Frank Parker's author site

Home » Posts tagged 'EU'

Tag Archives: EU

Saturday Sound-off: Blather About Borders and #Brexit

Blather is an old Scots word ultimately derived from an earlier Scandinavian word for chatter or prattle. I could have used any one of many words to denote the nonsense that is still being uttered by British politicians who want the UK to leave the EU. I was tempted to use a crude reference to bovine excrement or an equally unsavoury noun usually associated with a certain part of the male anatomy that comes by the pair.

I caught a segment of the ‘Tonight‘ programme on Irish television earlier in the week in which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was taking part. Asked what was his problem with the Single Market and the Customs Union, he asserted that they prevent the UK negotiating trade deals with non-EU countries, deals which he was sure would benefit Northern Ireland businesses. When it was pointed out that most of those countries, including those who are members of the Commonwealth, prefer to deal with the UK as part of the much larger EU market, he responded by saying he had recently returned from Egypt where he led a trade mission from Northern Ireland, securing lucrative contracts for Northern Ireland businesses.

I felt like shouting at the screen: “membership of the EU didn’t prevent you doing that, then!”

Also this week, Channel 4 News asked a random sample of English people to mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic on a map of the island. The results were astonishing, showing that most people have no idea that, for example, the most northern point of the island, Malin Head, is in the Republic. Britons frequently refer to Northerrn Ireland as “Ulster” – I used to do it myself but have carefully avoided doing so in this post. The fact is that the ancient Irish province of Ulster includes Donegal which is in the Republic, to the west of Northern Ireland.

But whilst this week’s controversy has been concentrated on the land border between the UK and the EU, and the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of any reinstatement of a border between the two parts of the island of Ireland, no-one ought to lose sight of the UK’s east and south coasts with their many ports, from Aberdeen to Southampton, all of which handle traffic between the UK and continental Europe and all of which will need some degree of additional policing if the “best deal for Britain” that David Davis is so eager to achieve falls short of the existing arrangements. And then there are the 16 regional airports*, as well as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead.

I am only an ordinary citizen, although I did once dabble in local politics and even stood as a candidate for the European parliament, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could imagine that any “deal” could be better than the one we already have. I make no apology for repeating again what I said before the referendum, here, and, afterwards, here, and have continued to say in the period since.

As this comprehensive Facebook post from Jon Danzig at Reasons2Remain makes clear, the months of uncertainty, negotiations, and costly preparations that the UK has been forced to endure, and will continue to endure through the proposed two year “transition period”, are utterly pointless if the deal that is struck at the end of the process looks anything like the one we already have. And, if it doesn’t, then businesses that rely on fast freight transfers between the UK and EU will be hampered and their customers, the citizens of Britain, will pay the price.

*For anyone interested the 16 are, in alphabetical order, Birmingham; Blackpool; Bournemouth; Bristol; Cardiff; East Midlands; Exeter; Humberside; Leeds Bradford; Liverpool; Luton; Manchester; Newcastle; Norwich; and Teesside.

Advertisements

Saturday Sound Off: Media Hypocrisy

2017-11-18 (2)

2017-11-18 (3)

Look at these two headlines. One is from the Irish Sun, the other from the UK edition of the same newspaper. They demonstrate how the paper’s owner panders to the prejudices of its readers in the two nations. (Both titles are owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.)

Behind the headlines is an unpleasant truth: no-one, on either side, wants to see a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. But it’s impossible for the British government to reconcile that fact with the demand, from some of those who voted to leave the EU, that the UK should control its own borders.

As I pointed out last week, the only possible way out of this mess is to admit that controlling this particular border is impossible. And, given the existence of the Channel Tunnel and the frequency of Ro-Ro ferry operations between the UK and continental Europe, controlling those borders is equally impractical and undesirable.

It follows that Britain must remain in the Customs Union.

The idea of dismantling the existing arrangements in order to put in place something that is, in practice, exactly the same, is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and patience, including that of the editors of The Sun on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Taking Back Control – or Not?

union-flagirish_tricolour-1Given that a key #Brexit topic of the moment is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am resurrecting another old post.

On BBC Newsnight last night Kirsty Wark challenged Bertie Ahern to say that he and the present Taosiach, Leo Veradker, would welcome a hard border. Obviously he would not do so. No one in Ireland, or anywhere in the EU, wants a hard border. It is only the British government and the hard core of its EU hating citizens who seem incapable of understanding that you either have a hard border or no border.

The rationale of the decision to leave was that Britain wanted to control its borders. Logically that must include the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But it goes deeper than that. If Britain exits the customs union it is not only the mainland border that will need to have custom controls installed. They will need to be installed at all the ports that serve routes between Britain and the EU. Dover is the busiest of these, but Southampton, Hull, Immingham, Felixstowe and, of course, Hollyhead are also important points of entry and exit. Wikipedia lists 70 major ports around the coast of England and Wales. And that is to ignore the many airports that serve air borne transport between Britain and the rest of Europe.

The BBC regularly points out the magnitude of the problems resulting from the referendum result, including that of policing all of these points of entry if Britain is to gain full control of her borders. The usual response from those who want #Brexit at any price is to call the BBC out for being too negative about the subject.

Others seem to believe that it will all come right in the end because the EU do not want to see the erection of trade barriers between the UK and the other 27 members. To which I ask the simple question: what is the point of spending two years negotiating the UK’s departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union in order to create a new relationship that replicates what has been negotiated away?

If it looks like a customs union and operates like a customs union then it bloody well IS a customs union and all that heartache, all those hours of bureaucrats’ time expended, the uncertainty disrupting British business, are a criminal waste when there are so many far more important problems the government and its employees ought to be tackling.

Saturday Sound-off: Who Stole my Country?

A couple of newspaper articles caught my attention yesterday. The first was in the Irish Times: a review of a book about prisoners of war in England during WWII and the way they were treated.

You might expect that, as soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting for Britain’s enemies at the time, they would be shunned, spat at, feared. The reality was rather different. In fact, as the review’s author points out, “it wasn’t uncommon for friendships to be struck up and for POWs to be invited into civilians’ homes for Christmas lunch.”

german-prisoners-of-war-006

Prisoner of war camps in the UK: German PoWs somewhere in England bring in the harvest. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many were permitted to leave the camps in order to work on farms and in forestry projects alongside English (mainly female) workers. It reminded me of my own experience growing up in rural Herefordshire in the 1940s and ’50s. There was a camp in the village which, at different times, held POWs and Polish refugees. One German and one Pole each married local girls and set up homes next door to each other in tied cottages on the farm where both worked.

Their children attended the local school. As a schoolboy I often worked on the same farm and got to know both men.The young woman who married the German POW had a younger brother the same age as me who became my best man at my 1963 wedding.

Values

And then I discovered the other article, in The Guardian, about European citizens, skilled workers resident in Britain for decades, who are returning to the continent, some with their British spouses and all saddened by last year’ Brexit vote and its aftermath in which so many of them were made to feel unwelcome. It made me wonder what has become of the country of which I used to be proud, the country of whose values my father fought and died for.

From being a place that welcomed all comers and extended the hand of friendship to enemy POWs, it has become a place in which many want to shut themselves off from the rest of Europe and embrace the same nationalistic fervour that destroyed Europe in the 1930s and ’40s and which the parents of my generation sacrificed so much to overthrow.

Have the people who voted ‘leave’ not studied history? Do they not realise that, right across Europe, we share more than a thousand years of common history? Admittedly, it was a relationship often characterised by the struggle for domination between the members of the land owning aristocracy. But it seemed for a while, in the 1950s and ’60s, that, having emerged from two terrible world wars, we understood that co-operation was better than conflict. Social liberalism trumped nationalism and the majority of us understood that it was better to share the product of our labours with people like ourselves wherever they were born.

Doomed

What happened? How did so many ordinary British voters come to believe that the EU, and those of its citizens who chose to make their homes in Britain, were responsible for every symptom of their country’s economic failure? Why did Cameron and the other leaders of the Remain campaign embark on a doomed quest to scare people into voting to remain in the EU? Why did the media not give much greater attention to the words of men like Lord Ashdown who made the arguments that mattered with such passion?

I wrote several posts ahead of the vote pointing out the folly of what was being proposed. Now the case for leaving is beginning to unravel as the real implications of extricating ourselves from 40 years of working together in mutually beneficial endeavours, from aviation safety to radioactive isotopes for medical use, become apparent. If only more attention had been paid to these things in May and June last year perhaps the vote would have been different. They certainly strengthen the case for a second vote once the details of the deal are published.

An Apology to Everyone Who Voted ‘Leave’ on June 23rd

If I have given the impression via my several comments on the outcome of the referendum that I think you are ignorant, or stupid, or racist, or xenophobic, I apologise unreservedly. I have no wish to insult your intelligence. I do believe that one or more of those epithets can fairly be leveled at some of those who led the campaign. I also believe that it is they who are guilty of insulting your intelligence.

I watched a woman on Question Time last night saying that she had listed the pros and cons and made a carefully considered decision on the basis of that list. I would have loved to have seen the contents of that list. I can’t help wondering how many of the ‘cons’ were based on the myths and misunderstandings that the campaign leaders and the media perpetuate about the nature of the EU.

In the same audience was a man who stated quite firmly that ‘we don’t want their socialist ideas’. And yet it is well documented that many who support Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn’s particular version of Socialism, voted to leave. You should not be surprised if I see something of an inconsistency there.

Others have stated that the EU exists to feather the nests of bankers and big business. The opposite of ‘socialist ideas.’ I wonder which of these diametrically opposed ‘cons’ appeared on that woman’s list?

The EU has been characterised as undemocratic, yet its governance is probably more democratic, with more checks and balances, than that of any member state. There is a parliament elected by a system of proportional representation. There is a Council of Ministers in which each member state has equal representation.

howmany_en

It has been described as overly bureaucratic, yet employs fewer officials than Birmingham city council. (See panel. There’s more detail here)

Of course it has its faults. The idea of the parliament having to meet in two different places, is wasteful, since the location of the parliament has no bearing on the decisions it makes. The location does, however, gain some economic benefit from its presence, and the practice is a mistaken homage to the principle of ‘sharing’ where only two of the 28 members are able to reap the almost negligible benefit.

Getting 28 different nation states to agree on anything is difficult and demands a degree of compromise that is often frustrating. But it is worth noting that Britain has ‘got its way’ more often than not in key decisions. The article to which I have linked shows that UK MEPs were on the ‘winning side’ in fewer votes than those of any other member nation. Even so, they were on the losing side in less than 30% of all votes. Most decisions have a high degree of support across the board.

What I am saying here, is that much of the rhetoric of those who have opposed Britain’s membership of the EU since the beginning is based, if not on downright lies, certainly on distortions of the truth.

I understand that many people did not know which set of ‘facts’ to believe. When I say [some] people did not know what they were voting for, it is because of the disparity in beliefs between those who, like the man in last night’s Wakefield audience object to ‘the Socialist ideas’ they believe the EU stand for on the one hand, and those, on the other, who object to the austerity measures the EU has imposed on Greece. You surely have to admit they cannot both be right.

Apple’s €13 billion: Yours? Mine? Whose?

Following the EU Commission’s findings released on 29th August, Irish politicians and commentators, as well as some further afield, have struggled to find the correct response. In the end the Irish government agreed to join Apple in lodging an appeal against the findings.

The methods that Apple, and some other large corporations, use in order to avoid paying tax are well enough documented. A complex series of financial transfers enables Apple to show the greater portion of its profits as eligible for tax in a jurisdiction where the tax rate is zero. It pays tax in Ireland at 12.5% on the tiny residual profit left after deducting the ‘expense’ of paying its parent company, registered in a tax haven, for the use of intellectual property owned by the parent.

Such schemes are widely regarded as immoral or unethical. I think there is another way of looking at it, especially with regard to this case and any others like it. The $14.5 billion tax bill with which Apple has been presented by the EU is retrospective. That is to say it relates to past business transactions. And that means the money has already been spent. Apple will now have to set aside a special fund of $14.5 billion in order to cover the possibility that its appeal might fail and that it will eventually have to pay up.

It will probably appear in Apple’s accounts as a ‘provision’ for future liability.

Over-taxed Irish citizens

The actual $14.5 billion that was not paid in taxes in past years was, of course, spent: in payments to suppliers and contractors, to employees, and as dividends to share holders. Each of these paid tax on that income. Some of them are Irish citizens. Like most Irish citizens they probably believe they are over-taxed, especially as they have to pay for some services that are free at the point of delivery elsewhere, notably in their close neighbour Britain. They might now believe that, had Apple and other large corporations paid more tax, they would have paid less. Is it really that simple?

Let’s start from the assertion that all money is nothing more than a token acknowledging someone’s work. So that $14.5 billion represents work undertaken by Apple employees, their suppliers, or contractors in various parts of the world, and their share-holders. Had they paid it over to the Irish government, the government would have used it to pay it’s employees, suppliers and contractors; to make welfare payments to its senior citizens, the unemployed and those on government sponsored work schemes. But Apple would have had less money available to pay to its employees, suppliers and share-holders.

So we come down to the question of which is the greater good? The private, corporate sector producing all the modern conveniences we take so much for granted, or the public sector? And what is the proper balance between the two? It’s a question that has formed the basis of election manifestos for many generations and that will not go away any time soon.

Ireland is presently in the throes of an escalating series of public sector pay disputes. No doubt some of those public servants who believe themselves to be under-rewarded would be delighted to get their hands on a share of the €13 billion, should it one day arrive in the government’s coffers. But then, I guess there are governments in other jurisdictions, not least the USA, who believe that a share of Apple’s unpaid tax properly belongs to them