little incentive to problem solve with the UK to try and realise aims it signed up to but does not really share, or to agree trade offs between these other aims and its core interests. However, there is one factor that alters these dynamics – potentially significantly.

Before the end of 2024 the UK government will provide the opportunity for consent to the continued application of the main economic aspects of the protocol (articles 5-10). Consent will require a simple majority of votes in the assembly. It is assumed that a vote on the continuation of the relevant articles of the protocol will be for no change; this is based on expected party representation after the next assembly election, though this expectation may overstate likely future decline in unionist seats.

The assumption that there will be no vote to change the working of the protocol assumes the question is seen in largely or wholly political and communal terms: a vote against the protocol on principle. However, removing consent to a system because it is damaging economically would not be a matter of political principle and communal allegiance but of mutual and thus cross-communal interest.

A rejection of the relevant economic articles of the protocol would result in an improvement to the working of the protocol, one that would likely command a majority in the assembly; it would not threaten north-south co-operation (excluded from the issues that would be voted on) and could not require a hard border, for which there would be no majority anyway. Addressing the faults of a cumbersome and expensive protocol would benefit Northern Ireland: it would, however, be a loss for the Commission.

The point of the consent principle in the protocol is not only that one day the voice of the people of Northern Ireland will be heard; it is that because this is the case, their voice and interests will be taken into account from the very beginning – from the design stage itself: i.e. now. In the light of this, the EU’s incentive to make a deal that works for everyone and balances the full aims of the protocol is far greater. The EU is no longer the final judge on the acceptability of the protocol.

The question that faces the Commission therefore, is how it can ensure that the operation of the protocol is not overly detrimental to the economic interests of the people of Northern Ireland, thus risking its rejection by democratic vote in just over four years. That is likely to be the cost of a heavy-handed approach to implementing the protocol.

The EU needs to change its thinking from a maximalist approach focused on its limited interests to a more balanced approach that allows trade offs between rigorous application of the Union Customs Code and the economic interests of Northern Ireland. A maximalist approach is not needed to secure core EU interests and a more flexible and innovative approach is needed to manage the trade offs – and these do need managing.

There is plenty of scope to apply exemptions to the strict application of checks and customs duties. For instance, Article 5 of the protocol, on movement of goods, provides that goods that are not at risk of entering the single market will not pay customs duties; there are no practical grounds for strict application of the Union Customs Code to apply to such goods.

Retail shipments bound for the high streets and shopping centres of Northern Ireland would fall within this “not at risk” category, thus preventing hikes in the cost of weekly shopping that would affect people across Northern Ireland. A decision on this is required before the end of the transition period, December 31: it should be made now.

Goods subject to commercial processing cannot be designated “not at risk” of single market entry. Getting the necessary checks and controls undertaken as lightly and swiftly as possible for these goods is a problem that still needs to be solved and agreed but the incentive to do so has not really been there for the EU. Long-established supply chains could have special status and arrangements based on such trusted trading could allow the minimal paperwork.

Consent was not a sop to allow the UK to swallow the protocol whole: it introduced democracy into the working of the protocol and so made it accountable to the people, not just the EU. This change should affect the approach the Commission takes to getting the protocol implemented; like the UK, it now needs a protocol that works with the least hindrance to east-west trade. Failure to get this right risks rejection of the protocol in four years and its replacement with a lighter-touch regime. The EU should work to achieve that regime now.

One of the conditions the EU has set for an agreement on a UK-EU future relationship is respect for democracy. We will see how serious the Commission is about that in the weeks ahead. Michel Barnier warned that there were costs to Brexit for Northern Ireland; there are also costs of democracy for the Commission.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Six months on from last year’s general election, it’s only the LibDems who bang on about Europe

Britain has left the European Union.  Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings turned round a Conservative poll rating of barely 20 per cent, a hostile Supreme Court judgement over prorogation, Commons defeats, stalemate and resignations to deliver first a Commons majority of 80 and then Brexit itself – less than six months after the Conservatives were reduced to only a bare four MEPs under Theresa May.

Even if he achieves nothing else as Prime Minister, Johnson will be remembered for this nation-changing achievement, more monumental even than Margaret Thatcher’s economic reforms.  Tories should always honour him for it, and for seeing off Jeremy Corbyn.

So what’s at stake in the current trade negotiation with the EU is the form of Brexit, not the fact of it.  Will we be, at one of the scale, more like (say) Norway, circling within the orbit of the EU’s Single Market rules and social market consensus; or, at the other end, Australia (for example), having no trade deal at all, and trading on minimum WTO terms?

Perhaps, at some point in the future, some other Government will lean in a Norway-type direction.  But that is neither what Johnson’s Brexit deal pointed towards, nor what his election manifesto expressly promised.

On Johnson’s deal, the revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration was worse for Northern Ireland than Theresa May’s version, since it expressly separated it further from the settlement which will apply to Great Britain…

…But better for Great Britain than May’s deal, since that settlement gives it greater potential to shape its own economic destiny as an independent state.

On the Conservative Manifesto, that document expressly committed the Prime Minister to a future relationship “based on free trade and friendly cooperation, not on the EU’s treaties or EU law”…

…And to “not extending the implementation period beyond December 2020”.  Given those commitments, we’re surprised that anyone was surprised that the Government made it clear this week that it keep that pledge.

The thrust of the public objection to doing so came from the now reduced Remainer residue – the diehard remnants of the campaigners that sought a second referendum less than a year ago.

It was that the start of 2021 would be a bad time for more friction in trade between the UK and the EU, because of the effects of the Coronavirus.

But the heart of the economic case for Brexit was always what this site called short-term pain for medium-term gain – in other words, trading off more friction with the EU for greater spending, regulatory and tax freedoms overall.

There is no guarantee that the end of transition will be any more or less disruptive in two years than it will be in December.

In any event, the real objection of those former Remainers to not extending wasn’t the public one.  Rather, it was that ending the implementation period will make it easier for Britain to begin leaving that EU orbit.

In other words, the campaign to extend transition was essentially part of the push to keep Britain within it – and make it more like Norway and less like Canada or Switzerland – or Australia, if there’s no trade deal at all.

However, the sum of the matter is that this ship is already sailing.  The economic arguments for and against Brexit were tested in the 2016 referendum.  Leave won.

Johnson then refined them further, proposing “a new relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation, not on the EU’s treaties or EU law” in that manifesto last year.  He won.

The question that therefore remains is whether a trade deal will or won’t be agreed before the end of the year – which, given the legal and political exigencies, will mean that the parties need to get a negotiating move on.

And as our columnist Stephen Booth keeps pointing out, the dynamics of this negotiation are rather different from those of May’s.

It wouldn’t be true to claim that the UK wants nothing from a trade deal other than a barebones settlement.  It would like greater access for financial services, for example, and less trading friction than other third parties.

But in the last resort, Johnson seems prepared to walk away from the talks rather than concede “a role” to the European Court of Justice, to quote from the manifesto again.

Furthermore, he has a majority of 80, specifically returned on the basis of his Brexit vision and pledges, whereas May had none at all.

Additionally, the second most intractable problem in the two-stage negotiation has been resolved: the matter of where regulatory and trade barriers will run between Great Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Which leaves the hardest one of all – the role of the Court.  If the EU is willing to recognise that Johnson won’t budge, which seems to be the case, the elements are in place for a solution.

The EU wants fishing and migrant access, plus no tariffs, given its manufacturing surplus; the UK wants services and trade access, with minimum friction on rules of origin and other regulatory checks. The Prime Minister will have to be very careful on fishing, particularly given the Scottish dimension – and will want a U.S trade deal as a sign that the UK is truly entering a new era.

Michel Barnier seems to recognise that the EU will have to give up some ground on fishing, but although a trade deal looks possible on paper it also looks daunting in practice.  This negotiation is more in the hands of the member states and less in that of the Commission than its predecessor, and so vulnerable to spanners in the works.

Whatever happens, Britain has moved on from May’s Government and Brexit stalemate.  The CBI now says that it “supports the Government’s timetable”.  Keir Starmer is a dog that hasn’t barked on implementation extension.  EU alignment is becoming a niche cause.

David Cameron once suggested that the Eurosceptic Conservative Party was irritating the electorate by “banging on about Europe”.  That fate is currently reserved for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, currently languishing on some seven per cent in the polls.

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Graham Gudgin: Has Johnson kept his promises on Northern Ireland?

Graham Gudgin is Chief Economic Adviser at Policy Exchange.

Last week the Cabinet Office released its command paper on how the United Kingdom intends to operationalise its undertakings in the Irish Protocol section of last October’s Withdrawal Agreement.

The most striking aspect was that firms must submit customs declarations for all goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. These transactions will also be subject to checks.

For animals these will take place at expanded customs facilities at ports in Britain or Ulster. For other goods, the (occasional) checks can be undertaken at firms’ premises on a risk-assessed basis. Although in a sense minimal, the requirement for customs declarations and checks on internal trade within the UK is unprecedented and extraordinary, as I set out in a Policy Exchange analysis.

How does all of this square with the Prime Minister’s bold promises on trade with Northern Ireland? 

The first promise was made when the Boris Johnson spoke at the annual conference of the Democratic Unionist Party in late November 2018, when Theresa May was still Prime Minister and still attempting to push her doomed Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. He said that the backstop “would cleave NI from the UK” and added “we need to junk the backstop”. In the same speech he expressed his support for a bridge to Ulster.

A year later, during the 2019 general election campaign, the now Conservative leader told traders in Northern Ireland that if any of them were asked to fill in customs paperwork they should telephone the Prime Minister who would “direct them to throw the form in the bin”.

Even then, confusion reigned since Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, told a House of Lords Committee that businesses in Ulster would need to complete export declarations for shipments to the mainland.

The 2019 Tory manifesto had been more guarded. The Protocol was not explicitly mentioned. Instead the section on strengthening the union promised full economic benefits for Northern Ireland from any new Free Trade Agreements and unfettered access to markets in Great Britain. Tellingly, there was no undertaking to avoid customs declarations and checks for consignments going from the mainland to the Province. Instead there was only the rather oblique statement that in implementing our Brexit deal “we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market”. 

In late January 2020, Johnson – now with a stunning election victory and strengthened Commons position – told the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that it was “emphatically” the case that there would be unfettered trade in either direction.

Days later, Michel Barnier gave a speech at Queens University Belfast in which he warned that the legal undertakings given in the (revised) Irish Protocol could not be avoided. In agreeing the Protocol he said, “the UK agreed a system of reinforced checks and controls for goods entering NI from GB.” I know what is written in the text [of the Protocol] he added, “it is very precise”.  

By that stage the UK was three days from leaving the EU, after the Prime Minister had renegotiated the Withdrawal Agreement with only limited changes to the 132-page, hugely detailed Irish Protocol.

The key change was of course to remove Great Britain from its stipulations binding the UK into the EU’s Customs Union and much of its Single Market regulatory framework. The revised Protocol largely returned to the EU’s original proposal to avoid any Irish land border by keeping Northern Ireland operationally within the EU Customs Union and within the Single Market for goods, moving the outer economic border of the EU to the Irish Sea between Ulster and the mainland. This had been previously denounced by May as something no British Prime Minister could sign up to because of its implications for the Union.

The only positive addition in respect of Northern Ireland was the undertaking that the protocol should be subject to a democratic vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly after four years. This inspired addition originated from Downing Street and notably not from the Northern Ireland Office, whose drafting on the Protocol appeared to give Brussels and Dublin everything they desired with only rather weak and vague safeguards for pro-Union interests in the UK.

This addition was strongly resisted in Dublin but eventually inserted to maintain a degree of democratic consent into what was otherwise an external imposition on the Province. Dublin’s expectation will have been that a rejection of the Protocol in 2024 would be unlikely given the built block of pro-EU nationalists in Northern Ireland. In any event there is no indication whatsoever about what would replace the Protocol if it were rejected.

The UK appeared to stall progress on implementing the Protocol but eventually, in April 2020, an initial meeting of the important Joint Committee took place chaired by Michael Gove. This was followed by an EU technical note laying out in stern detail that what was required from the UK in respect to Northern Ireland includes applying the Union Customs Code, EU law and VAT rules to all production and trade to and from NI.

Last week’s Cabinet Office document respects the legalities of the revised Protocol but attempts to do so with the lightest of touches. It avoids any export declarations for trade from the Province to the mainland as unnecessary, and has refused the EU request for an office in Belfast to monitor UK compliance with its rules. Thus, Johnson’s promise of unfettered trade from Ulster is delivered.

Customs posts are to be maintained or enhanced to check animal movements in the other direction, but this was always expected and has never alarmed the DUP.  The document also claims that Ulster remains in the UK Customs Union and will gain the benefits of future FTAs.

But this is only true in as far as trade between the Province and the EU remains unaffected. Similarly, the claim of no international border inside the Union may be legally the case but, since customs declarations are needed, this is hardly the full story. The main success of the new document is the avoidance of customs posts at Irish Sea ports except for animals. Any checks will be done at firms’ premises.

So, how many marks do we give the Prime Minister? The DUP’s judgement is perhaps the best guide. They say that the Protocol should have been avoided but they recognise the difficult conditions under which it was signed, including the damaging Benn Amendment. They also respect the his efforts to minimise both the economic damage to Northern Ireland and the political damage to the Union. Arlene Foster’s judgement of ‘a glass half-full’ sounds about right. 

Moreover, we are still not at the endgame. Details on customs declarations have yet to be finalised and some in Downing Street believe that HMRC could still relieve firms of the need to submit customs declarations themselves and instead use existing paperwork such as VAT returns.

The Government has also taken legal advice on avoiding the Protocol if no FTA is signed. Since the Withdrawal Agreement was signed in order to move to agreeing an FTA, any EU refusal on this matter would question the wisdom of having signed the Protocol.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The UK quarantine for international arrivals: what are the rules and why has the Government imposed them now?

Up until yesterday, the UK has been relatively relaxed on its Covid-19 travel policy.

Citizens have been advised against all non-essential international travel’ – in stark contrast to countries that have banned movement – and there has been no quarantine period for anyone arriving back in the UK, which other countries, too, have implemented.

But all that changed when the Government announced the latter policy.

What does this mean?

Now, anyone arriving in the UK from abroad – be it by flight, ferry or other means – will have to self-isolate for fourteen days when they return to the UK.

In addition, international arrivals will be subjected to “a series of measures and restrictions at the UK border”, such as giving their contact and accommodation details – presumably so that officials can later check they are following the rules.

They will also be asked to download and use the NHS contact tracing app. 

When do the rules come in?

The Government has said the quarantine measures will come in soon, although hasn’t said when.

Some suspect they will be introduced at the end of May.

Are there any exemptions?

Yes. Travellers from the Common Travel Area, including the Republic of Ireland (which has a 14-day quarantine period too), are exempt from these measures. 

France was also excluded from the rule on Sunday.

A joint statement between the UK and France explained the rationale for this. It said that the two countries need a “close bilateral” relationship in order to fight Covid-19.

“[T]he Prime Minister and the President agreed to work together in taking forward appropriate border measures. This cooperation is particularly necessary for the management of our common border”, the statement continued.

Furthermore, there will be exemptions made to support national security and infrastructure requirements.

More details of these will be “set out shortly”, according to the Government.

Why now?

One question people will ask is why has the Government imposed this ban only now, especially as other countries (Israel, Australia, Australia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Ireland, Greece and Turkey) have all had the policy, with many of them ordering it in March.

The Government’s main rationale is in its Coronavirus FAQs document:

“The scientific advice shows that when domestic transmission is high, cases from abroad represent a small amount of the overall total and make no significant difference to the epidemic. Now that domestic transmission within the UK is coming under control, and other countries begin to lift lockdown measures, it is the right time to prepare new measures at the border.”

Furthermore, on April 10, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, uttered similar sentiment when asked why the Government has not closed its borders:

“[O]ur scientists have been very clear from the outset that [closing borders] would not work as a measure to prevent the ingress of coronavirus into the UK. Coronavirus is now in the UK and transmitting very widely… We will likely go back to low levels of transmission and the virus will continue to be here in and around us in our communities I suspect for a very long time even if we can keep the levels right down.”

Given that the Government had to repatriate tens of thousands of Britons over the last two months, this might explain what appears a delayed response.

While getting these people back, it would have been much harder to contain the virus.

Only now that the UK peak is declining, and that transmission rates are under control, is the Government more confident that measures, such as the quarantine, have room to work.

Are there any problems with the plan?

One thing people will be keen to know is how the Government intends to enforce travel rules.

Israel has done this by using government facilities, where people can self-isolate and be monitored.

There’s speculation the UK’s Border Force will carry out checks.

The question is how resource-intensive this will be – depending on where people isolate, and how many do it.

There’s also a cost element; the Government has said it will arrange accommodation for travellers who cannot “demonstrate” they’re able to do it for themselves.

But what is this accommodation, and is there a big bill?

Furthermore, the Government will have to ensure that people do not try to bypass the rule – by flying to France and then the UK.

Wider concerns

Travel industry insiders, too, are extremely nervous about the move – having already had 20,000 redundancies.

Daily arrivals from flights have already gone from 300,000 a day to around 15,000 average.

The quarantine will no doubt reduce their business even more; people who have jobs where they need to be on site simply cannot manage to go away (if they have to self-isolate for two weeks afterwards), and city breaks will lose their appeal.

There will be increasing calls for the Government to help.

Farmers, too, are concerned given that they need fruit pickers to fly over for the summer.

We can expect these concerns to become more pressing over the next weeks.

How long will this last for?

All remains to be seen.

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Owen Paterson: The Coalition was formed ten years ago today. I served in Cameron’s first Cabinet – and we can take heart in its achievements.

Owen Paterson was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in David Cameron’s first Cabinet. He is MP for North Shropshire.

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‘Life Has to Go On’: How Sweden Has Faced the Virus Without a Lockdown

Westlake Legal Group 00virus-sweden1-copy-facebookJumbo-v2 ‘Life Has to Go On’: How Sweden Has Faced the Virus Without a Lockdown Sodermalm (Stockholm, Sweden) Nursing Homes ireland Elderly Deaths (Fatalities) Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

STOCKHOLM — She stood leaning on her cane, briefly resting among dozens of bubbly young Swedes out enjoying one of the first sunny spring days of the year.

“I’m trying not to get too close to people,” said Birgit Lilja, 82, explaining that she had left her house to pick up a new identity card in person. “But I trust them to be careful with me.”

Trust is high in Sweden — in government, institutions and fellow Swedes. When the government defied conventional wisdom and refused to order a wholesale lockdown to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus epidemic, public health officials pointed to trust as a central justification.

Swedes, they said, could be trusted to stay home, follow social distancing protocols and wash their hands to slow the spread of the virus — without any mandatory orders. And, to a large extent, Sweden does seem to have been as successful in controlling the virus as most other nations.

Sweden’s death rate of 22 per 100,000 people is the same as that of Ireland, which has earned accolades for its handling of the pandemic, and far better than in Britain or France.

Yet, on this warm spring day, at least, there was little evidence that people were observing the protocols — adding further mystery to Sweden’s apparent success in handling the scourge without an economically devastating lockdown.

All around Ms. Lilja along Skanegatan Street in the Sodermalm neighborhood of Stockholm, younger Swedes thronged bars, restaurants and a crowded park last week, drinking in the sun.

They laughed and basked in freedoms considered normal in most parts of the world not long ago, before coronavirus lockdowns, quarantines and mass restrictions upended social norms. As other nations in Europe begin to consider reopening their economies, Sweden’s experience would seem to argue for less caution, not more.

“My respect for those who died, but we are doing something right here in Sweden,” said Johan Mattsson, 44, as he was having a drink at a cafe on Skanegatan Street.

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The restaurant consultant praised the freedoms he had in Sweden compared to other countries. “I’m not seeing very different statistics in many other countries,” he said. “I’m happy we didn’t go into lockdown. Life has to go on.”

While other countries were slamming on the brakes, Sweden kept its borders open, allowed restaurants and bars to keep serving, left preschools and grade schools in session and placed no limits on public transport or outings in local parks. Hairdressers, yoga studios, gyms and even some cinemas have remained open.

Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. Museums have closed and sporting events have been canceled. At the end of March, the authorities banned visits to nursing homes.

That’s roughly it. There are almost no fines, and police officers can only ask people to oblige. Pedestrians wearing masks are generally stared at as if they have just landed from Mars.

On Sunday, five restaurants were closed down for failing to observe social distancing requirements. They were not fined, however, and will be permitted to reopen after passing an inspection, Per Follin, the regional medical officer with the Department of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Throughout the crisis Sweden has had enough intensive care units to deal with Covid-19 patients, the minister of health and social affairs, Lena Hallengren, said in an interview, referring to the disease caused by the virus. “We have 250 empty beds right now.”

This is not to say that Sweden has escaped Covid-19’s deadly consequences entirely.

The Swedish Public Health Authority has admitted that the country’s seniors have been hit hard, with the virus spreading through 75 percent of the 101 care homes in Stockholm. Employees of the homes complain of shortages of personal protective equipment.

The authority announced last week that more than 26 percent of the 2 million inhabitants of Stockholm will have been infected by May 1. But even that figure was presented as something of a win: a number of infections that might limit future outbreaks, reached without suffering an inordinate number of deaths.

The freer approach has not fully insulated Sweden’s economy, mainly because the country is dependent on exports, the minister of finance, Magdalena Andersson, said. She said the economy was likely to shrink by 7 percent this year, “but of course hairdressers, restaurants and hotels are less affected compared to other countries.”

From the first signs of the pandemic, the Swedish Public Health Authority decided that a lockdown would be pointless. “Once you get into a lockdown, it’s difficult to get out of it,” the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said. “How do you reopen? When?”

Scientists like Mr. Tegnell, who has become something of a celebrity in Sweden, and not politicians have driven the debate over the coronavirus response.

Political leaders rarely attend news conferences about the virus, and the Swedish Constitution prevents the government from meddling in the affairs of independent administrative authorities, such as the Public Health Authority.

While there was some early talk in Sweden of achieving “herd immunity,” which would mean infecting at least 60 percent of the population, Mr. Tegnell denies that was ever the government’s policy.

“Basically we are trying to do the same thing that most countries are doing — slow down the spread as much as possible,” he said. “It’s just that we use slightly different tools than many other countries.”

When responses are assessed after the crisis, Mr. Tegnell acknowledges, Sweden will have to face its broad failing with people over the age of 70, who have accounted for a staggering 86 percent of the country’s 2,194 fatalities to date.

That percentage is roughly on par with most other countries, but some critics here say the mortality rate among seniors could have been far lower with adequate preparation. In a letter to one of Sweden’s most prominent newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, 22 scientists accused the Public Health Authority of negligence.

“They tell people, stay home, but they also keep the restaurants open,” said Lena Einhorn, a virologist and one of the signatories of the letter. “They are advising people working in elderly homes only to wear masks when a patient is sick. Their policies are both ambiguous and rigid.”

In the absence of recommendations from the Public Health Authority, a Jewish care home near Stockholm unilaterally decided to ban visitors, said Aviva Kraitsik, the head of operations, who asked that the facility’s name be withheld because of previous threats it has received.

The health authority even went so far as to order the “no visitors” signs removed. Ms. Kraitsik refused. “I said they could put me behind bars,” she said. “I was prepared to take my punishment to protect our residents.”

But it was too late. The virus had already crept inside, and eventually killed 11 of the 76 inhabitants.

It was only after the home required employees to wear face shields and masks when working with all the residents, even those displaying no symptoms, that it managed to halt the spread of the infection, Ms. Kraitsik said.

The minister of health and social affairs, Ms. Hallengren, acknowledged that there had been a shortage of protective gear, though she also noted that “many people in the health care sector for the elderly aren’t used to working with P.P.E.”

“They should have been able to prevent this,” said Elisabeth Asbrink, a writer and publicist who has been critical of the government’s approach. In recent years Sweden, like many other countries, has transferred such homes from state to private control, she said, and the level of care had suffered. “This has not been good for the weak and the elderly, especially now.”

Such thoughts were far from the minds of the dozens of graduating students who gathered to celebrate Friday night in several bars on Medborgarplatsen Square in Stockholm. They crowded around the bar, hugging and kissing, and generally flouting the rules. The police made no move to stop them.

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Lagarde, von der Leyen and Merkel have all failed to take charge of Europe’s response to the Coronavirus

Who is in charge of the clattering train? That question, often put by Winston Churchill, needs to be answered with the utmost urgency by the European authorities if they are to avert disaster.

Someone has to take charge. Christine Lagarde, the President of the European Central Bank, instead said during yesterday’s press conference in Frankfurt:

“I really would like all of us to join forces, I very much hope that the fiscal authorities appreciate that we will only deal with this shock if we come together.”

In other words, they have not yet come together. Lagarde also made this unguarded comment:

”We are not here to close spreads, this is not the function or the mission of the ECB. There are other tools for that and there are other actors to actually deal with those issues.”

She implied that the ECB is indifferent to the widening gap between Italian and German bond yields. Later she tried  to repair the damage by saying: “I am fully committed to avoid any fragmentation in a difficult moment for the euro area.”

No doubt she is fully committed, but what can she actually do?

Meanwhile in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the new President of the European Commission, promises on Twitter to “use all the tools at our disposal” to contain the spread of the Coronavirus and ensure that the European economy weathers the storm.

But what are the tools at her disposal? In the words of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who knows Brussels well:

“The EU’s legalistic spending machinery will limit any fiscal punch and slow the roll out of crisis measures. There are still no eurobonds, no shared budget, and no mutualised pan-eurozone deposit insurance for banks, which leaves vulnerable Italy in the worst of all worlds: deprived of sovereign economic instruments yet without EU fiscal support to compensate.”

No wonder the Italians, doing all they can as a nation to meet the crisis, have chided the EU for being slow to come to their aid.

The usual assumption, when Europe is in crisis, is that Germany will mount a rescue mission. But in this crisis, Angela Merkel has so far shown zero leadership.

Her natural game is to hold back, to wait and see which way things are moving, to intervene only when her services are acknowledged to be indispensable.

The German tradition of consensus politics entails long periods of immobility, with decisive action out of the question until everyone has talked the subject through with impressive thoroughness, but at almost unbearable length.

Some of the federal states – Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein – have decided the epidemic demands action. Others, such as Berlin, refuse to see the need for a significant response.

Michael Müller, the Mayor of Berlin, is well aware that many Berliners are more worried by the climate crisis, and reckon the Coronavirus is “not a serious problem“, for it will only kill old people and those who have cancer, and might even do the planet some good.

Von der Leyen recently met Greta Thunberg, and was reproached by her young visitor for unveiling a climate law which will only make the EU carbon neutral by 2050.

Meanwhile the Dublin Government has decided to shut schools, universities and childcare facilities until the end of March: noticeably different to the sombre but more gradual approach commended yesterday afternoon by Boris Johnson and the British Government’s scientific advisers.

Different nation states can and do vary in their responses to the epidemic, and those in charge will be held accountable for the decisions they are now making, especially if those decisions turn out to be wrong.

If Donald Trump’s attempts to downplay the danger prove mistaken, he will lose in November.

But who will be held responsible in the EU? No answer to that question can be given, for no one is in charge.

At the end of the poem quoted by Churchill comes an answer of sorts: “Death is in charge of the clattering train.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Lagarde, von der Leyen and Merkel have all failed to take charge of Europe’s response to the Coronavirus

Who is in charge of the clattering train? That question, often put by Winston Churchill, needs to be answered with the utmost urgency by the European authorities if they are to avert disaster.

Someone has to take charge. Christine Lagarde, the President of the European Central Bank, instead said during yesterday’s press conference in Frankfurt:

“I really would like all of us to join forces, I very much hope that the fiscal authorities appreciate that we will only deal with this shock if we come together.”

In other words, they have not yet come together. Lagarde also made this unguarded comment:

”We are not here to close spreads, this is not the function or the mission of the ECB. There are other tools for that and there are other actors to actually deal with those issues.”

She implied that the ECB is indifferent to the widening gap between Italian and German bond yields. Later she tried  to repair the damage by saying: “I am fully committed to avoid any fragmentation in a difficult moment for the euro area.”

No doubt she is fully committed, but what can she actually do?

Meanwhile in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the new President of the European Commission, promises on Twitter to “use all the tools at our disposal” to contain the spread of the Coronavirus and ensure that the European economy weathers the storm.

But what are the tools at her disposal? In the words of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who knows Brussels well:

“The EU’s legalistic spending machinery will limit any fiscal punch and slow the roll out of crisis measures. There are still no eurobonds, no shared budget, and no mutualised pan-eurozone deposit insurance for banks, which leaves vulnerable Italy in the worst of all worlds: deprived of sovereign economic instruments yet without EU fiscal support to compensate.”

No wonder the Italians, doing all they can as a nation to meet the crisis, have chided the EU for being slow to come to their aid.

The usual assumption, when Europe is in crisis, is that Germany will mount a rescue mission. But in this crisis, Angela Merkel has so far shown zero leadership.

Her natural game is to hold back, to wait and see which way things are moving, to intervene only when her services are acknowledged to be indispensable.

The German tradition of consensus politics entails long periods of immobility, with decisive action out of the question until everyone has talked the subject through with impressive thoroughness, but at almost unbearable length.

Some of the federal states – Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein – have decided the epidemic demands action. Others, such as Berlin, refuse to see the need for a significant response.

Michael Müller, the Mayor of Berlin, is well aware that many Berliners are more worried by the climate crisis, and reckon the Coronavirus is “not a serious problem“, for it will only kill old people and those who have cancer, and might even do the planet some good.

Von der Leyen recently met Greta Thunberg, and was reproached by her young visitor for unveiling a climate law which will only make the EU carbon neutral by 2050.

Meanwhile the Dublin Government has decided to shut schools, universities and childcare facilities until the end of March: noticeably different to the sombre but more gradual approach commended yesterday afternoon by Boris Johnson and the British Government’s scientific advisers.

Different nation states can and do vary in their responses to the epidemic, and those in charge will be held accountable for the decisions they are now making, especially if those decisions turn out to be wrong.

If Donald Trump’s attempts to downplay the danger prove mistaken, he will lose in November.

But who will be held responsible in the EU? No answer to that question can be given, for no one is in charge.

At the end of the poem quoted by Churchill comes an answer of sorts: “Death is in charge of the clattering train.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com