Ronnie’s weekly review – 23 September 2017

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By Ronnie Smith

Florence – May shows her empty hand.

On Friday last week the British Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May, delivered what was billed as a major speech and offered more of an insight into the British government’s Brexit negotiating position than we have previously seen.

Mrs May’s problem is that she seems utterly incapable of making a ‘major speech’ because she sincerely never wants to say anything important, mistakenly preferring to hope that, through a few harshly uttered vacuous soundbites, her non-existent leadership skills will inspire the rest of us to faithfully follow her. So poor is Mrs May’s performance as Prime Minister that half-wits such as Boris Johnson and lightweights like Jacob Rees-Mogg are actually considered to be serious replacements.

What Mrs May clarified on Friday is that, as I have long suspected, the British government has never actually had a firm negotiating position on Brexit. They have simply deployed a series of tactical manoeuvres to test the patience of the EU negotiators and find out what Britain will be allowed to get away with. At the moment their best hope appears to be a form of long term ‘associate membership’ on the understanding that the all-important trade deal, that lies at the heart of everything, can only be achieved through giving in on the principles of the free movement of people, continuing budgetary contributions and the judicial oversight of whatever agreement is finally reached.

The continuation of trade with Europe, the life-blood of a poorly structured British economy, trumps the desire to ‘take our country back’ and the likes of Mr Nigel Farage, who know nothing and care less about economics, are not pleased. Mrs May has asked for a ‘transition period’ of ‘something like two years’ on current EU membership terms. Or, to put it another way, continued membership of the EU for the foreseeable future.

Since 23 June last year the British government has been blustering and bluffing its way through Brexit and has wasted the entire period, making absolutely no progress on any of the vitally important issues raised by the historic referendum. Quite frankly their heart is not really in it and they are now trying to seek a thoroughly dishonourable compromise that will please no-one in the end, with Britain neither in or out of the EU.

The promise of ‘strong and stable’ government has been shown for what it always was, empty. 

Dublin – the airline we love to hate.

Ryanair, Europe’s largest and most despised airline, has been expending a lot of energy recently stepping up its war not only on its customers but also on the principles of common decency and good business practice.

As I’m sure all readers now know, Ryanair have decided to cancel thousands of flights all over Europe at very short notice, breaking the contracts they establish with each customer who books with them. They tell us that they have ‘messed up’ staff holidays, which they are obliged to honour, and will reorganise themselves better in future. Personally I am sure they are happy to take the opportunity to consolidate a large number of unprofitable late-season flights and reduce their losses at this time of the year.

Ryanair’s behaviour, as a company providing an important service to the market, has once again been disgraceful. But here’s the deal.

We all love the idea of flying around Europe for 50 Euros a pop, particularly when we see how much the national carriers still charge for the privilege. Ryanair, Easyjet and a growing number of low cost airlines have turned air travel into something akin to getting on a bus, not very comfortable for a few hours but worth the trouble to get to the sun or to see our families more often. However we must be realistic about what we can expect for 50 Euros a pop. Low cost means low levels of service, you get what you pay for and our desire to pay less has created the monster that is Ryanair. With a near-monopoly on many routes (Beziers airport and others would close without Ryanair) the company can pretty much treat us any way it likes.

For 50 Euros a pop, many of us have given ourselves little choice in how we fly from A to B.

Barcelona – the first of October approaches 

Tension is mounting in Barcelona as the independence referendum in Catalonia looms ever larger. This was a holiday weekend in the city with the hugely popular Merce festival taking place, bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the already seething city where demonstrations are planned by both sides of the issue.

The Spanish government and the courts have declared the referendum to be illegal but the Catalan regional parliament is determined to go ahead with the vote and has made it clear that it will be binding. If the result goes in favour of independence there are plans to declare the creation of the new state within 48 hours.

The Spanish government have sent large numbers of national police to the region, including those waiting on two chartered cruise ships moored outside the harbour, and have arrested a number of officials involved in the organisation of the referendum. Leaflets and ballot papers have been seized and the situation is clearly becoming increasingly serious with charges of ‘sedition’ being levelled at the Catalan population by government ministers.

Neither side seems willing to back down and the historical nature of the conflict between Catalonia and the central government suggests that any kind of compromise will be hard to come by. Travelling often in eastern Catalonia during the past 12 months, seeing the obvious support for independence in the area makes me fear that this is not going to end well.

However, my fingers remain crossed.