Returning to India after 50 Years

Here’s a guest blog from my cousin Lakhbir Hayre. He was born in Punjab, India and moved to Wolverhampton at the age of ten. He went to Imperial College, London to read Mathematics and  St John’s College, Oxford to earn a PhD in Statistics.

He married Jasbir Kandola before moving to America to teach Mathematics at a University on the East Coast. He became a dad, began a long career in Wall Street as a analyst and retired two years ago, leaving New Jersey and moving to Florida.

He returned to Punjab last Christmas for the first time after half a century. He emailed me his thoughts about India which I found quite fascinating. Apologies for the super brief bio.

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After arriving in India, I had mentioned that my initial impressions were favorable – the immigration process (E-visa) took 5 minutes (much quicker than Newark), our bags were at the claim belt by the time we got there, and the hotel we were staying in, the Oberoi, was better, especially the service, than comparable luxury hotels in the West.  Manjit responded that I should wait 5 days, and see what my impressions were then.

Well, we have been here for a week, and my impression is that, its complicated.  The negative aspects we read about or see on TV are there:

Indian Roads.  It takes nerves of steel and heightened alertness to drive here.  The concept of lanes does not exist, with cars, trucks, auto-rickshaws, motor cycles and scooters jostling for space by constantly changing lanes, and cars hurtle at each other on traffic circles, with the drivers deciding at the last second who goes first.

Driving is by honking rather than turn signals; Indian road noise is to Manhattan as Manhattan is to Sarasota, Florida. Drivers also have to be alert to vehicles coming at them (people deciding that its quicker to drive on the wrong side of the road), and cows, camels, donkeys, and other animals standing in the middle of the road.

Concepts of safety are minimal, with for example little kids riding on the back of scooters without helmets as their dad swerves between cars and trucks with inches to spare.  Its been called organized chaos, but its not completely organized – our guide mentioned that there are over 1500 traffic deaths in Delhi alone each year.

Litter.  There is a distressingly large amount of litter on the streets.  It was good to see an anti-litter “Keep India Clean” campaign with pictures of Modi, but since he is somewhat of a polarizing figure, a bipartisan campaign would be more effective.  Better still, enroll Bollywood stars.

Building Disrepair.  A lot of buildings have exteriors in a state of disrepair – stains on the walls, peeling paint, crumbling walls, bricks and stucco.

This neglect is there even for buildings which have well-off residents and which presumably are nice inside, such as an apartment complex for retired senior army officers in Delhi, and for public buildings such as the City Palace in Udaipur, an otherwise amazing 16th century building on par with the best European buildings from the same era (a portion of the tickets sales are now being diverted into restoration, so conditions should improve).

Power-washing and a coat of paint will do wonders in many cases. Ordinances targeting this type of neglect with fines, of the type many townships have here in the US, will help.

Given all that, India is a vibrant, functioning democracy and economy.  There were state elections here this week, with extensive political analysis, exit poll analysis, all types of election maps and statistical analysis (even this statistician became dizzy).  The talking heads on the many news channels make US cable news networks look dignified and stately, with several usually shouting at the same time and talking over each other.

It is tough to talk of Indian economic and social life, as there seems to be every strata than you can think.  There is extreme wealth at one end (just a couple of days before we came to Udaipur, the Ambani family spent a reported $100 Million on a wedding here, booking every room in both the Oberoi and the Taj Lake Palace, the two top hotels here – Hillary Clinton was on the guest list, and Beyonce performed), while India still has the world’s largest number of people living in extreme poverty.

There are all types of segments in between.  While in Delhi, we met up with Kiran, a friend of Jasbir’s.  Kiran went to school in India, then college in the US, where she lived for a while until moving back here about 10 years ago to take a senior job at Delhi Airport.  Kiran has a full-time driver and a live-in housekeeper, and did not think she could afford two full-time servants in the US working in a comparable professional job.

More typically middle-class was our tour guide in New Delhi (as an aside, becoming a licensed Govt of India tour guide requires study and passing a tough exam -our guide’s brother failed the exam and did an MBA as a consolation). The only difference between our guide and a typical professional in the West was that he, his wife and kid, his brother and his family, and his parents all live in the same house, which they have expanded as the families expanded).

Small Indian businesses are a study in contrasts. While I have been generally able to avoid going with Jasbir to any shops, I did have to stop with her once in a fabric store.  The store, on four levels, was packed with shelves from floor to ceiling containing silk, cotton and every other material you can think off.

It seemed to be run with great efficiency by a couple of older guys and an army of young guys who looked alike (clearly brothers and cousins) who seemed to know exactly which shelf on which floor contained a particular combination of material, color, etc. Yet sales were recorded by hand using carbon paper for copies – no computers or spreadsheets!

All in all, a fascinating country.

Kind Regards

Lakhbir

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Zakir Hussain and the Symphony Orchestra of India

The Symphony Orchestra of India begin their UK tour in Birmingham and are joined by Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain.

The Town Hall Symphony Hall team host a media lunch at Opheem. Jas Sansi joins Zakir and conductor Zane Dalal for a meal orchestrated by our very own Aktar Islam. 

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First up, how many of you reading this knew India had a Symphony Orchestra? When I was contacted by Town Hall Symphony Hall (THSH) to photograph lunch with their conductor, my first reaction was ‘What?’

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The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) was formed in 2006. It is the first, and remains, only professional western orchestra in India. SOI is based in Mumbai, it includes 26 nationalities including nine Brits. 

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15 of the 89 players are Indian. A training programme has been established to identify and steer what conductor Zane Dalal explained over lunch ‘the most talented individuals in India.’ 

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Zakir Hussain and Zane Dalal

There are so many questions about the existence of a Symphony Orchestra in India.  Last night’s performance in Symphony Hall was mesmerising. My family is of Indian origin, and listening to them made me feel incredibly proud.

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The collaboration with Zakir Hussain demonstrates the SOI are an orchestra without walls. Diverse in their make up and unafraid of exploring new grounds. 

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If you have never seen an Orchestra perform live, consider this; you witness a finely tuned gathering of dedicated professionals under the leadership of a conductor communicating, through music, the message of a composer. The output is sound, but what you can only experience live is the physical co-operative action of the players.

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If you’re an engineer and you want to understand how the mechanics of an industrial machine should operate, go see an Orchestra. 

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If you’re a Business Leader, go see an Orchestra and witness how a team, under the right leadership, can produce magic. If you’re a Restauranteur, go see an Orchestra and recognise the processes that produce world class restaurants like Aktar Islam’s Opheem. 

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Go and see the Symphony Orchestra of India, details of their UK Tour can be found here: http://www.soimumbai.com/uktour

Opheem are finalists in GQ Restaurant of the Year, website link: https://opheem.com

Birmingham Town Hall & Symphony Hall; two world-class concert halls connecting people to music through inspiring live events: thsh.co.uk

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, a trustee for LoveBrum and contributor to The Asian Today newspaper.

@jassansi 07930 837 505

LoveBrum Turns 4

LoveBrum welcome guests, members, ambassadors and friends to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to celebrate the charity’s 4th birthday proudly sponsored by Tank Top. 

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Figures are yet to be confirmed but I suspect 2018 saw Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery smash the ceiling of one Million visitors. Over 250,000 came to see Dippy the Dinosaur who spent summer in Brum as part of a national UK tour. Brum knows how to put on a big event. 

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Here’s four reasons, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery deserve your attention right now;

  1. The Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition ‘A Life in Drawing’,
  2. ‘Women Power Protest’  
  3. The Edwardian Tearooms
  4. The Lucifer Sculpture by Jacob Epstein in the Round Room. Ironically just a few steps up from Paradise.  

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LoveBrum were joined by 200 guests to mark the charity’s fourth birthday. LoveBrum has come a long way in a very short time. In a recent strategy meeting, trustees painted a picture (literally) of where we want to be in 5, 10 and 20 years.

It would have been a very ambitious soul to have predicted the achievements so far. It certainly warrants a celebration.

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Co-founders of LoveBrum PJ Ellis and Tim Andrews welcomed guests thanking them for supporting the charity as it comes of age.

LoveBrum’s Chairman Tim Andrews shared his pride in ‘the level of engagement we are now achieving…with so many Brummies celebrating the change and pulling together to make that change.’ 

PJ Ellis tweeted from the event ‘An amazing turnout for LoveBrum’s 4th birthday bash. To say I’m humbled by the support we have received over the last 4-5 years is an understatement. Birmingham, be proud. You are full of some amazing people.’

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Vice Chair Rebecca Simkiss announced the launch of Membership March; individuals who introduce the highest number of new members to LoveBrum have the opportunity to win some amazing prizes.

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Thank you to Julia’s Cake Co for providing us with this amazing cake. Please give them a follow on Twitter @JuliasCakeCo 

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Many thanks to Glenn Richardson (below left) doing his magic with his Photo Booth. Glenn’s website is birminghambooths.co.uk

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Thank you to everyone who supplied Raffle Prizes. Award winning Networker Henrik Court won a night at Holiday Inn Express at Snow Hill and immediately auctioned it raising an additional £60 on the night contributing to a total of £773.16. Fabulous. 

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Editor in Chief of The Asian Today, Ifraz Ahmed won a beauty treatment. Look out for the Anjum’s Butler cartoon on this one. 

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Huge thanks to everyone who came along last night to make the birthday celebrations a great success. We appreciate you all giving up your time and hope you had a fabulous night in the museum. 

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The full set of images: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jassansi/albums/72157678618919038

For more information about LoveBrum: https://lovebrum.org.uk

 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, a trustee for LoveBrum and contributor for The Asian Today newspaper.

@jassansi 07930 837 505

The Italian Master in Brum

Jas Sansi photographs the launch of the Leonardo Da Vinci Exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Drop your pencils, pens and paper and go see it before we bid ciao to the Renaissance Man on May 6th. 

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Birmingham is the Events City, there’s a lot going on a, a lot of the time. A city like ours has the gravitas to attract the great and the good, secure in the knowledge its citizens and those from the region will appreciate the opportunity to witness something extraordinary. 

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Last Thursday saw the preview of ‘A Life in Drawing’ by the Italian Master Leonardo Da Vinci at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. It is extraordinary.

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The drawings form part of the Royal Collection, and are on public display to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death in 1519. 

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They are mesmerising and I encourage everyone to go see them. The drawings are usually stored, out of sight, away from the harsh effects of light and oxygen. This a rare opportunity to enjoy them in all their glory.

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The Exhibition is free to attend but donations are always welcome to support the work carried out by the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

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Da Vinci is recognised as one of the most gifted people who ever walked this earth. If you have never seen any of his work, begin your journey at Birmingham.

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The drawings are on display until 6th May. There is a book available to purchase of the Da Vinci drawings for £9.95 available in the Museum gift shop. Pick one up and Enjoy it over a coffee in the Edwardian Tearooms.

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An incredible way to spend a few hours inside, away from the winter weather.

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Leonardo Da Vince ‘A Life in Drawing’ is exhibiting at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from 1 February to 6 May 2019.

Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3DH   0121 348 8000

www.birminghammuseums.org.uk

Free Entry (Donations Welcome)

#Leonardo500 

 

 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi 07930 837 505, a Trustee for LoveBrum and contributor to The Asian Today newspaper.

 

Signature Awards 2019

Jas Sansi photographs The Signature Awards 2019 at ICC Birmingham and reflects on the key message shared by Ninder Johal. 

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There are companies who embrace diversity and understand the value in drawing down from a broad church of ideas. For others, the comforts of a familiar face, background and culture continue to be the default option.

It’s unproductive to criticise taking the easier option. Organisations rarely change because of external pressures. Better to channel the energy of disappointment to exploit new opportunities. 

Necessity not external pressure forges change; here in the UK, we are witnessing full employment. The uncertainty in our future relationship with Europe may be discouraging worker bees from exploring new hives. The decision to Brexit has seen EU nationals transfer their skills to other countries.

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Companies who wish to scale up their operations have consequently less human resource to tap into. Great for wage inflation, not so great for corporate ambition. 

The necessity to think bigger and search wider in finding people to grow companies, throws a spotlight on the opportunities diversity offers.

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The Suffragettes marched Gender Equality to the gates of social change but it was the necessity of tapping into female workers during the World Wars that smashed those gates open. Allies fought fascism and were rewarded with enlightenment on the role of women in a post industrial world. Smashed gates never close.

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Diversity has been an aspiration for decades. The UK has championed the march of BAME Entrepreneurs as one of cornerstones of modern British success. Again this has been necessity rather than choice; if those Black and Asian entrepreneurs were given opportunities to grow early in their careers, they may not have heard the call of Enterprise and Self Employment nor would they have been tempted to explore new employment markets in North America. 

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This was my take from the Signature Awards hosted by Ninder Johal addressing a sold out Hall 4 at Birmingham ICC aided by the Brilliant Maharajah of Mayhem Tommy Sandhu.

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Ninder Johal has grown the annual celebration of our region’s business success stories to mature into a must attend event. He called on the business community to recognise there is a smaller pool of talent available because of Brexit and full employment, and to go beyond their comfort zones in providing opportunities to inject fresh ideas. 

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Signature Awards isn’t Black success, White success or Asian Success, its Business Success. There is value in having the attention of 550 business people; today and tomorrow’s leaders and urging them to harvest different fields whether its from White Working Class communities or the Muslim community. These are fields of gold. 

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The future battles in business are not mechanical, the robots are already here, automation has evolved from production lines and conveyor belts to become an art form of just in time logistics and elegant efficient satisfaction of supply and demand. 

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This is why Brexit means so much more than Brexit. Anyone can exit a relationship, all it takes is harsh words and a door, but how do you exit a complex integrated relationship developed over five decades that has shaped the fabric of our country? The simple answer is you can’t nor should you even try to.

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The future battles will be in ideas and creativity. Key Note speak Piers Linney from BBC Dragons’ Den alluded to this. Piers explained the difference between machines and humans is our ability to think creatively.

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You can program an algorithm into software, Trillion dollar corporations like Amazon demonstrate the value of doing so. But ultimately, each of the products they move around the planet via truck, van or drone evolved from a human idea or conversation. Diversity of ideas and conversations will shape the next wave of UK success stories.

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Thank you to everyone who made the night an incredible success especially the Sponsors without whom events such as these would be very difficult to deliver.

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Congratulations to all finalists and winners in this year’s Signature Awards.

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A personal highlight for me was the House of Commons Whisky bottle signed by Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn. In a week where the two struggled to sit opposite each other to thrash out a Brexit solution, their joint signatures raised £1050 fund matched by Barclays raising £2100 for Acorns Hospice contributing to a total (yet to be confirmed) for the much loved Charity headed up by Toby Porter. 

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Congratulations to my very good friend Ninder Johal who was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands, announced by John Crabtree during his welcome speech. 

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The Signature Awards will be back in 2020, until then, the memories from this year are signed, sealed and delivered. 

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Complete list of the Signature Awards 2019 winners: 

Excellence in Finance (Individual) – Damon Walford (Thin Cats) and Paul Kalinauckas (BCRS Loans)

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Excellence in Law – Kulraj Dassaur

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Excellence in Finance (Organisation) – Clydesdale & Yorkshire Bank Plc

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Excellence in Legal Services – Veale Wasbrough Vizards LLP

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Excellence in Real Estate – Bahram Parinchy (Pro Build 360)

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Excellence in the Owner Practice for the Professions – JM Wilson Solicitors

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International / Innovation / Enterprise of the Year – Microfresh

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Small Business of the Year – KMB Shipping Group

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Business Person of the Year – Manjeet Rai

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Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion – Turner Townsend

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Entrepreneur of the Year – James Tark

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Excellence in Promoting Apprenticeships – Total Training Company

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Highly Commended Companies Recognised by Signature Awards 2019

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Business of the Year – The Staffing Group

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Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi 07930 837 505, a Diversity and Equality Trustee for LoveBrum and Columnist for The Asian Today newspaper.

Full set of images from Signature Awards 2019 can be seen at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jassansi/sets/72157702971850092

 

 

 

Friday Bloody Friday

Conversations about a People’s Vote have escalated in the past 48 hours. 

Jas Sansi asks whose side would the EU take if troubles returned to the island of Ireland. 

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I was visiting friends in a flat in Hammersmith in 1992 when an IRA bomb went off. It damaged the Territorial Army building next door.

The absolute silence that follows an act of terrorism is broken only by the screams of police sirens within two minutes

The area was evacuated and cordoned off whilst media stations were set up and onlookers peered over police lines. This was before the age of camera phones and social media. There were no hashtags.

The Good Friday Agreement marking the end of the troubles between Ireland and the UK turned twenty this year.

There is more chance of progress made, in two decades of peace, being blown away than the candles on any celebration cake.

Both the UK and Ireland joined the EU in 1973. The conflict between both countries was something the EU did not involve itself in.

Imagine a future scenario in which we Brexit without a deal and a hard border is reintroduced between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

There are always individuals who have an agenda formulated in chaos and mischief. What if web savvy individuals trigger an explosive device at a border crossing.

This has every danger of escalating, with UK military deployments dispatched and a return to Irish doors being smashed down by British boots. It used to happen.

A key difference is the EU is no longer a neutral observer. As an EU member, Ireland has a voice amplified by other EU members. Its clear the EU will defend its partner. Its made this position crystal clear during heated negotiations.

There will not be another Sunday Bloody Sunday. But what if there was? What if an operation goes wrong? A young British soldier who has grown up knowing only peace in his time makes the wrong decision, what then?

We risk sleep walking into a greater conflict that we can imagine.

The suggestion of war was scoffed at by Brexit campaigners in the run up to the Referendum in 2016. Is this a risk worth taking?

This whole argument isn’t simply economic or political, for families up and down the country, its the personal security of those they love.

We leave the EU on Friday 29th March 2019. Will history remember it as Friday Bloody Friday?

I don’t want a people’s vote but if it keeps the Good Friday Agreement safe, lets have it.

Over to you Mrs May and Mr Corbyn.

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, a trustee for LoveBrum and contributor for The Asian Today newspaper.

 

 

With Mates like These…

You can count the number of options to settle Brexit on one hand, even if three of your fingers have been pulled off by the EU. 

Jas Sansi sets out both of them, and resists the temptation of posting a picture with two fingers up to the whole thing. 

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A pair of Bengal Tigers, prior to attacking one another have a tendency to pace around each other in a face off. They both know, in the event of battle, one will be killed and the other will die of their wounds soon after. Its a lose-lose. Remind you of anything? 

The EU Referendum in 2016 was a binary choice; In or Out. That’s it, not even an option to shake it all about, which is what the result has done with consumer confidence in the subsequent two and a half years. 

Theresa May heads back from the EU with little to add to a Brexit deal that is locked down and non negotiable. There’s no hope of it being passed by the House.

The 117 Tories who expressed no confidence in the PM won’t back it because they want an exit with no deal. Labour won’t back it because they want a General Election. Lib Dems won’t support it, they want a People’s Vote. 

SNP won’t support it because Scotland voted to Remain in the EU. DUP won’t support it because they’ve spent the £1 Billion bung and there’s no refunds. The Green Party won’t support it for all of the above, except the bung. 

This leaves the 200 MPs who did have confidence in Theresa May to vote Aye. It doesn’t take a genius to calculate the Nays have it.

Why not change the question being put to the house, instead of ‘Do you accept this Brexit deal?’ how about ‘Brexit with this deal or Brexit with no deal?’ This binary option will focus the minds of our elected representatives. 

This will cause uproar. Regular viewers of Prime Ministers Questions know MPs roar more than lions in mating season.  I, for one am mating fed up of it, I wish all the mating MPs would sort it before they mate off for Christmas.  

The only options after the PM’s deal is rejected is No Deal or No Brexit, and that there is the question for the people. 

Very few questions in life have a binary answer. But as a country we’re snookered by Brexit so what is it; Deal or No Deal?

If a People’s Vote returns No Brexit, then we Remain in the EU. If the answer is No Deal, then we leave the EU on WTO rules.

But for heavens sake, can we move on? Even David Dimbleby has left the stage and he’s overseen the election of everyone since William Pitt the mating Younger. 

 

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, a trust for LoveBrum and contributor to The Asian Today

07930 837 505 @jassansi