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I saw an advertisement for a job producing articles for a business magazine. The idea was that you contacted local businesses with a view to providing them with a feature in the magazine, funded by advertising from their suppliers and clients. I was quite familiar with a number of businesses I’d used as contractors whilst working for Courtaulds. Several were generous enough to accept my offer to write a feature. I certainly enjoyed talking to the business people and writing about their projects, but the selling of advertising was a task I hated – and it was commission on the income from advertising that was my only reward. Mostly people would fob you off – “he isn’t available/is in a meeting/will call you back tomorrow” (‘he’ never did!).
We were now living on just the attendance allowance I received for my council duties. I don’t know how councillors are remunerated now in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter. Back then we were paid for each four hour period, with a maximum of three such periods in a day. That maximum only ever happened on the four occasions each year when the full council met. Sessions that lasted more than four hours were quite frequent, especially in 1988 during the period when the re-organisation of Grimsby’s schools was in the implementation stage. This meant conducting a series of interviews of all the heads, deputy heads and some teachers who deemed themselves ready for headships, with a view to filling the leadership roles in all the new schools and the sixth form college.
Nevertheless, the daily allowance amounted to much less than I had been earning at Courtaulds. Freda suggested to me that we no longer needed such a large house. She went on to point out that there was a flat for sale above a shop across the road.
We obtained a valuation for our existing house and I was surprised to discover that its value had increased threefold in the nine years we had lived there. Although this was mostly accounted for by inflation – my Courtaulds salary had more than doubled in the shorter period up to my leaving – we had, over the years, put in a number of improvements, including all new kitchen units, fitted wardrobes and new double glazed windows at the front. We had, it transpired, sufficient equity in the house to enable us to purchase the flat outright, eliminating the mortgage from our outgoings.
After the Alliance failed to make the expected breakthrough in the 1987 General Election the bulk of the membership of both parties began campaigning for a merger between the Liberals and Social Democrats. A serious problem had emerged at the election when the two leaders had made statements that seemed to contradict each other in key policy areas. At each of the parties’ annual conferences in autumn 1987 there was overwhelming support for the move and this was later confirmed by ballots of members.
Nevertheless, David Owen and a few others were unable to support the new party and tried to keep the SDP going (called “The Continuing SDP”). And a group of Liberals from the radical wing of the party tried to keep a separate Liberal Party alive. All of this meant there was a collapse of support and funding for the new party.
I had been approved by the Liberal Party as a potential Parliamentary candidate and had begun applying to various constituencies seeking candidates, including our own. This involved meeting selection committees and then addressing full meetings of constituency members. So far none of these attempts had proven successful.
I had also joined an organisation called “The European Movement”. The local branch was chaired by the conservative MEP for Lincoln* but it was a cross party organisation for people who supported the ideals of the European Union. When I learned, through colleagues on the county council, that the new party was looking for someone to contest Humberside in the forthcoming European elections, I put my name forward. It was acknowledged on all sides that we hadn’t a whisker of a chance but it was deemed important that supporters have the opportunity to demonstrate their support by voting for the party in every election.
*Bill Newton Dunn defected to the Liberal Democrats in 2000. His son, Tom, is a well known journalist.
In the debate over Brexit many people have tried to come up with suitable analogies. Among the oldest is the idea of the divorce – the withdrawal bill and the £39 billion payment of outstanding budget commitments is even referred to as the “divorce settlement”. More recently some have sought to liken the search for a “deal” to the kind of arrangement you might come to with your local car dealership. Over the weekend I began thinking about both.
Let’s begin by looking at the stages in a marriage at which a divorce may be contemplated. You’ve been together for less than 5 years, both of you are a good deal more mature than when you married. There are no children, neither of you gets on with the in-laws, you have few mutual friends. You live in an apartment block where you hardly ever encounter your neighbours. You come to an agreement to part company. There is some pain, inevitably, but there is an overwhelming sense of relief in both parties at the resulting sense of freedom. Even your friends, who have been treading on eggshells around you as they sensed the tensions in the relationship, feel that same sense of relief.
Now, suppose you have been together for 40 years. You have grown-up children and several grand children. You are aunt and uncle to several other children. You are God-parents to a number of your friends’ children. You are a partner in your father-in-law’s business, expecting to inherit when he finally decides to retire. You are well known in your community, both of you involved in different aspects of community life. Divorce in those circumstances is almost unthinkable and will cause enormous disruption and sadness in the lives of many people, including the employees of the family business.
I leave you to decide which of these, if any, Brexit is most like.
Now let’s look at the car replacement analogy. It might be the case that the car you are trading in is subject of a finance agreement with some outstanding payments due. You will need to settle that as part of the deal, or, quite possibly, before you can contemplate a deal. You discuss your requirements with the dealership and are offered a trade-in value for your old car. You don’t like the offer, believing your old car is worth more. You can take it or leave it. You decide to leave it. What you don’t do is leave your old car in the dealership and, literally, walk away.
The “no deal” option for Brexit is like deciding to manage without a car for the foreseeable future. “No Brexit” is like carrying on with your current model with all its faults rather than accept a bad deal.
The truth is that neither analogy is anything more than an approximation to what Brexit really means. How could it be otherwise, since Brexit is a unique event for which there is no precedent in history. What hurts, and what makes the 40 year divorce example feel close to the reality of Brexit, is the huge number of cultural, sporting and business links that have been built across Europe over the past 45 years and that are now being sullied by the xenophobic rhetoric that has been unleashed.
The choirs, the amateur drama groups, the sports clubs, the agricultural societies, that exchange visits on a regular basis. The beekeepers, bird watchers, surfers, animal breeders, astronomers, geologists, paleontologists, anthropologists – the list is endless. True, such relationships extend beyond Europe, especially in these days of the World Wide Web. But Europe is on our doorstep. Heading across the Channel for a day or a weekend to meet individuals with shared interests is easy and many people do it, for business, pleasure, and to exchange ideas and information about their hobby or profession.
And we must not forget the real marriages between Britons and European nationals and the new rules that mean that the “foreign” spouse now has to register for “settled status”. So do the children, even grown ups who were born here, grew up here and have worked for decades, paying their taxes and NI contributions. All because a few ultra-rich, public school educated people want to avoid paying their taxes.
These are things that we don’t hear so much about. We hear plenty about the businesses that rely on parts manufactured in different regions of the Continent and how that will inevitably be made more difficult – and more expensive – by Brexit, whatever form it takes. But the pain caused at the personal level by the opprobrium about Europe and Europeans that is regularly exuded by the extremes of the leave camp is unforgivable.
Those who lead the clamour for Britain to leave the EU sometimes utter the strangest of remarks, betraying their complete lack of knowledge or understanding of their own nation’s history. One such recently came from Lord Lilley in an interview on BBC Television. When expressing his incomprehension at the length of time taken to negotiate the terms of the withdrawal agreement he opined that it didn’t take that long to negotiate Indian independence. The remark set me thinking about Britain’s complicity in drawing up borders that have either been the cause of, or have failed to end, a great deal of bloodshed, Indian independence being a case in point.
The movement for independence in India spanned 90 years, so hardly happened overnight as Lord Lilley seemed to be suggesting.
Britain’s response, in 1905, was to establish a border separating Bengal from the rest of the sub-continent, a move that served to increase the clamour for independence for all India. Despite this, India and its people played a vital role in support of Britain during World War I and were rewarded by the Government of India Act in 1919, but it would be almost 30 years before India finally gained independence.
It is true that the final settlement achieved in a couple of months in the summer of 1947 between drafting of a Bill and the implementation of independence. But it came at the end of a long period during which numerous options were tried without success and was accompanied by another arbitrary drawing of borders that created a Pakistan that consisted of two areas separated by almost 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Violent clashes between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs followed, with up to 2 million deaths attributable to them. Parts of the border, notably the portion that defines Kashmir, remain in dispute to this day, 70 years after Indian and Pakistani independence. In the meantime East Pakistan saw a bloody civil war that ended with the creation of Bangladesh. Famine, widespread poverty and a series of military coups followed.
I could continue with a litany of similar examples, such as in the Middle East, where war over borders drawn by the victorious allies of both World Wars, of which Britain was a leading member, continue to this day, or in parts of Africa and in Cyprus. But the one that matters in the context of Brexit is that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Established in 1921 by the United Kingdom to create an enclave for the minority of Irish people who had no wish to leave the UK, in no sense is this “the Irish border”.
Irish independence came at the end of a century and more of campaigning which began the moment Ireland was annexed to the UK in 1800. The final years of that campaign were a bloody war of independence. The creation of the border as a condition of independence for the rest of the island led to a mercifully short, but bloody, civil war in Ireland
and to years of unofficial conflict involving paramilitary organisations on both sides. But the fact is that from the outset there was freedom of trade and travel between Ireland and the UK, across the Irish Sea as well as the land border, except during the years of greatest paramilitary activity and occupation by the British army in Northern Ireland.
Despite claims that there is no intention on the part of the UK to see a “hard border on the island of Ireland”, the fact is that the primary rationale of Brexit is to “take back control of our borders”.
Not only does the phraseology imply there will be a hard border at points of entry on mainland Britain, the airports and seaports, it is hard to see how this can not include the only land border between the UK and the EU.
Unless, that is, it is accepted that a different regulatory regime pertains in Northern Ireland to that in the rest of the UK. In truth, there is nothing strange about such a concept. The province has always had greater autonomy than any other part of the UK, as, indeed, did the whole of Ireland before 1922. Northern Ireland, for example, remains the only part of the UK where same sex marriage is forbidden. It is the only part of the UK where politics is defined by religious extremism.
Not so much a Saturday Sound-Off as a Sunday Sermon!
As gratifying as it was to see so many people marching against Brexit on Saturday, the party was spoiled by the reappearance on our screens of Nigel Farage with his insistent repetition of nonsense about ‘independence’. Behind that insistence is the insidious lie that we are a vassal state to Europe. Try as I might, I cannot understand why so few seem unable see the truth: that Brexit is a betrayal.
A betrayal of our shared geography, our shared history, our shared culture and, above all, our shared values.
If you doubt that the British Isles share geographical space with the rest of Europe consider these facts: Galway is roughly the same distance from Kiev as Seattle is from Miami; Oslo is nearer to Naples than Los Angels is to New York.
The last thousand years of our history are scarred by disputes between kings, and would be kings, both within and across national boundaries. The England we know and love was shaped by the invasion of Normans from across the English Channel, themselves the descendants of Scandinavians who had invaded the British Isles and the area now generally known as France several centuries earlier. Our present Royal Family has German ancestry. The British king most revered by the Irish Unionists was Dutch.
We share with other nations of Europe, too, a history of colonisation. Britain’s might have been the largest empire, but France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands and Germany all established colonies in far flung parts of the world. Arguably that is why the two most recent wars between them spilled over to become World Wars. And why the legacy of those wars, in the Middle East especially, is one of continuing war and suffering.
We share a love of the same music. Make a list of your favourite classical composers and it will inevitably include Germans, at least one French man, a Pole and an Austrian as well as great Britons like Walton, Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Even when it comes to ‘pop’ and rock, the Europeans are in there somewhere, and not just ABBA. The Beatles cut their performing teeth in Hamburg.
Some of our greatest literature comes to us, in translation, from Europe. Les Miserables may be a successful British piece of musical theatre but it began life as a classic of French literature.
But the greatest betrayal, the one that cuts like a red hot knife to the very heart of everything I was brought up to believe, is the betrayal of our shared values.
The idea that every human being deserves respect; that those blessed with good fortune have a duty to share some of that largesse with those less fortunate than themselves; that no-one should be denied access to education, a rewarding job and care in ill health and old age.
The EU embodies those values in its constitution. Freedom of movement, so reviled by some Britons, guarantees the freedom of individuals to live and work and attend an educational institution where they choose. Please note that it does not guarantee access to social welfare. The rules that regulate trade seek to prevent workers and consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous corporations. The environmental regulations are there in an attempt – admittedly inadequate – to ensure that the world our grand children inherit is not too sullied by our profligacy.
The idea that the nations of Europe, after a millennium and more of conflict, have come together to try to mitigate the harm those conflicts and the colonialism did, an enterprise in which Britain has played no small part, is one of the greatest achievements of my generation.
One of the more fatuous statements of those opposed to #Brexit is “We were great before, we can be great again.”. To which I would say we have spent the last half century and more using our greatness to ensure the adoption of those shared values across the world, through our involvement in the United Nations and the European Union.
It breaks my heart to see so many of my fellow countrymen working to destroy that achievement.
There was a time when low skilled jobs were taken by young people whilst studying, or learning a craft, as they worked their way up the career ladder.
Then it got that young people were so well off that they could afford to stay up until all hours in the pubs that their parents worked in when they used to close at 10:30pm, but have now been converted into clubs.
So well off that that they didn’t need those jobs. So people had to be recruited from abroad.
Now the government is proposing to stop bringing in low skilled workers from overseas. In stead they are going to encourage highly skilled people to come here to do the very jobs that a previous generation of UK citizens studied and trained for.
That strikes me as an inversion of what a country that sees itself as advanced ought to be doing.
What message does it send to potential investors?
Whether indigenous entrepreneurs or foreign investors, what such companies look for is the availability of a skilled workforce. What are they supposed to think when they discover that the UK has to bring skilled workers from overseas to fill the jobs that are already here?
May as well take their investment to the place where the skilled labour is already in-situ.
Now, of course, UK citizens will have to do all those unskilled jobs themselves.
I can’t help but wonder if someone in government is thinking along the lines of
“Let’s teach those people a lesson. Let them do all the nasty unpleasant jobs. It is, after all, the will of the people to send the low skilled migrants home. Serves them right.”
It was the early 1960s. The company I worked for designed and manufactured specialist components for aircraft. We were asked for initial designs for such components to meet the stringent requirements of a supersonic airliner – Concord – proposed as a joint project between British and French aircraft manufacturers.
We were in competition with a French manufacturer of similar components. Whoever won the design competition, both companies would manufacture the components. Winning the design competition offered prestige, but it was manufacturing that held the promise of long term profits. So neither company tried too hard to win the design competition.
In the event, our designs were the closest to the specification so it was we who were asked to work up the designs into plans for manufacture. And, decades later, we all know that no-one made any money from Concord.
I tell this story because it is an early example of international co-operation in manufacturing. Britain was not even a member of the EU back then, although much effort was being put into applying, only to be vetoed by the then French president, Charles DeGaule.
These days most complex machines – not just aircraft, but motor vehicles and domestic appliances – are manufactured by international consortia using components sourced from around the world. Within the EU, these consortia take full advantage of the Single Market and Customs Union to import components tariff free from one part of the Union to another and sell the resulting machine in most member states.
In the automotive industry, for example, final assembly of one model might take place in the UK, and of another in France or Belgium, with components for both sourced from several countries. No wonder these companies are worried about the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Their supply chains will be disrupted, their UK businesses rendered unviable. This applies to UK based component manufacturers supplying end users elsewhere in the EU just as much as to UK based manufacturers sourcing components from other parts of the EU.
It also applies to UK based food processors importing ingredients from within the EU, and UK farmers and horticulturalists supplying ingredients to EU processors. Such contracts generally take years to negotiate. This explains why the UK can’t “just walk away” as some of those who voted “leave” two years ago would wish. The reality is that, unless David Davis and his team can come up with something as close as possible to the existing Single Market and Customs Union, the future looks very bleak indeed for British businesses of all sizes.
Patrick Minford, one of the few economists who favour Brexit, admits this but is unconcerned, stating that the UK can do without manufacturing. The leadership of the Labour Party should be very worried about the livelihoods of their members and supporters. It is beyond belief that they are not fulfilling the proper role of an opposition and fighting tooth and nail to prevent #Brexit.
I am getting more than a little tired of people who want to remain in the EU but say “The people have voted and we must accept that.” Why do such people lack the courage to stand up for what they believe in? Why are they content to stand by and watch the country being destroyed, however reluctantly they do so?
I have explained previously how the vote on 23rd June 2016 did not represent the will of (all of ) the people. But there is something even more significant about the #Brexit referendum and it is most easily explained by comparison with the recent referendum here in Ireland.
Apart from the size of the majority, much more clear cut at almost 2/3rds in favour, the Irish referendum did not impose anything upon the losers. On the contrary, it removed an imposition.
The repeal of the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution does not mean that anybody will, in future, have to have an abortion. Those who object on moral or any other grounds to the ending of a pregnancy can still allow their own pregnancy to go to full term whatever the circumstances of conception or the existence of serious risk to the health of the mother or the foetus. But for those facing such a difficult choice there will now be the opportunity to end the pregnancy under certain fairly narrow circumstances yet to be defined by the Irish Parliament.
#Brexit, on the other hand is being imposed on the rest of the population of Britain by the minority who positively supported it two years ago.
What does that mean? Never mind the claim that “Brexit means Brexit”, the reality is that, for businesses that trade with the European Union and for people who like to travel between Britain and the European Union, those activities will, in future, be less easy than they presently are.
Despite all the talk about “frictionless borders”, one thing that everyone who voted to leave the EU has stated repeatedly is that they believe the current arrangements for controlling the borders between Britain and the EU are inadequate and that tougher controls need to be put in place.
That must, inevitably, mean more customs officials, more passport checks, more queues at the ports. It’s not just about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or between Gibraltar and Spain, for that matter. It’s about every point of entry into and exit from the UK.
It means more lorry parks at Dover and places like Lowestoft, Immingham and Hull. It means more frequent bag and passport checks for people arriving home to the UK from European holidays or business trips.
And if you wonder why the cabinet is so divided, it is because of the impossibility of squaring the circle between securing greater control of Britain’s borders on the one hand, and maintaining frictionless trade and travel between the UK and the EU on the other. And all this because for 40 years people have been fed myths and half-truths about the EU’s influence in the lives of ordinary Britons.
Make no mistake, it’s those ordinary Britons who will be worse off in so many ways because of Brexit. The rich, tax avoiding, corporations and oligarchs will be the only beneficiaries. Shame on those politicians who purport to defend “the many not the few” for their abject failure to do just that.