Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Friday 8th June 2018

EVER since that fateful day, 23rd June, 2016, when 52 per cent of voters decided they preferred life outside the EU, it’s been a case of government by paralysis.

Several important issues of domestic and international relevance have come before our politicians since the referendum, but everything ultimately seems to return to the dreaded “B” word — Brexit.

I suspect even many people who voted Leave are unhappy with what’s happened since. A recent YouGov poll revealed that just 14 per cent of those surveyed thought Brexit was going well, while 67 per cent thought it was either “not going well” or “going badly”.

Brexit is falling short of the expectations of many Leavers. Even those who expected it would go well and are now disappointed outnumber the satisfied by three to one.

While the internecine arguments go on within the two main political parties, the general public, even those who took a strong view either way, are utterly bored with Brexit and the interminable negotiations relating to the terms of our departure from the EU.

We’re more bothered about the NHS, schools, the police and potholes than we are about Brexit, but the battles still simmer within the parties and the ongoing sense of uncertainty about the impact of quitting the EU colours an impasse when it comes to the big domestic debates.

The two-year period of negotiating the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union is scheduled to expire on 29th March next year. However, Brexit will not be resolved by that date. The best we can hope for is a series of vague assurances about the ultimate nature of the relationship between the UK and EU.

As for the “transitional arrangement”, do any of us have a clue what that is likely to entail? We’ll probably just go on paying into the EU’s budget, following certain rules as if we were still members, but without any part in the decision-making.

I make no bones about it. I voted Remain and I remain a Remainer in thought. I still believe the vote was a bad decision for the UK, but now I just want the process of separation to proceed so we all know where we stand post-EU.

I can’t help feeling that the Government and Theresa May have us teetering on the edge of a cliff, about to leap into the unknown. Tourism, agriculture, business, industry. All important in this part of the world and let’s be honest, none of them has a clue where Brexit is leading.

However, I don’t see what purpose another referendum on the terms of our departure would serve other than to further emphasise the split within the country and provide yet more material for vituperative threats on social media. Much as I despair over the decision, we are stuck with it.

Whatever compromises the Government eventually has to make, they won’t please the Remainers or, for that matter, a chunk of Leavers. Hard Brexit? Soft Brexit? Deal or no deal? This is going to continue for a long time yet, with no certainty over whether we shall be better off or disastrously worse off.

The Government has no idea really what it wants from its relationship with Europe after Brexit. And, of course, there are 27 other countries that could stick their oar in. Many MPs now accept that Brexit will go on long after next year’s March date and it will continue to dominate the political atmosphere to the detriment of so much other parliamentary business.

At least we can chat about the football, the weather and other small talk topics. The politicians are stuck with Brexit. The “B” word that once engaged people who had never previously involved themselves in politics. The “B” word that increasingly now stands for boring.

Still, distracting as it may be, there’s one bit of solace — at least we’re not Italy.

WHEN SHOPPING WAS AN EVENT

GOING for a day’s shopping in town — for many of us that meant Carlisle — used to be an event. And it was not an event without a visit to M&S.

I used to buy clothes from Marks. So I suppose it’s folk like me, increasingly shopping on the internet, who are partly responsible for the company’s announcement that it is planning to close 100 of its larger stores.

Try finding stuff that fits any more. Last time I went to buy a suit off the peg either it didn’t stretch across my expanding tummy, or jackets had arms that flopped inches too long. In the end I gave up. Marks was a national treasure, a much-loved institution in the high street. It supplied generations with underpants and socks and outfits for middle-class, middle-aged ladies.

You can blame the internet and the fact that it’s difficult to find inexpensive parking in the towns, plus the out-of-town shopping centres. But M&S has been badly managed for a while. While its food was good, it lost direction with its core market in other areas.

Once the unthinkable happened and Woollies went to the wall, we realised that none of our major retailers was safe any more. And when Jeremy Paxman took M&S to task over its underpants, you knew the 135-year-old retailer was in hot water too.

Town centres can survive, but for many it will be in a different way without the major department stores of old. More residential and with niche shops and cafes they have a chance, but it will take some smart thinking by government and local authorities in incentivising new small businesses to become established.

Meanwhile it’s going to be made-to-measure for the next new suit. And one click on the internet for underpants. I hope Marks does learn the lessons and can keep going, but in this day and age it and others need some clever thinking to survive.

PARKING ISN’T ALWAYS FINE

REVENUE from parking fines is rocketing. Last year 5.6 million vehicle records were obtained from the DVLA by firms chasing parking fines — so much for data protection.

Local authorities are also accused of using parking as a cash cow. Just look at the percentage of Allerdale’s income derived from its busy Keswick car parks as an example.

I’m not opposed to parking fines sensibly applied. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to locate a space knowing that several vehicles have parked well over their allotted time. Some order has to be maintained, otherwise cheeky motorists will flout the rules.

What does annoy me is when it gets stupid and aggressive. The parking company that administered Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary slapped a ticket on a hearse outside the mortuary as it waited to collect a body. Cases like that — it’s since been rescinded — leave motorists feeling suspicious that cowboy operators are exploiting the situation to hit targets.

Parking’s never going to be easy, but the enforcers must use common sense if motorists are to feel they are being treated fairly. Otherwise stronger regulation of their activities will be necessary.

MEET DR GOOGLE

IT’S a complaint traditionally associated with crusty old colonels over-fond of the port.

Sadly I had not even had the pleasure of a few glasses of finest tincture when I made the acquaintance of Dr Google this week. Yes, I’ve got gout in all its luridly red and throbbing glory.

Dr Google tells me it’s inflammatory arthritis. Just like the good doctor says, it usually goes for the joint at the base of the big toe and is occasioned by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood forming painful crystals. It comes as no comfort to read gout is known as the “disease of kings” or “rich man’s disease”. I am neither rich nor a heavy drinker. Nor a smoker, which is something else Dr Google wanted to know.

I’ve been confined to barracks for a couple of days by this annoying problem that the internet tells me has been afflicting particularly older people since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians.

Frankly I don’t want a history lesson from the internet medic. I just want my big toe back and not this glowing red excrescence that right now would serve as a warning beacon to low-flying aircraft.