Bah... humbug!

I have today let myself to fall into preaching mood, perhaps. But this is what I feel during this year’s Christmas period – or is it just the Holiday Season...

A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK no longer has a majority of citizens who consider themselves as Christian. In 2011, eleven years ago, 59.3% considered themselves as Christians. In 2021 this figure dwindled down to 46.2%. Of the majority, 37.2% claim they have no religion at all, while the rest profess different non-Christian religions.

Yet Christmas is being celebrated in the UK as if the notion of Christianity covered everybody’s religious beliefs. Ebenezer Scrooge would definitely be justified to grunt ‘Bah Humbug’!

It seems that in the UK the so-called ‘Christmas’ cheer has gone back to its pagan origins – a celebration of the day when the daily hours of sunlight begin to increase – the hope that light will always win against darkness…

No such statistic is available for Malta, but according to a recent poll commissioned by the Archbishop’s Curia, there is a broad support for the termination of a pregnancy to save the mother’s life, while only 70% of Maltese adults oppose abortion when a woman’s life is not at risk. My late mother would have been shocked. She believed what she was taught – that the life of a baby in the womb was more important than that of the mother.

My mother had read Henry Morton Robinson’s novel ‘The Cardinal’ long before Otto Preminger made the film version in 1963. The story centres around a Catholic priest who rises to become a Cardinal despite falling into a number of pitfalls during his life. In one episode, the priest had to make the awkward choice between saving the life of his sister or that of her unborn child, who was conceived out of wedlock. He chooses the birth of the child, citing the teachings of the Church, and that leads to the death of his sister during delivery. That was as Catholic as one could be!

But those were other times.

Today only very few are still interested in the nitty gritty of the Catholic faith – or of other religions for that matter. More than the different teachings about Christ propounded by so many different Christian sects and religions, I believe that what makes Christianity still valid today is Christ’s ethics summed up in one sentence: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. Over the years, I have tended to consider most of the rest of Christianity’s supposed tenets as poppycock.

Today most Maltese behave daily in many ways that are the opposite of how they should behave as Christians. Selfishness and lack of kindness and compassion towards others stick out in most local posts in the social media. Even courtesy has become extinct, apparently.

When responding to criticism – whether justified or not – personal attacks are more preferred than genuine arguments. There are some who attack the same people, whatever they say – even when there is hardly any difference in what is being said by both sides. Bias and personal antipathy surpasses common sense, it seems. I must admit that sometimes this happens to me as well.

No surprise here.

No difference is made between the sin – which one should abhor – and the sinner whom one should always consider as a neighbour. Many are not capable of even making this distinction.

I have today let myself to fall into preaching mood, perhaps. But this is what I feel during this year’s Christmas period – or is it just the Holiday Season...

A financial ‘Jurassic Park’

The attitude of the UK government to Brexit is completely flawed. This was confirmed this week by the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) – a body funded by the British government to oversee citizens’ rights – after it took action against the Home Office, arguing Britain is breaching its withdrawal agreement with the European Union by requiring EU citizens to reapply for the right to live and work in the United Kingdom.

The scheme unlawfully requires EU citizens to make a second application after being allowed to remain in the UK or else lose their rights of residence.

EU citizens and their family members who had not established a right of permanent residence before the end of 2020 can be granted limited leave to enter and remain in the UK for five years, known as ‘pre-settled status’, while those who do not make another application within five years of being granted pre-settled status were to automatically lose their right to residence in the UK.

Judge Peter Lane ruled that the British government’s interpretation of the withdrawal agreement was ‘wrong in law’ and therefore the settlement scheme was unlawful.

Meanwhile, London's position as the pre-eminent European financial centre has been more than dented in recent years. The UK’s capital city briefly lost its long-time crown of most valuable European stock market to Paris before gains in the pound pushed it narrowly back ahead, while Amsterdam took the title of busiest European share dealing centre.

The head of a leading hedge fund recently described the London financial markets as a ‘Jurassic Park’ of old-fashioned companies and investors, and it has struggled to attract the world's fastest growing companies to list on UK exchanges, often losing out to New York, Shanghai or even Amsterdam.

Brexit will not reverse this trend, whatever tricks the UK ‘Brexiteers’ have up their sleeve.

Recently, the UK government announced what it describes as one of the biggest overhauls of financial regulation for more than three decades. It says the package of more than 30 reforms will ‘cut red tape’ and ‘turbo-charge growth’.

Rules that force banks to legally separate retail banking from riskier investment operations will be reviewed. A package of changes, dubbed the “Edinburgh Reforms”, is being presented as an example of post-Brexit freedom with the excuse that regulation has to be tailored specifically to the needs and strengths of the UK economy.

The British government has already announced it will scrap a cap on bankers’ bonuses and allow insurance companies to invest in long-term assets such as housing and wind-farms to boost investment, while rules governing how senior finance executives are hired, monitored and sanctioned will be overhauled.

All this reveals why Brexit was actually proposed: to benefit a few millionaires who felt that restrictions imposed on the financial market and the banking sector by the EU limited their profits.

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Here’s wishing a Happy Christmas to all readers of MaltaToday!