By Subhash Chopra in London
The talk of the town, or rather of the country, in the UK since last month’s election has veered from hung Parliament to what is being called ‘bung’ Parliament. The word bung is as old as beer kegs or casks and its dictionary meaning is the wooden cork or stopper of the beer or wine barrel to prevent the liquid from overflowing. In the current parliamentary parlance, however, it has acquired a sort of reverse connotation to allow the flow of one billion pounds to Northern Ireland the votes of whose ten, anti-abortion, ultra-Loyalist MPs have saved Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory Government, at least for the time being.
A further grant of about one million pounds a year has also been agreed to cover the cost of travel for abortion in mainland Britain required by about 1,000 N. Ireland women every year.
The billion pound allocation to N. Ireland has acquired the sobriquet of bung or bribe to save Mrs May’s Government. The bribe translates into 540 pounds for every person in N.Ireland. A mega case of cash-for-votes! All too familiar in India!
How long Mrs May’s Government or her premiership lasts is anybody’s guess. But the Brexit project of Britain to leave the European Union hasn’t started well. Britain has lost the first round, with Europe demanding issues of its three million migrants in the UK and the UK-EU divorce Bill to be discussed first before going further. The British offer of allowing EU migrants to remain in the UK, subject to completing a five-year residency clause, in return for reciprocal rights for UK migrants in EU, has not enthused the Europeans, in fact quite the reverse.
Within Britain, the talk among almost all parties is about how to enjoy the trading benefits of EU’s single market without remaining in the EU. To have the cake and eat it too!
Britain’s Brexit decision, after 44 years of EU membership, is its own and has its costs too. During all those years Britain extracted a fair amount of flexibility or ‘independence’ while remaining a full member and exercising veto on various issues. It opted out of euro, the EU’s common currency, and also out of Schengen travel arrangements which make a single visa good for all EU countries. Thus Britain retains its own sterling pound, besides keeping its own separate visa which makes Schengen visa non-applicable for UK travel.
Reminding Britain of such major concessions, former Southern Ireland Prime Minister John Burton has said that time has come for the UK to realise what it will be giving up. “It will lose common arrangements on everything from flights taking off and landing, lorries on the toad, the safety of food, the movement of workers and many more matters on which agreed standards have been built up over the past 44 years. It will lose the benefits of hundreds of treaties the EU has negotiated with other countries.”
“The UK will have to negotiate a new deal on every topic, then agree a procedure for subsequently amending, enforcing, and interpreting each one.”
And that’s not all. Major issues like that of security and intelligence cooperation to fight the new menace of terrorist attacks will have to be dealt with, besides the much larger issues of defence and technological cooperation.
In common with other mega cities, London, like Indian metros, is grappling with the menace of air pollution. The British capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is proposing a 12.50 pound (Rs 1,000) charge on most polluting vehicles entering congestion zones of the city from April 2019. The announcement coincides with a report which reveals that seven in ten hospitals and health centres in inner London areas are blighted by illegal levels of toxic air.
Marking the National Clean Air day, the report found that as many as 577 hospitals and medical facilities were in areas where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels breached EU guidelines. Additionally, all 800 health facilities were in areas where PM-10 particulates level was above WHO limit. Nitrogen dioxide and PM-2.5, identified as major pollutants, are both found in diesel emissions and linked with the deaths of nearly 9,500 people every year in the British capital, according to a King’s College, London, study.
Greenpeace campaigner Baroness Jenny Jones called for local government action to encourage people to drive less and use public transport to reduce pollution in hotspot areas. Already in 15 London boroughs or municipalities, parents who keep their car engines running while waiting outside school gates face crackdown by ‘ant-idling’ patrols. Drivers who refuse to turn off their engines can face penalties of up to 20 pounds per each offence.
The conditions in Indian cities like Delhi, with ever burgeoning population, are more acute and more complex due to a dismal lack of buses and over-use of cars as a status symbol by the urban elites. Badly maintained diesel or petrol cars and failure to switch to electric or hybrid vehicles are challenges that must be faced for a modicum of healthy living in Indian cities.
Tailpiece: To tie or not to tie has become a parliamentary question. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has allowed MPs to dispense with the ties, if they so wish. Comment from angry quarters was swift. “Are you going to wear tracksuits next?” If put to a vote, the issue might end in a tie!