Last week, I wrote about ‘Frost & Lewis’ (David and Oliver), leaders of our country’s team at the Brexit negotiations, guarantors of our Brexit intentions. It is they who have throughout maintained the essential position — that we are becoming an independent state and therefore will not trade sovereignty for market access. It is them, therefore, whom the EU wishes to neutralise. Hopes have risen in Brussels after the Downing Street ‘Carrie coup’ against Dominic Cummings. Frost & Lewis now lack a close friend at the court of King Boris except, possibly, the King himself. So it may be a good thing that Covid isolation forced them to return to London at the end of last week. They are negotiating from their base, close to their leader. Michel Barnier is constantly looking for British divisions. The latest attempt at weakening comes from those within the government who think it should accept the Lords rejection of the controversial clauses of the UK Internal Market Bill. These backstop measures are designed to uphold the Withdrawal Agreement’s insistence that Northern Ireland must remain, in fact and in law, part of the United Kingdom. If they were dropped now, this would convert a problem for Brussels into a problem for Britain. It would also cede a time advantage. The EU, with its cumbersome procedures involving the European parliament, needs to bring home an agreement quickly. The Westminster system can go almost up to the wire. That difference must be exploited.
My cousin Mary, who was, until recent retirement, an Olympic standard fencer, passes on a meme: ‘Fencing: the perfect Covid sport. 1. Masks. 2. Gloves. 3. If anybody gets closer than six feet to you, you stab him.’
Nodding to complaints (highlighted in this column) that the secretive China Centre at Jesus College, Cambridge, never permits criticism of the Chinese Communist regime, the Master, Sonita Alleyne, recently wrote to a concerned Jesuan: ‘In the spirit of respect for and acceptance of the wide range of views on China, please see below for a message from the Director of the China Centre, Professor Peter Nolan, inviting you to join an virtual event.’ This occasion, ‘Interacting with China in a complex world’, took place last week, sponsored by WPP, which has large interests in China. A Jesuan I know, who attended expecting the ‘wide range of views’ promised, was dismayed to be subjected to a commercial about business with China by the CEO of The Store WPP (WPP’s ‘global retail practice’). Two films lauded China’s amazing recent progress. Then came four guest speakers, including Lord (Adair) Turner, Sir Oliver Letwin and Lord (Jim) O’Neill. Only Sir Oliver ventured a few mildly critical opinions. Words like ‘Uyghurs’ did not feature; nor did the fate of Hong Kong. There was ‘absolutely no head-on criticism of the Chinese government’, another attendee told me. One of my Jesuan contacts signed off early, having found the occasion ‘a disappointingly brazen piece of propaganda for the CCP’. ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ starts the famous hymn. The Chinese Communist party must be singing it lustily.
Meanwhile, as Jesus directs its moral ire not at the totalitarian regime repressing 1.4 billion people, but at its greatest benefactor, Tobias Rustat, who died over 330 years ago, a group of Jesuan alumni is getting annoyed. The alumni have written to the Master to protest at the attempt to remove Rustat’s fine memorial from the college chapel (because of his links with slavery) without proper consultation with them and donors. Permission to move the monument requires a faculty from the Diocese of Ely, so the group has written to the diocesan registrar asking for their views to be heard. It turns out that no petition to move the monument has actually been made by the college yet, so the Master’s talk of a ‘supportive’ diocese may be premature. This is a good moment for ‘stakeholders’ to assert their rights.
In May, John Gaunt, a neighbouring gamekeeper, lost his three well-trained, much-loved springer spaniel bitches. Determined thieves cut their way into his kennel block. One bitch was recovered in August running loose near Orpington, 30 miles from home. In early September, the Metropolitan Police deployed about 200 officers for a dawn raid of a Travellers’ camp in the same area. They found guns, drugs, fighting cocks, 46 dogs and numerous puppies, and £112,000 in cash. Several arrests were made. The police then posted some pictures of the dogs. John immediately recognised one of his. She has ‘a unique nose on her’ — a distinctive jagged blaze, with one side white, the other liver. He rang the police and claimed her. Then began an immense saga — calls and emails unanswered so often that he had to call in the police ombudsman. He was told that he would not be allowed to come and see the dog. ‘If I had her for five minutes I could get her to do backflips in front of them,’ he says. The police rejected his offers of DNA on the grounds that DNA does not prove ownership. They denied that his dog was microchipped (which it had been), yet later rang to ask when it had been microchipped. Eventually John hired a solicitor to take the police to court. They then said they would do the DNA tests themselves. But he has heard nothing more from them. His springer languishes in the Met dog pound with a litter of pups. The legal rights of dog owners seem surprisingly tenuous, the police weirdly obstructive. In the background stands Covid. Puppy demand from locked-down households has shot up. Before Covid, pedigree field-trial champion bitches produced puppies worth £750 each. Now thieves can sell puppies with no paperwork for £2,000, so the incentive is massive. Of John’s third missing springer, there is no sign.
Since no article is currently complete without a pun about tiers, here is mine, with apologies to Tennyson: ‘Tiers, idle tiers, I know not what they mean.’
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