Charlotte Street Partners



The chips are down

Written by  Charles Clegg, senior associate 
Edited by Iain Gibson, associate partner
10 March 2021

Good morning,

In December 2014, some patriotic Belgians protested austerity measures by pelting the country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, with the country’s national dish, chips and mayonnaise. Michel’s good-natured response to the attack seemed to prove his unflappability.

Five years later, Michel traded the premiership of Belgium for the presidency of the European Council. Not long into his new role, the pandemic struck and, faced with weightier problems than chips, Michel’s unflappability appears to be faltering.

German, Polish, Austrian, and Hungarian leaders have all recently criticised the EU’s sluggish distribution of vaccinations. Yet, Michel yesterday issued a statement arguing the bloc was “well placed to lead the field in a marathon”. He criticised Russia and China for using their vaccines for “propaganda” purposes and claimed the UK and US had imposed an “outright ban” on vaccine exports. The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, quickly rebutted this as “completely false”. Michel said the EU “has never stopped exporting”. This too is difficult to maintain: last week, Italy, with the EU’s approval, used an EU mechanism to block the shipment of 250,000 vaccine doses to Australia.

The EU is an international body and distribution problems in member states make a consistent roll-out more difficult than it has proven in a country like the UK. But, as some member states take matters into their own hands, pressure on the EU is growing.

Hungary has begun to use vaccines from countries outside the EU, including Michel’s targets of Russia and China. Within the EU, Hungary is now second only to Malta in vaccinations. In the past few days, Denmark, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic have all joined Hungary in seeking vaccines outside the EU.

EU leaders face growing internal criticism for their handling of vaccines. If member states can tackle Covid more effectively by breaking rank with the bloc, that criticism will prove insuperable. That’s why Michel has chosen to speak now and to speak loudly: he’s picking an external fight to distract from a growing internal one.

Unless, against all odds, the EU can “lead the field in a marathon” very soon, Michel’s boldness will reap little more than international embarrassment and further internal disquiet. As a former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “When things get serious, you have to know how to lie.”

Things have got serious for the EU. Charles Michel’s trouble is, to paraphrase Juncker, that he doesn’t know how to lie.


Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee has claimed the impact of the UK government’s Test and Trace system remains unclear. MPs also criticised aspect of the £37bn allocation, such as the scheme’s complexity and the high sums paid to consultants. The committee did, however, claim the system had increased UK testing capacity.

UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has summoned EU diplomats after European Council president, Charles Michel, claimed the UK had imposed “an outright ban” on vaccine exports. In the latest row between Brussels and London, Raab stated Michel’s claims were “completely false”.

From 14 May, Greece is planning to welcome tourists who have received a vaccine or a negative Covid test. The country, which plans to lift restrictions in the meantime, is economically reliant on tourism; its government hopes to attract UK visitors in particular.

Business and economy

Sanjeev Gupta has announced his company, GFG Alliance, will refinance Liberty Steel after the company’s future was thrown into doubt by the collapse of its main backer, Greensill Capital. Since Greensill’s collapse, there have been fears for the 5,000 UK and 35,000 worldwide jobs supported by Liberty Steel. (£)

The UK government has announced its intention to cut Air Passenger Duty on internal flights. The move has been criticised by environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Marks and Spencer plans to demolish its massive flagship store at London’s Marble Arch and replace it with a mixed development. The move comes in response to a difficult pandemic for the retailer, which has recorded its first loss in 94 years as a public listing.

Columns of note

In the Financial Times, Brooke Masters looks at how supermarkets are using small, store-based distribution outlets for online shopping as the most effective way to channel pandemic profits. Sainsbury’s takes the lead in the UK, having redeployed 650 staff from its main London distribution centre to smaller outlets. Masters argues this model has the potential to improve data, thereby cutting waste and increasing profits. (£)

In the Guardian, Joseph Harker shares his experiences of a UK press culture that, despite superficial commitments to diversity, does little to tackle racism. In response to the duchess of Sussex’s claims that the UK press is racist, the Society of Editors has denied any racism in its ranks. Yet Harker claims that this cannot be sustained in an industry where only 6% of journalists – most of whom are in junior roles – are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Cartoon source: New Yorker


What happened yesterday?

After a fall on Monday, the rising shares in Nvidia, Paypal and Tesla saw the US’s Nasdaq Composite rise 4.1% while Wall Street’s S&P 500 rose 2%.

In Europe, the Stoxx index closed up 0.6% while London’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.2%.

In Asia, China’s CSI 300 fell 2.2%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.8% while South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.6%.

The pound stands against the euro at 1.17, up 0.14%; and against the US dollar 1.39, up 0.55%.

In company news:

Swedish milk substitute producer, Oatly, has announced plans to open one of the world’s largest plant-based milk substitute factories in Peterborough.

Kia is recalling 380,000 of its Sportage and Cadenza models from the US market over concerns about the cars’ fire safety.

What’s happening today?

Balfour Beatty
CLS Holdings
FDM Group
Hill & Smith
Ip Group
Just Eat Takeaway
Legal & General
Tritax Big Box
Tt Electronics 

Blackrock I&g
Inspirit Energy
Sdic Power.

Kin and Carta

Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust

Int. economic announcements
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(12:30) Consumer Price Index (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

Prussian general, Helmuth von Moltke, is the only person born in the 18th century of whom a voice recording exists.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions

Prime Minister’s question time
Urgent questions
Estimates day

House of Lords 

Oral questions
Domestic Abuse Bill – report stage (day 2)
Grand committee
Legislation: Financial Services Bill – committee stage (day 6)

Scottish Parliament 

Portfolio questions
Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

Rural Economy and Tourism
Motion of no confidence
In deputy first minister, John Swinney
Stage 3 proceedings
University of St. Andrews (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry) Bill

Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
Legislative consent motion
Financial Services Bill

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

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