Monday. 25/2/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Is this the Brexit awakening?

Sorry to raise the B-word so early in the week but, well, we have to. While right-wing Tories fixated on Brexit continue to be blasé about the thought of the UK diving off a cliff by leaving the EU without a deal, millions in the UK are making tiny shifts to their lives, enterprises and ambitions. And these are the sort of shifts that the swaggerers always fail to acknowledge – even as they are stripping confidence from the economy every day. We are talking about a world of delayed investment, staff hires put on ice, trips at the end of March cancelled and money locked up in increased levels of stock.

The creative industries in particular have been given inadequate attention by the government since the Brexit vote and – as our report below on the UK’s architecture industry shows – it’s having a deadening impact on a sector that is not only vital to the health of the UK but which also reinforces the UK’s soft-power potential again and again. This ignorance affects us all: Monocle is moving its printing to Germany to ensure that magazines are not stuck on trucks in Dover if we crash out of Europe.

The decision by a group of MPs last week to break away from the script-tied political parties and sit in the House of Commons as independents at least shows that some are now unwilling to walk blindly into danger. Let’s hope that more wake from their political somnambulance this week.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / US and North Korea

All talk and no action

The much-fêted second get together between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is set to go ahead in Hanoi this Wednesday and Thursday. US demands for nuclear disarmament will be met with the usual vague noises of acquiescence from the North Korean delegation. Meanwhile Kim will be aiming for a lifting of sanctions, which Pyongyang blames for severe food shortages back home. The biggest risk, according to John Everard, the UK’s former ambassador to North Korea, is Trump blundering away a concession and dressing it up as a triumph. “Trump is facing all kinds of problems domestically and is looking for something to distract from them,” he says. “The risk is that he will give away something significant to pull a big gesture in front of the press.”

Image: Getty Images

Business / Barcelona

Loud and clear

Chinese technology giant Huawei will be the firm to watch at this year’s Mobile World Congress, which opens today in Barcelona. The telecoms company announced a raft of new products over the weekend in an attempt to create some early buzz. Among them was a new foldable phone that will connect to super-speedy 5G networks. Though its share of the mobile market is booming, Huawei is in search of some positive press. Global political pressure has ramped up following the arrest in Vancouver late last year of CFO Meng Wanzhou over charges of bank and wire fraud; she’s now facing extradition to the US. And last week think-tank Rusi warned the UK government against allowing the firm to help build 5G networks in the country over security fears. Will Huawei’s efforts in Barcelona be met with good reception?

Image: design.isch

Publishing / Switzerland

How to fix it

It’s 1519, you’re a new-ish resident to Zürich and you’re excited about the future of book publishing. With the help of some new technology and the Frankfurt book fair on your calendar, you put full muscle into your presses and before long you’ve got a complete book-printing franchise on your hands. Along the way you manage to turn out the very first edition of the Zürcher Zeitung (now the NZZ) in 1780 and you also pick up the contract to print Swiss franc banknotes – a gig that’s still ongoing and helps keep your 33 bookshops spread across Switzerland ticking along. Having just turned 500-years-old, Orell Füssli is best known to Swiss consumers as a book retailer and one that has a near monopoly on the trade. Nevertheless, the chain is having a bit of a crisis moment in Swiss town centres and malls and needs some urgent retail re-animation. As with many monopolies, Orell Füssli hasn’t had to stretch itself too far as it’s the only game in the alpine nation and that translates into tired-looking shops that haven’t kept pace with book retailing elsewhere. Here’s the fix: run an architecture competition to construct a floating bookshop made of Swiss timber on the banks of the Limmat River, put a bar on the roof, a café on deck and fill it will with fine titles that serve Europe’s most affluent market.

Image: Shutterstock

Architecture / UK

Skeleton staff

Architecture firms in the UK are among the most dismayed by the UK government’s poor handling of Brexit negotiations, new research has revealed. As the 29 March departure deadline moves ever closer Riba (Royal Institute of British Architects) has found that the confidence of large firms is waning, with some cutting jobs and none of those surveyed planning on increasing personnel. “There’s a general anxiety about a potential post-Brexit recession,” says Adrian Dobson, an executive director at Riba, who also notes that half of the architects registered in the UK are from the EU. Without a clear Brexit strategy in place, he says, streamlining and staff cuts seem the best contingency for big firms. A Brexit blueprint has never been more in demand.

Niklas Natt Och Dag

Meet The Writers

A member of Sweden’s oldest surviving noble family, Och Dag is one of Scandinavia’s hottest new novelists. We talk about his journey into writing and debut novel The Wolf and the Watchman.

Icebreakers at work

Throughout the long Finnish winter, the country’s ports are kept open by a small but determined fleet of icebreakers. Monocle Films hops on board to see how it’s done.

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