Tuesday. 28/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

Out with a whimper

Is that all there is? No matter your view on Brexit, this week feels anti-climactic in the UK. Nearly half a century of continental co-operation will end at precisely 23.00 on Friday – the sort of time that passes without you even realising it. Big Ben isn’t going to bong but the country will be bequeathed 10 million 50p coins (why not pounds?) engraved with the stomach-turningly empty phrase: “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.”

Fine. Even for remain voters (such as myself) irked by such posturing, it’s time to move on. As we pointed out in yesterday’s Monocle Minute, Brexit is not “done”. The real negotiations that will shape the UK’s economy for decades will take place over the next few months. The current plan is to finalise a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU by the end of the year – wishful thinking by anyone’s standards. No matter how good it might seem for UK businesses, any divergence from our current alignment with EU rules is going to cause problems with our biggest trading partner (the bloc accounts for about half of all exports and imports).

Much has been made of the opportunities that all of this could open up with the US and other countries but nearly two thirds of companies in the UK say that the EU deal is “more important” to their business, according to a survey by the respected Institute of Directors. The clothing and textiles, automotive, pharmaceutical and finance sectors are particularly vulnerable. With New York going strong and Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai on the rise, only 22 per cent of financial firms see London as the major hub for their industry in five years’ time, according to another recent survey. Thousands of businesses are depending on this next stage of Brexit to be completed thoughtfully and thoroughly – let’s hope they get what they deserve.

Health / Japan

Lunar lockdown

Japan has grown accustomed to welcoming thousands of tourists from China during the Lunar New Year holiday. Chinese visitors to Japan are now the largest number from any country; they accounted for about a third of all visitors last year and spent an impressive ¥1.8 trillion (€14.7 billion) in Japan. But this year could look quite different. With the coronavirus outbreak threatening to become a pandemic, the Chinese government has suspended sales of overseas group tours. While there have been anxieties that travel could increase the risk of the virus spreading, there are also concerns about the economic impact of the drop in visitors. Separately, prime minister Shinzo Abe announced on Sunday that Japan plans to evacuate its citizens from virus-hit Wuhan – there are 710 Japanese living there – and is asking Japanese travellers not to go to Hubei province, which is home to the quarantined city. Regardless of any possible hit to Japan’s GDP, limiting the reach of the virus has to be top priority.

Politics / Lebanon

New budget, old problems

Beirut has witnessed riots over the past fortnight that have left more than 500 civilians and police injured – and the discontent is showing no sign of abating. Demonstrators hurled rocks at police outside parliament yesterday as lawmakers inside were passing a budget for 2020. The problem: the new budget projects revenues of more than LBP13bn (about €8bn). Ibrahim Kanaan, head of the parliament’s finance and budget committee, has already admitted that the target is unrealistic and, therefore, the government will not be able to fund public-sector salaries, social aid and debt servicing amid the country’s ongoing financial crisis. Perhaps worse for protesters is that, despite a new prime minister and cabinet coming to power last week, this budget is little changed from one submitted by the previous administration. Governing Lebanon’s various factions is a fragile business but this is hardly the kind of start that will placate Lebanon’s angry protestors.

Cinema / Brazil

Bigger picture

Culture wars have been all the rage in Brazil since president Jair Bolsonaro took office last year. With the expected announcement of staunch conservative Brazilian soap-opera star Regina Duarte as the new culture minister, Bolsonaro has refused to fund films with LGBT themes or anything deemed unpatriotic. It’s heartwarming, then, that Minha Mãe é Uma Peça 3 (My Mum is a Character 3) has broken Brazil’s box-office record, having been seen by more than nine million people. The film touches upon topics including same-sex marriage and stars one of the country’s biggest gay stars, comedian Paulo Gustavo (pictured), who plays housewife-turned-TV host Dona Herminia. Such comedies are a big deal for Brazilian cinema: they account for 14 of the 20 highest-grossing films over the past seven years, according to Paulo Sérgio from Brazilian film website Filme B. “[These] comedies work as a defence against the biggest Hollywood blockbusters,” he says. They seem to serve as a defence against the country’s president too.

Culture / Vietnam

Show goes on

China’s Lunar New Year celebrations will be muzzled due to the coronavirus epidemic but other countries in the region will be going the whole hog – or rodent, as the case may be. In Vietnam, for example, the Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi will be welcoming the year of the rat with a festival over the next two days that will be inspired by the northern coastal province of Thái Bình. Known as a hub for critical thinkers and intellectuals, the region is Vietnam’s home of water puppetry (yes, it’s puppets in water) and cheo, traditional Vietnamese musical theatre. Expect both to be performed during the course of the celebrations before a classic Vietnamese fireworks display welcomes in the new year with a bang. It’s hard to underestimate both the cultural and economic value of the new-year celebrations. Perhaps this year we will see more intense appreciation of their value in places beyond China’s borders.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Uncle Vanya

Theatre critics Matt Wolf and Lyn Gardner join Robert Bound to give their verdict on the new production of Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Harold Pinter Theatre, starring Toby Jones and Ciarán Hinds.

Monocle Films / Helsinki

Helsinki: The Monocle Travel Guide

Saunas are at the heart of Finnish culture. To celebrate the launch of our latest book, Monocle Films selects the hottest places to work up a sweat.

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