When Boris Johnson and the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met in Downing Street last month, they agreed on one thing immediately: that it was time to stop the sniping, animosity and backbiting that had characterised the first round of the Brexit talks. The Prime Minister emphasised that Britain wanted to be the EU’s close friend and ally.
Only a few weeks later, and already the Brexit wars are back.
‘Can my dog meet your horse?’ asked the woman, as her German shepherd lunged at me, making my thoroughbred jump up and down in panic.
We had been riding through the woods, a friend and I, when we came across one of those dog-walking clubs. Up to a dozen of what looked like former guard dogs and their owners came round a bend on the track towards us.
‘He just wants to say hello!’ the woman persisted. How many times have we all heard that from a dog-owner in the park before said beast pounces and humps us half to death? So I told her very firmly: ‘Absolutely not.
There were headlines recently about how more than half of local councils had recorded a large increase in the number of ‘fly-tipping’ incidents: cases where rubbish and waste are collected, then illegally dumped and left to rot in open fields. That practice normally has dire consequences for the local environment, and sometimes for the health of animals and people who live close by. Various sources were quoted claiming that organised criminal gangs were usually responsible for illegal fly-tipping.
When Alpha Condé ‘Le Professeur’ became president of Guinea in 2010, he was hailed by Tony Blair as an ideal leader — the very model of what an African premier should be. Unlike previous rulers, Condé didn’t shoot his way to the top, but arrived armed with a law degree from the Sorbonne and Guinea’s first ever democratic mandate. Blair chose Le Professeur as a client for his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), set up to nurture a new generation of ‘good guy’ African leaders, and Condé was introduced to a network of experts — not woolly DfID types, but sharp tacks with Downing Street experience.
If you have just cancelled your trip to Venice and ordered your £19.99 surgical face mask from Amazon, how about this for a terrifying vision: by the time we get to April, 50,000 Britons will have succumbed to a combination of infectious disease and adverse weather. Frightened? If you are, don’t worry: you survived. It was two years ago. In 2017-18 the Office for National Statistics recorded 50,100 ‘excess winter deaths’.
There’s still a month of the Labour leadership contest to go but most MPs have already concluded that Keir Starmer will win. The shadow Brexit secretary has led in every category so far: MPs, unions and local parties. As the contest enters its final stage, polling suggests the membership agree and Sir Keir will sail through. His closest rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey, is now seen as a ten-to-one outsider. One bookmaker is already paying out on a Starmer victory.
In 1978, an invitation was sent to some 200 members of Oxford’s Dangerous Sports Club, which simply read: ‘Tea, Rockall, Black Tie.’ The good news was that invitees had never visited this part of the UK; the bad was that it is way out west. Forget Land’s End, or the Western Isles, or even far-flung Fermanagh. First get to the Outer Hebrides and then head into the Atlantic for 230 miles or so. There a single tooth of granite, 60-foot high, will emerge from the waves.