The impact of brexit on Northern Ireland

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Well the results from the NI election are in and the result isn’t going to make great reading for either the Unionists nor the brexiters. The one thing that was never supposed to happen in Northern Ireland has happened – the Unionists have lost their majority.

While the DUP are still the largest party, in theory they and the UUP can now be outvoted on any issue…such as whether or not to hold a border poll. Now granted, Sinn Fein don’t hold a majority either. They’d need support from the smaller non-unionst parties. And all “non-unionst” means is that they don’t go on orange parades, nor is their pin code 1690. While they aren’t against the idea of a border poll, they aren’t in favour of one either, it doesn’t make them flag waving Irish nationalists.

However in the event of a hard brexit, one that starts impacting on the Northern Irish economy, they could be persuaded to back a border poll, to settle the issue. In short there is now a path to a border poll, that did not previously exist. And its very difficult to tell, particularly against the back drop of a hard brexit which way such a poll would go.

The unionists can block a border poll even without a majority. Rules written into the Northern Irish constitution allow a minority of delegates to veto legislation. Ironically, these rules were inserted to protect the nationalists, something the DUP originally objected too! But the DUP cannot do this alone anymore, they’d need UUP support too. Also blocking a vote and standing against the rest of the assembly raises the risk of the pro-poll parties pulling the plug again, declaring a new election and an electoral alliance in which they don’t stand in each other’s constituencies, effectively turning the election into a defacto border poll.

Now like I said, the other smaller parties aren’t automatically going to go along with Sinn Fein on this. And there’s no guarantee even if a border poll was held that it would be a Yes vote. But the point is that its now a plausible option. The unthinkable (from a unionist point of view) is actually possible now. And the unionist have to look to the moderates in the centre ground and on the left, to save them from a mess of their own creation.

While many unionists are generally euroskeptic (and often to the right of UKIP on many issues) the UUP backed Remain in the referendum, precisely because they feared what is now playing out in NI might happen in the event of a leave vote. But the DUP very stupidly backed leave. Arlene Foster may go down in history as having done more for Irish reunification (through a combination of arrogance, stupidity and incompetence) than Gerry Adams or Martin McGuiness!

But either way, the cost of brexit for unionists is not that they are going to “take control”, its that they’ve lost control and their fate is now in the hands of others….something the rest of the UK will soon discover when brexit negotiations start and they realise its the EU, US and other powers who will decide the UK’s future.

Exit through the wingnut shop

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There’s some brexiters who argue that the UK doesn’t need to trigger article 50, nor spend two years negotiating leaving the EU (and thus its all just a big conspiracy to keep the UK in the EU). We just tell the EU we’re leaving and that’s that. Ah…..no!

To draw an analogy, this would be like quitting your job by just not bothering to showing up for work any more. Okay, so you’ll be leaving without a reference, without your pension contributions, without reimbursement for any outstanding expenses, without your next pay cheque and without the protections afforded by the law. You’d be at risk of your employer suing you for damages (generally your contract of employment will specify an agreed period of grace either side must give before the contract can be terminated) and you’d also not be eligible to claim unemployment benefits. Does any of that sound like a good idea?

The whole point of negotiating is that its a two way street, you reach an accord which gives both sides an acceptable agreement. Perhaps this is the problem of course, the Brexiters think that they can have their cake and eat it and thus the idea that they have to “negotiate” or “compromise” is alien to them. However by refusing to negotiate the UK would essentially be a conceding the field to its opponents. In other words the EU will decide the terms of the UK’s exit, without the UK being consulted.

Naturally the consequences of this could be quite serious. There’s a long list of issues that needs to be resolved and not just with the EU. The UK is doing something that isn’t really governed by existing legislation, so in theory it could leave the country in legal limbo if other nations don’t co-operate. Keep in mind article 50 was originally written by a British lawyer to provide some semblance of an exit mechanism, should it become necessary.

For example that 60 billion the EU says they will charge the UK as its exit fee from the EU. Now I’d consider that at present a negotiating position that they’ll likely horse trade away in exchange for the UK making certain favourable concessions (although the UK will inevitably still face some sort of bill in the end and it will probably be in the tens of billions). However if the UK doesn’t negotiate its exit, then obviously they’ll just slap that bill onto the UK and give the country 30 days to pay, perhaps they’ll even make it higher.

What’s that you say? You’ll refuse to pay? Okay and then the EU starts ceasing UK government assets, freezing bank accounts, imposing punitive taxes on UK companies and businesses or ceasing goods at Calais. Recall that a few years ago, after the Russians reneged on their debts (under Yelstin) it lead to them facing all sorts of sanctions from creditors. At one point a bunch of lawyers showed up at a French air show and tried to impound a group of Russia airforce planes. The Russians actually took off and fled back to Russia to avoid being impounded. That’s the sort of stuff the UK would be facing. The UK’s failure to pay this bill would technically count as a sovereign default, which would mean the UK’s credit rating would be cut to near junk status which would cause a whole host of financial problems.

Ask any lawyer and they will tell you that if someone is suing you in court for money, the worst thing you could possibly do is ignore it. They’ll win by default, the court will appoint a bailiff who’ll come round to your house or place of business and start impounding goods. You can make all the excuses you want at that point, they won’t listen and they don’t have too (they have a county court warrant in their hand). If they are in a good mood they might give you an hour or two to come up with the cash, before then start loading your stuff into their van. And they’ll keep coming back and coming back until you pay up. That’s what the UK would essentially be facing.

And then there’s issues like the WTO. The UK’s membership of the WTO is in a state of limbo. Now in theory so long as nobody kicks up stink it should be easy enough to straighten that out. However, if we’ve left the EU without agreement and are now locked in a trade dispute with them, quite obviously that will have to be resolved first. Without WTO membership the UK will find it quite impossible to trade abroad in any meaningful way.

Then there’s the status of UK citizens in the EU. Without an agreement it will be up to the EU, if not individual EU states, to decide on their fate. My guess is they’ll offer some sort of duel citizenship to the UK citizens they want to keep (i.e. the working age taxpayers living in their countries) while kicking out the pensioners who they want rid of (more precisely, they’d refuse them health care and hit them with a massive punitive tax on their pensions to force them to return to Britain). The French will no doubt withdraw the current border arrangements and simply wave through masses of refugees straight onto Ferries bound for the UK. So we’ll see a drop in east European workers replaced by hordes of pensioners and Syrian migrants.

But we’ll be able to send all them Polish people back right? No! You can’t deport someone to a government whom you don’t have relations with. This is exactly the problem with refugees, they’re in legal limbo and thus can’t be deported back to their country of origin. If the UK left the EU without triggering article 50, then all of the EU citizens would fall into the same category. It would be legally very difficult if not impossible to deport them, or any Syrian refugees for that matter.

And it won’t just be people coming in but goods too. As I’ve pointed out with regard to the post-brexit Irish border, its not people you need to worry about but contraband. Without a bilateral exit agreement from the EU the smugglers will be having a field day. They’ll be shipping in truck loads of tax free booze, cigarettes and petrol, undermining UK businesses and depriving the treasury of valuable tax income. As it is there needs to be some sort of an agreement reached to prevent this becoming a major problem.

And they’ll also be shipping in drugs too. Ireland is already a known transit route for drugs into Europe and in particular shipments into the UK. Our rugged West coast with its countless inlets and bays is virtually impossible to defend and patrol. And the Irish countryside, with its rabbit warren of narrow boreens and remote farm houses, gives smugglers plenty of places to hide stuff. Currently intercepting such shipments is a major focus of attention by customs officials both sides of the border. And its achieved by mutual trust and co-operation. Destroy that agreement and the only winners are the smugglers. In short, leave the EU without triggering article 50 and the only think that will get cheaper in Britain afterwards is the street value of heroin and crack.

So no, the UK can’t leave without triggering article 50. Doing so would be the height of irresponsibility and grossly stupid. Yes article 50 is designed to basically let the EU screw over the country that is leaving. But that’s still better than the alternative, leaving and getting screwed over by the rest of the world permanently.

Asking the Irish to police the UK border

One of the major sticking points for the Tories is how they plan to square the circle of a hard brexit and avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. There answer appears to be that they expect us Irish to do their dirty work for them. I see a couple of flaws straight away:

– We have this thing in Ireland called “rights” and “due process” (the brexit brigade might want to google that one sometime) which everyone, including Johnny foreigner, is entitled too. Much of what the UK is proposing would fall well short of that. The UK border agencies are notorious for arbitrary and often outright inhuman rulings, and in Ireland people would be entitled to challenge such rulings in court. As you can imagine taking half a plane load of people off to court, putting them up in hotel while the case is heard would be a costly and logistical nightmare.

– Its probable these measures would need a change in the law. The UK government lawyers don’t think so, again google that word “rights”. Once someone challenges such rules in court, they will need new legislation. Recall we briefly legalised all drugs in Ireland due to a similar case last year. If so, that would almost certainly mean a referendum. I can already tell you the result. Theresa May will essentially be told by the Irish electorate to “pog mo thoin” (she might want to google that too!).

– Ireland cannot restrict access to the country to EU citizens (again “rights”, you did google that didn’t you?). What are we supposed to do? say to some Polish guy “ah sure be grand and be garra, don’t go north of the border and get a job as a builder now, will ya, thankin u kindly”. Rather naively the UK seems to think oh we’ll have work visas and all that. Ya, and do you have any idea how many illegals are in the UK right now from outside the EU working in the black economy? You know how many Brits work in Australia or US without work visas? Non starter from day one! If there’s anything worse than migrants coming in and taking jobs, its migrants sneaking in and not paying any taxes.

– In truth its not people we need to worry about but goods. If the UK leaves the common market and becomes subject to tariffs the smugglers, many of them dissident members of Republican or loyalist groups, would have a field day. As things stand there’s still some smuggling (of diesel, Alcohol and cigarettes). There are some border guards and while they don’t set up check points they do perform investigations and roving checks. Obviously we’d need a lot more of them and no matter how many, an open border means some will slip through. This will quickly undermine the UK economy as many small firms will be undercut by goods smuggled over the Irish border.

– So suddenly Ireland needs a shit load more customs and excise officers, more police, more staff at passport control, some major structural changes to airports to accommodate longer queues, more judges, lawyers, detention centres and probably a few hundred million bill to pay for all of this each year. Are you brits planning to pay for all of that? Cos why should we do it if we have to pay? Unlike the UK we also believe in this thing called “balanced budgets” (something no Tory Chancellor has delivered for decades…so you might want to google that one also!), so it ain’t going to happen if the UK doesn’t agree to pay.

Why should we do it? What incentive does Ireland have to comply? There’s an old Republican saying that goes “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Now while I suspect you’ll find few politicians, particularly the pro-Republican types who will admit it, but there are many in Ireland who would see a silver lining to a hard brexit. For sure we’d lose out in terms of some exports, but in return we’d benefit from the UK’s high tech firms, airlines and financial services companies relocating to Ireland. A recent survey revealed a whopping 75% of UK firms were eyeing Ireland as a potential base post-brexit. And a hard border basically means Northern Ireland as a political and economy entity is living on borrowed time. A united Ireland becomes less of a possibility and more of an inevitability. I won’t be surprised if some champagne corks go flying in Sinn Fein households if the UK opts for a hard brexit.

Do you trust us? (I won’t!). I’m not sure if Theresa May has ever heard the expression that if someone asks you to do a shitty job, do it badly and you won’t be asked again. So ya we Irish sign up to all of this, the UK pays us an absurd amount to do it…..and we do it badly. We wave through ever cute hoor and gangster from Eastern Europe who shows up, he even tells us he’s off to Belfast (to smuggle horse meat) and we do zip, after all once he’s over the border he’s your problem and what are the British going to do? We hold all the cards.

Like so many things Tory, this stinks of decisions made by public school boys or Grammar school girls who don’t live in the real world.

Northern ireland, a radical post-Brexit fix

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Brexit now threatens much uncertainty as regards Northern Ireland. As one of the most deprived parts of the UK, sharing a direct land border with the eurozone, it will likely bare the brunt of any post-Brexit downturn. Already a legal challenge against Brexit has been launched by a cross party group. There’s even stories of unionists applying for Irish passports south of the border.

Inevitably this means the possibility of Irish reunification has come back on the agenda. There is an absence of reliable polling data, but one poll from the Belfast Telegraph suggested a significant lead for a united Ireland (this must be put in context, not as reliable as a regular poll and similar polls showing a very strong lead to Scottish independence that has now slipped somewhat). But certainly, it seems there has been a significant move in public opinion since Brexit (which has previously show a 60/40 split against a united Ireland). A united Ireland is now no longer just some sort of Sinn Fein fantasy.

And Scottish independence would complicate matters further. Consider that if Scotland breaks away it will be only be possible to travel from the North to the rUK via a foreign country (e.g. via Scotland or via the Republic). Northern Ireland will essentially become an overseas territory of the (former) United Kingdom, surrounded by the EU. It short I would argue that in much the same way that Brexit makes Scottish independence more likely, Brexit and Scottish independence makes a united Ireland more likely (if not an inevitability). Of course this will likely go down like a lead balloon in many loyalist strongholds in the North.

It is in situations like this that a radical solution is required. So what I would propose is that, in the case of Scottish independence, there should be a referendum in Northern Ireland, not on re-unification but instead on changing the terms of the act of Union by which Northern Ireland would enter into a union with Scotland. In essence NI would recognise Scotland as the successor state to the UK, rather than England.

This would offer several benefits from a unionist prospective. They would still have the queen as head of state, they would still be part of the commonwealth and NATO. They would also get to keep the pound (although it would now likely be the Scottish pound). On the other hand, Irish republicans would likely find the government in Edinburgh a good deal less antagonistic a partner than Westminster.

Indeed I suspect the strongest objections to such a proposal would come from the republicans. There’s an old republican saying that goes “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Or to put that in slightly less diplomatic terms, the Brits have a habit of screwing up and its usually Toff’s in London playing games of empire who are to blame. If the Scot’s don’t antagonise either the catholic or unionist communities, they avoid dragging the North into the various wars of empire like London did (which of course led directly to Irish independence, as well as American independence and most of the rest of their empire breaking up too), then this new union becomes likely to be the default end state. In short, Irish unification becomes a lot less likely if Northern Ireland was in a union with Scotland rather than England.

Will such a deal happen? Probably not. In much of the same way that one of the SNP’s best allies is the Tory party, one of the Irish nationalists best allies is the ulster unionists. Their closed minds doesn’t leave room for much in the way of radical ideas or compromise. I mean a lot of them voted for Brexit, despite the fact that this was pretty much a case of Turkey’s voting for Christmas. And some are (as noted) ignoring the glaring hypocrisy and quietly applying for an Irish passport.

So my guess is the unionist will refuse to compromise. They’ll find themselves facing a declining economy, overrun by refugees (with both NI’s borders controlled by foreign states it will be all but impossible to limit or deport migrants and refugees, something that will be quickly exploited by the next wave of migrants). Support for reunification will steadily grow, until eventually it gets enough support and passes. But let it be said, that there is an alternative. The question is will they take it?

Weekend round up

Trump and the Republican civil war

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As the BBC discussed this week the Republican party is now caught up in a civil war, with the party establishment fighting off the Tea party. Much of the GOP recognise that no matter how popular Trump might appear, all the demographics are against him and ultimately he has only a very slim chance of defeating Hilary. While yes some polls do put him ahead, its always dangerous to read too much into such polls this early in the campaign. The suspicion is that once its set as Hilary v’s Trump and once its broken down on a state by state level, she will pull a good deal ahead. More crucially the GOP is forced to ask, even if we can get him elected, is that a good thing? A ill-mannered egomaniac buffoon who goes around insulting people is simply not a credible candidate for President of the United States.

Events however took a shock turn with governor Chris Christie endorsing Trump. In essence this shows that the GOP faces a sort of “prisoner dilemma”. If they all stick together and oppose Trump they should be able to deny him the nomination (although that risks him running as an independent). But individually it may be in their interests to slither on over to the winning side. Within the next few days and weeks the rest of the GOP will face this choice. Some, notably Cruz, Rubio and Bush will almost certainly opt to avoid any endorsement for the time being, but longer term they might be forced too.

Fox news faces an interesting dilemma. They do not like Trump one bit, largely because he can’t be controlled and is a danger to their interests. He is in essence a Frankenstein monster of their creation which they may have to now destroy…or fire Megan Kelly (who all the same might want to brush up on her resume just in case!). However, backing Hilary would create “issues”. Fox has spent the last twenty odd years portraying her as the wicked witch of the West. So they would have to come out and say “Benghazi, e-mails, whitewater, oh that was all just a pile of BS we put out to distract you while our corporate buddies raided your pension funds”. Well we all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf….he got a job on Fox!

As I see it there are four possible end games to this:

Scenario #1 (the most likely), Hilary trounces Trump in the election, sweeping into power taking control of congress too. Regardless of whether Obama gets his nominee to the Supreme court through, Hilary will do so and likely replace one or two other justice’s during her term. While she doesn’t turn the US into a socialist republic (as Fox would have you believe), she does continue on the policies of Obama, cementing in Obamacare and gets his modest background check rules on guns pushed through. In the fallout that follows the GOP faces inward and in the ensuing political blood bath the party splits.

Scenario #2, Rubio pulls a rabbit out of his butt and manages to beat Trump. Being the egomanic bully that he is, Trump runs as an independent, costing Rubio (who actually has a half decent chance of beating Hilary) the election. In the post mortem that follows, again the GOP implodes and splits.

Scenario #3, Trump, somehow manages to get elected, quickly proves to be dreadful at the job, even worse than James Buchanan, alienates US allies, starts (and loses) an economic war with the likes of China and tries to enact racist national socialist policies which quickly put him on collision course with both Congress and the Supreme court (regardless of who gets Scalia’s job, a vague glance at the constitution says you can’t discriminate against Mexicans or Muslims). He might prove to be so unpopular that democrat leaning states consider temporary (or permanent) succession. In he end, he is removed from office under the terms of the 25th amendment (probably after he attempts to start an actual war with China or Russia!). In the political bloodbath that follows the GOP splits.

Scenario #4, the CIA, NSA, Mossad, FSB, the mob….or whoever does this sort of cloak and dagger stuff in China terminates his campaign “with extreme prejudice” (and I mean way worse than anything that comes out of his mouth). In the wake of this his VC (likely Christy or Palin….now it all starts to make sense!) gets the job….although chances are they’ll take out both of em too just to be sure, in which case Rubio gets the job and probably beats Hilary.

So rather worryingly the only scenario now where the GOP holds it together (and wins the election) involves Trump getting whacked….which I’m hoping his own security are aware of!

The Tory party split

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And speaking of break ups…. there’s the war within the Tory party. Cameron is now withholding documents from anti-EU cabinet members. This probably makes sense as they’ll inevitably go through said documents and try to put a pro-UKIP spin on it. For example, recent migration figures came out showing a drop in migration rates into the UK, which inevitably the right wing press spun to suggest the opposite was true. However cutting off minsters like this represents a break with protocol.

As one or two of the Sunday newspapers discuss, there is every possibility that the Tory party could split over this referendum. Win or loose, Cameron will almost certainly face a challenge to his leadership. The markets show increasing signs of nervousness. Rating agencies are threatening a downgrade, the G20 warning of a decade of economic limbo for the UK, while Brexit is negotiated (which will not be quick and will leave millions of brit’s stuck in limbo). Meanwhile university leaders are worried about the impact on research funding, while defence chiefs warn that Brexit will put at risk British security.

With the stakes this high, its likely that things will get nasty, particularly as we get close to referendum day. If the result is leave, I can’t see Cameron surviving as PM. While if its stay, I can’s see how his wayward ministers can remain in government. And as the likes of Boris or IDS are unlikely to be happy on the backbenches, its likely the party will split. Cameron may well have just chosen the EU as the hill on which he and his party end up dying on.

Another victim of Tory cuts

Another story people may have missed was Welsh police deliberately running over a dog on the A55. While some of the media did pick up on this, they failed to point out that this dog was in effect another victim of Tory cuts. Normal procedure for dealing with a stray animal on the road is to form a rolling blockade, bring traffic to a stop, deal with the animal and then restart traffic.

However, this process is costly and both council and police budgets have come under strain recently. I recall pointing out some time ago how police and councils were trying to get the victims of traffic accidents to pay for the costs associated with the aftermath of an accident (even if it wasn’t the drivers fault!). Of course, this is a dangerous thing to do as it simply encourages people who get into difficulty to not call the police and opt for a “big society” solution (a BBC reporter mentions how she ended up facing the wrong way on the hard shoulder after a skid on some oil and wisely called the police to help her turn around safely….which she then got billed for!). Obviously this increases the risk of accidents, which is precisely why they shouldn’t be doing this!

Similarly the advice now to dog owners is, if your dog gets loose on the road, don’t call the police, they’ll just run him over. Instead, go out onto an active motorway and try to retrieve the dog yourself. Yes, you’ll probably cause a pileup, but at least you’ll save Osborne a few bob.

So when you hear Osborne and Cameron talking about the need to find “inventive” ways to save on government spending, this is what they are talking about.

Irish Election results – populists dodging responsibly

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Understanding Irish politics

The results of the Irish election show a resounding defeat for the Irish labour party. This is not really a surprise, much like the Tories operation liberal shield, its inevitable the smaller party will suffer worst in a situation where a government pursues unpopular policies. Despite the austerity, its likely Fine Gael will still be the largest party, although they won’t have enough votes, even if we include the obvious candidates, to form a coalition government.

This raises the question that has been asked since the start of the campaign. Will Fianna Fail go for a coalition with Sinn Fein? Certainly the party blamed for causing the recession had a remarkably good showing (perhaps showing how short forgetful many people are!). Sinn Fein say they are ruling out any coalition. This is not surprising given that as a party of protest, they’ll quickly lose support if they ever have to live up to the wild promises they’ve been making. But if a party isn’t prepared to go into government, what’s the point of voting for them? They can oppose the government for free by standing outside the Dail with a placard! Why do we need to pay them a salary to do this inside the house?

But the alternative to stopping Sinn Fein would be an unholy alliance between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The question is, will this just prove to be a bridge too far? Its possible Fine Gale will pull together enough independents to form a minority government, however a quick review of the results suggests that this is likely impossible. Most of the independents are running on an anti-government or anti-austernity platform and clearly will not go into government. Even adding all of them together, one struggles to come up with a majority.

Clearly, FF know have decided not a good time to be in government (lots of unpopular decisions will need to be made and they don’t want to renege on promises that quite frankly they should never have made) and like SF (who’ve spent the last five years just make all sorts of wild promises) they are seeking to dodge responsibility, likely meaning a hung parliament. An early election is a real possibility. But again, if FF (or SF) aren’t prepared to go into government, what’s the point of voting for them? Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.

Weekend blogging catchup

Rumble in the EU Jungle

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Coming to a field in Surrey?

David Cameron suggested this week that the current border arrangements with France could be rescinded in the event of a vote to leave the EU. This would mean migrants won’t meet a UK border guard until they were across the channel and thus they would become the UK’s problem and not France. As a result he was accused of scaremongering. While this may be true to some degree, but I think the key point missed in this debate was that a vote to leave the EU will have implications well beyond EU treaties.

In essence if the UK votes to leave, all bets are off. Many of the treaties and agreements the UK has signed with its neighbours, allies and trading partners over the last fifty years (relating to migration, defence, trade, etc.) were negotiated on the basis that the UK was a member of the EU. Inevitably they will have to be renegotiated and it is very unlikely the UK will get such a good a deal as a non-EU member. The US for example has made it clear that a vote to leave the EU will invalidate current trade treaties between the UK and the US. A UK of 60 million simply will not get as good a deal as an EU of 500 million.

One could draw a parallel with the Scottish independence debate. The SNP and the Tories both thought they would have each other over the same barrel in the event of a Yes vote. In truth compromise would be necessary. The idea that the Scot’s could share the pound was always absurd, as was the notion that they could gain independence or EU membership according to such an aggressive timetable as put forward by the SNP. Equally however, the rUK could not afford to antagonise a now independent country who controlled most of the Britain’s fossil fuels, water and renewable electricity supply….not unless they fancied going through a winter without heating and electricity!

So similarly, there will have to be some negotiation in the event of Brexit. The only difference is that the EU (or the US, or China) will very firmly have the UK over a barrel, with the UK holding very few if any cards. The UK will need to establish trade deals and do so quickly or risk mass capital flight out of the country. Indeed, speaking of energy, the generally UK imports more gas from pipelines cross the Channel than it sends the other way and electrical imports from France are critical to balancing the grid in southern England. Inevitably, on many issues that come up the UK will probably have to make most of the concessions. Not least because the EU (and in particular the French) will have various “nuclear” options with which they can use to very quickly bring the UK to heel (withdrawing passport controls at Calais being one of those).

Another flash point is Northern Ireland. The good Friday agreement only works because there’s an open border. The minute you put in border controls, it breaks down, it would have to be re-negotiated and my guess is that Sinn Fein will probably demand a border poll as the price for even starting such negotiations. And maintaining an open border means that all a migrant needs to do is hop on a plane to Dublin (and Ryanair do direct flights from Sofia or Marrakech to Dublin for around 30 euro, Turkish Airlines fly’s direct Dublin to Ankara, although ticket prices are a little higher), get on a bus (and there are buses outside Dublin airport direct to Belfast) and you’re across the border and into the UK.

Then of course there’s the issue of NATO. There are many who would argue that the EU is the glue that joins NATO together. Of the European nations in NATO only two, Iceland and Norway. are not members of the EU. And both are part of the Schengen area and have free trade agreements with the EU (quite unlike the sort of arrangements UKIP want, both agree to the imposition of EU legislation to maintain their trading status with the EU), plus they have very specific reasons for being in NATO (i.e. they are vulnerable to invasion and lack the means to defend themselves). Given events in the US (i.e. if a loon like Trump or a leftie like Bernie Sanders became president) if NATO starts taking a more Europe led approach, it is by no means guaranteed that the UK can remain a member of NATO.

The problem is that UKIP seem to think that they’ll get everything their own way, they can keep all of the current agreements and be lavished with gifts. They will often try to claim that the EU has more to lose than the UK, even thought in reality the complete opposite is true.

Dr C*nt and the Medics

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Tory smugness drone Jeremy Hcunt has a problem with his junior doctors, whom he is now at war with. It would seem that the doctors think that working 18 hour shifts seven days a week might endanger patient safety. But what would they know, its not as if they’ve got medical degrees or something….oh, wait, apparently they do!

Also it would seem they are a tad upset as it would seem they’d signed these things called “contracts” a few years ago, which my dictionary tells me is merely “A bidding agreement which is legally enforceable”. Unfortunately, the doctors should have perhaps read the Ferengi rules of acquisition (number 17) which states “A contract is a contract is a contract… but only between Ferengi”….or perhaps between Tories!

Also it would appear that our Mr Hcunt is unfamiliar with this thing called “capitalism”. There is plenty of demand for doctors overseas, or in Scotland (where these new contracts don’t apply) and it would be all too easy for any doctors who don’t like these contracts to simply leave and go overseas, after the NHS spending all the money it costs to train them in the first place. And with the sort of tight border controls the bigot brigade are demanding its doubtful enough replacements can be drafted in from overseas to replace them. In short, the NHS in England is being set up to fail….

…which beg’s the question, is this the whole point of the this doctor’s strike? The Tories, who don’t use the NHS (they all have private health care) want it to fail so that they can privatise it, same way they did with the UK’s energy market and railways under Thatcher.

US election – why Rand Paul’s plight tells us a lot

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In the US primary races the democrats Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton are neck and neck. As one commentator puts itBernie is a bit fuzzy on historical events since Woodstock” . Meanwhile the Republican battle is dominated by Trump and Cruz (a Canadian visitor who seems to think he should be president). Several candidates lagging in the polls have dropped out. Unusually one of these was the libertarian Rand Paul. His father tended to perform reasonably well attracting a near cult like following. But this time the Paulestinians seem to have deserted Rand Paul. This begs the question why?

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I would argue the reason why was that it was always myth that a large chuck of the republicans subscribed to libertarianism. As I’ve discussed in the past, if anything right wing parties like the Republicans are the ideological enemies of libertarians, as many Republican’s, and in particular those in the Tea Party, advocate big government and authoritarian policies.

For example, immigration, which many Republicans want to stop. However this means the state putting a guy at the border checking people’s papers are in order, faceless bureaucrats centrally planning the economy (by deciding how many should be allowed in) and employers facing government interference in who they hire (e.g. don’t hire this young fellow from Poland with a degree and relevant experience, no you have to take Bob from the job centre down the road who likes to sniff glue and was sacked from his last job for laziness). Similarly the GOP wants to allow intrusive government surveillance of the sort that we’re more familiar reading about in 1984. The fact is, the GOP is not a libertarian friendly party, this is why the US has a separate libertarian party.

So why were all those Tea baggers flocking to Rand or Ron Paul in previous elections? Well it might have something to do with dog whistle politics. Often both Paul’s would say things that sounded a little bit racist, such as wanted to repeal equality laws or expressing support for the Confederates in the Civil war on the basis of “state rights”. Now both claimed that no, they weren’t being racist, it just this is how they interpreted these issues from a libertarian prospective. I would argue however, that what was actually happening was that the many racists in the GOP were decoding these speeches as a nod and a wink from the Paul’s along the lines of “we don’t like Nig%ers neither”.

Obviously once such individuals were presented with an actual racist to vote for (two of them in fact), they quickly switched support to Trump or Cruz and Rand Paul found his base evaporating. This theory would also serve to explain why many of the other Republicans are struggling in the polls. Many of them try to tap into this “small government” Tea Party types by talking about downscaling the government by cutting X number of departments (then forgetting how many they planned to cut). However, they don’t seem to understand that very few Americans actually want this, its the racist code words that some are reacting too.

The fact is that they two candidates leading the polls are very much big government national socialists. While Cruz or Trump might cut back some parts of the state (the bit that does important things like rescue people from hurricanes or provides medical care to wounded veterans), in reality they are running on a ticket of expanding government, with more surveillance and government powers, more FBI/CIA agents, more border guards and with bans on gay marriage or abortion. In short Trump and Cruz want a US government that is so big and so authoritarian it is allowed to come into your home, up the stairs and dictate what consenting adults can do in private.

All this is very worrying. Two decades of Fox News lies has created a Frankenstein monster that is now out of control, much as how similar Daily Mail bigotry in the UK now threatens the very survival of the United Kingdom (given the very real possibility of the UK breaking up if the UK votes to leave the EU).

If there are any nuclear options for the grandee’s of the GOP to play, now is the time. I would advocate all of the established candidates pulling out and endorsing one of their own (likely Kaisch or Rubio) as the challenger to the Tea Party candidates. Furthermore they should make it clear that if their guy loses to Trump or Cruz they will all leave the party and either endorse Hilary or Michael Blomberg as well as handing them control of all of the GOP superpac’s, all but guaranteeing the Tea Party candidate will lose and lose badly.

Irish Election – A fight in more ways than one

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A bit of a boob from Sinn Fein!

One has to contrast events in the US with those in Ireland. An election was announced on the 6th of February with polling day on the 26th. A twenty day campaign, although the country has been in defacto election mode for a month or two now. Even so compare that with the two years of campaigning in the US. American doesn’t have a democracy, they have an elaborate system where you pile more and more money onto a weighting scales and the one who says the dumbest things and has the biggest pile wins. No wonder Trump is out in front!

Of course its not that we don’t have problems of our own in Ireland. They’re called “Sinn Fein”. Like many populists parties they’ve been promising everything under the sun. Abolition of water charges and other unpopular austerity measures, 100,000 new homes…while at the same time cutting taxes. They’re even promising an extra holiday! It is a manifesto that only appeals to those who are poor at maths…. which unfortunately appears to be about a fifth of the electorate. The other parties have all vowed not to form a coalition with Sinn Fein, even if they have to go to the polls again or enter into a grand coalition (that said, I won’t be surprised if one of them reneges on that after election day). A grand coalition is a possibility as its likely the Irish labour party are likely to go the way of the lib dems (inevitably blamed for everything the past coalition did, even tho it was the other bigger parties idea in the first place).

And it is for good reason that Sinn Fein should be kept from power as there has been a spate of recent murders in Ireland, which are believed to be linked to fighting between republican controlled gangs with SF or IRA links. In most countries politicians say I’m not a crook. SF politicians have to say, well I’m not a crook any more and I forget where my victims are buried.

Judge Scalia no more

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One of the most right-wing and outspoken of the US supreme court judges, Judge Scalia died in his sleep on Saturday. This is quite a significant event, as it provides Obama with the opportunity to change the balance of the Supreme court towards a more liberal view point.

That said, Scalia was so far to the right, you could put G. W. Bush on the Supreme court and it would still pull the court to the left. He was so far too the right that he was treated as a cartoon figure by some comedians. This is the guy who allowed the US Supreme court to ignore the “well regulated” bit of the 2nd amendment and effectively decide it meant “no regulation” of guns. He recently voted against Obama’s climate change mitigation plans, which has the potential to all but guarantee that Florida drowns. Quite apart from handing the US presidency to Bush, even though Gore had clearly won the most votes (minor pesky detail that!).

Anyway, needless to say, the GOP nominee’s aren’t seeing the funny side of it and are suggesting that Obama should not appoint a replacement (even thought its entirely within his right, the Constitution makes no mention of any pause in election years, indeed it seems to imply he should do so promptly). The Republicans have threatened to fight it right the way through Congress….of course they’d never dream of replacing a Supreme court justice in a presidential election year…of course Bush did this very thing in 2009…and Reagan did in 1988…..

A soggy Yuletide Roundup

The failings of Paris

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While I’m pleased that the agreement in Paris yielded some positives, however it suffers from a major problem – it is distinctly lacking in specifics. There are no set targets nor timetable in terms of at what pace emissions should be cut, no clear policy for enforcing such cuts, no penalties to countries who renege on their commitments at Paris.

Much of the debate seemed to be as to whether a threshold of 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees should be accepted. Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and make it -1.5 degrees and commit to cooling the planet slightly for all the good it would have done! Because without some sort of concrete measures its inevitable that cutting emissions will quickly fall to the bottom of the political agenda, particularly when there are populist parties on the rise in many democracies who believe they can ignore such things as climate change.

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We can tell how meaningless the agreement reached was by the fact the UK government signed up to it. This is despite the fact that the UK has cut back on all its subsidies for renewables and reversed many energy efficiency measures. In fact it has committed to an energy policy all but guaranteed to push up emissions. Many were expecting the UK to try and veto or sabotage any agreement at Paris, but they didn’t have too, because they know that they can sign up to it, make a few meaningless speeches about saving the rainforests or hugging polar bears but otherwise ignore the matter.

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And without the necessary signal from politicians getting the energy industry to commit the sort of funding needed to bring about the necessary changes is highly unlikely. While the renewables industry is growing, its not growing nearly quickly enough and only a shift in national energy policy in many countries will produce the necessary incentives.

So I have little doubt that the next climate conference in a few years time will be to discuss how to meet the Paris accords given that few countries have cut emissions, indeed several have increased them. And no doubt without binding targets the meeting after that will be to discuss how the commitments agreed in Paris are now technically impossible to meet and less stringent targets need to be set.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire

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And should anyone in the UK wonder what’s the problem with climate change, go for a walk in York city centre sometime, or indeed many UK towns. You might want to bring wellies….and a wet suit….or a boat!

While its important not to try too link any individual weather event to climate change, it has to be acknowledged that one of the effects of climate change is more extreme weather and flooding. And the floods in the UK have been getting increasingly worse. This isn’t so much an elephant in the room but an entire family of them. And in the wake of recent flooding in the UK there is already talk of the need for a major rethink towards flood defences across the UK.

Indeed, I would go further. Building flood barriers higher and higher isn’t going to solve the problem. Flooding isn’t just a case of people getting their carpet’s wet, it has economic implications. If your home is prone to flooding you will struggle to get insurance or a mortgage and hence the value of that property, even if its in a prime location, will suffer. In my home town of Cork, a city prone to flooding (as I will discuss in a moment), the most valuable property are those outside the city centre, as those in the centre of town are vulnerable to flooding. Indeed in the wake of floods a few years ago, there are a large number of abandon buildings in the town centre, which nobody wants to invest in.

So clearly if we don’t do something to tackle climate change there will be a host of knock on economic effects, quite apart from the financial cost of building ever more elaborate flood defences. And of course more pictures of politicians standing in waders surrounded by angry locals.

Floods? Its the fault of foreigners

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I always find it amusing how the bigot brigade can twist any problem such that its the fault of foreigners, migrants….or Jeremy Corybn. These floods are a good example. While the other newspapers point to the failings in the governments flood policy, where Osborne’s austerity axe has led to cuts and preventable” flooding (expect lawsuits to follow!), or climate change, the Daily Mail instead blames foreign aid.

Yes its not Osborne’s or Cameron’s fault for cutting back on flood defences, no its those nasty evil migrants who came over here, broke into Downing street and forced the Tories to give money to the regime’s they were fleeing….before presumably running off to the nearest benefits office.

Firstly, what we call “foreign aid” should really be called “UK industrial subsidy” as its often provided to regimes on the basis that they use it to buy British goods (its more equivalent to giving these countries a UK store discount card). Inevitably some of it (perhaps quite a lot of it) does get laundered into swiss bank accounts, but it does so via British businesses. So the headline should read, British businesses help dictators rob billions while Britain is flooded.

Furthermore the whole point of such programmes is to improve the lot of of people in these countries, many of whom count as some of the poorest and most down trodden people in the world. The logic is that if we do this, they will be less inclined to take the dangerous journey across the Med and end up on our shores. So its a bit rich the Daily Mail complaining about all these refugee’s showing up one minute, then complaining about the government trying to do something to prevent such migration in the first place.

Cork flooding

And an idea of what is in store for the UK can be found in my home town of Cork. Like I said, the city has long been prone to flooding. This is nothing new, much of the city centre is founded on reclaimed marsh land, with ancient tributaries flowing in tunnels under a number of the city’s streets.

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In 2009 however the city was subject to an unusually high flood level of 3.1 metres above the usual high watermark, higher than it has ever been since records began. Much of the blame for this flood was levelled at the ESB (electricity supply board). Fearing for the integrity of the Iniscarra dam down river from the city, they felt obliged to open the flood gates and release a large quantity of water. This decision is now a matter of much debate, with a court case ongoing as to whether this decision is justified.

The argument goes that the dam wasn’t as at risk as thought. Furthermore, the ESB had held back a lot of water a few days earlier to allow police divers to search for a body down river. In essence, those suing the ESB for damages claim that the flood was “preventable”. Now while this is debatable, you can obviously see the problem for the UK government. If it can be proven that their austerity worsening the impact of flooding, then they could well find themselves sued by the insurance firms for billions of poundsso Osborne trying to save a few million could cost the country many times that amount!

But returning to the matter in Cork, I would tend to come down in favour of the ESB. Hindsight is a fine thing. Had the ESB not held back the water and a police diver drown, wouldn’t they be sued by the policeman’s family? If they had held the water on the day of the flood and the dam failed then won’t they be blamed for the loss of life that would have resulted downstream?

And like I said, flooding is normal in Cork. Anybody who bought or built property in the boom in the city centre must have surely known what they were getting themselves in for. I mean in one case they build a luxury hotel on a known flood plane. This included an underground car park right next to the river! You do have to pause and wonder what were they thinking!…or perhaps that’s the problem, they were too greedy to think straight.

And one of the main claimants in this case is UCC (University College Cork) who built several large buildings right on the flood plane, which hardly sounds sensible. And as they are paid for by the state and the ESB’s main shareholder is the state, so this court case is literally a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In essence city’s like Cork (or New Orleans in the US or Venice in Italy) are the canaries in the coal mine. They show us what they long term effects of climate change will be. It will mean lots of people loosing their homes or their investments (ending up owning a property they’ve invested heavily in that’s now rendered worthless). This is the price to be paid for a lack of commitment on climate change. And suffice to say the costs of dealing with the problem will vastly exceed the price of avoiding it in the first place.

The European migrant crisis

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Back in Ireland I happened to be listening to the annual Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture. This year it was given by the businessman and economic adviser Peter Sutherland on the theme of “Migration – The Global Challenge Of Our Times“.

In essence his point was that to deny refugees access to the safety of the EU was to undermine the core values of the not just the EU, but the post-war settlement in Potsdam. Effectively populist anti-immigration parties now threaten to undo everything the west fought for during the war.

Refugee’s, he reminds us, are afforded special status due to the lessons learnt during the holocaust. Prior to this many Jews attempted to flee the nazi’s but were turned back and refused potential safe haven’s, largely due to politicians giving in to populist and racist pressure from the bigot brigade. The most notable example of this was the MS St Louis, otherwise known as the voyage of the damned. Several hundred Jewish refugees on this ship were refused entry to the US, Canada and Cuba and ultimately forced to return to Europe, where many would ultimately die in the concentration camps.

Certainly he is not arguing for an open door policy on migrants. Indeed he argues very firmly for a centralised EU policy on this matter rather than they current policy of beggar thy neighbour. Also there is a need to sort the legitimate refugees from economic migrants. Ironically it is the very populist anti-EU and anti-migrant parties who are stoking fears over migration who represent the major obstacle to any agreement on this issue.

Efforts by the Germans to ease pressure on Greece and Italy have been exasperated by an openly racist policy from governments in the UK, Poland and Hungary. He accuses populist politicians across Europe of stoking the fears of the public and appealing to the lowest forms of deceit. He points out the 780,000 taken in by the US since 9/11 only 3 have engaged in any form of terrorism (and one of those was white!).

And as he further argues, the reality is that Europe needs these migrants. The economies of Europe need an influx of new young workers to pay taxes to fund the pensions of many new retiree’s. The price for many in the UK of curbing migration could well be the loss of their pensions.

It is of course interesting to contrast Peter Sutherland, an individual famous for being to the right of Thatcher, and the likes of UKIP. Of course its easily explained by the fact that he represents a traditional right wing economic liberal view, while UKIP represent national socialism. While they may pretend to be on the right, instead they favour a centrally planned migration policy and borders as tightly controlled as those in North Korea.

The Antibiotic apocalypse

A disturbing story over the last few weeks has been the evolution of bacteria that can counter the drugs of last resort. It is now feared we may only be a few years away from a future where the slightest cut could prove fatal, where many easily treated diseases could prove fatal, where routine medical procedures could be rendered incredibly dangerous. Ultimately the life expectancy of us all will fall for the first time in many generations.

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However what is more disturbing is how this was easily preventable. I was shocked to learn that this very same “drug of last resortwas being routinely given to farm animals in the UK (restrictions were agreed in the UK this month, which sounds like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted).

I mean you say “drug of last resort” most of us would assume we’re talking about a drug locked in a cabinet which only a handful of doctors have access too, perhaps one requiring two keys to open. But no, we were instead shovelling it into feeding trough of Daisy the cow, even thought there was nothing wrong with her!

Its not so much a surprise we’re in this predicament, but a surprise that we didn’t recognise the obvious danger decades ago and do something about it! This again, is the danger of letting major problems like this fester.

A not so magical Christmas

You’ve probably heard Donald Trump’s view that the borders should be closed to Muslims. You probably laughed as the late night comedians ripped him to shreds over it. However what’s not so funny is that, to some degree, it is already the policy of the US that they can exclude people from the country purely on the basis of race and religion.

In the run up to Christmas a British family were prevented from travelling to the US for reasons that the US authorities have not fully explained, citing the Patriot act. They were on their way to Disney land for a Christmas holiday. You can imagine the father trying to tell his kids how their Christmas was now ruined by institutional racism within the US department of homeland security.

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Since 9/11 the US has implemented a policy whereby everyone seeking to enter the country has their name run through a register. And if you’re on a no fly list, you can’t come in. However, given that the list doesn’t distinguish between one guy called Abdul Mohammed and another unrelated person, with the same name  (and its worth noting a lot of Muslim names sound alike, I’ve had three or four Mubarak’s or Mohammed’s in the same class, often from different countries), its very easy for someone to end up on the list and be banned from the US, even if your a law abiding citizen….or even a 1 year old child!

Worst of all is that there is no feedback, no appeals. Your told you can’t fly period. So much for the land of the free!

Good guy with a gun

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Its worrying how you have to rely on US late night comedy for any serious news and analysis in the US. Here’s an interesting piece by the Daily Show regarding guns. The NRA will tell you that the solution to a “bad guy” with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Well not so say the experts. The reality is that a good guy with a gun will likely be shot before he can shoot back. It takes many years of intensive training to teach someone how to react to a shooting incident. Send a bunch of wannabe vigilante’s in and they’ll likely either freeze and be shot, walk straight into a hail of bullets (their gun picked up by the shooter, which was handy as he was starting to run out of ammo!), they may shoot an innocent person fleeing from the attacker or be shot by the police as they arrive on scene (put yourself in a cop’s shoes, you enter a building where there’s been a shooting, you come around a corner see a guy with gun, what do you do? Politely ask him if he’s the homicidal manic they are looking for?).

This matches the results of FBI studies which suggest that a “good guy” only stopped a shooter on 3% of occasions….and many those good guys were unarmed!

It also mirrors the experience of the military. Studies have shown that the majority of green troops in combat will not shoot to kill. They will either freeze, shoot but aim high, or pretend to be busy doing something else (carrying ammo or wounded, making a radio call, guarding the rear for a flank attack, etc.). And we’re talking here about people who’ve been through several months of rigorous training. This is why the US security services and military train relentlessly. It is literally a full time commitment that no group of amateurs could ever hope to match.

And of course we’re forgetting that our spree shooters might just change tactics. If for example you know a university has allowed all its jocks to carry guns around campus, are you going to pitch up with a pistol?…or are you going to take pot shots at them with a rifle from a high roof top?

Ultimately the way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun is to make it harder for him to get a gun in the first place. While shootings at schools or campuses in the US are sufficiently common they now train people how to react, in Europe its practically unheard of.

Reagan in power

And speaking of America, we have revelations about what life was like in the White House behind closed doors under Reagan. In one quote “no one has ever entered the white house so grossly ill informed”.

William Leuchtenburg (a history Professor from Carolina) describes how his staff desperately tried to keep Reagan from the media (he performed all of 6 news conferences in his first year in office, a modern president would do that many in a month), in case he blurted out something crazy. Reagan demonstrated his ignorance at many meetings by not having a clue of current events (he interrupted a meeting on nuclear weapons policy to discuss the plot of the kids movie War Games). On other occasions he fell asleep during meetings…once while the French President was in the room! “You could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts” a California legislator said, “and not get your ankles wet.

Fortunately Reagan’s skill as an actor allowed his staff to guide him through public events, giving him cue cards and even chalking out where he should stand. Meanwhile the mandarins behind the scenes ran the country without him. While some of this turned out positive (the economy did increase for a time) but generally it proved to be a disaster (the economy fell, the deficit soared, the Neo-cons nearly started world war 3, vast sums of public money was squandered) largely because America was essentially rudderless for 8 years.

It is probably incorrect to credit Reagan with much of what went on under his reign, for it would seem the lights were on, but nobody was home!

Jersey Bankruptcy

The UKIP plan for the UK post-Brexit is to turn it into something resembling Jersey. Quite apart from the obvious problems with that, i.e. Jersey doesn’t have to pay for all of the infrastructure, military forces, welfare, pensions and other expenses the UK government has to handle, there is another flaw. That Jersey is currently tittering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The country bet heavily on property, investment and basically prostituting itself off to wealthy tax dodgers. However, since the economic downturn its been struggling to balance the books. Part of the problem for Jersey is that its lassie-faire government has left it at the whim’s of global events. And inevitably with the downturn, its seen an ever growing deficit problem that may prove impossible to fill. Likely requiring them to eventually go cap in hand to Westminster. Naturally this does not bode well for the UK as a whole, should the country vote to leave the EU.

As for Jersey, should we bail them out? My view, no! They made their bed, let them lie in it. The train-wreck of their collapse will serve as a stark example to other tax havens and tax dodgers.

Blogging catch up

Been a while since I’ve had a chance for any blogging, I thought it was time for a catch up.

Greek default
The Greeks are going bankrupt….like a Greek. I think this was the problem the Germans never anticipated. They assumed that if the Greeks did default, they’d default like a German, but of course that’s not going to happen.

Instead, we have Athens basically saying they need to sleep on it over the weekend, have a referendum and even then with it looking like talks are finished, they come back to the table. If the Eurocrats thought that this was going to go to any sort of plan, they were wrong. And the assumption that the Greeks, if they vote no, will quietly leave the Euro, is flat wrong also. That would be way too logical and organised.

Again, this goes back to the beginning of this whole saga, when a failure to tackle the crisis quickly, largely because of resistance from the Germans, let to it building from a minor issue into a full blown crisis. In the end the very thing the German’s resisted, Quantitative Easing, the ECB have been forced to bring in anyway. So while yes the Greeks have to take some of the blame for this crisis, so too does the rest of the EU. And if anyone things the Greeks are going to make things easy for them, they’ve got another thing coming.

Heathrow
An interesting piece here from the BBC about the long running saga of choosing the next airport for London. Would you believe that committee after committee has been debating this matter since the Roskill Commission in 1971. They recommended a new airport on a greenfield site in Buckinghamshire. Then, as now, the government rejected this proposal and fudged the issue. And successive governments have been fudging it ever since.

So with that in mind you can understand why this week’s Airports commission report went down like a lead balloon. The problem here is that politicians keeping asking for an answer to a simple question and then not liking the answer they get back.

Expansion of Gatwick or building a new airport in the Thames estuary comes with numerous difficulties, not least of those cost, but also the issue that such an airport will be in the wrong place. Any replacement for Heathrow will serve not just London but a large chuck of England, and the bulk of people in England live either north or west of the Thames, so an airport tucked away in the South East corner of the country will necessitate a change of trains in London, something that will automatically add 1-3 hours onto any journey time.

This is the whole reason why the Roskill commission picked a site north of the capital. The present Airports commission, perhaps recognising the impracticality of this option went for the next best thing, which was to expand Heathrow.

My own view is that instead of expanding Heathrow, just make sure its integrated into the HS2 network, as this will eliminate the need for commuter flights to Heathrow, freeing up capacity. Furthermore, as HS2 passes close to Manchester and Birmingham airports, it offers the alternative of expanding them instead and offering a fast connection time to London, Heathrow and the rest of the country. Its also worth remembering that much of Heathrow is given over to cargo. Do the parcels really care where they land? Can’t we just take one of a number of airfields near London (or take over Luton or Oxford airport), turn it into a dedicated cargo handling facility (again ensuring good connection to the rail network as well as the motorways) and redirect all the cargo flights away from Heathrow?

But, like I said, the problem is that no matter what answer they come up with, its going to be unpopular with someone. The Heathrow HS2 link for example has been killed off by the usual NIMBY-ish, indeed Gatwick expansion is also resisted by various NIMBY’s in that part of the country.

Ultimately the government needs to realise that part of their job is to make unpopular discussions. So either they need to disappoint someone by expanding Heathrow, or building a new airport to the South West of London. Or re-route HS2. Or do nothing and point out to anyone in London that wants to complain about how awkward air travel is in London, or that prices are so expensive and the airports so inaccessible, well we had plans to fix this, but you objected to it!

Railway cuts
The Tories promised billions to help upgrade railway lines in the UK, all as part of their election plans for a “northern power house”. Needless to say, that promise didn’t last very long. But I have to give the Tories credit. Most governments would at least go through the motions of pretending to keep their election promises, for a year or two anyway, then act shocked and surprised when the programme they’d badly managed and starved of funds failed.

Certainly it is true that there is a desperate need to upgrade the railway lines of Northern England. Taking a train in that part of the world is like going through a time warp. It takes so long to get from, say Liverpool to Sheffield or Leeds to Hull, you’d swear they still used steam trains. But any sort of meaningful upgrade of systems here was always going to be a major job, as big as HS2 itself.

But frankly anyone who honestly believed that the Tories, a party who have been screwing over northern England since the 1800’s, were going to spend tens of billions on the north, well I’ve got some magic beans you might want to buy! This was clearly an election ploy to steal a few lib dem seats.

Tax does have to be taxing
Another lie promise that the Tories made was not to cut working tax credits. Again, any meaningful reading of their election manifesto would lead to the conclusion that there spending plans simply did not add up without some major welfare spending cuts. And the only two line items in the welfare bill with enough zero’s behind them to make those numbers work are a) pensions or b) working tax credits.

And should anyone be in any doubt that working tax credits are going, look no further than the fact that the tabloids are already selling such a cut. They are claiming that migrants in receipt of working tax credits are sending them abroad. Again, this wrong on so many levels. Migrants are at most 13% of the work force, and if this is going on (no proof is offered), it probably only effects a tiny handful (indeed the tabloids seem to admit its a figure in the tens of thousands against recipients in the tens of millions).

And when did we have that vote to impose communism and let the government tell people what to do with their money? I have a bank account in Ireland and yes I push some money from my British account into it every now and then (I don’t receive any working tax credits, but no doubt if I did they would probably class this as “sending it abroad”), as this means I’ve money I can then withdraw in euro’s when I go on my hols. Are the Daily Mail saying the government should now regulate bank account transfers? If so let’s start with the non-dom’s, like the people who own them!

More crucially of course is that these tactics mirror those used prior to previous benefit cuts. Have the tabloids claim migrants or lazy scroungers are receiving them, propose cuts, etc. So working tax credits are likely to be go quicker than you can say “boy for sale”.

United Disgust
Fifa have enough problems as it is, but if you want a good example of the endemic corruption within the organisation, or its wasteful spending on very public vanity projects, look no further than the recently released film “united passions”.

I have yet to come across a film so universally panned by critics 😳 as this film. And probably for good reason, for a film that has taken in all of $200,000 since May….against an alleged budget in the tens of millions. The film’s director has already disowned it, while Tim Roth, who inexplicably plays Blatter :??:, has been making all sorts of excuses.

Of course the film glosses over a few details. Such as the fact that the only reason why we have a world cup was due to a Bernie Ecclestone-esque power struggle between then FIFA president Jules Rimet, the British and the IOC. The film also glosses over the decision to host the second world cup in Fascist Italy. Plus they were in talks with Germany about hosting the 1942 world cup, until Hitler’s little “excursion” into Poland. Then there’s the closeness of FIFA top brass to various shadowy figures, notably various South American dictators and corporate sponsors. Or how on behalf of said sponsors FIFA has put pressure on governments to pass various legislation.

If you want to see a blatant piece of ego massaging propaganda, might I recommend this instead. On the plus side, there are rumours that Ben Afleck and Mat Damon are planning to make a movie of the book House of Deceit about the recent FIFA scandal. Perhaps they can get Tim Roth to reprise his role?

Trump, you’re fired!
Donald Trump :crazy:, professional buffoon and ego manic, has announced his candidacy for the US president. A gift of comic gold dust to US late night comedians. For Trump is known for his habit of suffering from a condition known as “diarrhoea of the mouth”

He has also shown an inability to understand the concept of irony or get a joke, as his recent spat with Bill Maher demonstrates, or indeed his various spat’s with John Steward of the Daily Show. Of course any politician who can’t handle a few comedians is sort of screwed. After all, how does he plan on handling an interview with a serious journalist or a debate with someone like Hilary Clinton?

However in amongst the various comments he’s made since declaring, were a number of racist ones about Mexicans, something which has led to NBC firing him from his own show. Mexican TV have also pulled his shows and even Macy’s has cut its ties with him.

Trump’s problem is that he’s basically a spoiled little rich kid who has lived his life in a little yes man bubble where nobody around him dares to question him. Hence he doesn’t realise how bad what he’s saying sounds to anyone how lives in the real world. I mean even Glenn Beck, a man famous for suffering from Nazi Tourettes, has come out and called Trump crazy.

Battle flag of the racists
And speaking of racists we have the controversy over the Confederate battle flag in the US. After the Charleston killer was seen posing with it, there were calls for the flag to be removed from public buildings. A problem, because inexplicably it still hangs in front of the state capital of South Carolina and its incorporated into the state flag of Mississippi.

Now some will defend the flag and say it means different things. However as John Steward puts it, this is like neo-nazi’s waving swastika’s about and claiming that it means support for Germany’s tough anti-smoking policy. The problem is that the confederate flag has long been a symbol of racists and white supremacists in the US. And it is forever tainted with the legacy of slavery. Now if they people defending it were black or liberals, okay maybe we could believe its defenders, but unfortunately they are almost universally white, conservative, right wingers.

Backing down on climate
The Pope’s letter on climate change released a few weeks ago, which was basically one step removed from a papal bull, has put Republicans in a bit of a pickle. Basically, they can’t bring up climate change denial now, without running the risk of being ambushed by journalists with the line “the pope say’s its happening and its a sin, do you plan on going to hell?”. This is a particular problem for catholic candidates, particularly given their previous positions on issues such as gay marriage and stem cell research.

Traditionally, Republicans have campaigned on the four G’s. God, Guns, Gay’s and Global warming denial. Now they don’t dare mention the first or last G, as that raises the risk of them being ambushed with the other. So this means they’ll probably be focusing more on the two middle G’s from now on…..

Taking it back
….On which point we finish with the story of a US pastor (I’ll let you guess which church) who wants to take back the word “gay” and restore its original meaning.

I happen to agree with this one. I mean “gay” is a crucial word in the English language and we need it. Now thanks to the LGBT lot you can’t read aloud a William Worthsworth poem without someone sniggering at the thought of “feeling gay”.

So yes, let’s restore this word’s original meaning. Hence why I’ll be referring to all US Baptists and Tea party members as gay #babptistsaregay #teapartyaregay :))

Of course we need someone in the UK to front this campaign. So what about Farage? He’s always hanging out in pubs with a big gay grin on him? Maybe he can do it? #farageisgay ;D

Think it will work?

Why an EU Referendum would be a very bad idea

The Tories of course have promised a referendum on the EU, although I’m suspicious as to whether they will actually commit to this course once it becomes obvious its not going to go the way they’d like it too.

While inevitably some will point to the election result as proof that we need to have a referendum (the argument being that a majority of people want it….although I seem to recall the Tories only winning 37% of the vote…a good bit short of a majority!). However the point of government is to make responsible decisions, not pander to the whims of the mob. As a consequence there are many good legal and practical reasons for this referendum not to be held.

A British Constitution
So why is it that the British haven’t had a referendum on Europe since the 70’s, yet some countries like Ireland have had more than we can count? Or indeed how is it we got to have a vote on gay marriage and the UK didn’t?

Well because in Ireland we, like almost every other civilised democracy, have a constitution, which can only be altered by popular vote of the people. Thus any time a new EU treaty comes up, we get to have a vote on it. UK citizens don’t get to vote on such matters, because you don’t have a constitution. Hence if there’s any referendum we should be having in Britain in 2017 its one on a UK constitution.

This would, in the first instance, guarantee not one EU referendum but multiple ones whenever the EU brings out a major treaty change. The current referendum plan offers no such guarantees. Furthermore, as I discussed previously in a prior post, many of the very things that are seen as causing friction with between the UK and Brussels, the conflict between the European Courts for example, would largely be resolved through a UK constitution, negating the need for any sort of renegotiation.

Should you be wondering if all I say is true, why isn’t every politician in the country signing up for a UK constitution? Well because, a constitution by its very nature puts a limit on government power. It blocks politicians from passing certain legislation without first getting the consent of the people. Courts are also constrained, as the constitution tend to decide how laws should be interpreted, not judges. Which is bad news if you’re one of the landed gentry used to buying the court rulings you want (such as those super injunctions!). Certainly, as events in the US prove, its still possible for the rich to buy the outcomes they want, but a constitution makes it a whole lot harder.

Of course this is the whole point of a constitution, a redistribution of power downwards…hence why even UKIP are against it!

A dangerous precedence
And to those who say, but we never got a vote on the EU, we want one now, well yes and did you get a vote on the privatisation of public services? Nor do I recall any vote on Trident, nor its retention. And the current Tory plans for the NHS, which seems to be to let it wither on the vine and then privatise it, well you ain’t getting a vote on that either!

A constitution would resolve these issues for future legislation. But the idea of having a retrospective referendum, as is proposed on the EU, is an unprecedented act in any democracy. It suggests that legislation passed by a previous government can simply be undone if you hold a referendum. Governments, either through referendum or otherwise, going back on legislation like this is a very rare event. About the only example I can think of is the repeal of prohibition in the 1930’s.

This sets a very dangerous legal precedence. For if ever a future hard left government were to come to power (and any economic downturn that were to follow an EU exit is exactly the sort of situation that could lead to that, just look at Greece!) they now have the perfect method to undo the legacy of Thatcher, Blair and practically every post-war Tory government in one parliamentary term. All they need to do is hold a few referendums.

The first one presumably to renationalise all public services (and opinion polls say such a policy would almost certainly go through), another to get rid of Trident, perhaps another one ends non-dom status and the property rights of the landowners (and puts a 75% tax on anyone educated in a private school I assume!), etc. Its the political equivalent of a military firing squad, seven rifles, one blank, nobody’s guilty.

In effect the Tories may one day curse they day they held this referendum as they watch everything they’ve fought for since the war dismantled in the blink of an eye.

The Issues
There are many good economic and political reasons to be euroskeptic (again I’m not suggesting the EU is perfect!). The original founder of UKIP, Alan Sked outlines a few, as does this libertarian blogger (although he eventually concludes that leaving rather than reforming the EU would be throwing the baby out with the bath water).

However my fear is that the referendum won’t be fought on such issues. Instead it will be fought on the terms of the tabloids, which means immigration and how darkies are here to steal you’re jobs, clog up motorways, claim benefits and commit crime or terrorism in whatever limited free time this busy schedule allows.

Migration is a legitimate political topic, but as I’ve discussed before, many of the things migrants are blamed for are largely untrue. And more importantly, its questionable to suggest that leaving the EU will allow the UK better control over immigration. Consider that Norway and Switzerland are both non-EU countries yet they still have serious immigration problems (per capita both receive more migrants than any EU country). The Swiss are actually a minority in their own country in certain cities (although admittedly the majority of said foreigners would be Germans, Italians, accountants for Mexican drug cartel’s, exiled dictators, megalomanic heads of world football ;D etc. not the sort of migrants that come to the UK!).

And the Norwegian foreign minster has been very clear that he thinks the UK is better off in the EU than out. The Japanese and have warned of likely job losses if the UK were to leave. And the Americans have made clear that the UK’s relationship with the US will be damaged by leaving the EU.

However such “facts” will not be part of the debate, as that have not featured in any debate on immigration recently. The question asked will be do you hate the French? The idea that the UK will leave the EU for entirely false reasons built on a tissue of lies and racist xenophobia would drastically undermine the democracy and the character of the UK. This will inevitably have far reaching cultural and economic consequences.

My two votes
Indeed another curve ball we need to consider is that by holding a referendum, the UK may hand its fate over to other states. Recall what I said about Ireland, and a number of other EU countries, and how they handle EU treaty changes. If Cameron continues to insist (as he is) that anything he gets out of the EU is incorporated into changes to past EU treaties this could very well provoke further referendums in multiple EU countries (including Ireland).

Keep in mind here that the government in Ireland (and other EU states) doesn’t always get to decide whether or not there should be a referendum – the supreme court often determines that. And in the past they have caught the government trying to sneak things through without a constitutional amendment and forced them to either drop the legislation, or hold a referendum before it can become law.

Thus we could see the situation where the UK votes to stay in, Ireland and say France, then vote to reject it, throwing the UK’s membership of the EU into chaos and uncertainty.

And least you say this sounds unlikely, I’ve been holding a sort of straw poll of Irish and other Europeans and putting the question to them “should we make special allowances to the EU just to keep the brits in?” I’ve so far yet to find anyone, not a single person, who would be willing to support such a bill…I won’t even vote for that myself! I could well get two votes in this referendum. One in the UK, yes to stay in, then got home to Ireland and vote no to reject the very deal Cameron is now negotiating.

And while Ireland and other EU states would have a vested interest in keeping the UK in, you’re being way too rational in making the assumption that this means a yes vote (keep in mind we Irish have a nasty habit of voting no at inconvenient times!). After all the UK has an even greater incentive to stay in (as in £215 billion reasons!) and yet there’s a sizeable number who will vote no regardless!

Chaos and uncertainty
Its very difficult to escape the conclusion that the aftermath of an EU vote will, far from resolving the issue, it will instead only lead to more uncertainty and confusion. After all we had a referendum a couple of months back in Scotland and while the Nat’s have gone quiet for now, the issue has certainly not gone away.

The balance of probability is a narrow yes to stay in. But that is unlikely to placate the bigot brigade, who will instead see it more as a target of the number of people they need to get to change their minds to win another future referendum.

Of course the end result is the UK plunged into several years of will they/won’t they uncertainty that will inevitably have a very negative effect on business. Particularly if, as noted, the re-negotiated deal Cameron is trying to get blows up in his face or is rejected by other EU electorates. Such a scenario will almost certainly split the Tory party.

And any vote to actually leave of course also creates greater uncertainty, particularly if its a close no, as seem likely. This is perhaps the worst case scenario, particularly given the rather foolish (and undemocratic decision) by Cameron to exclude EU citizens (including an MSP) from voting in it. After all would it be fair if say 52% voted in favour to leave? Out of a turn out of say 60%, with 1.5m denied a vote, meaning a margin of 29% of the electorate voting for something that dramatically effects the well being of the other 71%.

Such a result will almost certainly be challenged in the courts. Not just by individual voters but by companies, who will be able to show very real and credible economic damage to their business, as well as hire lots of crafty lawyers to make sure it gets argued over for who knows how long.

Recall the major hole in the SNP’s strategy was there were gaps in their independence plan big enough to fit a bus through. However there is no plan for Brexit. The holes here are big enough to sail the Queen Mary through! It would take a good few years to negotiate the terms of the UK’s exit. And the UK would also have to renegotiate trade deals and its membership of various international bodies, all of which are conditional on the UK being an EU member.

The result will be several years of economic uncertainty. Keep in mind that if the UK wanted a quick and easy deal to exit the EU, the obvious terms would be the same as those the Swiss and Norwegians have – open borders, free trade an agreement, agreeing to keep most existing EU laws on the UK’s books and an agreement to speedily pass any future EU trade related rules.

However this immediately counters the very propaganda driving for Brexit and I can’t see how any future PM could hold a straight face and sign that! (and he sure as hell ain’t going to get it passed by another referendum!). So its likely that any exit talks will stall pretty quickly and could drag on for years.

Breakup
And obviously if you’re the nationalists in Scotland and Wales, or the Republicans in NI…or even a supporter of Cornwall’s independence for that matter, one can scarcely thing of a better time to hold a referendum and break away from the UK than an extended period of economic and constitutional anarchy in Westminster. Legally, it will be very difficult as it is for London to leave the EU, without the consent and support of the regions. So you can probably guess what they’ll be looking for in return!

About the only scenario where I can see NI and the south unifying or Wales/Scotland breaking away is a Brexit scenario, particularly if the nationalist get to steal the UK’s seat at the EU table.

Election promises
But Cameron promised I hear some say, he practically pinky swore! Yes, well this might come as a shock, but politicians have a track record of promising things at elections which they then renege on in government 88|. And in some respects they have too. Like I said their job is to ensure stable government, not act as facilitators of mob rule.

My gripe with the lib dems wasn’t that the reneged on their promises with regard to tuition fees. Its the fact that they made such a promise in the first place knowing full well they could never possibly keep it while in power with the Tories.

Similarly the Tories have made a political promise they can’t possibly keep. At least if they still want to call themselves a responsible party of government and any better than UKIP. If they follow through with this referendum it will drastically change the landscape of the UK politically and they made not survive the consequences of that.

British Culture wars

Britain’s traditional way of life is under attack…or so I’m constantly told by the Daily Mail. This term is often used by UKIP supporters to justify their many myths on immigration and demands for “Brexit”. It is also their principle means of deflecting any attention on the negative economic consequences of any move towards Brexit.

However I wonder if they are correct in these assertions about threats to British culture and whether leaving the EU would solve such perceived problems…or do more harm than good!

The Numbers game
Firstly, the numbers. The latest info from the ONS puts net migration at 318,000. While this is high, its not the highest its ever been (that was 2005). The breakdown is that roughly 13% of entrants to the UK are British (who still count as net migrants if returning to the UK to live), 45% from outside the EU and the remaining 42% come from within the EU.

Of that 42% coming from the EU the largest proportion (50%) come from the EU15 countries, i.e. the original EU countries (France, Germany, etc.). 30% come from the EU8 (Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe), with just 19% coming from the EU2 (Romania & Bulgaria). So, far from the UK being swapped with hordes of Romanians, in truth they represent just 8% of those coming to the UK, half the number of British who re-enter the country each year.

Who is an immigrant?
While certainly there has been a sharp rise in migrant numbers recently (as noted), this has to be put within a historical context. There is nothing new about migration into the UK. From the arrival of the Celts and Romans to the Windrush, people travelling to Britain is part of the nation’s history. Farage himself is of Huguenot stock (hence the French sounding name). The Queen is more German than British (house Windsor was known as house Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until midway through WW1) and married to a Greek. So the sort of harsh migration policy talked about by some would represent a significant and historical change, one that will inevitably have consequences (such as the Queen & her husband needing to get a work permit!).

And it’s worth reflecting on the fact that “foreign born” (which counts not just migrants but their siblings and those now with British passports) represent only 13% of the UK population. One has to wonder how 13% can threaten the culture of the remaining 87%.

And until recently, the largest contributor of migrants to the UK was Ireland (a traditional that predates the EU of course). Those from the Indian subcontinent have been the largest source of migrants to the UK since 2011 (not Romania, nor Eastern Europe, nor anything to do with the EU).

Either way, to simply blame migration on the EU, doesn’t fit with the facts and figures and is little short of a fabrication by people either too lazy (or too stupid) to look them up, or perhaps borne out of a deliberate attempt to con and mislead the UK public. Thus one has to question how leaving the EU would solve the problem….if indeed there is a problem!

Furthermore, it should be remembered that the bulk of population growth in recent years has been down to demographic changes, i.e. people living longer.

Healthcare
And speaking of which, another all too common claim is that migrants can overwhelm NHS hospitals and increase waiting lists. While certainly migrants have put some pressure on the NHS its likely to be tiny compared to the pressure put on the 87% of the population who are British and predominantly older, quite apart from when we factor in the effects of poor diet and sedentary life style among many British. Given that the majority of migrants tend to be younger they are therefore far less likely to need to visit a hospital or GP.

And given that, most migrants tend to work and pay taxes, they will inevitably be contributing more to NHS funding than it costs to treat them on the rare occasions they do end up in a hospital. And of course more than a few migrants work as doctors and nurses. As one doctor put it, you’re more likely to see a migrant working in the hospital than sitting in the waiting room.

Instead I would argue the major reason behind the pressure on the NHS is a systematic failure of prior governments to adequately fund the NHS. Funding should have been increased to mean more hospitals being built and more beds added, in particular nursing and care home places (to get around so called “bed blocking”, again something that’s an inevitable result of an ageing population), when instead in some parts of the country the opposite has been happening, particularly driven by Tory cuts.

So I don’t really think we can blame migrants for this one. Indeed, with those from within the EU its worth remembering that there is a system in place that allows the UK to reclaim healthcare costs from other EU countries when their citizens are treated in the UK. There are holes in this system, however the solution is more cooperation with EU allies on this, not less. And keep in mind that with all those British retiree’s living down in Spain, Britain’s hardly got the moral high ground here.

Religion
Migrants are also blamed for causing changes in the UK’s religious mix. As most will know, church attendances have been falling for some time in the UK, while those subscribing to other religions, notably Islam, has been rising. That said, Muslims only make up 4.4% of the UK population v’s 42% Christians. And of all the things we could blame the EU for, I don’t think this is one of them. For those UKIP members who’ve never been past Dover (keep in mind they mistook Westminster Cathedral for a mosque once!), I think you’ll find that Europe is predominantly white and Christian.

Indeed, given that many of those from Eastern Europe tend to be devout Catholics, their arrival has led to increased numbers at church attendances. And many immigrants from places such as West Africa tend to be Protestants, helping to swell numbers in these churches too. So to blame immigrants for this is probably not being entirely fair. If anything immigration, in particular those from the EU, is having the opposite effect.

Certainly there are some worrying stories coming out about attempts to turn some British state schools into defacto madrasas. With even more worrying again stories about what goes on inside Islamic faith schools. However this is perhaps the inevitable consequences of allowing religious teaching to get mixed up with normal schooling. And the present government’s utterly disastrous system of “academies” and “free schools” has hardly helped the situation.

While I won’t advise going to the extremes of the US, where merely mentioned the “G word” in a school will result in you being marched off the premises. But clearly schools in the UK, both public and private, should be required to keep all religious teaching outside of normal school hours and only teach it to kids who are old enough.

Food
Of course Indians and Pakistani’s have had a significant impact on British life. Some slight changes to religious demographics are just one of them, but then there’s the impact on the British diet. However, I won’t really consider the Chicken Tikka Masala (which is probably of British origin anyway) a threat to anything…although that depends if it’s before or after beer! 😳

And it’s not as if armies of Paki’s go roaming British streets ripping pork pies out of people’s mouths and forcing them to eat curry. I’m reminded of this sketch from “goodness gracious me” where a group of Mumbai Indians get tanked up every Friday night and go for an English.

Curry and other exotic foods (or things like Mediterranean style salads and olive oil) might have been brought to the UK by immigrants, but they are being eaten in preference to traditional British food by the choice of British people. This is what the rest of us call “capitalism”. And given that such a diet tends to be healthier, I fail to see how its a threat to anybody.

Language
One complain about migrants is how they speak foreign languages and this makes some feel uncomfortable. And do you feel equally uncomfortable in France, where (surprise, surprise) everyone speaks a foreign language? Whatever you do Farage, don’t go visit a Welsh village! In any event, most EU migrants do speak English and often one of their reasons for coming to the UK is work experience while improving their English.

There is an issue with some migrants, notably those from further afield, such as India/Pakistan who’ve never really integrated and still act like they are back home in Lahore, including wearing Muslim dress and speaking their home language. However that’s hardly something we can blame on the EU. And as many of them have British passports or indefinite leave to remain, stricter migration controls are unlikely suddenly convince them to start talking English. And it is sort of a free country, so if quite frankly someone wants to speak Klingon or Swahili day to day (or dress up as a Klingon!), they do sort of have the right to do that.

There is certainly an issue with well-meaning councils and government departments, anxious to counter exploitation of migrants (by traffickers or slum landlords), printing a lot of material in languages other than English, or spend large amounts on translation services. There is perhaps an argument to be had for ending this practice. In essence, don’t come and live in the UK unless you can speak English. But this has to be balanced against the fact that the best way to deal with a number of social issues is by making sure migrants can communicate with their local authorities.

Pub culture
What about beer and British pubs? Certainly it is true that pubs in rural areas, as well as the traditional working man’s bar are under threat. Many have been closing down. However, the same thing is happening in Ireland, which I don’t think we can blame on immigrants (given that most arrivals to Ireland are Poles who drink as much as the Irish!).

Irish publicans are certainly of the opinion that the reasons for this decline in trade are the smoking ban, changes in taxes on alcohol, stricter drink driving laws and government austerity (leading to people cutting back on expenses such as going to the pub). So again, I don’t think you could blame immigrants for this one.

If anything immigrants, in particular those from the EU, have led to a very positive trend in British pub culture. On the continent people tend to drink with food. So many UK pubs have therefore begun to do pub grub, increasingly to much higher standards (beyond the traditional pork pie and crisps).

Migrants from EU states with beer drinking traditions, such as Poland, Czech Rep and Germany also brought their beer with them. This led to the realisation among British brewers that they could in fact sell things other than Lager, while Irish brewers realised there was no law stopping them brewing something other than stout. The result has been an explosion in microbreweries in the UK (and Ireland), with many new breweries popping up and many new bars specialising in the sale of such ales.

So I would argue that what’s happened has been that the traditional British pub hasn’t become extinct, it’s simply evolving. And lest we forget, its doing so because many in the country (not just immigrants) are voting with their feet and choosing the real ale or gastropub over the traditional drinking den. Something for Farage to mull over next time he’s sounding off against the EU while enjoying a real ale in a pub.

Crime
What about crime levels? Do migrants cause crime? Should we be worried, as Farage suggests, if Romanians move in next door? Well statistics show that when immigrants move into an area, crime rates generally fall.

Certainly this is an unfair generalisation. It probably relates to the fact that most migrants to the UK are predominately of working age and employed or seeking employment and tend not to be burdened with the sort of major social problems that often leads some UK citizens to crime. One has to assume a few bad eggs get through, but it’s not as if we’re short of homegrown criminals in the UK!

Contrary to popular tabloid myths, criminals can’t simply walk into the UK. There are measures to control their movements and make sure police forces across the EU are aware of a suspects criminal past, as well as ensuring rapid deportation of any, should an arrest warrant be issued (although funnily enough. Ironically in fact, many of the euroskeptics want to do away with these rules, no doubt worried about themselves getting deported one day (when their financial and tax avoidance crimes catch up with them).

The measure of things
And before anyone brings up the old chestnut of the metric system we might want to debunk a few myths here. Certainly the EU favours the metric system, as in fact does virtually every government on the planet earth, other than the US. But it has largely left it up to individual EU members to implement any change over to metric units. It is worth noting that Britain’s transition to metric units started in the 1960’sbefore the UK joined!

In Ireland for example, we swapped all speed limits from miles to km’s in 2005. We did this because anyone educated in Ireland since 1970 hasn’t got a clue what a mile is, the cars themselves are usually designed using the metric system (in my uni we certainly teach all our classes to future engineers in metric) and most of the legislation relating to vehicles (both Irish and EU) is written in terms of metric units. Even the Irish Ordnance survey maps have long been worked out in metric (as have the British ones incidentally). So really it was a case of the government in Ireland deciding to bite the bullet.

We still sell pints in Ireland, although even here I’d argue the metric 330ml serving offers advantages, as this is about the correct amount of beer for a light pub lunch. Two 330ml’s, particularly of the stronger European beers will also put you in that happy medium of being ever so slightly drunk, meaning you’re feeling the effects of alcohol, but without slurring you’re speech or feeling the urge to act like a tit.

They’re taking out jobs!
But I digress! Migrants “takin our jobs” is one you hear a lot from the tabloids. However, as a number of recent reports make clear (which probably explains why one of them was suppressed by Teresa May) there is very little evidence migrants are “taking jobs”. In fact the evidence suggests they are more job and economic growth creators.

Part of the reason why migrants are coming in is because there are jobs available in the UK and more often than not they are filling posts where there is a significant shortage of skilled workers (some even call it a “skills crisis”). Bottom line, if firms, such as Airbus, can’t hire the people they want here (or they get smothered under red tape filling out visa’s), they’ll move elsewhere.

In a globalised world its not so much foreigners coming over here and stealing you’re job we must fear but foreigners staying at home and your job moving abroad. Advocating any sort of system that allocates work on the basis of where you’re born stinks of national socialism, something that will send companies running for the exit.

Either way, the fact is that the UK is an ageing country and that means there is a need to bring in young people to keep the economy going and to pay taxes to fund the pensions of those who have retired. And its also difficult to ignore the fact that the bulk of UKIP support seems to come from economic black spots like the ex-seaside resort towns of the South East, where there are actually few migrants (they have the good sense to move!)

Migrant myths
Clearly neither immigration nor the EU are responsible for the many things blamed on them. Much of this is the product of various right wing myths and outright fabrications.

As I discussed in a prior post, Britain is not “full” by any stretch of the imagination. The bulk of population growth is (as noted) due to increased life spans and a higher birth rate. Pressure on public services, social housing, schools or overcrowded trains is due to the fact that successive governments have failed to plan ahead and funding has failed to match rising demand. This funding gap is largely due to their unwillingness to tax the very wealthy, who have seen their net income soar over the last few decades, while paying very little in tax.

The problem with racism and bigotry is that it involves taking the intellectually easy way out, as it amounts to blaming others for your problems. It amounts to passing the buck onto an easily ostracized minority rather than excepting the truth that the finger of blame must be pointed a little closer to home. In the end it’s reasonable to conclude that the bulk of Britain’s problems are a consequence of decisions made by the 87% who aren’t foreign born…notably the decision to vote into power a party who represent the richest 1%.