London: Boris Johnson welcomed 21 African Heads of State-Government and business leaders at the first UK-Africa Summit. The PM congratulated himself for visiting more African countries as Foreign Secretary than any other senior politician in living memory. Johnson suggested Canary Wharf was the fountain of investment and every type of tech was available, in fact Canary Wharf is a bigger banking centre than Frankfurt. Johnson’s typically witty speech was all about trade into and out of post-Brexit Britain, setting the bar high he announced “the British government would no longer provide any new direct official development assistance, investment, export credit or trade promotion for thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas, instead the UK will focus on supporting the transition to lower- and zero-carbon alternatives”. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, accompanied by The Earl and Countess of Wessex and The Princess Royal hosted a reception in Buckingham Palace. Following the summit £6. 5Billion worth of new deals were announced (2018-2019 trade in goods and services with Africa amounted to £36Billion).
After exactly three years of stalemate between Sinn Fein and the DUP, a deal to successfully re-establish the devolved power-sharing government in The Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont has been agreed, with a £2bn injection of financial support from Westminster. This is thanks to the will-power and joint efforts of Julian Smith, Secretary of State for NI and to Simon Coveney, Tánaiste- the deputy head of the government of Ireland, 2nd to Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach. These two ministers were determined to reach a pragmatic solution, they clearly have a unique understanding of each other’s perspectives. The agreement contains reforms for health, education and justice, also the establishment of a new Office for Identity and Cultural Expression, this will offer legislative recognition and protection for the Irish language in NI for the first time. It is also interesting to note the role Ireland has played in the negotiations between NI and the UK. The agreement is an example what can be achieved between a political partnership, with political accommodation and commitment, hopefully this is the destiny for future post- Brexit British-Irish relations.
Johnson’s government has lost no time in making changes and delivering what he calls a People’s Government (a nomenclature that might have been devised by Jeremy Corbyn- part of Johnson’s outreach to Labour voters). The 800 peers in the House of Lords are reportedly being resettled in the north of England, possibly in York, perhaps this is an experiment while the Palace of Westminster is being restored, estimated to begin in the mid-2020’s. Tory party chairman James Cleverly said this was part of fulfilling Johnson’s election promise of connecting politics with the people. No10 Downing Street have also announced that Conservative Campaign HQ will move out of Westminster to somewhere in the Midlands or the North, they are seeking suggestions about strategic venues, a new focussed team will operate out of a new London location.
Britain is still non-committal about 5G installation, it seems despite quantities of expert advice against Huawei, including GCHQ, the PM prefers Huawei’s cheaper rates and expediency. Priti Patel, Home Minister, and Ben Wallace, Defence Minister, both say Huawei could jeopardise UK’s security interests. The US Ambassador Woody Johnson cautioned No10 about the risks of installing Huawei’s 5Gbut a government spokesperson as said the review of high-risk vendors is still ongoing. US, Australia and New Zealand have all rejected Huawei, the decision rest with UK’s Britain deciding in favour could undermine the Five Eyes intelligence sharing; Canada is watching closely.
Folks are expecting a ministerial reshuffle after 31st January, as some of these may be women pleas of gender bias will be heard but it is apparent that some women ministers have under-performed. Michael Gove is expected to feature in an expanded role, Gove has performed expertly in every role he has undertaken, it is hoped he will become Deputy PM.
The House of Lords passed the Withdrawal Agreement after passing two amendments: refugee children will be allowed to join a relative in UK and EU citizens will have physical evidence of their right to remain in UK. Downing Street want the EU to begin trade negotiations straight after 31 January, EU say not till March and they might give UK punitive terms. Johnson wants to focus on trade deals with Tier 1 countries; if UK can put Huawei aside the new ministerial teamcould begin talks with the US instead, as Trump proposed in Davos; or trailblaze with Japan if UK are prepared to eliminate auto-tariffs completely and grant more liberal rules for digital-trade beyond those in the EU-Japan agreement.
This time next week it will be all system go as UK will have finally exited the EU.