Why has no other country tried to leave the EU?

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I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone from another EU country (Holland) and it led to something of a thought experiment. Why has no other country ever tried to leave the EU?

I mean its not as if euroscepticism is an entirely British phenomenon. There’s been several occasions where populists eurosceptic parties have held a majority in government, most recently in Italy for example. And polls show there’s a possibility such a thing could go through. Yet despite all the vitriol and anti-EU rhetoric they haven’t put their money where their mouth is and tried to hold a referendum and leave, Why? Well the answer tells us more about the UK than it does about the EU.

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Most EU states are governed by constitutions which would require a legally binding referendum be held, prior to leaving, as an absolute minimum. In fact in some country’s you’d have to get a supermajority to approve it (+50% of the entire population, not just those who bother to show up at the polls, by contrast brexit only got the support of 37%). This is in stark contrast to the UK, whose constitution is a bunch of vague guidelines written on goatskin, which seems to assume any politician is going to be an honourable gentleman who’ll put the country first. And if he breaks the rules he gets called a knave and doesn’t get invited to the Speakers annual garden party.

Hence many of the dirty tricks employed by the brexiters to win the 2016 referendum would not be available to continental eurosceptics, as such antics would get them into very serious trouble. Prison time sort of trouble. The UK’s electoral commission has found that the vote leave campaign broke the law during the referendum. The only reason why the result wasn’t annulled by the courts (and why Cummings, Johnson, Farage et al aren’t serving prison terms) is because it was a non-legally binding advisory referendum. Eurosceptics on the continent dislike the EU yes. But very few of them hate it that much that they are willing to risk ending up in a 6×6 cell, sharing prison showers with a massive tattooed guy called Bubba.

Furthermore with a legally binding referendum you’d probably have to specify what kind of brexit you were aiming for. Otherwise it might be at risk of court challenges before a vote is even held. This was another problem with the referendum, the question asked was too vague, you may as well have asked “do you hate the French?” or “is blue your favourite colour?”. This allowed brexit to become a blank canvas onto which unicorns could be painted. Hence brexiters could sell the idea of the UK leaving, yet keeping all the benefits of staying in, without it costing a penny.

Specifying which brexit you are aiming for would present a problem, because much as the UK brexiters can’t agree what kind of brexit they want, European eurosceptics are as equally divided. The odds are such a bill would fail at the first hurdle as they’d not be able to get behind a proposal through parliament to trigger such a referendum. And once they’d nailed their colours to the mast, polls do show that when presented with a specific brexit option (Norway for now, May’s deal, no deal) support ebbs away (as people are forced to weight up the pro’s and cons). And generally remain wins any side by side comparison (because it means accepting you are worse off out than in).

And as many EU states are federations (Germany and Spain for example) with regional assemblies, they’d have to find a way to resolve what happens if say Catalonia vote to stay and Andalusia votes to leave. Not least because in some cases these regional assemblies might have to approve of any referendum before it can be held (which they won’t do until all the what if’s are resolved), not to mention pass the secondary legislation afterwards to allow the country as a whole to leave. Yes there’s usually a way for central government to railroad things through but, suffice to say, this is opening a massive can of worms. One which is firmly labelled “do not open this can, national self destruction may follow”.

And of course even if you can get the initial bill through parliament, get the public to vote for it (by a significant majority) you’ve still got to go to Brussels and negotiate an exit. And for the UK this is where the fireworks started. Basically this means putting on hold all important business so you can conduct the negotiations and push through the supporting legislation to allow for leaving the EU.

The Tories have gotten away with various dirty tricks to drive through brexit, using the dictatorial Henry VII powers, cancelling votes at the last minute, moving forward a vote when you realise several pro-remain MP’s are off sick, bribing MP’s with promises of peerages, stacking the lords with peers to filibuster any anti-brexit legislation and of course more recently proroguing parliament (i.e. suspending democracy), an act now deemed unlawful as its likely the PM lied to the Queen. Very little of this would be legal in other EU states, nor would politicians find it so easy to get away with it.

And given that many countries on the continent have had more recent experience of living under a dictatorship (fascists, junta’s or communists) electorates tend to be a bit more sensitive about this sort of behaviour. Plus because many European government’s are elected by proportional representation, that means they are often coalitions. And the odds are good that such a coalition would fracture under the strain of an EU exit process. So its possible the whole thing will collapse before the process is complete.

Oh and a just for good measure a 2nd referendum afterwards might also be needed to confirm everything (as its likely what was promised will be different from what exit you actually end up with, or you need to confirm constitutional changes with a referendum). And obviously the whole reason why brexiters in the UK are resisting this option is because they know they will likely lose such a vote.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it would be impossible for any other European country to leave the EU. After all many held votes to join in the first place, or approve the various EU treaties. So with enough public support and goodwill its possible. But perhaps that’s the point, there just isn’t the support for leaving (with the possible exception of Italy). Getting the turkey’s to vote to put the charismatic Mr Fox in charge of the hen house is one thing. Getting them to vote for Christmas is an entirely different matter. And given that leaving sounds a lot like hard work (with the added risk of prison time), most populists would rather not bother trying and instead prefer to busy themselves collecting kickbacks and bribes.

But even if populist eurosceptics could drag their country out of the EU, what then? Who are you going to blame when things go wrong? The EU gets a lot of blame for things because its a cheap shot. They are a large faceless bureaucracy and an obvious scapegoat who isn’t going to fight back. And this cuts to the heart of populism, which is basically about avoiding responsibility and blaming others for your own misfortune.

The economy collapses because you voted in a bunch of incompetent politicians who borrowed heavily and spent like sailors on shore leave? Not our fault, its the fault of the EU (who bailed you out, how mean of them forcing billions into your country’s coffers!)….oh and of course recently arrived migrants, its their fault too. Can’t get a council house? Not your fault for voting Tory (who basically stopped building them in the 80’s and sold off most of the stock) its immigrants and refugees coming in and taking them (actually they are no less likely to get one than a Brit). Late for work? Not your fault, its those lazy immigrant bus drivers….and EU elf N’ safety….somehow! This is what populism is all about, blame somebody else for everything that’s gone wrong. Don’t take responsibility for anything.

So if you are out of the EU, and you’ve deported all the migrants, who are you going to blame when things go wrong? Now granted, its pretty clear Johnson’s plan is to blame the EU for the UK’s post-brexit economic misfortune. However the major threat from brexit isn’t the short term dip afterwards, its the longer term consequences. Its going to be a bit rich 5-10 years after leaving for the Tories to still be blaming the EU every time a UK firm goes bust or for a drop in life expectancy. At some point the penny drops and the odds are the UK will simply re-join the EU under terms less favourable than it currently enjoys.

And this is why, despite all the bravado from continental eurosceptics, there’s been no other attempts to leave the EU. They have better things to do with their time than destroy their own parties and getting themselves arrested. We end up with a cat and dog like situation. The cat and the dog don’t like each other, but they just find a way to get along with one another. Its the same thing with the eurosceptics and the EU. The eurosceptic little doggie is quite happy to bark all day, but his bark is worse than his bite. After all it wasn’t Farage who called the referendum, but Cameron (Farage was quite happy to stay on as an MEP and collect his generous salary).

The only reason therefore the UK is posed to leave without a deal….and the chaos and blow back that will inevitably follow, is because of its broken political system. Leave or remain, these flaws will still exist, even if brexit is somehow swept from the political agenda. This is why reform of the UK’s entire political system is what parliament should be devoting its time towards, rather than arguing over brexit. For it is a symptom rather than the disease itself.

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!

Brexit, the Frankenstein child disowned by its creators

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The Guardian view of the no lobby after the vote….also the first of the paper’s “spot the fool competitions”

I came across a comment somewhere online comparing the UK parliament to a bunch of seven year olds. I immediately reported this comment to the moderators, as its grossly unfair…..to seven year olds!

This week the government suffered one of the worst defeats in UK history as May’s brexit deal was put to the house. Inevitably many pro-remain MP’s voted against this, no surprise there. But so also did many of the brexiteers! Like the Frankenstein monster, the brexiteers created this monstrosity and now having glimpsed their creation, they’ve recoiled in horror and disowned it. But yet, still it lives and it stalks the realm.

The funny thing is that most of those who voted in favour of May’s deal were the releaver block within the Tory party. These being MP’s who backed remain, but accepted the result of the referendum (flawed as it was). As one pointed out during the debate, he didn’t like May’s deal, but he (and his constituents) just wanted the government to get it over and done with, as they are all sick of hearing about brexit.

Well the bad news is, if your sick of hearing the phrase “brexit” buckle up, because your going to be hearing about it for at least a decade to come. As Sir Iain Rogers has pointed out, brexit is a process, not a destination. It will take ten years for the UK to completely untangle itself from Europe and sign new trade deals with the rest of the world (longer still in a no deal scenario). If you are sick of brexit, then nothing short of its cancellation will wipe it from the agenda.

So the question is, what next? Because having a few meetings (As May is currently doing) isn’t a plan B.

Well lets cross off the first option, May cannot keep putting her deal to parliament over and over again until they accept it. Parliamentary procedure states that you can only put forward a bill once in any particular parliamentary session. So in the absence of significant changes, or another election/referendum, it cannot be brought back to the house. Some clever use of legal language could allow one more go, but even that’s risky and she’d want to be certain it would work. Which means she needs to get the brexiteers to back it first.

But the brexiteers in her own party can’t back her deal. Why? Because, having sold the country on free unicorns and a land of milk and honey, backing her deal would end their political careers. Every election from now on, inevitably those empty promises would be brought up. They want it to go through for sure (ignore all the bravado about no deal brexit), but they also want to be able to create their own Dolchstoßlegende myth and blame the negative consequences on brexit on someone else (adamant that had THEY been in charge, oh it would have worked out soooo much better).

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A group of culture jammers called “led by donkeys” have been putting up bill boards showing past Tory promises on brexit.

So, what about the one true saviour Corbyn? He’s in a huff because May initially excluded him from any talks on a way forward (and visa versa). Well for once I agree with her. In fact, might I suggest a compromise. How about we take a potted plant from his allotment and put it in May’s office instead. Because it would make about as useful a contribution as he can.

Corbyn, even thought he’s also a brexiteer, has to oppose her deal (even though its actually quite close to kind of brexit he wants) for several reasons. Firstly, not invented here syndrome. He can’t be seen to back a deal proposed by a Tory PM. And openly supporting brexit is risky, given how strong opposition to it is in his party and how badly its going to impact his largely young and less than wealthy support base (while Tory brexiteers represent wealthier, older and often retired voters whose gold plated pensions will protect them from its worst effects). Supporting May’s deal amounts to Corbyn admitting the UK is worse off out than in and he just can’t do that.

And to be fair, supporting May is a risky game. This is the Tories we are talking about. If labour back May’s deal, the Tory narrative going into the next election will be, oh brexit was a disaster yes, but we all voted against May’s deal, while Corbyn and labour supported it….so you should vote Tory. Sounds stupid I know, but I guarantee you, that’s their plan. The problem for labour is that Corbyn is such a divisive figure, you don’t have to give voters a huge amount of reasons to vote against him.

Take the no confidence vote, I mean seriously, does anyone in the commons really have confidence in May? Hell I doubt she has confidence in herself (how about we repeat it but with a lie detector, doubt you’d get a single vote in her favour). You’d expect at least a few of her party to be suitably fuming to back the motion. But no, to a person, they all voted with their PM. If there’s one thing that unites the Tory party, its stopping Corbyn becoming PM. And while they might not have confidence in May, they have less confidence in Corbyn.

On which point, consider his objection to dealing with May. He wants her to take no deal off the table. Well she can’t. Why? Well as laid out in bills, which passed in no small part thanks to Corbyn, no deal is now the default option unless parliament can agree an alternative (he was warned of this at the time by remainers in his party, he ignored them). She can give personal reassurances yes (which she’s already done, question is would anyone believe her!), but she can’t legally guarantee anything. Its like one of my students refusing to turn up to class because I won’t guarantee they’ll pass. In short, Corbyn, with two months to go, hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing (even less so than May). Even the lib dems seem to have given up on him, making it clear they’ll not support any further no confidence motions.

Doesn’t the failure of Corbyn’s no confidence motion mean he’ll now back a people vote, much like he promised at conference? LOL! These momentum types crack me up! I’ve watched with some bemusement over the last few weeks labour supporters going into meltdown, whinging why oh why is Corbyn ignoring our views and going back on what was agreed at conference…..because he’s Jeremy f*’king Corbyn (you did at least google his name before joining?). The only way he’s backing a 2nd referendum is if wild horses drag him there. And of course May ain’t going to support one either (that would require her having a spine and making a decision and they’d don’t call her the yellow submarine for nothing!). So some brave MP’s are going to have to grow a pair, defy the party whips and propose it.

And realistically the only obvious way to break the deadlock IS another referendum. This would give the brexiteers cover to back May’s deal, while also silencing the remainers (if they lose of course). Why would it have to be remain v’s May’s deal? Why not no deal v’s May’s deal? Well firstly, because no deal is a fantasy which would violate international law. Secondly, you’d need to get it through parliament and nothing with no deal on it is going to get passed. And thirdly, you’d have to extend article 50 and the EU won’t agree to anything that involves an option they oppose. They’d rather the UK just crash out.

So in theory, if you are a leave supporter you should now back a 2nd referendum. Not least because there is a rapidly closing wind of opportunity for one to go ahead. After that, it becomes a choice between no deal and no brexit. And no brexit is likely to win in that scenario. Once you exclude the crazies, those who’ll vote against anything, no matter how sensible regardless of the consequences, the commons is split between remainers and the aforementioned releavers.

The releavers want brexit to go ahead, but not at any cost. Many represent districts which will suffer immediate negative consequences from a hard brexit. Kent will become a lorry park, hospitals and shops in Scotland and the North of England will run out of supplies, factories in the Midlands will shut. The releaver block will support some form of sensible brexit for now. But the closer we get to the end of march, the more tempting it will be to just cancel brexit altogether. And you can be all but guaranteed some remain MP will put that forward closer to the day. And in fairness to the releaver MP’s, should it come to pass, they’ll have a point. They didn’t want to leave the EU in the first place, but respected the decision all the same. They tried to push it through, but the bexiteers choose to sabotage their own project.

So again, brexiteers need to choose, its May’s deal or remain….or hand it over to the people to decide in a referendum (which polls suggest would likely mean remain). You have to choose one of these options, or the decision will be made for you.

Brexit means hypocrisy overload

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I’ve mentioned before the phenomenon of right wing flip flop syndrome, but brexit just takes the biscuit. Its hypocrisy overload.

So let me get this straight. Theresa May wants the public to back her brexit deal (she’s writing a begging letter to us all apparently…I’ll be returning it to sender, as I’m just a filthy queue jumper anyway). But she’s still not going to give us a vote on her deal. The brexiters now admit that the UK will be better off in the EU, than accept the brexit deal that May negotiated. They campaigned for this on the slogan “take control” and now worry post-brexit the UK will be a vassal state. But we should trust them none the less that a leap off a cliff into the dark would be so much better.

Meanwhile the DUP, who also campaigned for brexit, want the laws in NI to closely match those in Britain as possible, even if it puts NI economy at a massive disadvantage by doing so. But they don’t want any of the civil rights or anti-discrimination laws (which would ban them and the Orange order) or legalised abortion in NI. They also want the billion or so in structural funds from the EU to continue to flow into NI, with the rest of the UK making up the difference after brexit.

Corbyn wants to respect the original decision of the referendum two years ago (during which he campaigned for remain, LOL, from the confines of his garden shed for three months!), despite opinion polls showing a shift in public opinion against brexit. But he’s going to ignore the decision of voters last year (to back May over him), push for an early election, and presumably make them vote over and over again until he wins.

He argues also that a second vote would be a bad idea because it would be disenfranchising to brexit voters. Ignoring the fact that the brexit vote along with all lies and allegations of vote rigging and Facebook data mining has left many feeling hugely disenfranchised about politics (I know people who literally haven’t listened to a news bulletin since the referendum result).

The reality is that brexit is being cynically exploited by many, not because they “respect the decision” of voters , but to further their own selfish goals. May wants the deal to go ahead, not because she thinks its a good idea, but because if it doesn’t she’s out of office. The brexiters (Boris, Mogg, et al) want brexit to go ahead, because that increases their chances of becoming PM. They just can’t be seen to vote for May’s deal, otherwise they’ll have the lies they told in the referendum spat in their faces next election. Equally they have to pander to the bigot brigade in their own party (who can’t understand why we haven’t turn the channel tunnel into a giant gun to shoot at France). So they both want someone else to do their dirty work for them….

….Which is where Corbyn comes in. He’ll claim he’s trying to outmanoeuvre the Tories and get into power. But he couldn’t outmanoeuvre a snail. He say’s he’ll get an early election. I’ll assume he’s not familiar with the terms of the fixed term parliament act then (no doubt he was attending a teach-in or a sit-in protest or maybe putting flowers on a terrorists grave the day it got voted in). The only way he’s getting that is if turkey’s vote for Christmas (literally!). He can’t get Brussels to extend the article 50 deadline either (all 27 EU countries would have to agree and there’s enough populist jokers in the pack, you just know one will say no).

In reality Corbyn’s only real alternatives are a 2nd referendum or possibly to cancel brexit altogether (legal advice on that is due out this week sometime). Or go along with May’s deal. Of course the Tories, are aware that Corbyn is a brexiter, who chose to support brexit over becoming PM at the last election (by refusing to do an election deal with pro-EU parties). So they reason that he’ll blink first, support May’s deal and they can then blame him for all the chaos that follows (and if he doesn’t and there’s a no deal brexit, the same applies again).

The DUP are basically Trump’s republican party, but with more bible bashing and more cronyism and corruption. They just want the gravy train to continue and someone to keep sending money their way so they can putter in their cesspool.

So this is what brexit means, politics at its very worst.

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.

While I was away….

Just back from Holiday, thought I’d catch up on a few stories that came up while I was on my travels….

When in Rome do as the Romans do….stay away from burning buses

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The 5 Star movement remain committed to good public transport….with heating!

One of my stops on holiday, was Rome, where they’ve a bit of a wee problem with buses that keep catching fire. The locals blame the new Five Star mayor and cutbacks on maintenance, which is merely one of a host of scandals she’s gotten caught up in. Which given that 5S are now part of the government in Italy, is hardly a good sign.

While there was a few things in the joint NL/5S manifesto I agreed with, e.g. ending austerity, a national citizens income, better public transport (you might want to focus on stopping buses catching fire first!). But they also promised to lower taxes at the same time as greatly increasing public spending. This in a country whose in debt to the tune of 130% of its GDP.

Now while its true there’s nothing wrong with a country borrowing money, particularly in a time of crisis, Keynes never said that gives governments a blank cheque to spend like a sailor on shore leave and ignore any form of financial responsibility. Clearly, at the very least they’d have to demonstrate some plan for paying off this debt (otherwise nobody would lend them money to spend in the first place). This could include putting up taxes for the wealthy, or increasing the tax on things like alcohol and cigarettes (which are both very cheap, I mean I was buying Belgian ales for less than they cost in Belgium!), or starting to introduce carbon taxes (which would eventually replace things like VAT altogether). Cuts could also be made in areas that are cutable, e.g. in terms of defence spending.

But there in lie the problem with a populist government, they can’t do anything unpopular, even if its in the long term best interest of the country. Indeed, the NL part of the government wants to hire more police and build prisons for the hundreds of thousands of migrants they are going to deport. Of course, it would be unwise to undertake such deportations (and unlikely they are going to succeed). Many of the countries in question may not take them back and others would not be a safe place to send them. There is a legal precedence going back to the holocaust, whereby those responsible for deportations to Germany (in the full knowledge that they were potentially sending people to their death) which would come into play, meaning members of this populist government could find themselves facing a war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

And their solution to their debt problems is to demand that the EU simply writes off a large chunk of Italian debt. The EU’s unlikely to do that because A) that would set a precedence, which could lead to both Italy and the entire eurozone’s debt being downgraded. And B) as Italy would now be considered to be in a state of default, banks would be a lot less likely to lend to Italy. So rather than freeing Italy from under the thumb of the ECB, they’ve be more dependant than ever on ECB money to keep the country solvent. Yes, the EU must take some share of the blame for Italy’s predicament, but Italy is mostly in mess of its own creation (something which no populist party could ever admit, hence why they have to blame the EU and migrants for 100% of Italy’s problems).

Print money? That’s really only a temporary solution and the window of opportunity during which that could help has arguably passed. Also such measures would drive up inflation, diluting the value of people’s savings and push up prices. Indeed inflation (or more accurately stagflation) is a big problem in Italy right now. One could argue a number of the policies announced are in fact more anti-stagflation measures than anti-austerity measures. But introducing policies to counteract inflation, which will just cause more of it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or in Italy’s case (given that the ECB would never allow this either), its robbing Peter in the full knowledge that he’ll catch you at it and then beat you and Paul up later with a baseball bat.

Oh and 5S and NL also want to drop sanctions on Russia. And this in the same week the Dutch reveal how they have direct evidence linking the Russians to the downing of MH17. You have to love Italian corruption. In America Trump has to at least pretend he’s not Putin’s ally. But in Italy, they don’t even bother hiding that. He helped us get elected, so we’ll be sharing the cake with him, what’s wrong with that?

At least they’ve backed down from their more extreme policies of withdrawing from the Euro and the EU. The NL in fact actually wants a referendum for Northern Italy to separate from Southern Italy. But as is so often the case, when confronted with reality, such headline grabbing (but utterly ludicrous) plans have had to be dropped (like the £350 million a week for the NHS we were promised in the UK).

That said, it is alleged that the reason why the Italian president rejected their pick for finance minister was that he heard that they were planning for a secret withdrawal from the EU over a weekend (think about that for a minute, the UK’s going to take several years to get out of the EU and this lot thought they can do something similar over a weekend!). In the wake of this the populists called for him to be impeached and replaced by the Prime Minster (which would be unconstitutional, this is kind of the whole reason why they are separate jobs). In short, it seems like they haven’t much of a clue what they are doing or how government is supposed to work.

The populists have also asked the EU with coming up with the means for a country to withdraw from the euro at some future date, if they were to have such a referendum. Well the bad news is, I suspect some eurocrat IS probably working on just such a plan as we speak. But its not how Italy can voluntarily leave the euro, its how the EU can kick Italy out of the euro if they break its rules, while minimising the damage the rest of the eurozone takes from the inevitable Italian bankruptcy that follows.

I think we can get some feel for how things will pan out based on one of the earlier sticking points the NL stuck with, they wanted Silvio Berlusconi to be part of the new government. Why in blue blazes would they want that? Well because they know full well they’ve made promises neither they, nor 5S can keep.

What Italy will get is just a less competent (as well as corrupt and more authoritarian) version of the previous government. Just one that picks random fights with the EU, which they will generally lose. There fear is, that Mr Bunga Bunga (whose probably more to blame than anyone else for Italy’s current woes) will exploit that and next thing you know, a year from now, he and Trump will be trading anecdotes about their criminal exploits at Mar-a-largo.

Barcelona tourism protests

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Across the sea in Barcelona, there’s been anti-tourist protests recently. Now yes tourists can be annoying (in London during the summer you’re tripping over them, Edinburgh during the Fringe you can barely walk down the street and I reckon the use of rocket launchers against campervans on highland roads should be legal, when they trundle along at 30 mph with fifty cars behind them). But statistically, Barcelona isn’t even in the top ten of tourist destinations in the world (and having been there, the numbers aren’t anything near as bad as you’d find in say Florence or Rome).

However, a Spanish tour operator did mention to me that there’s been a big upsurge in tourism in Spain over the last few years, due to issues across the Mediterranean making such destinations seem unsafe. And as noted, Italy is starting to get very expensive (and politically unstable), so that’s driving more tourists towards the Iberian peninsula.

So to the locals the sudden surge in numbers is probably something they’d notice. And there’s a few particular features of tourism in Barcelona that I can see would likely wind up the locals. Firstly, there’s been a proliferation of Airbnb’s, with long term tenants being thrown out of their flats so it can be rented out to tourists (for the record, I stayed in one of the older pension hostals).

Also there’s lots of large tour groups running around, who seem to follow a set formula of places to visit. So if you’re in say, the Boqueria at the wrong time, you’re barely able to move for the numbers. And this has also had the effect of pushing up prices (the days of cheap eats in the Boqueria are long gone). And part of what’s driving these massive hordes are cruise ships, which have been docking in Barcelona in ever increasing numbers.

Indeed, my bit of tourist advice for Barcelona (or other cities like Rome with similar or even worse overcrowding) is remember that said tour groups tend to mostly consist of old retired couples. So with that in mind go to the places they won’t go (anything with lots of steps, loud noises, young people or this thing called “rock and roll”). And similarly if going to the places that are likely to be busy, such as the aforementioned Boqueria, go either early in the morning (when the oldies are still putting in their false teeth) or later in the evening (or around lunchtime when they’re having their nap) and you’ll avoid the crowds. But suffice to say though, you can see how all of this would piss locals off a bit. But equally, its a little more complicated than the simple populist “too many tourists”.

Now the thing is all of these problems are within the capacity of the local Catalan government to solve (keep in mind Barcelona voted in favour of independence by a margin of 92%). As I discussed in a prior article, most likely most of these airbnb hosts are breaking the law (notably local fire codes), so even without any new legislation a crack down on them is possible. Tourist guides can be regulated. And those regulations could stipulate terms that mean they stay away from certain parts of the city at certain times or on certain days giving the locals a bit of breathing space. Limiting the number of cruise ships or imposing a 72 hour rule on them (once in the harbour they can’t leave again for 72 hrs) would also relieve pressure somewhat.

Should you be wondering why the Catalan government isn’t doing any of this…..you’ve not be watching the news have you? They’ve got their eyes on the bigger prize of independence. And for that independence to succeed tourism will be a vital industry, as it will serve as a key source of foreign currency (meaning they can raise the cash to buy things like oil or other stuff the rest of Spain will be refusing to sell them). So at present the Catalan government doesn’t want to reduce tourist numbers, if anything they want numbers to keep going up. Not that they’re going to point that out to the angry populists in their own party of course!

But at least it shows that left wing populists can be as prone to blaming foreigners for their problems, as much as the right wing ones.

The downfall of Rojay

And speaking of Catalonia, we’ve just seen the downfall of Spanish PM Rajoy. If Catalonia ever gets independence, it will largely be thanks to his reign of error. When he took office, support for full independence was hovering around about 25-30%, although there was widespread support for greater regional autonomy. Now support for independence is closer to 40-50%. A combination of his austerity measures and his stubborn refusal to even consider alternatives has effectively convinced a large portion of Catalan’s that they can’t get anywhere with the likes of him in charge in Madrid.

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Already, in complete contrast to Rajoy, his successor is talking about reconciliation and negotiating with the Catalan’s. However, I suspect the damage has already been done. The brutal crack down against the vote earlier this year has hardened opinions and nothing short of a legally sanctioned in/out referendum will suffice.

I bring this up because some in the UK have suggested that Westminster should copy Rajoy’s tactics when it comes to seeing off future moves for independence from the SNP. I would argue that would be an excellent idea….if the Tories WANT to guarantee Scottish independence.

As things stand, support for independence is hovering around the 45-50% mark. Given the fallout from brexit and the blow back the Tories will catch for that in a few years time, such tactics will all but guarantee the SNP will win any vote (official or unofficial) by a landslide. And while Rajoy could just ignore the Catalan’s, Scotland can’t be so easily dismissed (given that Scotland controls the majority of the UK’s energy supplies!).

In short, the Tories had best get used to conceding ground to Brussels, because the only way their going to hang onto Scotland and Wales is by conceding more power to Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Magic money trees

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You may recall how Corbyn talked about nationalising the UK’s railways and the Tories laughed and said, oh we can’t do that, its too expensive, there’s no magic money trees……Only low and behold, the Tories have just nationalised the east coast mainline and bailed out their chum Richard Branson (who you will recall tried to rub Corbyn’s face in it last year, over that skit where he sat on the floor).

And this is hardly the first time. Hinkley C, Heathrow, BHS and Carillon, to name a few, have all had a bailout. And let’s not even begin to mention the costs associated with brexit. Recall, the tens of billions paid to the EU is just the start. The UK will also now need to set up whole new government departments to basically do the stuff the EU previously did for us. And there’s all the promises they made, farm subsides to be paid and the tax revenue hole left by leaving EU citizens.

So it would appear that whenever the Tories need it, not only is there a magic money tree, but there’s a whole forest of them.

Border woes

On my travels I also passed through the wee seaside town of Ventimiglia. One unusual feature of this town is that it has three railway stations, of which only part of one is still in service (the rest are either demolished or slowly being taken over by weeds). And the disused sections are absolutely massive, consisting of marshalling yards with dozens of lines of parallel track.

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You may wonder why a town with a population of just 50,000 ever needed such massive railway infrastructure. A little geography will probably help. The town sits right on the Italian/French border and is the last stop before entering France. So obviously, back in the days before the single market, every train that crossed the border needed to stop here for a customs inspection. It kind of hammers home the issues the UK will face post brexit.

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The Tories are still stuck with their delusions that they can magically solve the issue of the Irish border with technology (and presumably more magic money trees). Well the experts don’t just say no, they say “are you mad or what!”. Every month 385,000 goods vehicles and 1.85 million cars cross the border. That’s an average of 75,000 vehicles a day that would need to be checked (and potentially double that number or more at peak times). And there are potentially hundreds of border crossings where you’d need to have inspectors or infrastructure in place.

I think the problem is that many brexiters still have this vision of Ireland as a nation of farmers who ride around with a donkey and cart. They don’t seem to realise that as a factor of GDP manufacturing represents a greater share of the Irish economy (about 40%) than it does the UK (about a quarter). And we’re talking several high tech industries here, everything from aircraft parts, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, to microchips and software. And yes, this does involve parts being sent north of the border, then onto the rest of the UK or Europe.

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In Ireland these days, we make more than just shamrock and stout!

And speaking of farmers, agricultural produce does represent a significant portion of our exports to the UK. And it is agricultural products that will likely see the largest shift in tariff’s and prices post-brexit (by as much as 50% accounting for currency exchange and differences in tariff’s) and the largest drift in regulation if the UK caves in to some of the demands its likely to face from trading partners such as the US (meaning certain UK food products would be banned from sale in the EU or visa versa). So there’s going to be a very strong financial incentive for smugglers to start shifting such goods.

Already there are smuggler gangs, moving narcotics (Ireland’s rugged coastline makes it a transshipment point for drugs), alcohol, tobacco and fuel. Many of these gangs have links to either loyalist or republican paramilitaries. So even if this “electronic” border did work, they’d take steps to thwart it. Such as taking pot shots at drones, blowing up cameras, or sending guys in balaclavas around to threaten the families of the technicians who program the surveillance software. And these groups also have politician connections to the DUP or SF (much as how the RHI scheme in NI ended up mired in corruption, so too is likely to be any electronic border).

But this is the problem with brexit. Its an idea dreamt up by posh public school boys who live in some ivory tower and are ignorant of what happens in the real world.

Changing tastes

Interesting article here about the likely impact of brexit on the full English breakfast. Let’s put it this way, about the only two ingredients that will be unaffected are the bread and the eggs. Well at least we’ll be able to make French toast then!

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The full English Irish Breakfast

The height of hypocrisy

And speaking of brexit, Nigel Lawson, a leading brexiter, is now apparently trying to get residency in France. And he’s in good company, Nigel Farage’s kids both have gotten German citzenship (and its been claimed he’s applying as well) and several unionist have applied for Irish citizenship.

Do right wingers have no shame, no sense of irony and do they understand the meaning of the word hypocrisy? Or are they just a bunch of idiotic self centred jerks? They see nothing wrong with campaigning for something that will drag tens of millions of brit’s out of the EU, then think nothing of applying for EU citizenship themselves. After all how am I supposed to get to my yacht on the Cote d’Azur! Hell, who wants to live in England anyway, why they eat French toast for breakfast since brexit.

What happens in Donegal, stays in Donegal

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Ireland recently had a referendum on abortion, which resulted in a resounding vote in favour of overturning the ban…..Well everywhere except in Donegal. That said, Donegal is kind of the land that time forgot. Its the sort of rural backwater where you’d be almost tempted to greet the locals by saying “how”. Its the sort place you fear that using a mobile phone might result in the locals burning you at the stake for witchcraft. So no real surprise really that they bucked the trend.

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This creates some awkward problems for Theresa May. Her DUP allies have, like their cohorts in the south, relied on the hypocrisy that they can pretend to be anti-abortion, even thought it just means anyone looking to get an abortion merely has to get a Ryanair flight to the UK. In a year’s time however, they’ll merely have to drive across the border, which will make something of a mockery of this policy.

The result was also was a major blow to the religious right in Ireland and their north American allies. One (catholic) priest even suggested that anyone who voted yes, should be bared from confession and basically excommunicated (which means 66% of the country!) until they do penance. Here’s an idea, how about as penance yes voters have to join the DUP or the orange order (given that they’re the only two groups in the country still in favour of an abortion ban).

Montecassino

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The abbey dominates the local landscape

Another spot on my travels was the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. A bit off the beaten track, but well worth the visit. It is steeped in history (back to Roman times, as well as the founding of the Benedictine order and monastic orders in general). But its also famous for being the site of the battle of Monte Cassino in World War II.

To say this was controversial was to put it mildly. The Americans bombed the Abbey (effectively committing a war crime) to the point where it became the most bombed building in Europe. What was more tragic was that it was entirely unnecessary. While there were Germans in the hills surrounding the abbey, there were none within the abbey itself….well not until after the Americans bombed the place. After this the Germans argued, perhaps not unreasonably, that the allies had just made it part of the battlefield and they promptly occupied the ruins. The large Polish cemetery just below the abbey testifies to the consequences of this error.

And the Polish cemetery also hints at how the British have a warped view of history. Read a British textbook on the battle and they’ll go on and on at great length about how this commonwealth unit or that took part in the battle. They scarcely mention that it was Polish who had to come in and dig the British and the Yanks out of a mess of their own making and ultimately take the abbey. And then they’ve got the nerve to come over to the UK and get jobs, pay taxes and help to fund the NHS!

Trump’s Korean flip flop

A major story that broke while I was away was that of Trump pulling out of the Singapore summit, apparently because the North Korean media said mean things about his vice president (somebody call the wambulance). Of course the real reason he pulled out can be summarised in two words – John Bolton. He no doubt convinced Trump that he should have his little war with the North Koreans as a way of saving himself from impeachment.

Unfortunately, what Trump, or Bolton, didn’t seem to get is that there are other players involved here. The South Koreans, while they want to keep up the pressure on the north, they also don’t want to see a war start (as they’ll be on the receiving end of any retaliation). So they will keep the talks going if they can. Which, probably explains why Trump’s just flip flopped now. An egomaniac like him couldn’t bear the situation, where they carried out without him, even thought he’ll really just be meat in the room.

The other factor is China. They are often described as a North Korean ally. As I’ve discussed before, that’s not entirely true. But certainly they ain’t going to sit ideally by and let North Korea, get attacked by Trump because of some mean tweets (and anyone who knows anything about North Korea would realise those comments were merely for the purposes of domestic consumption). The danger is that they will use economic pressure against the US, or potentially interfere in any war.

So all in all, its a very worrying development. At the very least it means the US will increasingly see itself sidelined, much as Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal just means the US will have no say in how that deal progresses in future.

Eurovision boycott?

Also while I was away, Israel won the Eurovision song contest. This raises a worrying problem, as it was announced they will host the contest next year in Jerusalem.

What’s wrong with that? Well, it would be seen as legitimising their claim of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There is no way the Palestinians, nor the rest of the Arab world will ever accept that. They might be willing to accept a divided Jerusalem with one half the capital of Israel and the other half the capital of Palestine (or an international city which is capital of both), but a Jerusalem that is exclusively the Israeli capital is just not an option they’ll ever accept. Which basically means that the current conflict will go on forever…..or at least until someone gets there hands on a nuke or something. That effectively is what Trump endorsed when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump did this to placate the religious right in his country. They are some of the biggest supporters of Israeli expansion of its settlements on the west bank. Not because they necessarily like Jews, actually its because they’re hoping that this war forever between Israel and the Arab world will bring about the end times….during which most of the Jews will be killed or converted.

So to me its quite clear that there should be a boycott of the next eurovision, if its held in Jerusalem.

Trump syndrome in action

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And speaking of crazy Trump supporters, while I was away we saw the melt down of Roseanne Barr. And Kanye West, suggested that slavery was a choice. Well, at least we won’t be hearing much from either of them for a while. Indeed, this seems to be something of a trend for Trump supporters. Apparently many of those who quit the Trump white house are having trouble finding jobs afterwards. Supporting Trump is literally hazardous to ones career. On the other hand, both have done us all a service, by demonstrating the cult like behaviour of Trump supporters.

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There is a distinct difference between a cult and say a religion or a political party. For example, a catholic bishop doesn’t have to agree verbatim with everything the Pope says (many won’t be happy about his recent comments about gays). Similarly in most political parties its okay to criticise the leadership (up to a point of course). And they can praise the opposition when they do something positive.

With a cult however there are only two things you can say, praise for the leader and the vilification of his opponents (which will be anyone who has criticised him in the past). The leader is considered infallible and his enemies are evil and anything they say (such as the Russia investigation) is clearly lies and fake news. Unlike other political leaders at no point will you hear any of Trump’s supporters criticise him, even when he’s clearly done something wrong. Even things that sound like criticism are often phrased such as “the leader should do XYZ”.

And the trouble with getting involved with cults, is the difficulty in leaving. You want to leave the labour party, all you’ve got to do is cut your membership card in two. But once people are in the Trump cult, its not easy to leave, given that they’ve burnt all their bridges behind them (I can’t see Roseanne going back to the green party). Hence the hostility and lack of rational reasoning you’ll see from them.

Of course what this means is that anyone waiting for the penny to drop for Trump supporters, think again. If he makes it to the next election, regardless of how badly he screws up, he’ll still take in at least 40% of the vote at a minimum.

Gun hire schemes

A bunch of practical jokers thought to set up a mock “gun hire” scheme at subway entrances recently, as a way of mocking the NRA. A dangerous thing to do, because this lot have no sense of humour and don’t understand the concept of irony. The danger is they’ll decide this is a good idea and actually do it for real.

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Consider how a few weeks ago I joked how the Outing club should start carrying guns around campus, to get around some SAPS in administration who wanted to shut them down on Elf’n’Safety grounds. Well in another incident a Trump supporter recently showed up to her graduation with an assault rifle and “come and take it” written across her mortar board. Ya and if she’d been black she’d have probably been shot by the police before she got two blocks.

But like I said, your trying to reason with people who are not reasonable people.

Setting the range for hybrid cars

The current transport secretary Chris Grayling is known as a bit for being pro-car and not a huge fan of green energy, so you have to view everything coming out of his department with a level of suspicion. For example, they’ve recently announced that the UK reg’s will specify a minimum all electric range that hybrid vehicles must be able to achieve.

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On the one hand this sounds like a good idea. As things stand a car with a larger than normal car battery and starter motor can be classified as a hybrid, when in truth its really just a conventional petrol powered car. However, that said, the range that his department is talking about is in the order of 50 miles, which even well established hybrids such as the Prius can’t achieve.

Its important to realise that the range of vehicles do vary for good reasons. The all-electric range of a hybrid involves a level of compromise. Putting a heavier battery into a hybrid will deplete its fuel economy, which may well negate the benefits of hybridisation. And its worth noting that the bulk of car journey’s in the UK are less than 20 miles.

Of course with the UK pulling out of the EU, it hardly matters what the UK says on this matter. Inevitably the EU will decide what it thinks a suitable hybrid range should be and car manufacturers will build according to that specification. They’ll then simply sell either all electric or petrol only models in the UK, if they aren’t compatible with this new law. So all Chris Grayling is doing is restricting the car choices of future UK drivers. And the fear is that might be exactly what he’s aiming for, so he and his Tory pals can keep driving around London in their range rovers.

Noise machines

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And speaking of the EU, they have also announced legislation requiring future electric vehicles to have noise generators fitted to them. I would question the need for this. While yes, its eerie having electric cars creeping quietly up on you, but its something you get used to when you are in a city with lots of electric vehicles (such as Oslo or some Chinese cities). Maybe its just because I had the green cross code drilled into me as a kid that I instinctively look both ways when crossing the road, so its not really an issue for me.

One of the main benefits of electric cars is that they cut down on traffic noise, leading to quieter cities. This policy could negate this benefit. Now if people were being regularly cut down by electric vehicles, I’d agree we have to do something, but I see no evidence that this is a problem. And some experts have also questioned whether such noise generators actually work in the real world. So I worry that this policy is simply being imposed as a sop to those who are suspicious of electric cars, in the same way the first petrol powered cars had to have a guy walk in front of them with a red flag.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the stolen elections of 2016

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A story has been on the brew for sometime now about the extend to which big data and the use of what the intelligence agencies call “Psyop’s” played in both the EU referendum and the American presidential election. It has been alleged, something that seems to have crept under the radar of the mainstream media until now, that a company called Cambridge Analytica used various psyop’s techniques to profile voters and target them with customised adds in order to sway them into voting one way or the other.

The law/regulatory agencies are such a joke the reality is that anybody who wanted to cheat the law could do it easily without people realising.” Dominic Cummings, head of the vote leave campaign

So for example, if a trawl of a persons Facebook profile led them to believe he was a bit neurotic, they’d bombard him with fake news about hordes of migrants flooding the country. If you were one of the Bernie or bust brigade, they’d hit you with lots of anti-Hilary stuff hoping that while they probably couldn’t get you to vote Trump, they’d at least trigger you into vote for a third party (which in certain swing states would be as good as voting for Trump). These rumours were by and large either denied by the alt-right or they shrugged their shoulders and said so what.

Well a whistleblower has now come forward and firstly confirmed the veracity of these claims (and there are several others less prominently placed in the firm who back up his story). He’s also disclosed the full scale of this campaign of disinformation. While many assumed that only tens of thousand of profiles were affected (from which a larger data pool was extrapolated) actually its been revealed that some 50 million facebook user’s data was harvested. We are talking about using military grade psyops on an industrial scale to manipulate an electorate using lies and misinformation to change the outcome of an election. If that doesn’t count as electoral fraud, I don’t know what does.

It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.” Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower

And I am not throwing around that word “fraud” idly. Under election rules in both the US and UK it is illegal to accept foreign donations and illegal to allow foreigners to interfere in an election. Cambridge Analytica is part of a shadowy web of firms connected to American hedge funds, the alt-right and Putin’s Russia.

“deep digging….Oh, we do a lot more than that.” Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica

Now unsurprisingly CA have denied any involvement in the leave campaign and tried to distance themselves from the Trump campaign. However, this is a difficult pill to swallow. As the BBC pointed out, a representative of CA was at the leave campaign launch. And there is clear evidence of money being paid to them and their associates.

And given that Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager, was on the board of CA for sometime, its a little difficult for them to deny involvement. And since winning office, CA have been given several lucrative contracts for the US military and justice department by the Trump White house, which sounds suspiciously like “hush money” being paid out. So we are talking corruption of the highest order, which makes the current allegations against Trump seem fairly mild.

Its no good fighting election on the facts….two fundamental drivers are hopes & fears and many of those are unspoken and unconscious” Mark Turnbull, Cambridge Analytica Manager

And more recently, CA senior officials have been caught on tape by Channel 4 news offering to arrange for the smearing of a politician for cash, suggesting they were doing way more than simply running a few numbers or distributing campaign adds. And the tactics they discussed are eerily similar to a number of those used by Putin against his opponents. An important point, as I find it a bit too much of a coincidence that Putin was running his own fake news/Psyops campaign independent of the one his allies in the leave and Trump camp were running via CA. Given the links identified between these groups one can only assume that they both co-ordinated their efforts. CA told them who to target, Putin’s troll farms made up the fake news and hacked the DNC, giving Trump and the leave campaign plausible deniability.

And in the last few hours, Channel 4 have released another tape in which CA executives confirm that yes they did work on Trump campaign (illegally!). Indeed they were even the source of all the “crooked Hilary” stuff, and that they used “proxy” organisations to help spread their messages around.

Yes, its probable that a British based company, funded by a shadowy group of right wing billionaires, conspired with a foreign government to run a psyops operation against millions of American and UK voters in an effort to rig elections. If the Illuminati of Dan Brown fame are real, then they’re a bunch of amateurs…..in fact it is kind of odd, this story has been brewing for months and yet ace conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hasn’t mentioned it….so it must be true then, he only deals with ones that are fake!

Needless to say this scandal has profound implications. Firstly, given the closeness of both the US election (recall Trump won because of just 40,000 votes in 3 US states) and the brexit vote there is no way either could even remotely be considered legal and legitimate. One also has to question the legitimacy of many other recent elections, for example the recent vote in Italy. Those who say, okay one lot cheated, but you still have to accept the result. Well okay and if I guess your pin number and empty your bank account, will you just accept that result? Fraud is fraud.

As I’ve pointed out in a prior post, the problem in many parts of the world is that elections are seldom free or fair. And recall that CA, and other firms like it, honed their skills in electoral fraud in developing world nations such as Kenya, Russia or Trinidad and Tobago (too name a few).

Aside from the obvious consequence that one cannot trust in the outcome of these elections, it also means such regimes are illegitimate and beholden to the whims of their special interests. Its been suggested that Putin is less the puppet master and more a puppet of the Oligarchs who prop him up. He’d probably retire tomorrow and live the life of Reilly if he could. But that’s not going to be allowed to happen. As the recent deposing of Mugabe showed, once the elites decide to overthrow such a leader, they can do so very easily. They simply charge him with vote rigging and fraud, which is kind of like accusing a duck of quacking, he’s swiftly found guilty (after a detailed investigation….which takes all of ten seconds to conduct) and frogmarched out of the presidential palace to be replaced by another puppet.

And this is now the reality in both the UK and US. Trump we all know is guilty as hell of numerous acts that would warrant impeachment. He can be removed from office tomorrow, if the GOP ever decide to do so. Similarly Theresa May is only in her job because they want someone to take all the flack for brexit, then they’ll have the real leadership contest. If she actually tried to stay on or act like a PM, she’d be on her ass outside downing street so fast her head would spin.

The corruption, chaotic and dysfunctional nature of government which often holds back developing nations also has its roots in the illegitimate nature of their elections. With the big wigs fighting their games of thrones for a slice of the pie, lowly civil servants are left to fend for themselves. With no clear direction in terms of long term policy and no money, inevitably they outsource such decisions to the highest bidder.

And the chaos in the white house and the paralysis in the UK parliament (May has now essentially lost her majority when it comes to brexit, so they are wasting their time debating fortnightly bin collections, rather that the EU withdrawal bills) means both are starting to mirror a developing world government.

And equally such regimes are vulnerable to overthrow in a military coup. In theory if the joint chief’s decided tomorrow that Trump needs to be removed from power, they’ve now got more than the right to declare him a usurper who won the election by fraud, drive their tanks up Pennsylvania avenue and arrest him and most of his supporters. If you’ve ever wondered why some impoverished African nation with barely two pennies to rub together spends twice what it does on hospitals and social welfare on its army, its because they know that they have to pay off the generals, or they might be tempted to overthrow them.

So those who voted Trump (or Putin) because you trust him as a strong leader well A) are you nuts? And B) You were conned on a scale unprecedented in history and C) no, he’s a puppet of the very murky special interests you hate. And they can remove him anytime they feel like it, if he stops dancing to their tune.

With UK election rules being described as weak and helpless” in this era of dark money and big data, there needs to be an urgent review of all electoral law. Naturally such tactics should be banned and the penalties for breaking the electoral rules made all the more severe. I would suggest a new law of “perverting the course of democracy” with harsh penalties for those found guilty, possibly up to life imprisonment. If that sounds like going too far, democracy is at stake unless the penalties are suitably severe, someone will be tempted to break the rules. CA prove that.

One also has to consider whether it might even be necessary to turn off all social media for a month prior to any election. Or requiring voters to undertake a fake news awareness course and/or a citizenship course might need to become compulsory for all (its ironic that migrants to the UK have to do one of these, when any dumb random Daily Mail reading, Putin loving, racist with a pulse can vote once they turn 18).

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And as I noted at the time of the brexit vote, the rules of elections should be changed to make it harder to prevent a minority of the electorate hijacking the system (again, this is exactly what CA were playing at). Only 37% of the UK electorate backed brexit and certain regions, such as Scotland and London, voted overwhelmingly against it. As a basic minimum such a referendum should require +50% of the electorate to support it in all major regions of the UK to be legal. And Trump didn’t win the popular vote, getting only about 28% of the total electorate to support him and “winning” despite receiving 3 million less votes that Hilary. Clearly the US electoral system is a mockery of the word democracy and needs to be completely reformed, as it is ripe for this sort of exploitation.

Finally some form of backstop protection might be needed. That is to say that if a candidate is elected and allegations like these emerge, there are checks and balances in place that would either automatically trigger a re-vote (so the brexit referendum would automatically now be invalidated and re-held….with the leave camp and their donors required to fund the cost!). Or the winning candidate is automatically disqualified and considered to have forfeited the election (or referendum) by cheating. So for example Trump would now be declared a usurper, hauled off to jail and Hilary would be sworn in. She would also be at liberty to un-sign any legislation he’s passed (such as his Muslim travel ban or tax cuts) and dismiss any of his appointees, as he would have been governing the country under false pretences.

Again, I know that all sounds radical, but if there’s no punishment and no proper checks and balances, some will do this again and we’ll never ever have a free and fair election.

And there are some profound implications for social media companies too. Facebook are at the centre of this entire scandal and now accused of lying to MP’s. While they have responded by suspending CA from Facebook, this is merely one of a number of recent scandals where it is alleged that Facebook either knew their data was being misused by repressive regimes or they were complicit. And in the case of Burma, Facebook data was used in aid of genocide.

And all that would be worrying enough if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook boss Mark Zukerberg is allegedly running for President. And I had a go at Oprah a while ago! Needless to say, the idea of letting him lose in the White house does not sound like a good idea. It would be about the only thing worse than a Trump presidency.

And facebook are not alone, other tech billionaires are also implicated, notably Robert Mercer (who owns CA) and Paypal boss Peter Thiel. The scandal also puts a new spin on the infamous advert strike effecting Google and Youtube. Its possible that the mysterious changes that Google enacted that provoked the add boycott had something to do with these same data analytic’s, as Google searches have been shown to employ similar profiling in the past.

One fix might be to force tech firms to disclose what data they harvest from users and how they target them with adds. Of course, that would require action at a more international level, at the very least the EU and US….which given recent events seems unlikely to happen….I mean why do you think this lot got into bed with brexiters and Trump for?

And above all else data protection laws need to be strengthened and tightened up. One of the loopholes that CA exploited was the fact that the default privacy settings on Facebook are set extremely low. One could suggest the opposite, they are set by default at their highest possible setting. And companies should be forced to disclose what they are doing with your data and to whom they are sharing it with.

In the meantime it might a case of voting with our feet and showing our displeasure for these tech companies by boycotting their services. I’ve always been suspicious of Facebook and hence I don’t have a Facebook page. If I did I’d be deleting it right now (after telling all my stalkers followers why). Ditto with regard to e-bay and Paypal (which I won’t be using anytime soon). I tend to use synonyms online and if forced into filling in any questionnaire I give deliberately misleading information. Its a practice I’d advise others to copy.

As Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist at the Observer who has been leading their investigation into the scandal puts it:

This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. And enabled by us. If we let this referendum result stand, we are giving it our implicit consent. This isn’t about Remain or Leave. It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.

Brexit reality bites

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So before the referendum we were told that there would be no exit bill when the UK left the EU. We won’t be paying a penny. As Boris Johnson put it the EU would be told to “go whistle” for its money. We’d stare Fritz straight in the eye and say nien…..

…….of course what the brexiters didn’t mention is that we weren’t hearing them right. Rather than saying “nein” what they actually planned to say to the EU was “nine“, as in “is ninety billion euro’s ok?“.Once Britain’s rebate on EU assets is taken into account, this will result in a net payment by the UK of £50-60 billion, depending on the breaks…paid in euros btw!

We were told the PM could never agree to this. That there would be rioting in the streets, the tabloids would abandon her (what and throw their lot in with Corbyn?) and the cabinet would resign en-mass. And this morning…..nothing. Largely because the brexiters want the news cycle to move on. They were warned repeatedly that this day would come, before and after the referendum and I mean years before. The truth is most of them merely see brexit as a ladder to further their careers and they understand full well it is an act of national self harm. No matter what happens the UK will be worse off after brexit, that is the unescapable truth.

In these “talks” Brussels holds all the cards. The EU doesn’t have to be nasty about it. As Donald Tusk advised at the start of this process, the mere act of brexit will be punishment enough on Britain (a punishment that was self inflicted by the UK on itself). Sixty million do not dictate terms to a trade block of 500 million, especially when the leadership of said 60 million can’t even agree what it is that they want. Expect similar climb downs on the Irish border and the ECJ in the coming weeks.

And the EU was very clear that this money is not buying the UK a trade deal. What the UK is buying is a choice between a Norway plus model that will grant free access to EU markets, but at the expense of surrendering sovereignty to Brussels, paying about 90% of what the UK currently pays into the EU budget and only very limited changes to freedom of movement. Or a Canadian style arrangement, although that will be incompatible with an open border in Ireland, so some compromise will be needed here, likely by throwing the unionists under the bus.

Its worth nothing that there are two unionist parties in the Northern Ireland, the DUP and the UUP. The UUP campaigned for a remain vote, not because they are a bunch of hummus eating europhiles. But because, unlike the DUP, they aren’t moronically stupid. They understood all too well that Westminster will prioritise English interests over the interests of a couple of bigoted creationists in Northern Ireland. If that means effectively paving the way to a united Ireland, well so be it. So before Arelene Foster has a tissy, keep in mind she is in a mess of her making.

Now a word from the UK’s greatest ally

Indeed there were question marks about who tweeted those 3 racist videos to Trump. I’d guess that would be Trump’s British drinking buddy, Nigel Farage (who has well known associations with the UK far right). He correctly guessed that Trump would re-tweet them, burying the brexit divorce bill story and taking it off the front pages. However Trump’s outbursts and his rebuke to Theresa May should underline the other problem with brexit. In effect, if we follow through with the brexiters plan, the UK is trading sovereignty it shares with EU states and handing that sovereignty into the sweaty palms of Donald Trump. Its not so much a case of the UK becoming the 51st state (that would give the UK voting rights in US elections), its the UK becoming another Puerto Rico.

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Again as always, the brexiters are poor students of history. If they’d paid more attention, they’d know the period from the end of World War 2 to the UK joining the EU was a frustrating time for the UK. Time and again, the UK found its interests being trampled on by a now dominant US. The Suez crisis, numerous proxy wars fought out in commonwealth countries during the cold war and the Skybolt crisis to name a few. The Skybolt crisis did work out rather well for the UK in the end, but it so frustrated them that, according to De Gaulle, this was one of the reasons why the UK wanted to join the EU in the first place.

After the UK joined, the relationship improved, simply because the US needed an ally in the EU clubhouse. Now that the UK is leaving, that abusive relationship of the past is going to resume (much as I predicted would happen back in 2011). I mean can you imagine any past UK PM (assuming the UK voted remain) putting up with Donald Trump in the way Theresa May has had too? The UK has no choice now but to put up with whatever abuse they get from the US, regardless of who is in charge. Meanwhile the French are already positioning themselves to be America’s new best buddy inside the EU.

But we’re going to at least get a great trade deal off the US aren’t we? Well when Trump says it will be “great”, he means for the US. The UK, notably UK farmers and manufacturers are going to get screwed six ways.

So the can anyone who voted leave please explain to me how paying £50-60 billion to get the crap beaten out of us by both the EU and US, risking the peace of the good Friday agreement and ultimately becoming a vassal state of the US, is a good idea. I mean if the brexiters want to get robbed and beaten up that badly, just go to into any pub in Glasgow and tell em how great it is to be in jolly old England….

 

Local election autopsy

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With the local election results in, they make for grim reading for labour. They lost several mayoral election and 382 council seats. Should anyone doubt the disaster Corbyn is leading the party into, well here’s the evidence. Indeed you could tell it was bad by the fact that even before the counting had even started labour was already making excuses and had essentially already conceded defeat.

Firstly, the good news, UKIP were more or less wiped out, losing all but one of their seats. This to be honest isn’t that surprising, given that the Tories have spent the last few years turning themselves into UKIP. Voting for UKIP was always a protest, hence why they tended to do well in local elections or EU elections with low turn outs. However, once people had a UKIP councillor and realised what a total nob they’d voted for, they are forced to confront the fact that they voted for local government paralysis. The end result was they were always going to do badly in any election where people spent any longer than 5 seconds deciding who to vote for.

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Also it should be remembered that the far right parties in the UK (and the rest of Europe) do go through this cycle of doing well, then fighting with each other, imploding, only for another head of the hydra to rise up. Many UKIP members, including Farage himself are ex-members of the National Front or the BNP. So I fear rumours of the far right’s death in the UK are greatly exaggerated. Even if UKIP do now implode, I won’t be surprised if another racist party comes along to take their place, with basically the same people in it.

But back to labour, let us look at four areas, in Glasgow they lost control of the council to the SNP (thanks to a strong swing away from them towards the Tories), in Methyr a similar thing happened, and they lost two Mayoral elections in Teeside and the West Midlands.

Labour losing in Glasgow to the Tories? WTF! Seriously! This is the sort of town where even the Unionists don’t vote Tory. I recall a past EU parliament election where the Tories got just 2,500 votes. By law of averages, half of those were probably spoilt ballot papers. And most of the locals would see that many Tory votes as a reason to form an angry mob and hunt these Tory bastards down and run them out of town. When Thatcher died there was actually a party held in George’s square. Well under Corbyn, labour are now losing elections in Glasgow.

And they also lost control of Methyr Tydfil, the constituency of the labour party’s founder, down in the Welsh valleys. This area was devastated by the miners strike, so if you want to die quickly, go into a bar in Methyr and say something positive about Thatcher. I used to live down the valley from here and one of the reasons why they had to burn Thatcher rather than bury her, was because many of the miners in this part of the world were threatening to go and dance on her grave (or piss on her grave). So they’d have needed to build a dance hall and public toilet on her grave site! But labour now can’t defend seats in a place like this.

However, it is Teeside and the West Midlands that have me most worried. Here labour lost Mayoral elections they should have easily won. Both these areas saw a strong leave vote in the EU referendum (not everywhere, but in certain parts) and Corbyn’s whole justification for his brexit strategy is to keep voters in districts like this on side. And, much as I’ve been warning for some time now, its a strategy that has comprehensively failed. Labour support has gone down, not up. There was a swing in these districts towards the lib dems too (remainers turned off by Corbyn’s pro-leave rhetoric), although they didn’t win that many seats (overall they lost seats thanks to the strong swing to the Tories).

For those unfamiliar with Teeside or the West Midlands, these areas include a large number of people who I would describe as “working class social conservatives”. These are the sort of people who don’t like change, who are insular and suspicious of foreigners, go to church regularly and by and large they don’t really buy into the labour party’s socialist leanings, yet they still vote labour. They do so because they have bitter memories of the unholy mess Thatcher inflicted on them. The West Midlands is fairly multicultural, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, Irish, Nigerian, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. Again, quite a lot of these would be regular church (or Mosque) attenders, they tend to be socially conservative, but they have also historically voted labour. And they do so because they are well aware of the racist undercurrents within the Tory party. The Tories might think that when they dog whistle with a nod and a wink nobody except their racists allies hear them. Well I’m afraid we all hear it. Hence why large blocks of people in the UK have historically voted labour, even those whom you would otherwise put in the “conservative” camp.

So what worries me, is that I would see these results as a sign that these communities, faced with the choice between UKIP-lite and a hard left Corbyn, are opting for the Tories. As they see it the choice is to be either shot by Corbyn’s red brigades or poisoned by May’s hard brexit. And they are opting for the poison, after all maybe they can find a cure to that later. And it is in districts like this, but with a stronger Tory base, where the general election will be fought. In short if labour is losing in these four districts in the local elections, areas where historically they won’t even need to bother campaigning, well what chance do they stand in other areas where support for them is historically only marginal?

And the response from Corbyn and his supporters? To make excuses and blame everything and everybody, the voters for a low turn out (actually a low turn out tends to benefit the smaller parties, not the bigger parties or the governing party), the Tories, the lib dems, even accusing his own party of disloyalty. Much as a bad tradesman blames his tools a bad leader blames his rotten luck and his own staff for his failings. A truly awful boss blames his customers (or voters). Is it fair the Tories are holding an election now? No, but in warfare you rarely get to chose the time and place of battle, fate or the enemy chooses it for you. Politics is much the same.

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And if staff are disloyal, well that does kind of suggests you ain’t very good at the job of being a leader. Only a bad leader spends all his days accusing his staff of disloyalty. As I’ve pointed out before its not Corbyn’s left wing views that are the issue. Most labour MP’s are not secret Blairites, Tories in all but name, with Thatcher tee-shirts under their suits (as Corbyn would have you believe). I’ve met MP’s before and most are actually fairly left wing, maybe not as left wing as Corbyn, but certainly more to the left than your average person. What puts them off Corbyn is that they see him as unelectable and utterly clueless when it comes to running a political party.

Case in point, the tale of lieutenant Sobel. He was the drill instructor who took easy company (of band of Brothers fame) through basic training. By all accounts he was tough on his trainees and drill them rigorously. Many veterans credit him with preparing them well for combat in Normandy. However, he was hopeless as a field commander. During training exercises in England, he got his men lost, marched the company into an obvious ambush and worse still he refused to listen to advice from others (a bit like Corbyn). As a result, on the eve of D-day, all of his NCO’s simultaneously resigned and requested transfers (again a bit like the labour party under Corbyn!). The Army promptly replaced him. Which might seem harsh, but if a leader is looking over his shoulder and questioning his men’s loyalty and the troops are starting to question his orders, before they’ve even made contact with the enemy, the worse thing you could do is send them into combat. That would be leading lambs to the slaughter.

And its kind of the same with labour. Corbyn has some excellent qualities. He’s a good orator and he’s good at calling out the Tories lies and hypocrisy. If I wanted to organise a protest, he’s the person to call. But he’s not a leader. While it might seem crazy for labour to change leader so close to an election, the truth is labour is doing badly because they don’t have a leader and haven’t had one for nearly a year.

In short labour faces a choice between two unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where Corbyn remains leader, leads the party to its worse defeat in living memory and the Tories win with a landslide that exceeds Tony Blair. He then refuses to go and leads labour into political annihilation and obscurity, probably sinking left wing politics in the UK for a generation. Or he resigns, the party deputy leader takes over, they get a poll bounce and while I doubt they could win, they might just cut down that Tory majority. And that’s crucial because the smaller the Tory majority, the more leeway labour has to prevent a hard far right brexit.

Gibraltar and article 50

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Brexit threatens to make a monkey out of the UK

The EU’s response to article 50 was fairly conciliatory and to be honest about as good as the UK could expect. If the EU wanted to be nasty, they could have taken the opportunity to pull funding from all EU farm subsidies, university research and development aid to the UK for all projects that would end post-brexit. Then slap all UK students in EU universities with a massive bill for their fees and ex-pats with fees for healthcare costs. They could have given MEP’s the day off, stopped Farage’s salary packed him off on the Eurostar home, handed out bottles of Champagne and declared a new EU wide holiday “so long suckers day”. But they didn’t.

But instead the plan seems to be to sort out the exit from the EU first then talk about a trade deal. This is as good as the UK is going to get. As one MEP pointed out, brexit is in of its self painful enough (self inflicted) punishment, the EU doesn’t have to be nasty. As for the Theresa May’s plan to essentially play chicken and brinkmanship with the EU, this is the equivalent of her driving towards the EU in a mini cooper, while the EU is in a truck driving towards her. And given that the EU has to balance out the consensus of 27 member states, its a truck that’s on cruise control. The EU won’t blink first. The eurozone crisis should have made that fairly obvious.

Of course the bit that got the tabloids worked up was how the EU appears to be backing Spain over Gibraltar. This is hardly surprising. Put yourself in the EU’s shoes. Suppose your a boss of a company, two employees are in dispute with one another over something. One is one of those nightmare employees who is always causing problems, who fortunately has already given his notice. The other is not your most dedicated employee, but he’s certainly loyal and generally pulls his weight. Who are you going to back up?

Personally, while I understand why Gibraltar’s citizens want to be part of the UK, I can’t understand why the UK wants with Gibraltar (I’m told by ex-pats its a grotty little tourist trap), nor what Spain wants with it either. Personally, I’d try and sell it to Morocco or some gullible Saudi sheik. However, Gibraltar’s post-brexit status does hammer home the sorts of issues the UK will face post-brexit. If the UK wants to maintain air links with Gibraltar, that will require EU agreement. So everything will have to take a week long sea voyage there or go through Spain (or possibly even Morocco). If the UK imposes strict border controls on the EU, then the EU will reciprocate, Gibraltar citizens will need a visa just to go into Spain to go shopping and visa versa. Trade and tourism will collapse. Leaving the EU common market and suddenly all the food and resources the colony needs gets slapped with tariffs ranging from 10-30%. In short, unless the rest of the UK is willing to pay a lot of money to subsidise Gibraltar, it will become non-viable pretty quicly. The locals will all leave and the UK will own a ghost town.

Naturally fighting talk about going to war to protect Gibraltar is just plain silly and shows how far divorced from reality the brexiters have strayed. Are they seriously proposing to attack a NATO ally because the Spanish make Gibraltar pay an extra 20% more for olive oil and they make the locals fill out the same sort of visa application form the British make Spanish fill out upon arrival at Heathrow?

But the thing is this will apply to the whole of the UK as well, Gibraltar is merely a microcosm of the problem. Any immigration controls or restrictions on free movement of people or goods, will be reciprocated by the EU. Smugglers, both those on the Irish border and the channel ports will be having a field day. An interesting article for example about the lengths smugglers of tea would go to in days gone by to outwith the tax man.

Furthermore, given that Spain has now indicated that it won’t block Scotland joining the EU, this suggests a secret horse trade has gone on. The EU has given Spain some leeway over Gibraltar, in return for which they will not object to Scotland joining the EU in the event of a yes vote. I warned before that if Tories plan to rely on “the Spanish option” to block Scottish independence, that’s not going to work….of course if Gibraltar really wants to put the cat among the pigeons, the thing to do would be to vote to join Scotland (they’d get to join the EU again and piss off the Spanish!).

But certainly if you heard a popping noise this Friday that was the sound of the brexiters bubble bursting. It should be obvious now that they are not in the driving seat. The UK’s options are to take the best deal the EU offers them, or screw the country over by exiting without a deal. Which isn’t much of a choice.