Brexpiling for no deal

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With no deal brexit looking very likely, the UK is being hit by another wave of brexit stockpiling. Wonderful how brexit created new words, brexodus (EU citizens abandoning the sinking ship), brexsplaining (trying to explain to some demented leave voter that unicorns don’t exist and the EU is not run by the lizardmen) and brexpiling, stockpiling for a no deal.

But, I’ve heard it suggested that we shouldn’t stockpile for brexit because it will effect the poor, who’ll not be able to afford to do so. And panic buying out of fear of shortages could become a self fulfilling prophecy. If everyone runs down to the supermarket and starts grabbing everything in sight, at the same time ports are struggling to ship in supplies, then there will be shortages.

My take on this is that actually stockpiling is perfectly sensible, just don’t go mad. Not stockpiling after all means you trust the nice man from the government to know what he’s doing. And as I’ve mentioned before, the maths don’t look encouraging. Although too be honest if you haven’t made provisions for a no deal brexit by now, you’ve probably left it too late.

I’ve always had a stockpile of food and other supplies at home (some tinned & freeze dried food, camping stove, head torches with spare batteries, med kit, usual) to cover certain contingencies, ranging from bad winter weather, power cuts, to me being lazy and not bothered to go out shopping. I’d argue this is something any responsible grown up should have. Although admittedly given that I do go camping from time to time, its not a like any of these supplies are going to go to waste.

What I’ve simply done is extend this floating stockpile to cover other items that might become scarce or expensive post-brexit (basically anything we are dependant on the EU for). I’ve done this by just buying two of any vulnerable items I happened to be buying, and gradually building up a floating reserve. I’ve also made sure to have an ample supply of items that will likely run out straight away such as Barry’s Tea, Tayto crisps, Irish mustard and a few bottles of any particular alcoholic beverages I might be partial too (got to get the priorities right!).

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The likely scenario, based on leaked government reports (so more project reality than project fear) is that after a no deal brexit there may be shortages of certain items for a few months. Notably anything perishable but difficult to store (fresh fruit and veg, bread, etc. in other words the stuff you can’t really stockpile), although more durable items (cereals, tinned or frozen food) will probably still be available. That said, there will be large gaps on the shelves (hard to be specific, pretty much everything from washing powders to medicines could be effected), as shops won’t be able to restock as easily as they used to before (given trucks will be spending several days in a queue at Calais). The number of choices available will diminish and prices will increase significantly, far more than the rises we’ve already seen.

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And no the government setting tariffs to zero doesn’t help much, in fact it could make things worse. The higher costs reflects not just the tariffs but the lower value of the pound (making it more expensive to buy things in from abroad), the cost of filling out all that extra paperwork and the cost of having a truck sit in a queue for several days. Plus the fact that trucking companies will be reluctant to have a truck effectively parked for several days when it could be making money, so they’ll charge more to do a cross channel run. The only thing setting tariffs to zero will do is make it harder to negotiate beneficial trade deals and screw over UK farmers.

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How serious any shortages become are largely dependant on the EU (if anyone’s taking control, its them). They are proposing to phase in certain measures gradually. Now they are doing so for their own benefit, so they’ll be acting unilaterally without consulting the UK. For example at some point they will decide that UK lorry drivers can’t drive on EU roads without an international driving permit….and there’s two different types covering different parts of the EU (which only covers them for a year), insurance with an EU based firm (more paperwork and more expense!)….and they’ll also need a community license, of which they only issue a limited number per year to non-EU drivers.

In addition there’s a certain X factor to be considered, as issues currently flying under the radar may end up having an unexpectedly serious impact. For example, a product that should be safe from disruption (whisky or beer) might be prone to severe shortages due to a lack of key ingredients (a brewer did mention to me he’s been stockpiling hops as his suppliers are in the EU).

And the government’s crowd friendly, but reckless decision, to bring in immigration controls immediately will probably have a range of serious consequences. As noted, the UK will be heavily dependant on foreign lorry drivers after brexit, so if they are also going to have to go through immigration checks, well you can add a couple of days onto that wait time (a delay of only a few minutes more per truck translates into a massive increase in the queue and hence it takes hours or days longer to get to the front). The UK’s food production is heavily dependant also on EU citizens, notably seasonal workers on UK farms. So any interruption to them coming over will have an immediate impact on food supplies (read a collapse in animal welfare standards followed by mass cullings, crops left to rot in fields, etc.).

And note these conditions won’t simply last for a few weeks or months and then everything will be fine. The worst of the shortages will hit shortly after brexit yes (likely in the run up to Christmas itself), but sporadic shortages will still be a thing afterwards. This will become the new normal. I’m just about old enough to remember what life was like outside of the single market and that’s what’s going to be imposed on us come the 1st of November.

So what we’ll be facing post-brexit will be sporadic shortages and sudden prices rises and a general lowering of standards. You’ll go to the supermarket one day and find they are out of fresh tomatoes, but the place down the road has them, but they are a bit manky or they are just very expensive. Next week, plenty of tomatoes (being sold at a discount so they can shift them before they go off), but no bananas and no aspirin.

What you want might not be available, so you’ll either have to wait (hence the value of a stockpile) or devoting your weekend and days off to shopping around. You might even need to wait until you are going on holiday to stock up (I recall the days as a kid when we’d be back and forth from Ireland to the UK with suitcases or cars crammed with contraband!). You can’t simply expect any more to head down to a supermarket and that what you ever you want will fall into your outstretched hand, at a low price and be of good quality.

Given those circumstances I think you can see the benefits of a well stocked larder. That way if for example you run out of bog roll (one of the items vulnerable to disruption) you’ll be able to avoid the indignity of having to wipe your arse with pages of the Daily Mail (I’ve previously worked out they provide the maximum sheets of paper per cost). Yes you’ll have to replenish your stockpile eventually, but it gives you a bit more flexibility as to when you choose to do so.

What’s that? We’ll get a super trade deal off the US and we can get lots of their cheap chlorinated chicken and meat pumped full of hormones (assuming we agree to sell Trump the Isle of Wight or something). Well you do realise that America is the other side of this thing called “the Atlantic”. It takes several days for ships to travel across and supplies can’t be disrupted by bad weather. And storms tend to be at their worst in winter, which is when the UK is most dependant on food imports. Furthermore most transatlantic shipping bound for the UK currently goes through Rotterdam. So until new port facilities are built, we’re stuffed. So in order to cope, it would be necessary to have large warehouses in the UK to create a floating stock of supplies, which will increase the costs and those costs get passed on to shoppers.

And the price we pay at the till is generally set on a supply and demand basis. Yes the retailer might be getting buying it cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll sell it on cheaply. And frankly, some of that American food I won’t feed to a dog. And given that rules of origin labelling will have been done away with, it will be nearly impossible to tell what’s made in the UK or made in the US, other than buying directly off of farmers (at a farmers market for example, of course that’s kind of expensive). On the plus side, it might encourage more Brit’s to go vegan….if they can afford it!

In fact, given how dependant the UK is on supplies of fresh fruit and veg shipped in from the EU, its here where we are going to get screwed. The US has long subsidised unhealthy calories (i.e. meat and sugar) at the expense of healthy foods (I recall noting while I was there that a pack of burgers or Twinkies cost less than a piece of fruit), so they won’t be much help. Even those coming from beyond the EU are dependant on trade deals signed via the EU (which become void on the 1st of November). And a US trade deal could complicate things, as the US might block any such deals (fearing for example a route via which pathogens can work their way back to the US) and visa versa.

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Of course masses of people, notably those on low income, being forced by a lack of availability and high prices, to switch to a poorer quality diet, with more fatty foods, that isn’t as safe and of a poorer standard, that’s inevitably going to lead to more deaths. And we are talking thousands of extra deaths per year. That is the price of brexit (I don’t know, maybe after all the old brexiters have died off and the UK rejoins we’ll have to put up a monument to those killed by brexit).

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So yes the poor are going to get screwed by brexit, unfortunately that’s inevitable, nothing we can do about that, other than try to get brexit stopped (or contributing to charities). Stockpiling, so long as you’ve had the good sense to do it months ago, isn’t going to chance anything. What you are merely doing is creating a safety net to cushion the blow. But unless you plan on buying a lifetime supply of food between now and Halloween (or maybe take up squirrel hunting!) you can’t really stockpile your way out of this situation. Personally, I’m just going to make a habit of visiting the folks back in Ireland and bringing a bigger suitcase!

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Populists, corruption and disaster capitalism

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If I was to tell you about a newly installed government, whose minsters and party donors were making millions betting against their own country via offshore firms, who openly earn large sums in kickbacks for a few hours of supposed work (e.g. after dinner speaking fees, “consultancy fees”, etc.), a government that was now using a crisis to give out sweatheart deals to its cronies, you’d probably assume I’m talking about some tin pot dictatorship in the developing world. But no, I’m talking about the UK under Boris, which has got to count as the most corrupt in the country’s history. But its actually the new normal (you think this is bad, wait till they are in coalition with Farage!).

Recently Channel 4’s dispatches did a piece on “brexit millionaires and how many in the Tory party, or their donors, were cashing in on brexit and making millions. Front and centre was Jacob Rees-Mogg, aka the right honourable member for the 18th century, the new minister for silly walks leader of the house of commons. In between being a grammar nazi (he’s set a whole bunch of grammar rules for civil servants, rules he has himself broken 700 times), he has been profiting from brexit. His offshore investment firms have racked in millions since brexit started. With him personally profiting to the tune of at least +£7 million. So much so he can afford to buy a a multi-million town house in London (to go with his country estate) and pay for it in cash. This is corruption, pure and simple.

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Rees Mogg’s little country cottage

And he is by no means alone. Boris is going for a no deal brexit, not because its what people voted for (he and his ministers have been challenged to provide an example of when in the referendum they suggested the UK might have to leave without a deal, we’ve yet to get an answer). In fact polls show the public would rather just cancel brexit all together than except no deal. Even Teresa May is warning no deal threatens the union (pity she didn’t say that while in office!). But the cabinet backs it because they know its the best way for them and their mates to make a quick buck. Food and medicine shortages! millions loosing their jobs! civil war in NI! Scottish independence! how is any of that their problem?

In fact here’s a good one, from a young Tory whose whinging that Boris can’t ignore him and implement no deal against the wishes of parliament and the country. LOL, the naivety of youth. He can, he is and he will. If you have a problem with that you shouldn’t have voted Tory.

And in other countries we are seeing similar trends. Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s made it deeper and released alligators. In Italy, the horseshoe government of populists are now literally surrounded by steaming piles of garbage as the cities public services have collapsed. And corruption is as bad as ever (if not worse), so much so some are thinking of voting for Berlusconi. And if that sounds unlikely, well consider that in Greece, the populists there made such a pigs breakfast of things that the very party who got the country into a massive mess in the first place have just been voted back in.

Rome is now in such a mess, tourists are been giving advice about the risks to their health while visiting

Many people voted for populists because they were appalled at self serving politicians divorced from reality. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, voting for even more corrupt and incompetent populists has just made the situation worse. The very same elites these voters hate, just took to bribing and manipulating the populists. And guess what, they are even dumber than the regular politicians and cheaper too! In fact they’ll do things the regular politicians won’t dream of doing (because the latter are prone to rare moments of clarity where they actually giving a shit).

Angry desperate voters, voted for the most extreme option on the ballot paper thought they were sending a message. But the message that arrived in elites HQ was that these voters are even more naive and stupid than we thought, so let’s take full advantage of them (I mean they could have voted for some established third party candidates, or others who can’t be bought, then we’d be really screwed, but instead they vote for some complete idiot whose in our pocket). The elites can basically do whatever they want now, just so long as their boy remembers to make the odd racist dog whistle and some vague promises that they’ll never have to keep.

The fact is that populists leaders know that they aren’t held to the same standards as other politicians. It used to be a politician made the slightest gaffe, that was it, game over. Remember how Ed Miliband lost because of one photo of him looking awkward for a second eating a bacon roll, or the whole plebgate business. It used to be a politician said something to the media that was inaccurate, or broke the ministerial code and they’d be gone within a week (a good example, Brian Lenihan and the 1990’s Irish presidential election, he went from odds on favourite to being sacked and losing by a landslide over one phone call he made back in 1982).

Now they can get caught in a lie live on air and nobody bats an eyelid, because its one in a string of so many lies nobody can keep up (well unless you are a member of the labour party of course….or black….or worse both). Its understood that voters will ignore this, they are voting based on anger and tribal loyalties, not facts and policy. So long as said leader stays on message and keeps them angry (i.e. they have absolutely no good incentive to help these voters in any way, because then they might calm down and start acting sensibly) he can get away with anything.

Consider for example how both the Tories and the GOP have abandoned their long term commitment to balanced budgets. Both came to power talking about the dangers of deficit spending and how they would be pro-business. Now the policy is bollix to that and fuck business. Like Trump, Johnson seems to be planning to spend like a sailor on shore leave. But not on hospitals, schools or helping the poor (Tory policy here has been branded by the UN as ‘mean-spirited and callous), but instead on no deal preparation, tax cuts for the rich and big infrastructure projects than can be farmed out to Tory donors.

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The Tories new motto

I mean seriously, why do you think Boris gets paid over a £150,000 to show up and give an after dinner speech? You think they like the sound of his voice that much? No its a bribe and now they’re going to cash in. And its hardly as if any of this should be a surprise, given his past performance as London mayor and foreign secretary.

Of course the fact these policies, combined with the economic impact of a no deal brexit (or Trump’s tariffs), will make a mess of the economy and wreck the public finances doesn’t matter to them. They’ll get rich, who cares. In fact they’d even see a silver lining to that. They can use such a crisis to sell off state assets (such as the NHS) to themselves and their allies and dismantle the welfare state.

Its a strategy the rich have been applying in developing world countries for decades. They’d take advantage of the country’s naive or incompetent populists/autocratic government, to swoop in and wreck the economy on purpose, knowing they and their allies (juiced in local elites) would be able to take advantage of the chaos. Now they’re just doing the same in western countries (what goes around comes around I suppose).

And furthermore, even if some leftie such as Corbyn or Bernie ever gets into power, so what! They’ll not be able to afford to implement any of their policies or even reverse the mess the current government is making. In fact, the conservatives can just blame them for everything (as they did with Obama). What’s that? the lefties might putting up taxes? So what! let em! all their money is offshore….course if the UK was only part of some big pan-European club which was determined to do something about such tax avoidance …just a thought!

Trump and the truth about taxes

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Some details of Trump’s tax returns leaked recently, which seemed to suggest that he hasn’t paid any taxes for ten years due to the fact he’s lost over a billion dollars over that period. So doesn’t look like he’s such a great businessman then. Trump (America’s court jester in chief) then preposterously claimed that this was a deliberate strategy to avoid payment of taxes (essentially all but admitting to tax fraud). However it does highlight a number of important issues with regard to tax and the wealthy.

Firstly it shows that most Americans, in particular republicans, don’t understand how marginal tax rates work. That even if the 70% Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes was applied, it would only apply to top earners and only the portion of their income in the tens of millions. In truth they’d be paying closer to 20-35% on their overall income, particularly when you consider the various deductions that would apply. Which is about what the average American pays in tax, so it would more be about levelling the playing field. After all Warren Buffet pay less tax (as a proportion of their income) than his secretary.

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An example of a marginal tax in action, this person might be paying a maximum rate of 50%, but only pays 32% overall

But such is the naivety of many Americans that Trump can make a logical fallacy and many fall for it. What he’s essentially saying is that if you’ve got a 100 dollars and the government is going to take away half of it, your best strategy would be to not only burn the $100, but burn another $100 you’d borrowed from somebody else….whereas if you just paid the tax you keep $50, probably more like $75 once you account for the effect of marginal rates.

Another cause for concern is that Trump’s businesses just happen to involve several industries (construction, hotels and casino’s) where its remarkably easy to fiddle ones taxes. Which probably explains why he’s going to such extraordinary lengths to prevent any probes.

A building site for example will be a hive of activity, with hundreds of contractors and sub-contractors coming and going, as well as a steady stream of trucks pulling in to making deliveries. Its all too easy for a developer to simply award a contract to someone for work that never gets done or award a contract at a vastly over inflated cost (e.g. they claim it took a hundred guys a month, when it only took a few dozen a week’s work). Then the developer and contractor split the difference (with the developer writing it off as a business expense). Or buying your concrete and other supplies at inflated prices (or simply inflating the amount used). And its worth noting that some of Trump’s suppliers and contractors were mob connected firms.

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As for hotels and casino’s, there’s all sorts of ways you can fiddle the books to milk the joint dry, without the IRS or the investors getting wise. You could for example just order lots of booze and gourmet food in the front door on the company books and then sell it out the back door for cash in hand. Employee expenses can also be fiddled. And there is of course the infamous casino skim racket, which I’d say was almost certainly in play in Trump’s Atlantic city casino.

So there are many good reasons to go digging into Trump’s tax affairs. Not only could this see him in a cell wearing a number, but it could lead to a number of mobsters being brought to justice too. Keep in mind this isn’t a victimless crime, his investors, employees and Atlantic city all got shafted. And the mob might well have been using this operation to launder drug money (as that’s often the whole point of such rackets).

Which also btw leads one to be suspicious of his recent tariff policy. Suddenly imposing tariffs and sending the markets into freefall, silly idea right? Well not if you’ve got connections with some boiler room hedge funds, who know this is coming and position themselves to take advantage of the drop in advance. Its entirely possible that Trump is deliberately sending out messages on twitter to manipulate markets. Of course, the danger is that the Chinese, who aren’t in on the scam, retaliate and they do have a nuclear option, start selling off US bonds.

But I digress. Certainly however, Trump’s statements on tax do show the limitations of tax policy. Those on the left will often cite “tax the rich” as their go too solution to everything. But as Trump shows there’s all sorts of ways the rich can fiddle their taxes. Certainly yes there are good reasons why the rich should pay more in taxes. They have more disposable income. Asking them to pay a few grand extra a year amounts to a choice between the gold and the silver trim package for their super yacht. While asking a low income family to pay a few quid extra a month amounts to a choice between feeding the kids or heating the home in winter. So its only fair higher earners pay more.

But, even if we ignore the various tax fiddling options, the numbers just don’t add up, something I’ve discussed before. The rich are asset rich, but don’t necessarily earn as much in terms of taxable income as you think. Just because a billionaire is worth several billion doesn’t mean he makes that much money every year. In truth he might only make a few million. And much of that will be speculative wealth (e.g. the value of the shares he owns goes up, but of course if he sold the shares all at once they’d lose value). And again, a few fiddles can cut that down even further.

Hence even if you applied the 70% tax Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for, you’re not going to pull in nearly as much money as you’d think. At best you’d be able to cut some of America’s deficit spending (or spend some money on climate change prevention). Or here in the UK you’d be able to reign in some of the worse of Tory austerity measures. Which would be a good idea, but not quite the effect many on the hard left seem to think it would have.

And, as noted, the big problem with the rich and taxes is just getting them to pay any in the first place. Personally, I’d settle for getting to just pay what they owe. Hence why I’d argue the focus should be on cracking down on aggressive tax avoidance and reigning in tax havens. But of course that requires strong international institutions (such as the EU), which some left wing populist oppose.

In truth however, if you want to increase tax revenue, you’ve really got to do it for everyone, although obviously the rich will get hit the hardest by such a rise. Putting them up on as much items as possible is a better strategy as this spreads out the impact and makes it harder to fiddle the system and avoid taxes. This is what the Scandinavians do. They also often charge a wealth tax, which means you pay tax on your net worth (typically about 0.1-1% per year) as well as property and land value taxes. But again, such taxes hit everybody. And putting taxes up for middle income voters (who tend to be the ones who decide elections) is easier said than done.

Hence the trick with tax rises is selling them properly. For example, the SNP recently put up taxes here in Scotland, with all tax bands rising (other than the very lowest bands), with the highest rises effecting the highest earners. This was sold on the back of avoiding the sort of austerity measures being applied down in England. Which I thought was fair enough. And if polls are to be believed, it seems most in Scotland agreed. By contrast in France, Marcon has gotten himself in all sorts of trouble with his tax rises largely because he didn’t sell them properly and introduced them too quickly.

This is the risk the left run if they plan on selling “tax the rich” as the snake oil solution which will cure everything. It will raise some money yes. It will help restore some equality to the system yes. But its not going to magically solve everything overnight. And it might well produce a populist backlash, that the right will exploit.

A not so slow news week

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Of course the big story over the last week was the arrest of Julian Assange and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sometime ago.

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There’s an accepted wisdom that if you are offered asylum by a country, you don’t make waves for them. After all they still have to have relations with the country whom you are fleeing from. And that’s assuming you are in the actual country, not in an embassy metres from cops who want to arrest you! And you especially don’t want to go interfering in the affairs of the state who is protecting you, that’s just common sense. One has to assume that the historic distrust of many Latin American countries towards the US (thanks to its past policies in the region) is why they held this off for so long.

Assange’s supporters claim the arrest was illegal. It wasn’t. Diplomatic immunity is a mutually agreed convention. If both parties opt to wave it (as often happens), then a protected individual losses their protection and can be arrested just like everybody else. Police can enter an embassy upon request. There’s also a claim that Ecuador has been bribed with several billion in funds. However, this likely refers to a loan granted recently by the World Bank and IMF. Many states contribute to these funds (including Russia and China) so this accusation doesn’t really ring true.

Assange also claims he only sought refuge because he feared being extradited to the US and facing the death penalty. It is illegal under EU law to do such a thing. In fact, by contributing towards brexit, he’s inadvertently made this more likely.

And that’s the problem. Julian has been very selective and applied political bias to the information he’s released. Wikileaks was rather quiet about anything damaging to Trump, but released those Hilary e-mails (which actually didn’t contain anything new) right at the time when they would inflict maximum political damage. By taking sides like this, its difficult for him to play the card of being the little guy against the machine. Because it looks more like he’s an enabler of the alt-right.

To be honest I don’t think the guy is the full shilling, even before he went into the embassy. As I’ve mentioned, several of his decisions were tactically stupid, arrogant and foolhardy. Even his decision to stay in the embassy is questionable. Given that his expulsion has been on the cards for sometime and the police outside were withdrawn sometime ago, why didn’t he make a break for it? The Colombian embassy is in the same building and there’s about a dozen other embassies in a 1km radius. If he was willing to risk a car or taxi journey he could be in the Australian embassy within 5-10 minutes.

And while yes some of these would have shown him the door, others would have had to apply a certain due process (notably the Australian embassy). This would have required the US authorities to declare their interest and make documents publicly available (which they probably won’t want to do). Also some of these embassies have underground car parks. Meaning they could spirit Assange into a diplomatic vehicle, drive to an airfield and put him on a plane out of the country.

So I’d argue these numerous blunders made by Assange suggest he’s might have some mental health issues. And obviously if that’s true then he can’t be extradited, either to Sweden, nor to the US. Thought I doubt his lawyers will be allowed to use that argument.

The black hole

Scientists have recently managed to photograph a black hole, where all matter and the fabric of spacetime breaks down. Its therefore the one place in the universe where you can escape news of brexit or Trump, hence NASA are planning a mission there as we speak and millions are ready to sign up.

Jokes aside, this is kind of a big deal. While scientists have long suspected the existence of black holes, the idea that vast amounts of matter could be compacted down to a singularity has never sit well with them. Even Einstein, while he accepted his own theories (worth noting that it was actually Karl Schwarzschild who first proposed the existence of black holes based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity), he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea (which probably explains his obsessions over quantum theory later in his career). But we cannot deny the vast body of evidence built up over the years. And now we have an actual image of one.

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And the heart of this story is an unsung hero in the form of a post-grad student from MIT by the name of Katie Bouman, who proposed the imaging method used to capture this image. Its an excellent example of how academia should work. A hypothesis is proposed and, regardless of who proposed it, its subjected to multiple layers of peer review and scrutiny. Assuming it passes, funds are sought, its implemented and we get back our results.

Inevitably the internet being the internet, and there’s people out there who resent anyone who is successful (particular if it’s a woman), Ms Bouman (we should probably should start calling her Prof Bouman, because if this doesn’t earn you tenure I don’t know what will!) has attracted a online few trolls. But then again, you can’t say you’ve had the whole internet experience until you’ve received at least three online death threats and attracted at least a dozen cyber stalkers. Maybe we can send them on the mission?

Brexit update – limbo until halloween

And speaking of black holes that nothing can escape, the UK has secured ANOTHER brexit extension till Halloween (insert brexit metaphor or joke of your choice!). But you have to kind of ask, what’s the point?

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The time allotted by the EU is too much for the brexit bigot brigade to bear (hence there will probably be a strong showing for far right parties in the upcoming EU elections). And yet too short to allow a 2nd referendum. It serves no real purpose other than kicking the can down the road and hoping the UK actually makes a decision.

I would also argue that the EU is being very naïve. Their assumption is that one of two things will happen. May will go and a Tory brexiteer will take over, who’ll leave the EU straight away and the EU just triggers its no deal contingency plans. Or there’s a general election, Corbyn gets in and he either asks for an even longer extension (to have a 2nd referendum), or negotiates a Norway+ style arrangement. However, neither is actually likely.

Firstly, while yes the Brexiteers are talking the talk on no deal, I’m not sure they are willing to walk the walk. Remember they want it to happen accidentally (either that or May’s deal is voted through by Corbyn). If they force it through, then they have to take the blame for it and that’s their career over. If some brexiteer like Boris took over, he’d also be faced with the same parliamentary arithmetic as May. Not enough support for either no deal or May’s deal.

So he’d probably try and sabotage the EU from within (much as Mogg recently suggested) in an effort to win a free unicorn off them and distract from his own short comings. We’d only leave when the EU basically voted to kick the UK out against our will, thus giving him cover to blame all that follows on them.

And while labour has been going up in the polls, that’s more a reflection on how badly May is doing and a strong swing to UKIP and other far right parties. The issue for labour in any election is it has no brexit policy and it can’t agree on one. A pro-remain policy is at odds with the views of Corbyn and his cabal. A pro-leave policy would anger the 90% of labour supporters who want a 2nd vote. And it won’t take that many of them to swing a few seats. As I’ve pointed out before, go through the article 50 petition signature stats, constituency by constituency and you’ll see that there’s more than enough who signed it to swing plenty of safe labour seats into marginals and put others seats they have to win beyond reach.

And even if he won, and that would take some doing, he’d be right back in the same position as May. Its some variation on May’s deal (which everybody hates), no deal (which would be a disaster) or no brexit (which nobody is brave enough to support). Corbyn can’t magically change anything. He’s not the 2nd coming. I suspect what those who vote for him would actually get would be more akin to this scene from the wizard of Oz.

How to infuriate the EU in 10 seconds

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The irony is that the UK has actually got some leverage over the EU. Threatening no deal was never going to work. The EU’s never believed the UK would actually be foolish enough to follow through. And, in any event, they’ve had three years to put in place various contingency plans to cope. And they are also aware how woefully inadequate the UK’s no deal plans are.

To draw an analogy, let’s suppose the Pope had a glass too many of the confession wine and went around waving a gun. You could quite safely call his bluff. He’s the Pope and a Jesuit, he won’t hurt a fly (mostly because the fly would probably win….that said I won’t bring up the whole pedo priest business!). On the other hand, if Chuck Norris did it….well you’d want to be careful (if Chuck Norris was the UK’s brexit negotiator, we’d be the only country left in the EU, because he’d have roundhouse kicked the rest out of the building, fact!).

No, the UK’s one trump card left is to threaten the opposite – revoking article 50, then have a 2nd referendum at some in-determinant point in the future. That would absolutely drive the EU, particularly the likes of Marcon, up the wall. They’d be rolling on the ground and chewing the carpet if that happened.

The EU is going to start its budget negotiations for the next seven years some time at the end of the year, which will carry on for about a year or so. The last thing they want is the UK to still be in the club, but the topic of brexit is unresolved. i.e. That the UK might trigger another referendum at any time. And, if that goes the way of leave again, another set of exit negotiations, right when they are squabbling over money and they need to know if the UK is out or in (else they don’t know how much everyone will have to pay).

But of course, nobody in the UK parliament will even consider that, as it would only work if they were willing to let this process extend will into the 2020’s (ignoring the fact its going to continue anyway into the 2040’s).

Worse out than in

The other issue with this long brexit delay is that it means that all of that stockpiling that went on, by the government, companies and individuals has been for nought. Yet, given that brexit (and no deal) remains a looming threat, such stockpiling will have to continue. No quicker than I’ve eaten my way through my stockpile of Tayto crisps, Irish biscuits and Irish tea, I’ll have to start all over again.

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But this is no laughing matter for industry, they’ll now be forced to keep a floating stockpile of spare parts and perishable items for the foreseeable future. What’s wrong with that? Well many UK companies operate on a system of Just In Time manufacture, which is simply incompatible with the needs for brexit related stockpiling. The whole point of such a system is to eliminate inventory. This saves on cost (as you don’t need to pay for a warehouse), improves quality control (any issues get spotted immediately and dealt with straight away) and reducing waste. Leaving the UK stuck in the brexit twilight zone for another 6 months is thus going to have a negative effect on the UK economy.

And another piece of brexit related news is that of how the UK is now officially worse off than if the referendum hadn’t happened. Even if we ignore the £1.5 billion spent on no deal planning (that’s now basically gone to waste), the UK has sacrificed 3% of GDP growth to not leave the EU. And recall back in the referendum when it was said brexit would cost every household over £4k by 2030. Well its already cost each household £1,500 already, which implies where ahead of the curve.

Yes, inevitably during the referendum Cameron told a few porkies. He implied for example that said £4k loss would happen immediately on the 24th of June. That there would be emergency budgets, etc. But the main threat of brexit, was always the brexit bear effect and that bear is very real and we’ve now seen its claws.

Norway minus

Given that soft brexit and the Norway model seems to be everybody’s preferred compromise, I have to ask, has anybody bothered to run this by Norway and the other members of EFTA? Because I think you’ll find the last thing they want (or need), is the UK coming in and demanding special treatment, like some spoiled toffee-nosed etonian.

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Why no deal is probably inevitable in one easy to follow chart

I was actually in Norway during the referendum (and I’d previously been in Iceland a year or two before) and they know why they aren’t in the EU. Its largely due to fish, which is 10% of Norway’s economy, 30% of Iceland’s and 50% of Greenland’s, but under 1% of the UK’s. And even these stats don’t do justice. You live in a village up north in these countries, you’ve got a steep mountain on one side (or a volcano!), the sea the other side and a small sliver of land on which to build a fishing port. Job opportunities in these communities involve A) fishing B) Tourism during the short summer or C) Marrying a puffin.

Thus these nations are all willing to accept being rule takers from Brussels, but not rule makers, so they can exert a bit more control over this one key issue. Their concern therefore is that the UK will try to push the sort of rhetoric we’ve heard from the brexiteers into EFTA. Or that the UK tabloids will just turn on them as their hate figure in place of the EU. And they just don’t want that in their little club house.

Now if the UK were willing to compromise, for example not bringing in any changes to immigration or welfare rules for some extending period, agree to some dilution of the UK’s voting power such that the other states can easily outvote it, that would probably work. But the UK is in this mess precisely because it won’t compromise.

So I’m not sure how that’s going to work. And single market membership won’t eliminate checks at the Irish border, we’d need a customs union as well. Like any of the brexit options, the Norway model amounts to accepting that the UK is worse off out than in and that’s the one unspeakable truth none dare utter.

Ourselves alone

There’s some who say that the solution is for Sinn Fein (which translates from Irish into “we ourselves” or “ourselves alone”) to come to Westminster and break the deadlong. Quite frankly, we’ve already got one bunch of terrorist supporting criminals in parliament (the DUP, aka the old testament with fortnightly bin collections), the last thing the country needs is another bunch. And I do not make these allegations lightly, Sinn Fein (like the DUP) have been recently linked to vigilante gangs, terrorists (obviously perhaps) and one of the largest bank robberies in both Irish and UK history.

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Aftermath of a recent vigilante raid by SF supporters in Co. Roscommon

So the last thing that parliament needs is for John Bercow to find himself refereeing kneecapping and arson competitions across the chamber. If you think the UK is in a crisis now, wait till SF show up. They have a saying along the lines of “England’s difficulty is Ireland opportunity”. They will try to be as disruptive as possible. Far from breaking the deadlock, they’ll flip flop either way on every vote on every issue to make sure nothing happens. Hell given the state of the building, they’ll probably start drilling holes in the ceiling (or calling in false bomb alerts). After all, they and the DUP have shut down parliament in Belfast over some dispute over the Irish language, for two years running now.

Furthermore, while SF will claim they don’t want to sit in parliament because it would mean taking the oath of allegiance, that’s just a load of BS. No, the real reason is that they’d have to take a position on something. And like all populists, they don’t want to do that (because then something might get done and they’d have nothing to whinge about!). Take their position on brexit. They are eurosceptics who want Ireland to leave the euro (and thus the EU), they want out of the single market, yet they don’t want a hard border, they won’t support any deal that gives Westminster any say over NI or Irish affairs and they don’t want no deal. And you thought the Tory Brexiteers policy was convoluted and hypocritical!

And if you think that’s bad, SF’s policy on pretty much every other issue is the same. Don’t take a position, because then you’ll displease someone. Like all populists they are the party of protest. They are against everything and for nothing. Urinating into ballot boxes isn’t allowed, so voting SF is basically the next best thing.

So no, the worse case scenario is for SF to show up. Hell I’d even include a bit in the law just in case, that if they do show up now they have to kiss her mag’s feet and give her a sponge bath. The best we can hope for is they bugger off and be themselves alone.

Breaking faith

Within conservatives brexit has taken on something of a religious status, a class struggle (the toff’s screwing over the working class, but getting them to vote for it first!). Fintan O’Toole’s talk on brexit kind of illustrates this narrative well.

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So any conservative coming out and saying that they were wrong about brexit is thus treated like a heretic. And this is rather vividly illustrated by a recent case study. Peter Obrone published an article in which he admits that he was wrong about brexit. It has turned the UK into a laughing stock and its quite clear the idea that we’d get a better deal outside than in the EU is false. Needless to say, this hasn’t gone down well with his fellow brexiters, as this piece from C4 news illustrates. I’m reminded of this song from the 90’s.

This is the problem. The reason why so many brexit voters cling to unicorns, or dismiss any negative news about brexit as “fake news” is that the minute they accept that the UK won’t be better off out of the EU, even if its only slightly worse off, their whole world view falls apart. It means that they voted to make themselves poorer and make their country weaker. That Farage, Johnson etal lied and they were fooled by those lies. Quite simply put, this makes them look stupid (as well as selfish, racist and unpatriotic) and their ego can’t take that kind of a hit. So they grasp for whatever fairy story that will magically make it all go away.

And we see the same in the US with Trump supporters who do not live in the same world as the rest of us. There is literally something wrong with their brains. Just take this piece where the relatives of Fox news viewers lament what happened to their family members.

Which illustrates the problem with any 2nd referendum. This lot aren’t going to change their minds no matter what. I’d guess, at best you’d get 60/40 in favour of remain and that’s if you are lucky. Similarly a Democrat victory in 2020 is by no means guaranteed and it will probably be by a tight margin.

The Atlantic city shuffle

And speaking of Trump, here’s an interesting article about the mess Trump left behind when his casino collapsed in Atlantic city. When the Trump Taj Mahal opened he declared it “the eighth wonder of the world”. But within a year it had gone bankrupt….only to then go bankrupt again! Yes, Trump managed to go bankrupt with his casino twice! And its likely that this was solely down to the mismanagement of the casino’s finances. In a casino, the house always wins, the casino owners are the only real winners….unless Trump is running one of course!

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In fact, its difficult to believe that even Trump is that incompetent. The suspicion is that Trump’s mob connections, used the casino to run a money laundering racket. In fact he was fined $10 million for various violations of anti-money laundering laws related to his casino’s.

Fortunately for Trump going bankrupt multiple times or breaking the law doesn’t mean he goes to jail. Nor indeed does it mean he losses a penny of his money, nor is he disqualified from voting (as happens to many African Americans after a slight misdemeanour) nor is he bared from standing for elected office. Like in any feudal society (such as Westeros!), there’s one law for the nobles and another for the rest of us plebs.

Predatory finances – the shape of things to come

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I know one or two who work in the financial sector and rather than “hot stock tips” what I tend to get instead are “whatever you do, don’t give your money to this bunch of fe*kin thieving gits”. Well one of those I was warned about was a firm called London Capital and Finance (LCF). And unsurprisingly, that firm recently collapsed, wiping out the life savings of many thousands of people in the process, with it considered very unlikely any of them will get their money back.

The firm, led by Paul Careless (I’m not making that up, wonder what his middle name is? Truthless? Brainless? Heartless?), is now mired in allegations of malpractice. Both in how the firm enticed people into investing, often by mis-selling them high interest bonds without explaining the risks associated with these sorts of investments. Or the fact that it has been technically insolvent since 2017, yet still continued to operate and take people’s money.

This is unfortunately a sign of things to come, for LCF are merely one of a number of similar firms that have popped up under the Tories. Given that the government have basically stopped providing public finance for local infrastructure projects, councils are often forced to look to the private sector (to build, operate and finance these projects). So rather than issue bonds and take advantage of low interest rates, instead they are forced into lending arrangements that are overly expensive (so called LOBO loans), which has stretched the finances of many UK councils (or NHS trusts) to breaking point.

And with interest rates so low, pensioners and savers have been putting their money into firms like this as they are only thing offering a decent return, something that Tory changes to the pension system have promoted (encouraging them to play the stock market and take what could be considered excessive risks).

So the end result is bankrupt councils with no money, private sector firms building or operating public services which go to the wall (which the government is forced to pick up the tab for), some +300 billion of PFI debts, plus pensioners and savers who get stiffed when these predatory finance firms collapse. The only beneficiaries? Well unsurprisingly the wealthy investors who bankroll the Tory party (and through their off shore status don’t pay any tax). I’d call it African dictator levels of corruption, but that would be unfair to African dictators. I mean why do you think they wanted out of the EU? Because they know sooner or later Brussels would shut them down.

And the scary thing is that this is the shame of things to come, for such predatory financial firms are much more common the other side of the Atlantic. Watch local US TV and you’ll see all sorts of ads offering loans to people who can’t afford to pay them back. Or cold called by someone running a sleazy investment scam. Or we’ve got MLM’s that are little more that a ponzi scheme masquerading as a cult. And that’s before we even talk about predatory TV evangelists trying to con people into paying for their private jets.

And least we forget, the financial crisis didn’t start in the big banks of financial firms. It started in lots of small local mortgage brokerages across America, who began offering so-called “Ninja loans” at high interest rates to people who couldn’t afford them. While this doesn’t absolve the major banks of any blame (they had to have known what was going on, so either they were criminally incompetent or criminally complicit), it does highlight that simply cracking down on the big wall street firms (as Bernie or Corbyn propose) won’t really achieve anything. Its the smaller investment firms you want to watch as much as the big boys.

And the impact of America’s predatory finance are all too obvious. For example in how rural America has been destroyed by US corporations, turning many in the countryside into little more than modern day serfs. Those not driven off their land by mounting debts are often no longer in control of their own farms. They are completely dependant on large corporations, for production contracts, who own their produce (the birds, the seeds they sow, etc.) and control their farming methods. And they can face the demand for expensive changes at short notice, which the farmers/serf’s have to pay for (putting themselves in debt in the process, often via the aforementioned predatory lenders). And needless to say, its gotten worse under Trump.

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Rural America is dotted with the abandoned farms of those driven to bankruptcy

America in short is the land of the free….free to exploit people and get away with it that is. Hell, take the recent college admissions scandal in the US, in which rich parents have been paying middle men to get their kids into university. Yet the response to this in the US, notably from academia itself seems to be muted and more about damage limitation, firing those implicated (for being caught rather than what they did). Nobody is talking about changes to the admissions system (such as adopting the systems used in EU nations, where applications often processed anonymously by a central authority rather than the universities, with places awarded solely on merit). I mean I’m critical of the UK admissions system, which tends to favour those who go to the right school, but at its worst its still way better than the US system.

Well this is all coming to the UK’s way post brexit. Why after all do you think the Tories are so keen to throw the farmers under the bus post-brexit and make everyone eat growth hormone beef and chlorinated chicken. The real purpose of this free trade deal is to allow UK predatory finance firms to fish in the US market for suckers investors and visa versa. Of course, once they get caught, they’ll be much more capable of escaping justice. Not that bankers ever go to jail anyway. In short, what both brexiters and Trump supporters seek is a mutually beneficial oligarchy. If you voted for either, then that this is effectively what you voted for.

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.

Brexit means ??????

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.

Post-brexit trade delusions: Africa edition

Theresa May is starting to remind me of a 80’s film, weekend at Bernie’s, the plot of which was how two low level employees are stuck with pretending their boss isn’t dead, or else assassins will kill them. Not a great film (it has one joke that wears thin pretty quickly), but an apt metaphor for Theresa May dragging around her Chequers deal, unwilling or able to admit its bleeding demised and joined the choir invisible, because if she does that will be the end of her.

But for brexit to work both she and the hard brexiters still have to prove that life outside the single market can bring benefits to the UK. That we’re better off out than in, a question Corbyn refused to answer last week – six times!

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Theresa May’s Chequer’s deal, its just resting!

So, having realised that the kebab model ain’t going to work and having googled the south sea bubble and realised that South America isn’t a mysterious continent full of riches, that idea too has been ditched. And with New Zealand, the US and Australia leading opposition to the UK’s WTO proposed quota’s post-brexit, that suggests no empire 2.0. As a result now they are pinning their hopes on Africa, with May and Fox jetting off to set up trade deals….with the world’s poorest continent….which has a combined GDP less than that of France. Hardly sounds like they’ll be buying many UK cars! And via the EU of course the UK already HAS a host of trade deals with Africa that it will lose at the end of March 2019.

Furthermore trade with Africa is something that presents a bit of dilemma. On the one hand it is generally agreed that trade is the best way Africa can grow its economy and develop itself out of poverty. However, the issues with corruption in the continent means there is always a risk that money won’t trickle down to the people who need it the most. And least we forget a lot of Africa’s problems stem from past trade deals which screwed over the locals to the benefit of Western countries and a handful of the wealthy elites in Africa. So the devil is very much in the detail in any trade deal with Africa.

However, the hints coming from the brexiters seem to indicate that they plan the very worst of the exploitative trade deals of the past. They are talking about using aid for example as a carrot to subsidise the sale of British goods. What’s wrong with that? Well because it means locals (again, some of the poorest people in the world) paying over the odds for equipment they might be able to buy cheaper elsewhere, with corrupt local politicians often creaming off their share of the take (or simply sell the equipment on to a foreign buyer and pocket the profits). And it often comes with the further price tag of the locals having something thrust upon them (e.g. they lose their water supply to the benefit of a foreign owned farm growing cash crops).

And the brexiters also talk about getting “cheap food from Africa. Or to translate that into practical on the ground consequences, they want to take the food out of the mouths of starving children just so UK shoppers can save a few penny’s. If the UK starts buying more food, be it cash crops or worse the very food the locals rely on to survive, then this pushes up food prices in Africa. And it doesn’t have to go up by much to become unaffordable to locals.

Furthermore, there’s a number of practical reasons, why most countries are restrictive in their trade with Africa. For example the issue of disease, most notably foot and mouth. As I pointed out before its endemic in certain parts of the world, most notably Africa. If the UK starts trading in meat products (or feed) with Africa we’d lose our disease free status meaning UK farmers would lose access to many international markets. And recall a past outbreak of foot and mouth in the UK, an event the farming sector is still reeling from, was caused by someone violating these very rules. So all in all it doesn’t sound like a great idea.

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Foot and mouth disease is endemic in most of Africa

And hand in hand with free trade goes freedom of movement. If a African entrepreneur who wants to say, set up a new car brand (I met someone at a conference a few years ago and this was his goal) and he wants to export to the UK, or get finance through UK banks, he and his staff are going to be able to get in and out of the UK without having to apply for visa’s two months in advance (after filling in an 85 page form and paying £500 a pop) and having them turned down or delayed for no apparent reason. So any such trade deals would only work if the UK is prepared to open up its borders with Africa.

And the UK will not have Africa all to itself. Both China and India are actively investing in Africa and they can both make far better offers than any deal the UK could offer. Indeed, one of the brexiters big ideas is to lower the import tariffs into the UK to zero. Ya, ok but you do realise that under WTO rules all the other countries are legally obliged to keep the tariffs on UK imports at the WTO levels until an agreement can be reached. If the UK has already lowered its tariff’s what possible incentive do these other countries have to negotiate the lowering of their tariffs?

The brexiters seem to forget that the “exciting” trade deals they got in the past, which they signed on the deck of the Royal yacht Britannia, they only got those because they had the Royal Navy backing them up (and pointing the guns of warships at the city!). These days its a little different. Go into a trade negotiation now, even with African countries, and you are facing off against an army of lawyers and expert trade negotiators. Many of these negotiators will be Western educated (Oxford, Harvard school of law, LSE, PSE, etc.) and grizzled veterans of multiple past trade negotiations (of which the UK has almost no recent experience). The idea that the UK is going to get a better deal than the EU has managed, even against smaller African countries, is somewhat dubious.

And if the plan is to resort to the robber baron tactics of the past, Empire 2.0 and all of that, well like I said China and India are now backing these countries up. You’ll be facing off against global economic powerhouses….with two of the world’s largest armies.

And speaking of which, on brexit related matters, we have stories about how impractical and expensive stockpiling medicines and food will be, of the massive drop in nurses (the nurses union are now so worried about the shortfall that they are backing a 2nd referendum), farm workers (as well as fears of food shortages) and the likely impact of brexit on research (as well as the fact the UK will be frozen out of the Galileo navigation system). As experts have pointed out the government’s recent post-brexit advice is to go away and buy software (which doesn’t exist), hire a bunch of lawyers to fill out the tons of documents you’ll need to export (hardly practical for a small business)….then bend over and kiss your arse goodbye. Oh and if you live in Northern Ireland, talk to the Irish government (which is kind of like getting on a BA flight and the pilot saying “I have no idea what all these buttons do, you might want to find someone from Ryanair”).

Plus we now have clashes between French and UK boats over fishing rights (worth noting the boat actually doing the ramming below is a British registered trawler who has been found guilty of fishing offences before), probably a foretaste of what’s to come post-brexit.

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A British boat rams a French fishing boat off the coast of France as the Scallop wars start

And what’s the government’s solution to all of this? The go-to Daily Mail/Express solution to every problem, call in the army! Who’ll be parachuted in to protect fishermen (who again are the ones doing the ramming!), distribute food, fuel and medicine post brexit….and presumably pick fruit, staff hospitals and do scientific research (while riding on Unicorns one assumes!). I think Tories played with their action man figures a little too much as a child!

And I just got back from Ireland and it came up in idle conversation how a number of the UK chain which have gone belly up recently are actually still up and running in Ireland, including Maplin and ironically enough Poundland (ya while they’ve gone broke in the UK, they are still in business in Ireland even though we joined the Euro two decades ago!). The media agonises over what could possibly be causing this crisis in the high street, the internet? The weather? Changing tastes?…or maybe its because some dickheads decided to vote for brexit, causing a 25% drop in the value of the pound, which if your importing stock from abroad, means your costs just went up 25% pushing many firms into the red.

Like I’ve said before brexit is now the official state religion of the UK. The CEO of a company could jump off the roof of a building wearing a sweatshirt that said brexit killed my business and land in front of a UK journalist or politician and they’d put his death down to an unfortunate accident with gravity.

But all in all it appears even the brexiters are resigned to the fact that brexit is going to render the UK worse off. Its an unspeakable heresy they can’t dare speak, so they need to at least make sure there’s some positives they can point too. So when all the factories closing and millions are unemployed and certain food items have become harder to find than in Venezuela, they can at least point out, oh but look pork is now 3p cheaper per kg, aren’t we reaping the rewards of brexit…. just ignore the stories about food riots in Africa or a foot and mouth outbreak in Sussex and eat your brexit tripe.

Tory towns go bust

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One of the things that annoys me about brexit is how its allowed many important issues to sneak under the radar, without any serious debate, e.g. Fracking was quietly approved, without any real parliamentary debate last month, against independent advise to the contrary.

But one big story that has been swept under the carpet is how several towns with Tory run councils are basically going bust. Northamptonshire council for example is in dire straits. In the town of Corby (which incidentally voted overwhelmingly leave) public services are being cut back to the legal minimum. This means things like rural buses services have been cancelled (meaning anyone without a car in a rural location is now cut off from the rest of the country), public libraries are being shut, day care and medical centres are closing down, public parks are at risk from developers, street lights switched off, road repairs halted, bin collections are being curtailed and so on. Even Christmas related festivities are being cancelled (yes, the Tories are cancelling Christmas).

So how did it get to this stage? Well quite simply put ideology and the legacy of Cameron’s no-so-little helper “porky” Pickles. Many of these Tory councils went about privatising public services and outsourcing them to private firms (in many cases Tory party donors and allies, e.g. Richard Branson got £2 billion worth of the NHS). And rather that wait for the magic of the market to kick in, they also froze council taxes as an easy vote winner.

Of course, as has happened any time public services have been privatised, instead the costs actually went up considerably. And a freeze in council tax amounts to a cut in taxes over time thanks to inflation. And at the same time the Tory government has been cutting the amount of money it spends on local government, as part of its policy of austerity. And the rise in inflation brought on by the brexit effect has hardly helped. So councils found themselves squeezed from multiple directions.

Worse still, some councils have responded to this crisis by squeezing any source of income available to them, notably small businesses. Hence some smaller firms got hit with massive hikes in their rates or rent. While some were able to just cope with those (generally those in more affluent areas) others simply folded (and the drop in consumer spending thanks to brexit has probably not helped here either). Of course, this creates a law of diminishing returns and councils have hunted the golden geese to extinction, decimating town centres in the process.

On the one hand, as many of these councils are Tory run (and often in areas that voted overwhelmingly for brexit) you are tempted to say, tough titty. You voted for this, you got it, if you were dumb enough to vote Tory (they ain’t called the nasty party for nothing) that’s your own luck out. However, often the people who are feeling the worse of this aren’t the ones who voted for it. Pensioners have their benefits triple locked and ring fenced. Its usually the young or those on lower incomes who are going to feel the worst of it.

What happens next is unclear. The government could step in to bail councils out. However, the danger is that if they bail out one they have to bail out all of them. And that would unleash a tidal wave. The truth is that most of the local governments in England are up sh*t creek and just about managing and have been that way for quite some time.

If we were to transfer all of those debts run up by local councils onto the UK government’s books, suddenly HM treasury is massively in deficit, worse off than they were when the started this policy of austerity. And inevitably that would mean pressure would come to cut back in other areas. Does the UK really need aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, HS2 (or a no deal brexit), when councils literally can’t afford to keep the street lights on? Because ultimately councils are in trouble because they are having to pick up the pieces that result from Tory policy of austerity (e.g. a single parent gets evicted because her benefits got cut, what happens? The council have to pay for emergency accommodation) yet they have limited means to raise money to cover those costs.

A more vital question is how to fix the problem and I would argue that goes back to how councils are funded. The UK’s council tax system basically makes no sense, its the tax equivalent of a drive by shooting. And worse given how much property prices have changed since the rates were last updated its not really related to income anymore. I’ve long argued that a local income tax would be a better idea.

Yes this would likely mean those on middle incomes (like me) might see our taxes go up a little bit, while those on higher incomes would seem them go up a lot. But I’d rather pay a bit more to get good public services than not get any at all. And, given the ease with which council tax can be avoided (just put any literature from the council in the bin!), its more of a tax on honesty. I suspect a local income tax would catch out those who don’t pay council tax and it might turn out to be not as expensive as thought.

Also it is deeply hypocritical for Westminster politicians to be promoting a brexit, to allow the UK to “take control” and not send money to Brussels. Then jealously guard its own powers and insist they alone should decide how money is allocated, even to the councils who are having to pay for the consequences of decisions made in Westminster. In essence brexit is little more than a power grab and a bank raid by the government.

If a post-brexit UK is to have any future it will only survive if there is a commensurate devolution of power from Westminster to both local authorities and local assemblies (e.g. the Scottish government). Otherwise the legacy of the current Tory government will just be the disorderly destruction of most of the UK’s public sector and local government.

Brexit: More or less

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Brexit greatest enemy? Maths!

Contrary to much expert opinion, it is argued by brexiters of the so called European Research Group that leaving the EU without any deal, a so called “hard brexit“, won’t be so bad. And in any event, it would make sense to play brinkmanship with the EU, to get the best deal. Hence they have argued for example that the UK should start to stockpile food to show we’re serious.

Any sort of delays at the border present massive problems due to the fact most UK factories operate on a Just in Time basis (where as little inventory as possible is kept by the factory, with supplies arriving “just in time”), notably the car industry. However, Brexiter Brenard Jenkin suggested that trucks should just leave several days early and so what if they end up stuck in a queue at Calais (which suggests he has no clue about how JIT works!).

There appears to be a lack of awareness among brexiters of the magnitude of what they propose. So I thought it would be useful to put some numbers to these proposals, a sort of hard brexit version of “more or less”.

Let’s take car production for a start. How much warehouse space would you need to store all of those car parts? Or, if they are going to be stuck in a massive queue at Calais, how many trucks would we need? Well the approximate volume of a vehicle is 10-40m3. Note I use the term “vehicle” because the UK doesn’t just make cars, but also things like vans, construction equipment, military vehicles, ice cream vans, lorries, etc. So let’s take something broadly in the middle, 15m3 is the average volume of a medium sized SUV or an estate car.

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Next, we need to consider packing efficiency of the trucks or the warehouses. While some components can be neatly packed into boxes and stacked without taking up too much space, others are a bit on the bulky side. There’s only so many you can pack in at any one time. Some are either too heavy to be stacked one on top of the other, too fragile, or too big and awkward. And we need to remember that with logistics time is money. Yes, we could spend all day playing Tetris, but that’s going to cost more money than it would save. So let’s assume a 60% packing efficiency. 25% of UK car parts are of UK origin, so that’s 75% that comes from across the channel. Multiplying out those numbers, 0.75*(1/0.6)*15 = 18.75m3. We’ll round up to a nice even 20m3.

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The UK produces 1.7 million vehicles a year (currently 1.65 million, its slipped a little bit since brexit, but we’ll round up to 1.7 million all the same), so that’s 4,658 vehicles per day. So a seven day stockpile means parts for 32,606 vehicles, which means we’d need storage space for 652,120 m3. Assuming warehouses 10m high (which yields 7.5m of useful storage space), you’d need 86,949 m2 of floor area, which would cover about 12 football pitches. I’m going to pause and let you imagine 12 times the area of a football pitch covered in warehouses 4 stories high.

How many truck would be needed? Well assuming 80m3 per truck, that’s 8,151 trucks. BMW recently mentioned that they depend on 150 truck deliveries a day to manufacture the Mini. This gives us an alternative means of calculating the number of trucks. At 800 cars per day, that would imply that 32,606 cars would require 6,113 truck deliveries, noting of course that the Mini is at the lower end of our size scale (the clue is in the name!). Parked end to end, these trucks would stretch for between 110 to 147 km’s.

And that’s just the logistics of getting car parts across the channel and were assuming only one trip, when some components take multiple trips. About 80% of the UK’s car production is currently exported, mostly back to Europe (or transitions through Europe to other destinations), so that’s 26,084 vehicles you’re looking to move back over the channel every week. Parked end to end, they’d stretch for 107 km’s. It would take 4,075 trucks to carry them back over the channel (assuming 6 vehicles per truck) and those trucks would form a queue 73 km’s long.

I’m going to hazard a guess that we don’t have 10 to 12 thousand trucks going spare to handle these logistics. Should you wonder how the car industry copes at the moment, well they do so by not taking 14 days for their trucks to make a round trip across the channel (according to Google maps its currently an 8 hour journey from the Ruhr to the UK Midlands, or 4-5 hrs to the main industrial zones around Northern France & Belgium). And they also make use of railways, so its not just trucks queuing either side of the channel, but trains as well.

And should anyone accuse me of being mean, vehicle parts are easy (and represent only 12% of UK exports btw). It would be very expensive to have them stuck in a queue for a week, but at least they aren’t going to rot. But we can’t say the same for food. Faced with produce from the UK arriving late, as well as either rotten or frozen solid, it won’t be long before retailers the opposite side of the channel start buying local produce instead, even if its more expensive. And some chemicals or biomedical products are also time critical. They will not only spoil if they don’t get to their destination in a timely manner but can actually decompose and become hazardous (i.e. they catch fire!). So this would mean several industries that depend on such supplies, would have to shut down on brexit day itself, unless they can secure alternative supplies.

Indeed, even assuming shorter delays, say 24 hrs, you are still talking several thousand trucks being affected, all of which need to be checked (are there facilities at the ports to handle all of those vehicles? Do they have the staff?). Recall that delays happen at the ports as things stand due to various factors (weather, strikes, IT problems, etc.). The introduction of additional border checks will thus amplify the consequences of any such delays. Hence I’d argue that while perhaps it won’t be as bad as 7 days most of the time, that’s probably the sort of time frame you’d want to plan according too.

Currently the port of Dover handles about 5,000 trucks a day while the tunnel handles a further 5,000. The current plan, to stack trucks by closing off part of the M20 to hold 1,400 of them, will clearly become unstuck very quickly if delays build to any more than 4 hrs (which just a few minutes delay per truck at the front of the queue could quickly produce). And everyone seems to be forgetting that the main hub for freight traffic with the EU is actually Felixstowe and neighbouring Harwich, which handle between them 3 times the traffic that goes through Dover as well as nearly half of all the UK container traffic.

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Brexit, you’re going to need a bigger motorway!

There’s also the not so small matter of the 12,800 good vehicles that cross the Irish border every day. Or further traffic that enters the UK via the ports of Fishguard, Pembroke & Holyhead.

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The Irish border is busier than Dover and the channel tunnel combined and has almost double the number of crossing points then the entire eastern border of the EU!

And what about non-EU trade? Recall that the UK’s customs relationship will alter for practically everything entering the UK from overseas. To join the WTO (a critical part of any brexit plan, else the UK becomes the equivalent of North Korea!) the UK needs to agree a deal to split its WTO membership from the EU. All of the other 164 countries have to agree to the terms of this (unanimously, oh and btw a no deal raises the risk of an EU veto) and its already expected that several will object (including the US, Canada & Australia, you know the countries we’re going to get these brilliant trade deals with).

Speaking of food, how much storage space would the UK need to stockpile food? Well a standard can of food is 73mm in diameter and 106mm high. That’s a volume of 4.43×10-4 m3. Let’s assume we need 2 cans per person per day. And we’d want at least a month’s supply. So that comes to 3.6 billion cans with a volume of 1,596,000m3. Assuming a packing density of 75%, storing all of those in warehouses 10m high (which again yields 7.5m’s of useful storage space) they’d cover 37 football pitches (stacked with pallets of cans 7.5m high!)….so just to handle the cars and food, the UK needs over 50 football pitches covered in warehouses…..all of which needs to be built in 8 months time! So no pressure!

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Taking back control! Then again, the brexiters seem to live in the 1940’s, so they may just get their wish!

Possibly sensing the impracticality of what they propose, its being suggested by the brexiters that certain “priority” items such as food or medicines will be just waved through customs. What’s wrong with that? Well, firstly the EU might not reciprocate. And secondly, In the absence of a permanent solution, such temporary measures are likely to break down pretty quickly, so you’re just delaying the inevitable. Remind me, how did the foot & mouth outbreak a few years ago start? How long before smugglers just start labelling their shipments as “food”, stacking a few trays of week old potatoes at the door and fill the rest of the vehicle with whatever contraband they want to move? (fake Burberry, booze, cigarettes, weapons, migrants, etc.). And thirdly, why are we leaving the customs union if we’re not going to implement any border controls? That kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise. Its like going to the pub to get legless drunk but then only having mineral water all night.

But its not food or car components that worries me in the event of a no deal. Its energy supplies. The UK is a net importer of energy. There was much talk about how to provide for Northern Ireland in the event of no deal, with suggestions it would be buzzing with diesel generators, many of them on barges moored around the coast.

However, I’d worry less about the few hundred megawatts NI uses and be a little bit more concerned with the 3GW’s that Southern England draws from the European grid, which is often critical in winter. And the UK also imports 35.2 billion cubic metres of gas from the EU and Norway every year. Note that as Norway is part of the EEA they would get caught up in any trade dispute, particularly if the UK refused to pay its bills (Norway is a contributor to the EU budget). That’s an average of 96 million m3 of gas every day and several times that amount on a cold winter’s day.

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The UK has a grand total of 30 GWh’s of pumped storage, so that’s only 10 hours of reserves. In terms of gas the UK has a storage capacity for 4.3 bcm. So that would be exhausted with 1-2 weeks (depending on the level of demand). However 70% of that reserve capacity is contained within one facility (Rough), which recently closing down (which would cut the UK’s reserves to just a few days supply).

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Nearly all of the UK’s gas storage capacity is in one facility….which has just been shut down! Note that even prior to this, the UK has woefully small gas storage compared to other EU countries

And I suspect the national grid would point out that the UK’s pumped storage and gas storage facilities do not exist as a strategic reserve in case of a hard brexit. They are there to help even out the peaks and troughs that exist between supply and demand. And power cuts are usually not so much a lack of power on the grid, its a lack of grid capacity to shunt the power to where its needed.

So the reality is that the UK, particularly the South East of the country, could be experiencing an energy crisis within days or potentially hours of a hard brexit (depending on demand, e.g. a late Autumn cold snap). Its is difficult to see how the UK could make it through a winter if supplies were cut off. And given that the ERG plan is to essentially sacrifice farming and manufacturing in a hard brexit to the benefit of the financial services industry, rolling blackouts in London would be more than a little inconvenient. It would be a national crisis.

Pretty soon those barges up in NI will be unmoored and heading down to London (not that they’d do much good, you’d need tens of thousands to match London’s demand) with the DUP basically left to fend for themselves. If you want to annoy the public and start a riot, try turning off the lights for a while, at the same time as there’s shortages in the shops. I suspect that such a crisis would very quickly lead to a border poll in NI and a 2nd indy ref in Scotland (and possibly even one in London, which recall voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU as well) and the UK starts to break up.

Now I’m not attempting project fear here (reality appears to be doing that for me!), I’m merely pointing out to brexiters the logistics of what they are proposing, and the potential consequences if they get things wrong. Its not being anti-brexit, its being pro-maths, and the numbers for a hard brexit just don’t add up.

And if the brexiters plan is to try and bluff the EU, well that is also unlikely to work, in fact it could be counter-productive. No doubt, some bureaucrat in Brussels has done the same sums I’ve just done and has realised that the hard brexiters are bluffing and the EU can easily afford to call their bluff.

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Worse still, they’ve also likely concluded that only a deranged lunatic would even consider a hard brexit. Which means that if they think the British are actually seriously considering a hard brexit, there is little point in the EU making any concessions, because you’d never be able to guarantee someone that crazy would stick to their side of the bargain. Hence why the UK threatening to withhold payment on the divorce bill is rather dangerous, as it implies the UK is undertaking these talks in bad faith.

And in related brexit news, the association of British insurers have warned that it might not be legally possible for them to pay pensioners living abroad their pensions in the event of a no deal brexit. Elsewhere MP’s were warned terrorists and criminals could walk free from jail in the event of a no deal.

While I would take these stories with a pinch of salt, equally I would point to real world examples which have already occurred, as I discussed in a prior post. The problem with a no deal brexit is that the UK government ceases to have any say in what brexit means. It will in many cases be left to lowly civil servants, judges and corporate lawyers around the world to decide what brexit means.

Another line of reasoning that is being pushed (which kind of shows how desperate they are getting) is that the EU should be nice to the UK, because the British people will blame them for the consequences of a hard brexit…..WTF? Oh, and apparently its the fault of those who voted remain that the UK voted to leave (conservative logic, don’t even try to understand it!). So the EU, and remainers, who wanted the UK to stay in, should be punished because leave voters (who were told all of this would happen prior to the vote) are such spoilt little snowflakes they’ll start to cry like a baby when they realise they aren’t going to get their lolly.

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The hard brexiters plan, hold their breath until they turn blue, hope the EU/nanny panics and gives them an ice lolly

And in any event, let’s get one thing clear, regardless of how well, or how bad brexit goes, regardless of what concessions the EU grants the UK, the tabloids and the brexiters will blame the EU (and remain voters) for whatever negative consequences come out of brexit. After all, their only other alternative would be to admit that this brexit thing they’ve been banging on about for twenty years was in fact a very bad idea. And as we’ve seen they value their ego well above the well being of the country.

As I see it, there are only three viable brexit options. Firstly, the hard brexit option. Revoke article 50 and agree some deal with the EU in which the UK stays in for at least a decade or two to give the country time to prepare and build the necessary infrastructure (i.e. those 50+ warehouses, new port facilities, etc.). Of course you’d want to be absolutely sure this is the “will of the people” before even considering this option (so a 2nd referendum would be recommended), else a future pro-remain government might come to power and just cancel the whole thing.

Secondly, go for the softest brexit possible, the Norway or Swiss models being good examples. This would be negotiated as an interim solution (a sort of “trial separation” as it were), leaving open the option at a future date to break further away (e.g. leaving the single market/customs union and ending freedom of movement) or re-joining the EU. I would note that this the option is the closest to May’s proposals. But its also the only one of the three that guarantees an immediate UK exit from the EU (something the brexiters need to consider next time her plan comes before the house).

Or thirdly, start over. If a hard brexit is undeliverable (in the short term) and a soft brexit just leaves the country a “vassal state (to quote several brexiters), then it might be best to question the wisdom of trying to undertake it in the first place. So you’d have to revoke article 50. Then after a suitable cooling off period (say 5 years), have another referendum, but this time asking the right questions (i.e. hard or soft brexit) and make sure everyone’s on board (i.e. a requirement that say 50% of the country has to vote for it and all major regions must back it).

The brexiters need to pick one of the three, they can’t have it both ways and they can’t just try and wing it and hope for the best.

The sadopopulist agenda behind brexit

The EU looked on last week with incredulity and disbelief, as an agreement they’d thrashed out with Theresa May, which would have settled the first round of brexit talks was torpedoed at the eleventh hour, apparently by the DUP, a small fringe party in Northern Ireland. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, the UK’s reputation is taking a battering from these brexit talks. To many in the EU it seems like the country is unable to make any sort of decision, even when you’ve got the PM in the room (remind me, when exactly did we elect Arlene Foster as PM?). As one German newspaper put it “Brexit is the biggest political nonsense since the Roman Emperor Caligula decided to appoint his favourite horse as consul”.

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The EU showed up for talks on day one with well thumbed piles of documents, the British have one notebook between three of them….

And meanwhile back in the UK we had a conclusion to a long running saga involving the brexit secretary Dave2, who has been charged with contempt of parliament, with calls for him to be locked in the tower. This may have gone under the radar of international news, but briefly for many months now MP’s have been asking Dave2 and his department for information on their planning on the impact of brexit on specific sectors of the economy. For example, I highlighted in a prior article how leaving the EU will mean the UK leaving the EU nuclear regulatory agency and open skies agreement (which technically means that as things stand, with no agreement with the EU, nuclear reactors might have to shut down and planes stop flying for several months after April 1st 2019).

But Dave2 kept giving evasive answers along the lines of, oh we’ve got lots of boffins working on this, don’t worry your pretty little working class heads, we all went to a posh boarding schools……and we smoke pipes. Naturally, this convinced many MP’s that these impact assessments might contain some very bad news, which the government was trying to cover up. So they pressed him further, calling for a parliamentary vote on the matter (requiring that the documents be handed over), which he lost. He then tried to stall for time, portraying the MP’s as 5th columnists working for the EU, which is kind of silly when one of those MP’s happens to Jacob Rees-Mogg (on the right of both the Tories and the brexiters).

Well finally this week MP’s managed to corner Dave2 and he revealed that actually he’d been lying there are no impact assessments. When he was stalling for time, it wasn’t to give him time to censor the reports and take out anything incriminating, instead it involved him and his staff rapidly cutting and pasting stuff off the internet to placate MP’s. Yes, a year and half after the brexit vote and the UK government still has no clue what the impact of it will be, nor how they are going to prepare for it. “Fu*ked if we know!” is the official government position on the impact of brexit.

Of course this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Plenty of independent studies have been conducted into the impact of brexit, both before and since the referendum. Prior to the referendum the government commissioned its own studies, which were generally negative about the UK’s prospects post-brexit. Given that the circumstances haven’t changed much, its reasonable to assume that any impact assessments would show the same thing and it hardly helps the brexiters case for their own department to conclude they are cutting off their own nose to spite their face.

And there was worse to come. Philip Hammond, generally seen as the grown up in the room also revealed to MP’s that there had been no comprehensive discussions by the cabinet as to what the UK’s brexit strategy or final end state was going to be. It would appear the cabinet is split into two factions, with Phil and Amber in one corner rocking back and forward muttering OMG, while in at the other end of the room the brexiters have been jerking one another off as they watch the movie Dambusters over and over again as they dream of empire 2.0.

To say this is bad is an understatement. As the military say, its the Seven Ps of Planning: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pis* Poor Performance. Yet it is now clear that the UK has entered into brexit talks without any sort of plan. All this poker talk about noting wanting to reveal their hand to the EU has been bunk, the EU (and anyone with half a brain) has known all along what’s going on, the UK has no cards to play, they don’t even know what they want. The UK government’s official negotiating strategy for brexit involves screaming Leeroy! and charging into the room.

And worse still, good politics is about compromise and trade off’s. In politics nobody ever gets to have their cake and eat it. You want to restrict immigration? okay, but you do realise that’s going to curtail economic growth (by creating labour shortages), push up taxes and mean longer NHS waiting times. What to re-nationalise the railways (as Corbyn wants)? Yep, we can do that. But its going to take some time to implement, will be legally difficult (as the train companies might be reluctant to simply hand over their franchise rights and might fight the government in court). And there’s no point in going down this road unless you are willing to put the sort of cash into the railways to bring them up to European standards (which means again, likely you are looking at putting up taxes).

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The problem from the start with the brexiters has been they don’t even seem to be aware of the idea that such trade off’s are necessary. The situation with the Irish border being a case in point. Any kind of change to the customs arrangements will mean a hard border between the UK and EU. Such a hard border would open a huge can of worms and it would not be popular abroad, notably with Washington, where opposition to a hard border has bipartisan support in Congress.

Once you accept this reality it leaves only two options. The UK stays in the customs union and becomes an associate member of the EU (meaning it can’t negotiate separate trade deals, indeed it will have no say whatsoever as to the terms of the trade deals the EU negotiates….and will have to keep paying into the EU budget). Or we put the border at the Irish sea and tell the DUP, well if you don’t like it we can have a border poll, would you prefer that instead?

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Dumb and dumber, spot the difference

The brexiters don’t even seem to be aware, nor wish to even acknowledge, that such trade off’s exist, leads one to conclude that the Tory brexiters have to be the dumbest most incompetent bunch of clowns to ever be put in charge of a major government. I heard someone suggest the other day that they should do a brexit special addition of the thick of it. Actually, we are now at the stage where reality has outrun satire…..

Sadopopulism

……Or there is another explanation? The history professor Tim Snyder recently coined the term Sadopopulism to describe how the wealthy and the oligarch’s are dealing with the post-truth age.

Basically, the rich can’t rely any more on their traditional tactics of bullying centrist parties (via their control of the media) into adopting favourable policies. The deficiencies in those policies have been exposed, increasingly centrist parties are reluctant to play ball and they’ve lost a lot of support due to the blow back. The rich can’t rely on the extreme left (as they’d lock them up!), nor the extreme right. The fascists would shoot them all (then steal their stuff!) while libertarianism would likely lead to anarchy and possibly the rise of other oligarch’s who’d challenge them (then shoot them and steal their stuff!).

So instead, they rely on populism to target some easily identified scapegoats, the poor, migrants, ethnic minorities, Muslims, etc. They then undertake policies that are intentionally designed to cause harm (this were the “sado” element comes in). And to be clear this isn’t raising/lowering taxes kind of stuff, which makes everyone better off, other than a small minority (again, politics is about trade off’s). This is policies that will intentionally hurt more or less everyone (save the elites themselves of course!). They can then point out, ya you’ve got it bad, but its all the fault of poor people/migrants who are now even worse off. And after all some of those poor people did vote for Trump/brexit, so now they are being punished for that.

Its worth noting that this theory is backed up by studies into monkeys. In situations where other monkey’s were rewarded for effort that they put in, some actually opted not to reward, even those this decreased the changes of them being rewarded in turn. In other words they’d accept being worse off just to spite others.

So its possible, much like the recent tax cuts in the US, the answer here is the brexiters might be intentionally playing dumb. They know their negotiation strategy won’t work, they know they are committing an act of national self harm, that’s the whole point! Then while the country is reeling from the aftermath, they can slip through a few bills stripping workers of their rights and they’ll have the excuse to privatise the NHS (and sell it off to themselves). As the character Littlefinger on Game of Thrones put it, chaos is a ladder.