Brexit: How a country lost its mind

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I know I keep banging on about brexit, but the thing is it will directly impact people in the UK and beyond (the joke goes an Englishman, an Irishman, a Welshman, a Scot and an Ulsterman go into a bar, the Englishman decides to leave and all the rest have to as well) for decades to come, a reality a lot of people are very slow to wake up too.

For example, just this week the Irish government broke the glass on its emergency contingency plans for a no-deal brexit. They did this because they (and the EU) are responsible grown ups and, unlike May, they know they can’t simply wait and hide under their desk until the 28th of March, hoping a unicorn rides to their rescue.

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Buried amongst the many provisions of this bill is a clause which means all UK driving license holders cannot drive in Ireland in the event of a no deal brexit (nor in the rest of the EU without an international driving permit). While there’s been speculation about this, it confirms something that had been long feared. Hence all British living in Ireland  now have a little over month to exchange their licenses.

If this sounds unfair, consider that there’s the issue of how do the Irish police British drivers if their license is issued by a third country outside of the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Because in the event of no deal brexit I (on my Irish license in the UK) could literally drive past a speed camera at 100 mph, doing doughnuts while drunk as a skunk. What are you going to do, take my license away? How? My license is issued by a third country whose legal system is completely different from the UK’s and which treats evidence from things like speed cameras very differently (basically to a Irish court, what you’ve got is a picture of a car on a road, unless that photo clearly shows who is driving, simply assuming it was the license holder is applying a presumption of guilt and thus said evidence is inadmissible in court).

However, the official advice in the UK is that even in event of a no deal brexit, Irish (or EU) driving license holders will still be able to drive in the UK. In fact, we can’t exchange our licenses until or unless they expire, or you hit 67 (none of which is going to happen to me for sometime). So it raises the question, given that the UK government is so massively unprepared for brexit and my point above, is this really their final position? Because if not (I suspect its not), the implication would be that I should apply for a UK license right now and give up my Irish one, but that would mean I won’t be able to drive if I go back to Ireland.

Now consider that there are about 600,000 Irish in the UK, some of whom will also have Irish driving licenses. Even if only a small fraction of them are effected, say 250,000, how would the DVLA cope if all of us applied for a UK license next week?  And what about EU citizens? If say a million of them also now apply, can the DVLA cope with 1.25m licensing applications in a few weeks? Which raises the question of whether you’d want to risk posting off your license knowing it will get lost in a sea of post that will hit the DVLA (where talking about several shipping containers full of post on its way to Swansea).

And this isn’t really that serious for me, I don’t drive very often so I can cope without a license for a few months, or even semi-permanently. But spare a thought for someone who needs their car to get to work, or drives for a living (either a brit living in Ireland or an Irish trucker living in the UK). That means they can’t work.

And if incorrect government advice left someone unemployed surely that’s grounds to claim compensation. Can the UK courts cope with a few hundred thousand compensation claims? If a driver decides, not unreasonably, that they are going to keep driving on their EU license regardless. And if and when they are caught with an EU/Irish license, would those charges stick in court? (given that they’d been given incorrect advice and the government had proven itself woefully incapable of doing something as simple as issuing a driving license).

This is kind of the problem with brexit, right from the start the people in charge are utterly clueless and don’t know what they are doing. For example, they argued that in the event of no deal why we can avoid chaos at the ports by just waving trucks through, or maybe just those covering vital supplies like food. If the EU/Ireland chooses to put in place customs controls it will be them punishing themselves. And for 2 years everybody, the EU, foreign diplomats, trade experts, bloggers like me, the 3 blokes in a pub, have been screaming at them, no you can’t do that, it would be illegal and kind of stupid.

The UK would have to be willing to wave through every vehicle coming through every port of entry to the UK and remove all customs controls and tariffs (so you’re leaving the EU in order to have no trade policy and no border controls whatsoever?). Under WTO rules and international law, you can’t selectively ignore the rules for one category of goods, or goods from one country, but impose them on another. Someone, most likely a company in the UK (who won’t be able to compete in such a scenario) or a non-EU country (such as China or the US) will complain and sue the government (and the EU), probably within days. Hence in the absence of a trade agreement (and you’re not going to get that without paying the EU divorce bill), customs checks are inevitable.

And the government seems to have quietly caved in to this reality recently, announcing that they will be applying WTO tariffs on food for example. Of course this confirms that Northern Ireland and Kent are a month away from becoming lorry parks, that food prices are going to soar and there’s a real risk of shortages (due to growing seasons the UK’s winter crops aren’t due to be harvested until April…and without EU farm workers it won’t get harvested of course!). So we’re going to get the opposite of no checks and no tariff’s, everything’s going to be checked and charged, which raises all sorts of logistical questions, does the UK have enough customs officials to cope? What happens when companies in the UK dependant on trade with the EU go bust? (and sue the government no doubt!).

Expect the next iteration to be, this is very unfair I mean maybe we can let some goods in without checks or tariffs, after all its not like we grow lots of olives in the UK, or certain foods out of season, and its beneficial to keep tariffs and checks at zero on as much as possible….you mean you want a customs union? Don’t you think you should have said that like maybe two years ago, instead of chasing unicorns!

What’s that you say, invoke the blitz spirit, bring back rationing, keep calm and carry on. Panic and freak out is more likely the end result. Such a policy would be well to the left of Corbyn, akin to those of Maduro in Venezuela. Is anyone seriously suggesting that, having left the EU because it sets too many rules, the solution is to bring in a government that is so authoritarian it literally decides how much and what everyone is allowed to eat and who gets to starve. You know you’re in crazy times when the hard right of the Tory party are advocating the policies of Maduro.

And where is Corbyn in all of this? Busy trying to settle petty scores with his ex-Mp’s. I’d call it fiddling while Rome burns, but in truth Nero almost certainly never did that, so it would be most unfair to compare him to Corbyn. Nero might have been a tyrant, but even he knew that life is about priorities.

This is the problem with brexit and has been since the start of the referendum campaign. There is no plan, there never was one and there never will be. Because leaving the EU was an act driven by ideology, mostly by public school educated toff’s who’d been indoctrinated with a vision of new British empire, which will magically come about, if we get the pesky EU and its laws (and offshore tax investigators) out of the picture. In the absence of plans, the brexiteers (which includes Corbyn remember) have presented instead fantasy after fantasy, each of which in turn has been shot down, not so much by the EU, but by reality and pesky little “facts“.

And this is not going to end on the 29th of March (remember brexit is a process not a destination), it will probably continue for a decade, or however long it takes for the UK to break up. Faced with this, one has to question the wisdom of continuing. Whether or not revoking article 50 completely (no 2nd referendum, just withdraw it) is the most sensible solution. But unfortunately sense and reason departed this island sometime ago. The official motto of the UK these days has to be “go sell crazy some place else, we’re all stocked up here

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Some other news

Splitters!

This week seven eight members of the Judean people’s front labour party split from the party, blaming Corbyn’s toxic leadership style. And its entirely possible that they will be just the first of many out the door, with dozens others apparently considering quitting, particularly if Corbyn tries to steer the party towards supporting May’s brexit plans.

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This was followed up by several centrists Tory MP’s jumping ship too. This is arguably a good deal more significant, as it means that technically May no longer has a majority, even with DUP support. Fortunately for her, Sinn Fein don’t sit in parliament (because they are a party of protest and taking their seats would involve doing something useful), so she can still get thing through (thanks to so-called “Republicans“), but only by a margin of one (yes if one Tory or DUP MP says no, that’s it the bill fails).

To be honest, I’m not surprised, in fact I’m only surprised it was only a handful and it took this long. In truth these MP’s didn’t leave labour (or the Tory party), the labour party left them. Its now the cult of the one true Corbyn (v’s the cult of the one true brexit). I mean seriously, labour members need to read through “top ten signs you are in a cult” and compare and contrast to the labour party under Corbyn. The only thing you can do in a cult is get out quickly, you aren’t going to convince its leader to change. Corbyn will take the party over the cliff and then expect them all to line up and drink the kool aid.

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Corbyn’s labour party might be all about him, but its not a cult, Corbyn’s honour!

Indeed the reaction of the labour party to these events is very cult like. They called for byelections (so you think the referendum result should stand now and until the end of time, but constituents who voted for their MP last year should be made to vote again, even though the odds now are they’re will be another election within a few months). Or they want to ban MP’s from leaving their parties (ya and why don’t we put shock collars on em and not let them out in public without little star armbands). One labour MP even speculated that this all might be an Israeli plot (not that antisemitism is a problem in labour!).

At the other extreme, some of Corbyn red shirts have been egging on these MP’s to quit for sometime. And now they are having a nice laugh about it all. But consider this is what happened in France with Macron. He left the socialist party and everybody in the party laughed. Then gradually more and more joined from both major parties until it was the largest party in parliament. Needless to say, they stopped laughing sometime ago.

While I’d consider a UK version of En Marche unlikely (thanks to the FPTP electoral system), but an electoral alliance with the lib dems, Greens and SNP is a very real possibility (meaning they’ll avoid standing against one another next election). These three parties could also form what’s called a “technical group within parliament, giving them more say (they could table bills, ask for parliamentary time, or if enough labour MP’s leave, potentially even challenge Corbyn for the post of leader of the opposition).

Do the electoral maths and baring a massive swing to either the Tories or labour, it might be impossible to form a government without one or more of these centre ground parties. Which means there could be a 2nd referendum on the EU sooner rather than later. So what’s the point in forcing through a brexit deal nobody seems to want, if within a year or two there’s a 2nd referendum? Won’t it be better just to have the people’s vote now?

Brexit news

While I want to avoid dwelling too much on brexit, its like a elephant of the room for everything right now. Oddly enough the Dutch government now has a brexit mascot, which appears in TV adds in the form of a big blue monster, which is an apt metaphor (thought I reckon they should have given it Boris’s blonde hair, Gove’s glasses, Mogg’s bowler hat, jackboots for Tony Robinson and a pint and a fag for Farage). Which of course also just goes to show how much better the EU is at preparing for brexit compared to the UK.

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Case in point, the ferry contract given to a company that didn’t actually have any ships. The government, under Failing Grayling (who unbelievably is still a minister, probably because he makes the rest of them seem vaguely competent), says that no money was spent on this, as the deal is now off. But its only been cancelled because one of the Irish parties involved walked away. And they claim they were never formally part of the deal in the first place (they’d never signed any contracts).

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And yes it has cost taxpayers money, some £800k to “consultants. Although quite what they were consulted on is unclear. About the only redeeming feature of those behind this ferry contract was they were members of the good old boys network and they were British. Because all of the other ferry contracts (indeed most of the contracts related to no deal perpetrations) are being handled by European companies. Yes, if brexit means brexit, it means millions to EU firms to ferry stuff across the channel, including those blue passports.

Its also being confirmed that the government is going to be sued by Eurotunnel over their handing out of these no bid contracts (Eurotunnel used to own a ferry company at the low cost end of the scale, which they were forced to sell off by the government some years ago, citing competition concerns). This is likely to be the first of many brexit related lawsuits. And rather foolishly, the government isn’t doing the sensible thing and settling this case out of court. Which raises the possibility of ministers (or even the PM) being hauled in to testify under oath.

Meanwhile, the brexitous continues. We have the story of another airline failing over brexit, news that Honda is indeed shutting down its Swindon plant at the cost of thousands of jobs (been on the cards for months, expect similar announcements from other firms shortly). We have a report from the bank of England confirming that the economy is now slowing down and, even thought brexit hasn’t even happened yet, its already cost the economy £80 billion, or about £800 million a week (so the slogan on the bus claiming an extra £350 million a week was, much as I predicted, off by a factor of negative £1150 billion a week…should we really be trusting the fate of the economy to people this bad at maths?). According to the brexit job losses counter btw, this takes the total brexit related losses to over 200,000 (about an average of 1,500 job losses every week since the referendum).

Oh and yet another brexiteer billionaire is jumping ship, heading off to Monaco to get a passport. Because brexit is going to make us all so rich, we won’t need his tax money anymore.

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The Tories unveil their new election slogan

In fact this is kind of the point about brexit many are missing. As this excellent piece from the director of Policy Research (IPPR) points out, brexit does not mean a medieval siege. There might be shortages afterwards, but that will be the fault of a bungling UK government. The real trouble starts when the UK finds itself competing against a trade block of over 500 million people, with the EU dangling carrots in the face of UK businesses to tempt them over the channel. And with no hope of getting trade deals on the same terms the UK currently enjoys (to date the UK has signed just 7 out of the 69 it needs which covers only about 1/8th of the overseas trade the UK does with countries outside the EU) , never mind getting better terms, it means the slow quiet dismantling of the UK economy.

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And just to add confusion to confusion, Michael Gove told farmers recently that the UK would be bringing in heavy tariffs to protect farms  from external competition. This runs contrary to the suggestion that the UK would wave through food shipments to avoid lengthy queues at the border, as well as to preserve the good Friday agreement. In effect he’s saying that yes Kent and Northern Ireland are going to become lorry parks in a months time, food prices are going to soar (tariffs can be as high as 50% on food), shops might run out of food and a show down with Washington is looming over the GFA…..or maybe he’s just copying May’s policy of winging it and saying whatever the audience wants to hear so he can get out of the room without being lynched.

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Of course this serves to explain why the UK is so unprepared for a no deal brexit. Because even with a few weeks to go we’ve no idea what the government’s policy is. What documents the government has published are often vague and directly contradicted by another department. “fucked if we know” seems to be the official government policy.

Gunboat undiplomacy

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Meanwhile Failing Grayling (and Gove) has some competition for the prize of most incompetent minister, from defence minster Gavin Williamson. He claimed that the UK’s defences forces would have its “lethality enhanced, although quite how the EU has been holding the UK back wasn’t really explained (no doubt he believes all those bent banana’s and H&S regulation was stopping squadies doing their jobs). He’s also talked about forward deploying the UK’s new carriers in the Caribbean and Pacific and send the new carrier on a world tour.

Given that his department is shouldering a multibillion pound overspend one has to wonder where the money to pay for all of that is going to come from. Plus the thorny issue of the fact that the carriers aren’t currently in commission and don’t have any planes operating off them. And recall those planes are the controversial F-35 (an excellent aircraft….so long as the enemy doesn’t have an airforce and spoiler alert, both the Russians and Chinese do!).

And forward deploying the carriers would leave them vulnerable to sneak attack (I don’t know if Gavin’s heard of Pearl harbour?) by long range anti-ship missiles, either ballistic or air launched. And its worth noting that China, India and Russia all have such missiles. And Russian TU-22’s long range anti-ship aircraft also operate out of bases on Cuba and Venezuela.

Perhaps inevitably these comments went down like a lead balloon in Beijing, forcing the Chancellor of the exchequer to cancel his trip to China after the Chinese took offence. And I mean, can you blame them? Tip to brexiteers if you want to get trade deals off people, it might be a good idea not to go around sabre rattling and threatening to park aircraft carriers off their coast.

And just to show that he’s not alone in incompetence, Liam Fox and Jeremy Cunt Hunt managed to piss off the Japanese, to such an extend it seems they were prepared to walk away from trade talks, as they tried to apply the hard sell on the Japanese. Needless to say, it takes some skill to have pissed off both the Chinese and Japanese in a single week. But they need to realise, you are not double glazing salesmen trying to pressure some old granny into a sale. Trade deals take time and requires compromise (because as noted, you ain’t going to get a deal as good the EU enjoys). This is kind of what being outside the EU looks like.

Of course in his brain fart, the defence secretary allows the brexiteer mask to slip, and betrays the dreams of empire 2.0 and another era of gunboat diplomacy. But it also shows how out of touch they are with the realities of the modern world. How most of the world doesn’t share their nostalgia for the British empire (quite the opposite in fact). How the likely response to a British warship in their waters isn’t going to be a favourable trade deal, but a blunt order to turn around asap or we’ll sink you.

Holocaust denial

Case in point, consider the recent comments from Jacob Rees Mogg in which he attempted to deny the British use of concentration camps during the Boer war. Because the truth is that the UK invented the concentration camp, not the nazi’s, and tens of thousands died in these camps.

In fact what is interesting about these comments is how few of the major news media covered his comments. Those that did gave similar apologetic’s to Mogg (typically by saying Dunkirk & Churchill over and over again, after all it was the Boer’s fault for dying in the camps basically, not the British for setting them up) or just ignored the whole thing. Even the BBC didn’t run a story on it, despite the fact he made the comments on the BBC’s question time. Which just goes to show, Mogg was expressing an opinion that is widely shared by many ex-public school boys.

In fact it is interesting to compare how the media ignores the institutional racism and bigotry within the Tory party, yet the slightest hint of anything within labour is blown out of all proportion. Yes there is definitely an antisemitism problem within labour (this is one of reasons for the recent defections), but the media are making a big deal out of it because they can and its a cheap shot they can take against Corbyn. But they are also willing to ignore far worse within the Tories, UKIP or the DUP. I mean imagine if one of labour’s MP’s was to express a similar view to Mogg about the holocaust. There would be uproar.

These public school boys in the UK have been subject to a level of indoctrination and radicalisation on par with the sort you’d get in an ISIS run madrasa. As far as they are concerned the British Empire was a glorious thing and they were doing the world a favour by conquering them (and shooting a few locals every now and then, forcing them into concentration camps, stealing their grain, etc.). Why the colonies (and I’ve heard that term used to describe countries in the modern day) were only forced out of the empire by a bunch of bed wetting liberals back home and many in places, like India, yearn for the day when the Empire returns.

If you’re a neutral scratching your head unable to understand why the Tories aren’t supporting May’s deal (knowing its the best they’ll get), this is why. As far as these public school boys are concerned, they did the EU a favour by joining and now that they’re leaving, why should they have to pay. After all they might not afford the EU the privilege of trading with their vast (and non existent) empire.

Dark satanic take aways

A recent episode of the BBC’s panorama focused on the dark side of takeaways. Recently in the UK, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of takeaway apps, which means you can just dial in to your local takeaway, place an order online and about ten to thirty minutes later your food is delivered.

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However, as the report shows, your food might not be coming from an actual restaurant. The firms behind these apps have been setting up, so called “dark kitchens, which are basically kitchens in windowless shipping containers under an overpass, or on waste ground somewhere. This raises a number of issues.

For example the fact such apps don’t include any information about hygiene ratings (which actual restaurants and takeaways have to provide). And there’s been worrying stories about to what extent such restaurants understand issues related to allergies (The panorama team ordered a meal, sent it away for testing and found it contained stuff it wasn’t supposed to). And some restaurant owners claimed that they were pressured into purchasing slots towards the top of the list of local takeaways (suggesting that if you pay enough you’ll be the first a customer sees, regardless of how good or safe your food actually is).

And these dark satanic mills of our time are also often set up without planning permission. Which is a bit of an issue for local residents who suddenly have to contend with mopeds coming and going all night. What this all shows is how the disruptive effects of the internet aren’t always positive once they move into the real world. And how there is a need for governments to keep on top of events and not be afraid to regulate new industries to stop things running out of control.

Unfriending Facebook

Case in point, facebook. This week saw a UK parliamentary committee turn in a scathing report, going so far as to call the company “digital gangsters and calling for facebook (and google) to be regulated. A good idea, the UK should do that. But isn’t facebook’s European headquarters in Ireland? So how exactly are you going to regulate them after you leave the EU? What’s May going to do? Threaten to unfriend Mark Zuckerberg.

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Jokes aside, my guess is that we could well see the pendulum swing from one extreme, where internet companies have been able to do what they want, when they want, not even bothering to pay taxes. To now facing heavy government scrutiny and regulation. Which is both a good thing (a crack down on fake news and the unethical practices of some internet firms is long overdue) and bad (given the potential danger of governments meddling in social media or censoring content).

Broken Britain

One of the reasons some have given for voting leave in the UK relates to the abject poverty now present in parts of the country. We now face a scenario, where homeless people dying on the streets is becoming a more common occurrence, where 14 million people in the country now live in poverty to the point where the UN is feeling the need to get involved. And perhaps with good reason. For as food bank use has soared, Dickensian diseases such as rickets have re-emerged in the UK.

Granted this is a little unfair on the EU (whose structural funds have actually helped parts of the UK in peril), when this is mostly the fault of Tory policy, either those of the Thatcher era or a decade of punishing austerity. Indeed, even the government has recently had to acknowledge the link between the roll out of their Universal Credit system and a rise in food banks.

But we are where we are. And where we are is that the Tories are quietly ignoring this inconvenient little fact, which should hardly come as a surprise (when have they ever cared about working people in this country?) and pushing through with a brexit policy which will leave many in the country even worse off. In short if you voted leave as some sort of cry for help, I’m afraid what you voted for was to be ignored and forgotten even more than before.

And across the pond, similar trends exist in Trump’s America, with poverty on the rise. In fact, an interesting video here from ABC about the death of the American dream. But isn’t Trump’s new tax cut going to help out struggling families? Oh it will help alright, to push the over the edge and onto the bread line. In effect he’s raised taxes for most Americans, cutting them only for the super rich like him.

And I know its cruel to say so, but seriously, why is anyone surprised? You vote for parties that favour the 1% and surprise, surprise the screw over everyone else and make themselves richer. Did anyone really expect that the Tories would push for a socialist friendly brexit? (or end austerity after the referendum result). Or that a professional conman like Trump, whose spent his whole career screwing over his own work force and investors, would behave any differently once in office. As the old saying goes people vote for the government they deserve and that’s what they’ve gotten.

Unfit for office

Speaking of Trump, everyone had a good old chuckle about how the president spends an inordinate amount of his time on “executive time (an average of about only 3 hrs of actual work per day), which is basically code word for him sitting around watching Fox news, tweeting, ringing up his friends and supporters, or bouncing off the walls about the horrible things the NYT says about him.

But I think there was a meaning to this story that was missed. Basically, Trump has, consciously or subconsciously, been deemed by the US government, lobbyists and even his own White house staff as unfit for office. So much so that they see good reason to involve him as little as possible in any actual decision making. Preferring instead to leave the boss baby puttering in his presidential play pen, only taking him out or involving him in matters where its legally required (i.e. they need his signature on a piece of paper).

Consider that previous presidents tended to have a fairly full schedule, as numerous people beat a path to the White house door looking for some of the president’s time. Senators, congressmen, ambassadors, lobbyists for corporations or NGO’s, department heads from the various branches of government, etc. Clearly all of these people are avoiding contact with the White house because they judge that Trump is just too incompetent to be of any actual help. So the US under Trump is something of a rudderless ship. But worse still, that also means that there’s ample opportunities for well juiced in cronies of Trump to line their pockets.

And on the topic of Trump an interesting article here about the potential floodgate he could be opening, if say a future US president were to invoke “the Trump rule” and declare a national emergency to fight climate change. Powers said president will be able to exercise include being able to divert tens of billions of dollars to renewable energy, being able to rescind oil drilling contracts, cease energy industry assets or restrict supplies and apply restriction on cars and vehicles (e.g. mandate much lower speed limits or ban gas guzzlers altogether).

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A young UK convert to ISIS recently turned up in a refugee camp. And even thought she’s unrepentant (even saying ISIS terrorist attacks against the UK were justified) she wants back into the country. And Trump, no doubt acting under orders from Moscow, seems to agree and wants her and other members of ISIS returned to their home countries.

This caused media fury, how can we let a supporter of terrorism into the country?….you guys do know that the DUP (who also have links with terrorists) are literally in government? Pot calling the kettle black I think. And, won’t it be better to get her back into the UK and prosecute her? That said, I’ll admit there is an argument to be made that by joining ISIS she rejected the UK and thus forfeited her rights to all of its laws and protections. Its a little late for her to turn around now and say that’s unfair. If she wishes to apply for citizenship again, fine, but presumably she’ll have to renounce terrorism and ISIS first.

Universities on the edge

The UK government recently released a study on student finance and among its recommendations is that fees should be cut, potentially by as much as 30%. This does kind of make sense. As I’ve pointed out before, students are getting a bit of a raw deal and as they often need to borrow money to go to uni (which they often don’t repay in full), so its just shuffling money around so the government can hide some of its debts off the books.

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However, what worries universities is there is no indication that the government is going to fill this funding gap with money of its own. So in short, universities are being asked to swallow a 20-30% cut in their income. Which raises the risk that some will go bust as a result.

Recall that university finances are under enough pressure right now, largely down to brexit, as they face raising costs (inflation making equipment and running costs higher, plus staff demanding higher salaries), falling number of international students (EU student numbers are down, but so too are those from outside the EU, as many are put off by the risk of a no deal brexit and May’s hostile environment, which has seen international students swept up in it) and the prospect of reduced research funding (once the EU turns off the tap). Oh and they are also facing rising pension costs too. So a cut to fees would be something of a prefect storm. Frankly, it won’t be a question of if a university went bust, it would be when.

Now the Tories seem to think this is okay. So what if a few ex-polytechnics go bust. Well firstly, we’ve already had this conversation, last year a university came close to bankruptcy and the government blinked first. This set a precedence. You can’t say to other uni’s (and their students), we’re only bailing out the ones posh kids go too, you pleb’s are on your own. No sorry, what applies to one has to apply to the others, otherwise the government risks being sued. And consider that some of the ex-poly’s have done really well for themselves. But at the same time some of the red brick institutions have declined (in fact of the uni’s I’d be most worried about its an even mix of red bricks, plate glasses and ex-poly’s).

And finally, the thing that really worries me is that the government won’t be able to blink and bail a uni out. Its creditors, looking to get their hands on its billion pound city centre real estate portfolio, might force it into insolvency. And like I’ve said before, once one uni fails (for whatever reason) its likely several more will follow, leaving the government with an awful mess to clean up afterwards.

News roundup: Sustainability edition

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First solar, now the Tories go after biomass

Be careful what you wish for, the Tories might try to implement it and then make a pigs breakfast of everything. For quite sometime, the UK has fallen behind in terms of tackling air pollution, particularly in its urban areas. Yes levels are dropping, but not nearly fast enough. According to the World health organisation 40 of the UK’s cities have high air pollution levels that exceeds the minimum level they recommend.

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So the government has announced new anti air pollution measures to tackle this problem. However the trouble is that the proposed laws are somewhat vague and badly worded. To the point where they could potentially ban wood burning stoves and boilers. For quite sometime now, must UK urban areas have been “smokeless zones” meaning that open hearth fires are essentially illegal in those areas (of course…

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Brexit and Immigration

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Brexit has been interpreted by Theresa May and the Tory party, as the UK voting to make itself poorer, in order to cut immigration. Of course, as I’ve pointed out before, this is a false narrative, which comes from a fundamental misreading of immigration statistics.

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If leaving the EU is about immigration, how come non-EU countries have far more immigrants than the UK?

But either way, that’s their policy and the proposed immigration bill has now had its second reading in parliament. And oh boy is it bad. Basically, all of the EU citizens already here are being tossed into the meat grinder of May’s hostile environment. As will it also impact on any new migrants foolish enough to come to the UK, be they from the EU or further afield. Oh, and minsters will be allowed to change future immigration law without parliamentary scrutiny. So its basically a massive power grab by the home office, all but guranteed to lead to another Windrush scandal.

Because already we’ve heard numerous horror stories as a result of UK immigration policy. A British citizen with a disabled husband and an autistic daughter forced between choosing which of the two to abandon post-brexit. A 90 year old with severe arthritis being told to return home and appeal a visa rejection on a technicality (which as he’s no house or family back in the US would mean him living on the street). A women threatened with deportation (with two hours notice) on the basis of evidence from her abusive ex-husband.

And these are some of the milder stories that have made it into the news. I’ve heard other examples of outright racism from UK border staff. Individuals who’ve gone into debt with pay day loan companies due to some cock up by the UKBA (who basically don’t understand their own rules). Even cases of border agency staff admitting to applicants they hadn’t read the application in full before rejecting it. And May is proposing to add another 3 million to that and doesn’t expect any problems?

They’ve also set an arbitrary wage limit of £30,000 below which all workers are considered as “unskilled”…which pretty much tells you just how out of touch the Tory party is. Earn less than 30k, you’re a scullery maid or a tradesman and thus an unwashed pleb and there’s enough of them here already.

To say this policy is bad is too put it mildly. It has the potential to be an even bigger job killer than a no deal brexit. The myths of the “Britain is full” variety are based on the false assumption that the number of jobs in the UK is fixed, when its not. Migrants can actually increase the number of available jobs (as more people spending money in the country means more employment) and by paying their taxes, they can contribute to better public services (of course the problem here is the Tories haven’t been spending that extra money on public services, but instead gave wealthy people a tax cut or hiding the fact that privatisation of public services has often made them less efficient and more expensive to run).

This new immigration policy seems to assume that there are no skill shortages below this arbitrary wage limit, when in fact there are multiple ones, notably in areas such as agriculture, construction, engineering, the NHS and care homes. It is no exaggeration to say the consequences of this policy would be major engineering projects being cancelled, crops left to rot in fields and many of these red faced gammon brexit voting bigots dying on hospital floors in a pool of their own piss.

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The UK is heavily dependant on foreign qualified doctors. So post-brexit, try not to get ill…ever!

But can’t we get brits to do these jobs? Well no. As I’ve pointed out before, if the answer was that simple, they’d already be doing those jobs. For example, most junior employees often have a very low starting salary (which can include nurses and other medical practitioners). And in some professions, its hard to prove your exact income as employment is often on a contract, piecework, or journeyman type basis. And, as I discussed before, with regard to the energy sector, such a wage limit will create labour shortages across the nuclear, fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors.

The agricultural sector (and fishing) will be severely effected by this new policy. Most of the jobs in this sector are seasonal, typically spiking in the autumn and spring. The growing season in the UK is shorter than in southern Europe but longer than in Eastern Europe. So its possible for farm workers from other parts of the EU to come over, work for a few weeks, then move on and eventually return to their own farms to plant/harvest their own crops.

The idea that instead of experienced European farm hands, you’re going to drag a load of unemployed townies out of the UK’s cities, bus them off to work in farmers fields (many of whom haven’t so much as mowed a lawn before), and put them in charge of dangerous farm machinery, its farcical at best. And what are the supposed to do for the rest of the year? And yes farmers have tried this in the past (most recently as part of the Tories welfare chain gangs) and their experience is it ain’t going to work.

And even if they could get it to work it would probably be more expensive, which means food that’s a lot more expensive. And more than likely (given the tight margins on food production), rendering uneconomic much of the UK’s farms, leading to closures in the sector on a scale similar to what happened to the coal miners in the 80’s.

And at the other end of the scale one has to question whether we necessarily need more workers in the middle to high income salary range. Is there really a massive shortage of lawyers, interior designers, city traders and accountants in the country? And even if there were, such a policy could actually cost many British their jobs (because as noted migrants create more jobs). While companies like to keep a mixed bag of staff of different experience levels, push come to shove they will prioritise the hiring of a more experienced staff over a recent graduate, because they are more valuable to the company. Ultimately, if the only way to hire an experienced German lawyer or a Belgian accountant is to put enough zeros behind his contract to get him in the door, that’s what they’ll do, even if it means cutting back on the number of graduate recruits to do so.

In fact in my own line of work we’ve hired hardly any UK PhD graduates since the referendum. And now that I mention it, several who were already on the pay roll were the first given their marching orders in the months after the vote. And given that there’s been a significant drop in UK students undertaking PhD’s (due to fees, nobody wants to rack up further debt when they get to the end of their degree), how exactly are we going to recruit the next generation of lecturers, given the brexidous on UK campuses, with both UK and EU academics heading off to European universities. I don’t know, maybe we could go back to the old British tactic of press ganging? (get’em drunk at a conference and they wakes up in a lecturer theatre). Or maybe we can get Failing Grayling to give the lecturers? That seems to be May’s solution to everything these days.

And remember what applies to foreigners in the UK will be reciprocated by other countries. British overseas are already in a panic over the possible consequences to them of a no deal brexit. Many might be forced to return home (and most are retirees) or renounce their UK citizenship (which risks breaking up families). And UK graduates won’t be able to avail of employment opportunities in Europe, leaving them in the worst of both worlds.

Of course, if you’re a wealthy oligarch and willing to invest enough money in the UK, you can avail of a golden visa. No messy forms to fill in, no awkward questions (notably as to where you got the money in the first place!), no queues or waiting period, you’d don’t even need to work or pay tax. Just come on in. As always, the Tories are drafting a policy that favours the wealthy plutocrats at the expense of everyone else. The horrors their policy are inflicting, and will continue to inflict is lost on them. They’ve transcended the nasty party and become the sadist party.

But once the second coming happens Corbyn gets in he’ll put everything right in the world, won’t he? Actually no, Corbyn and much of the labour party were absent from the second reading of the immigration bill. In fact the original message sent out to MP’s was to abstain. The reality is that Corbyn has been taken in by the same toxic bigotry that migrants are a drain on the UK and drive down wages (which again, just isn’t true). He’s willing to talk to the talk about how the Tories policy favours the rich, or how human rights are important to him. But push come to shove he’s quite happy to see millions in the UK stripped of their rights and thrown to the wolves, while he sits in his allotment shed dreaming of his socialist workers paradise.

What’s that the Corbynites say? He’s got to play the long game and pretend he’s in favour of immigration controls (or brexit) to appease northern lexiters, then when he’s in power he can repeal these laws. Well, firstly that’s the cynical politics of manipulation at its worst (and I thought Boris was bad!), and secondly he can’t. Protocol dictates that governments do not revisit past legislation without good cause or reason. So unless he actively opposes this bill or fights an election with such a policy on the party manifesto (so presumably he’ll be hoping lexiters can’t read), then he can’t repeal it. The speaker won’t allow him to schedule time to debate it, the lords would probably veto it and the queen is within her rights to withhold royal assent. And as 35 year veteran MP he surely knows that. Its just he also knows there’s a large body of millennial’s who’ve been so badly screwed over by the Tories, they are desperate enough to believe any old tripe he comes up with.

All I can say is the sooner that the grown ups within both labour and the Tories wake up to reality and leave their respective parties, the better. And with labour membership down 10% in the last two months and polls saying Corbyn’s failure to oppose brexit will cost him dearly next election (and this was before him suggesting he might support May’s brexit deal), that seems to be what starting to happen.

As for the Tories, with new utlra-right wing parties being formed and the conservative party itself being infiltrated by the US far right, they need to learn that appeasing the far right doesn’t make them go away, it emboldens them to ask for more and more until they have everything.

Brexit update: Running down the clock

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Recently the Guardian’s business editor Nils Pratley asked the question, when does the no deal panic start? One could ask the same question as regards Trump’s trade policy and the recent shutdown. Well in some respects, its already happening and in another respect the panic will not be televised, or at least it will be kept as quiet as possible.

While companies are quick to advertise good news, they try to keep any bad news out of the media. After all, good news means the share price goes up. Bad news, sends the share price down. And if you want to destroy employee morale and reduce productivity, let the staff know you might be considering job cuts. And furthermore the economic issue with brexit is more the long term impact it will have, not the short term shock. As the saying goes its not the stag investors who take fright at the first sign of trouble you worry about, its a long protracted bear market. Because bears have claws.

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Beware the brexit bear!

And already we have seen several worrying signs which shows the economy flat-lining. P&O for example has announced its re-flagging its ships under a Cypriot flag (Rule Britannia….Cyprus rules the waves?). Barclay’s is one of a number of banks to announce plans to move £166 billion and hundreds of jobs to Ireland, with others are planning to set up in Paris or Frankfurt. Dyson has moved to Singapore, which apparently is nothing to do with brexit (and if you believe that I’ve got some magic beans I can sell you). Meanwhile, the construction industry, which was just about recovering from the EU referendum result, is now reporting a decline in building projects due to uncertainty over brexit.

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So far Germany seems to be winning the race to house bankers post-brexit

Now in any normal economic times any of these indicators would send waves of panic around Whitehall, but it would now appear that the UK government’s official motto seems to be “fuck business. Which probably explains why up to a third of UK companies are actively considering relocating out of the UK post-brexit. Hell, we have the Norwegian government now advising students not to go to university in the UK.

But probably the biggest blow by far recently was Nissan announcing its u-turn, that they will not locate X-trail production at Sunderland. This is a huge blow, given the very public backing Nissan gave to brexit, thanks to a letter they received from Theresa May. While the current jobs are safe (for now!), the problem is that once a company stops investing in a factory, its not long after that when the job losses start.

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While there’s still be some direct investment in the UK car industry, its clearly on a downward trend and going to turn negative relatively soon

And with the publication of that infamous letter, it seems that Nissan were offered a very substantial bribe to stay in the UK, with up to £60 million in direct investment and several hundred million indirectly (via investment into electric vehicle research, charging points, etc.). Of course, given that the former Nissan chairman is under investigation for corruption, its entirely possible that a brown envelope might have been involved as well. After all, May is currently trying to bribe MP’s with peerages or promises of slush funds to their constituency. In short her government is now guilty of the sort crony politics we’d have expected in the days of the Regency. But even that doesn’t seem to be working, as she literally can’t pull off a bribe successfully!

Of course what this highlights is that Nissan have decided that whatever promises May has made, they can’t believe her anymore. After all we now have the absurdity of a backstop that was her idea in the first place, which she got parliament to vote against, and she’s going to go to Brussels to see if it can be removed. But then a few days later she says the backstop can stay, but she’s going to insist on some unspecified changes to it, which will make everything okay…!?!

Its becoming rather obvious that May is winging it, something she’s been doing since day one. And while she is clearly running down the clock, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate strategy or just a coping mechanism to get her through to the end of the day. You would be a very foolish MP (or car maker) to stake your future on any promises made by her, because 24 hrs later she’ll have not only have broken them, but forgotten what it was she’d promised.

And this letter to Nissan might still come back to haunt her. It implies tariff free access to the EU (which as things currently stand isn’t going to happen). If she doesn’t deliver on that, Nissan might sue the UK government seeking financial compensation. And if that sounds far fetched, its looking likely the owners of the channel tunnel are going to sue the government over brexit. To be blunt, the only winners in a no deal brexit will be corporate lawyers, who’ll be having a field day.

And while May’s act of looking utterly pathetic to the point where the EU feels sorry for her, has allowed her to get some concessions, its doubtful it will work this time (and in any event, the EU will want something in return). The EU needs to consider whether they can believe a word out her mouth anymore (or anyone else from Westminster). Can she be trusted to deliver on her side of the bargain? And I seriously doubt, even if she got some significant concessions, she’d get her party to back her deal. They’re making a big deal about the backstop because they can. If it goes away they’ll find something else in the 500 pages of the deal to moan about. Ultimately they don’t want to take ownership for what they know is going to be a deal that leaves the UK worse out than in.

Meanwhile Corbyn can’t be seen to back it either, preferring to do his usual Humpty Dumpty and stay sitting on the fence, even as his party disintegrates around him. Labour party membership has now fallen by 10% in just two months, about 360 members per day are now leaving.

Meanwhile, across the pond, we’ve heard the first rumblings of discontent as the US congress wakes up to the consequences of a no-deal brexit. A resolution has been introduced in the US Congress opposing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. This was something that was always going to happen. Firstly, the Good Friday agreement was brokered with the help of the US. If the UK were to renege on it, this would be hugely damaging to the US and its international reputation (if the US can get its oldest ally to back a treaty it brokered, what are the odds of North Korea or Russia sticking to any?). And secondly 33 million US voters identify themselves as being of Irish descent. That’s a voting lobby no politician in the US can ignore, particularly as it includes many swing voters in key swing states (a significant number voted for both Obama and then Trump).

Of course the problem here is that Americans understand the politics of Northern Ireland even less than the Tories. Expect them to make several perfectly reasonable suggestions over the next few months, but ones that May and the DUP have already ruled out. e.g. “why doesn’t NI just stay in the Single market?” “Say, why don’t you guys just leave the EU but stay in the EEA, that’ll avoid a hard border?”. In short good luck to May trying to explain NI politics to Trump and then get the US congress to support a US/UK trade deal in an election year. Notably because one of the key committees that will approve or veto a US/UK trade deal just happens to be led by an Irish American senator with strong pro-republican sympathies.

But isn’t the EU going to blink first? Well stranger things have happened. However, the fact is that the UK has to make its mind up pretty soon (Greg Clark suggested as early as the middle of next week), otherwise the trickle of companies either hitting the panic button or heading for the door will become a flood. And we’re assuming no deal is even an option, because the institute for government says it would be impossible, given that almost none of the required legislation has passed, nor will pass in time.

So the UK can’t really wait for the EU to blink, while the EU can wait not only until the 29th of March, but even beyond it (i.e. wait for the UK to come crawling back after descending into chaos). I’ll say it again its May’s original deal (and probably staying in the customs union or single market long term) or no brexit, you have to chose one.

A right to repair?

daryanenergyblog

appliances-repair- Figure 1 – The EU wants to protect consumers right to repair….so long as you know what you’re doing!

Recently the EU, when not dealing with Brexit or the rise of right wing populists, proposed something rather sensible, a right to repair. Increasingly many white goods, such as washing machines, fridges, vacuum cleaners have become more and more difficult to repair. In part this is simply because the complexity of such products is growing (notably the increasing dependence on software and electronics). But there’s also been complaints that companies are actively making repair impossible. By for example riveting or gluing components together rather than using bolts. Or not including user manuals with repair instructions, or not selling spare parts.

Case in point, I have a microwave in my kitchen and the bulb has gone. Yet there is no way for me to physically remove and replace the…

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