Monday. 14/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Deal breaker

“Will-they-won’t-they” has been a familiar refrain for much of this year. When the headlines weren’t being dominated by coronavirus we had our old friend Brexit to fall back on and either cheer or commiserate, or care very little about. It has now been four-and-a-half years since the referendum in which the UK voted to leave the EU by a thin margin. It’s been just under a year since the UK formally withdrew from the bloc and just weeks before the UK could crash out without a trade deal, reverting to WTO rules and bureaucratic chaos.

Yesterday’s potential-train-crash-avoiding deadline for reaching an agreement fizzled out with yet another anti-climactic extension. And so we limp on with the same equal measure of uncertainty and fatigue. You can, of course, understand why EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and member states’ leaders don’t want to bend too much. The first rebellious child to leave home early will always serve as an example to others. And anyway, they’ve often been more accommodating than some of the UK’s more right-leaning newspapers would let on. The UK has also changed its mind along the way or thought that it could have its cake and eat it, then been surprised when the EU grumbled.

But what does the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson (pictured on left, with Von der Leyen) actually want? Sure, he has to appease a Vote Leave supporter base, as well as both cabinet members and backbenchers who only have eyes for “sovereignty” at all costs. Even now, at the 11th hour, he’s playing both sides. We’re told that gunships are ready to protect the UK’s fishing waters but also that “the UK certainly won’t be walking away from the talks”. Enough talk and trying to sugar-coat a so-called “Australian deal” (which, in fact, wouldn’t be a deal at all). The UK public deserves to hear it straight. Because how is anyone supposed to prepare if no one really knows what is going on?

Image: Alamy

Politics / Canada

Out west?

Alberta, in western Canada, has long been described as the country’s most conservative and politically restive province. It is home to Canada’s largest oil and gas production facilities, sectors which have been upset in recent years by falling global demand. A political protest movement known as “Wexit” gathered steam last year, calling for more autonomy for Alberta’s economic and legislative affairs, and even independence from the rest of Canada. But recent opinion polls suggest that the pandemic has eroded the appetite for secession, driven in part by the provincial government’s largely hands-off approach to coronavirus. The consequences of that are playing out now: Alberta’s rates of infection and hospitalisation are among the highest in the country. The ramifications for politics in Alberta, in the short term at least, might be a reminder that working together is better than going it alone.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Australia & China

Bad blood

Relations between Australia and China have reached a nadir in recent weeks, thanks to countless public spats over everything from the Australian military’s role in Afghanistan to the latter’s taste in wine exports. The problem is that both sides appear up for a fight: China has grown impatient with its historically insular foreign policy and is now more willing to flex its diplomatic muscle. Conversely, an openly tough approach to China wins plaudits domestically for Australia’s current prime minister Scott Morrison (pictured), particularly among his conservative base.

If there’s any interest in truly resolving matters, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd suggests that his country should prioritise back-channel diplomacy over unhelpful public mudslinging. He points to the approach of Japan, which somehow manages to be a US ally while also maintaining a productive economic relationship with China. Tokyo has learned “the eternal Eastern virtue of shutting up from time to time”, Rudd told Monocle 24’s The Foreign Desk.

Image: Getty Images

Retail / Japan

Shop to it

Online shopping has been a necessary evil for buying presents this holiday season but shops would do well to bring back the human touch in 2021. Japan’s largest department-store group, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, is proposing a compromise. Its new e-commerce platform for its Shinjuku flagship in Tokyo offers the help of 50 real salespeople in the shop ready to serve you online via video link. In an attempt to differentiate itself from the likes of Amazon, Isetan is not only employing its acclaimed human approach to answer questions but also expects staff to study the tastes and preferences of each registered customer for sharper recommendations and customer service in the future. The goal is to offer a million items on the platform as early as fiscal year 2021 – almost everything from the main and men’s building of the Shinjuku outlet. After all, people will always buy from people.

Image: Burberry

Fashion / UK

Material gain

A new scheme piloted by Burberry aims to reduce fashion’s considerable carbon-footprint problem while helping low-income fashion students for whom materials represent a sometimes insurmountable cost. The ReBurberry Fabric project takes the brand’s dead fabric stock and redistributes it across the UK to young designers in need. “The initiative aims to find a way to help brands with a long-term deadstock problem, and find a new way for students to access materials in years to come,” Charlie Porter, one of the scheme’s instigators, tells The Monocle Minute. The solution isn’t glamorous but rather a question of logistics. “Fashion looks shiny and opulent when you go to a shop,” says Porter, a writer whose forthcoming book is called What Artists Wear. “But anyone who has worked in a shop knows that the back room is really messy and it’s all about logistics. This is about making it easier for brands.”

M24 / Eureka

Wait

Raffaella Grisa is the founder of organic beauty brand Wait, inspired by Italian and Japanese approaches to wellness. Turin-based Grisa spent years travelling Asia and importing fashion pieces and accessories for a western audience. Launched earlier this year, Wait is a line of body-care products and fragrances made from traditional natural ingredients from both Italy and Japan.

Monocle Films / Global

Japanese gift wrapping: Lesson 1

Many of us are planning to stay closer to home this Christmas, so make sure your loved ones have plenty of reading material. A Monocle magazine subscription and the inaugural issue of our stylish sister publication ‘Konfekt’ will keep you entertained and inspired well after the holiday season. Find your perfect gift at The Monocle Shop.

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