Penneys’ boom, more Brexit exits and Michael O’Leary’s war on travel restrictions

Planet Business: Recapping the week ‘in a very specific and limited way’

Employees of French water and waste giant Suez took to the Parisian streets on Tuesday to protest against Veolia’s bid for a stake in the company. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Employees of French water and waste giant Suez took to the Parisian streets on Tuesday to protest against Veolia’s bid for a stake in the company. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP

 

Image of the week: Water fight

There was French business drama this week as utility multinational Veolia’s move to take over water and waste giant Suez was rebuffed in strong language by Suez chief executive Bertrand Camus, who described the proposed deal as “an aberration and destructive for France”.

The offer “undervalues” Suez’s assets and is an opportunistic attempt to take advantage of its pandemic-hit share price, he insisted. Workers were similarly sceptical of Veolia’s pledge to preserve French jobs in the mega-merger, with union members protesting Veolia’s bid for the 29.9 per cent of Suez currently held by energy firm Engie in a two-hour masked strike in Paris’s La Défense business district. Placards at the #AlwaysSuez protest forecast an explosion in already expensive water prices if Veolia gets its way.

In numbers: Whole lot of sales

€2.2 billion

Sales at Primark, or Penneys as it is better known here, since reopening after lockdowns across Europe are on track to reach £2 billion by the end of 2020, according to parent group Associated British Foods, thanks to pent-up demand.

12%
Those cheap clothing bonanza revenues will still be 12 per cent lower on a like-for-like basis than in 2019.

5%
If Primark’s four biggest stores – one in Birmingham, one in Manchester, two in London – are excluded, sales are only down by this much, showing through the medium of fast fashion just how much the absence of workers and tourists is affecting city centres.

Getting to know: Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones, the UK government’s most senior lawyer until Tuesday, has been described as “a loyal civil servant”, but loyalty can only go so far. Hours before Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis admitted that the UK planned to break international law “in a very specific and limited way” by overriding aspects of its EU withdrawal agreement, news of Jones’s resignation emerged courtesy of the Financial Times. Jones, who exited his post ahead of the end of his five-year term next April, tweeted confirmation of his decision with little comment save to thank his “brilliant, dedicated colleagues”. To lose one senior civil servant in a calendar year may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose six looks like a strategy.

The list: O’Learyisms

As his airline unnervingly promotes its latest seat sale with the ominous line “half the price, double the adventure”, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has continued to wage his public war against mid-pandemic Irish and UK travel policies, comparing them unfavourably to that of Italy and other parts of Europe. Here are just some of his chosen words.

1. “Ludicrous”, “stupid” and “idiotic”. No, really, tell us what you really think.

2. ”Unexplainable, ineffective and unimplementable”. His general view on 14-day quarantine periods.

3. “Contradictory”. O’Leary, pondering the various international interpretations of “the science” like the rest of us, hasn’t been NPHET’s greatest supporter.

4. ”Lumpy and defective”. His latest verdict on the vogue for quarantine measures.

5. “Shambles of mismanagement”. Again, he’s not a fan.

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