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Will Gore: Mired in Brexit, UK’s real problems sit on the backburner
January 03, 2018
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Well, to be fair to us, we know how to put on a decent fireworks display. As the land of the gunpowder plot, we have form of course. Still, watching London’s New Year feast of rockets and whizz-bangs, I had a momentary feeling of optimism about a bright 2018.

Indeed, I was reminded of the fireworks that accompanied the remarkable opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London, which was the last time many people in the UK actually felt pretty positive about the country we call home. In those heady days, sporting glory briefly eclipsed the consequences of the financial crash and it felt as if Britain was truly a global leader among nations.

How times change.

For the last five years the UK has been utterly, depressingly dominated by Brexit, ever since David Cameron announced in January 2013 that the Conservatives would hold an in/out referendum to decide our future EU membership. We have debated it, lied about it, voted on it, celebrated/cursed it – and we will, we presume, eventually experience it; before probably regretting it.

In short, if it wasn’t for Donald Trump and the weather, we would have literally nothing else to talk about.

Meanwhile, other countries are grappling with real issues.

China, for instance, has unsurprisingly grown weary of being a dumping ground for other countries’ waste and has announced that from this month it will no longer accept imports of plastic waste. This, despite many prior warnings, has caught our Government on the hop, with the environment secretary Michael Gove admitting in November that he had “not given sufficient thought” to the likely impact on the UK.

Given that we send half a million tons of plastic for recycling to China every year (a quarter of all the waste plastic we produce), it doesn’t take a huge amount of thought to conclude that the consequences could be a mite tricksy.

Until our domestic recycling infrastructure adapts, we’ll probably have to burn the excess or bury it, along with Britain’s green credentials.

The Chinese have also been proactive in bringing forward from today a total ban on ivory sales in an effort to combat elephant poaching. While the UK has historically led the way in this field, the Government, for years, refused to close a loophole which permitted the sale of antique ivory items. Finally a proposal to end the lacuna emerged last year, but only under sustained pressure from campaigners.

Last year the German parliament approved a bill which would force social media firms to take speedy action to remove illegal content from their sites – or face hefty penalties.

Yet while Germany can actually get on and do something (whether or not it proves effective), here in Britain we are so mired in the endless minutiae of Brexit that we do little more than blow hot air at any other issue, however troublesome we may (rightly) believe it to be.

The truth is, not only is Brexit the source of a sluggish economy, it is also stifling policy advances in any number of arenas, with ministers’ focus either elsewhere or inadequate in the face of their colleagues’ obsession with the goings-on in Brussels. Call it Brexit ennui, call it a dereliction of duty – either way, it’s not good enough.

At the great global firework party of ideas and action, Britain once held its own – a blistering, colourful rocket, glittering far and wide. In 2018, we are the faltering sparkler that tries desperately to write its own name in the air before sputtering into darkness.

The Independent

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