Category Archives: Opinion

Brexit deal? New trade agreements? They’ll all need extensive discussions

brexit dealWe are witnesses to the last days of the United Kingdom’s experimental contribution to the European ideal – or not, possibly. And yet, I can’t help thinking that all the hype and drama about whether or not a Brexit deal will get done in the next few days or hours misses the point.

The Brexit deal was only ever going to represent a written statement that would set out the main lines for a long-term relationship. The intention was always to get to “an agreement to draw up an agreement”, a proper, comprehensive one and one that was as mutually satisfactory to all parties as possible. And don’t get me wrong, I still believe that  it would be extremely helpful: it’s always better not to start from a blank piece of paper.

Let’s imagine for a moment that some sort of rabbit gets pulled out of a hat and the Ireland circle is squared, among a few others.  Can we collectively wipe our brow and exclaim happily “Gosh, that was close!” Of course not, there are years of complex, nitty-gritty and often fundamental issues to sort out. It simply isn’t a question of “Sod any deal, let’s get on with it, let’s do business and run our own show”. Instead, there will be a multitude of practical problems that will requirearticle 50 effective solutions. How will the France-United Kingdom borders operate in practice? Who will be negotiating tariffs with whom? (Hint, the 27-strong European Union is more than likely to act as a single bloc) Will Molton Mowbray pork pies mean anything outside the UK?


The discussions are going to happen. The question is, will this whole process end up lasting decades and turn into a sort of stalemate, with constant sniping, backtracking and going over the same ground? Or will some attempt be made at something that is thought through and helpful?


My plea to the right honourables for the next 64 days

I feel nearly sorry for British MPs right now. After all, future historians are unlikely to speak of them in glowing terms, whatever the future of the country turns out to be. Of particular disappointment is that the mainstream political parties have each distinguished themselves by patently trying and bizzarely, succeeding in behaving worse than others. And I’m definitely not alone in hating the polarising language that parliamentarians have universally adopted, predictably guaranteeing that any (pretence of) debate is locked into a mutual us shouting over them slanging match.

Every conceivable person in government and in the Commons is telling the PM what she should/has to/MUST DO. Meanwhile, the EU is telling the PM “we could tweak a couple of things to help you pass through this Parliament, but nein, désolés, we’re not undoing two years of hard work with you”, some German folks send a love letter to the country in The Times and even the Queen is moved to make a couple of gentle reminders on the virtue of collaborative efforts. Which is why I feel entirely justified to add my plea to MPs to put aside their own political futures and think a little more strategically, with a longer term focus than their next term of office. Hardly an original thought but let me elaborate just a little.

My point is that Brexit is now a problem that needs to be solved (it has been for a long time – Britain’s relations with the rest of Europe, and with the rest of the world come to that, have long been a subject for soul-searching for this island nation). It’s an issue  – aka a fantastic opportunity to be harnessed, a tragedy in the making or, dare I suggest it, possibly something in the middle – that needs addressing.

So if you’re an MP with a business background, how are you going to secure the interests of Britanniaship Enterprise and work towards her future prosperity? What is your corporate strategy for the next few years and your key priorities for the coming financial year? If you have a medical background, what are your recommendations for the currently generally healthy UK adult (on a global scale)? Any advice on how to keep them healthy come to mind, like recommending a fitness regime or keeping an eye on the effects of unhelpful genetic predispositions? If you’re a lawyer by training, you’ll definitely be able to help codify the very many new legal frameworks that are going to be needed, whatever the scenario. If you’re a scientist, let’s have some of that scientific method please, including some guidance on how to use data. If you’ve ever been a teacher, how about explaining and educating your fellow MPs about useful stuff they might like to know about? If you’re a diplomat, a historian, a philosopher, a sociologist, you have something useful to say about what’s happening.

If you have none of this knowledge or master none of these skills, then for pity’s sake, at least just stop shouting and do your best.

Photo: Mark Duffy/AP

Artificial intelligence part 1

I can’t help feeling that the issue of artificial intelligence has been staring at me in the face wherever I’ve looked. It’s certainly very much in the zeitgeist and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, especially after I finished reading two books on that topic or on that topic among others, I should say.

The two books I read in English and French respectively are Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari and La guerre des intelligences by Laurent Alexandre. I know the first has been translated into French but I don’t think there is an English version of the second at the time of writing this.

StarfleetCommandEmblemMy next TBR will probably the so-called Villani report on AI which has just been published. So far, I have only seen the video of a recent TedX talk Cédric Villani gave locally (it was a shame I had to miss that event, I live so close to the venue but I had an unavoidable work commitment. I’m only finding the time now to go through the videos of the day, some interesting stuff there.)

I feel particulary motivated to read up more on the topic for two reasons:

1. That genie definitely cannot be shoved back in the lamp. It’s out, it’s going to stay out and it’s going to get bigger, more powerful and even more omnipresent than it already is.

2. I don’t really understand the underlying technologies or science and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

What I do know is that we all need to take notice and to learn, fast. I’m particularly concerned that legal changes will lag far behind technological progress (and/or AI-induced Amargeddon of course), that there could be fairly chaotic and uncontrolled important developments in the near future and that governments of individual countries will believe they can deal with these by themselves, whereas it seems self-evident to me that never was international cooperation more vital. The world being in the state it’s in, I don’t believe that we’ll get a Star Trek-like United Federation of Planets organisation any time soon but surely we need to operate at the level of a continent or region for these transparently transnational issues.waroftheworlds

The huge prize at the bottom of the AI et al rainbow is of course massively improved health, increased prosperity and more fulfilling lives for millions of people. The huge risk is, to my mind, not so much that the machines make slaves of us humans but rather that the above huge prize ends up being very unequally distributed.