Category Archives: Economy

On bridges and Brexit

Shortly after the EU referendum in 2016, as Sterling plummeted, I received from Berlin the largest translation/editing contract I had ever received. The irony of being a Brexit beneficiary was not lost on me, but I set to work.

The translation concerned the environmental statements for a construction project known as the “Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link”. Why would I mention this? Because it is relevant to explaining just how fanciful, ignorant and idiotic the people currently trying and failing to run the UK actually are.


The Fehmarn Link would cross from the Danish island of Lolland to the German island of Fehmarn, each themselves connected to the mainland respectively of Sealand (the island on which Copenhagen is located and thus also connected directly via the Oresund crossing to Sweden) and Continental Europe – marked yellow above. It is particularly important because the car ferries which currently cover the route cannot take Heavy Goods Vehicles, and thus freight traffic has no option but to head around via the island of Funen and the peninsula of Jutland to access mainland Europe from eastern Denmark (and thus most of Sweden) – marked red above.

While Denmark was busy building impressive bridges (not just across the Oresund but also across the Great Belt between Sealand and Funen – on the red route above) in the 1990s, plans began for the connection to Germany.

However, having even awarded provisional contracts, the bridge plan was changed in 2010 to a tunnel, largely because this would be less likely to be a victim of closure and also because it would be less disruptive to shipping. In 2015 the bill to proceed with construction subject to EU funding (supported by Germany and Sweden) passed the Danish Parliament. Tolls on the crossing would see the total cost recouped in perhaps 30 years.

Let us be clear about a few things here:

  • the total length of the crossing would be less than a quarter of that between, say, Scotland and Northern Ireland;
  • construction would be less than a quarter of the cost given the sea is not so deep so masts/pillars would not be so high, and even at that is now projected at €5.5 billion (itself surely an underestimate);
  • the connection benefits more than half of the population of Scandinavia (so, 12.5 million or so) linking them to German-speaking Europe, Benelux and beyond (100 million upwards);
  • motorway links (but for 25km the German side) already exist to either end of the proposed crossing;
  • there is a very specific benefit for freight traffic which literally cannot use the existing ferry service.

Despite this, and despite the proven aptitude of the Danes for such things, the project has inevitably become embroiled in legal wrangles and as we approach the 2020s, a generation after planning began and a decade after the current proposal was agreed, construction still has not started.

The population of the entire island of Ireland and Scotland combined is less than the 12.5 million just one the minority side of the Fehmarn Belt; the cost would be many times greater and never recoverable from the vastly lower amount of traffic using it (given it links such low and sparse populations); the crossing would connect a primary A-Road to a secondary A-road the latter two hours’ drive from any motorway; and in any case no constructor would take on the work as it crosses the site where unmapped munitions were dumped in 1946.

So tell me this, what kind of complete idiot would you have to be even to suggest such a thing?

It is fanciful nonsense borne of utter ignorance about the realities of finance, engineering, geography, history or frankly anything at all.

Is there any chance we could stop electing such idiots? (Oh, and could we now stop talking about it? Talking about it is exactly what the Prime Minister wants us to do to avoid discussion of his other crazed delusions.)

Football’s New Year’s Resolution – sort kits out and stop exploiting people

Kits used by teams in the Premier League have long been beyond a joke. It can be genuinely quite difficult, on television, to tell a clear difference between them (for example, dark blue versus black), and often the tricky combination has been brought about for no good reason (for example when Arsenal change from red away from home against a team which does not wear red). The joke is now well beyond funny.

One of the worst offenders is in fact my own team, Arsenal. Arsenal this season have produced a mid-light blue kit and a black kit (with fetching pink trim) neither of which has any tradition and only one of which (if that) is even necessary. This is all about money grabbing – encouraging people (particularly parents under pressure) to fork out ludicrous expense for shirts which will be out of fashion in only a few months anyway. Far from going into grass roots sport, the money so gained (it is not earned) goes into making the likes of Stan Kroenke multi-billionaires rather than merely billionaires. It’s ludicrous and it’s nasty.


Then it gets worse. Not content with having produced an unnecessary blue kit alongside an unnecessary black kit (Arsenal’s traditional away colour was white and then, post-War, gradually switched to yellow), it turned out on a trip to West Bromwich Albion neither of these, nor the home kit in usual style, would work. This is partly because the home side also has a ludicrous kit – which is traditional blue and white stripes on the front but in fact entirely blue on the back. However, it is mainly because Arsenal produced two kits not for utility but for money-grabbing. A single traditional yellow with blue away kit would have produced no problem anywhere this season, but actually now we have the contrived situation of three kits none of which sufficed for this fixture. Thus, on top of everything else, red shorts had to be added – a fourth separate set of shorts.

This nonsense could of course be easily resolved. A simple requirement for every team to produce one kit which is predominantly a dark colour and one which is predominantly a light colour would sort it. This is the solution used everywhere from the National Football League in the United States to the Ulster Hockey League Junior Division 8B in Ireland. If the Premier League has even the remotest interest in sport rather than money grabbing, it will introduce a similar requirement – two kits per team, one dark and one light, and that’s it. (While we’re at it, let’s go back to reserving black for the ref – it is no one’s traditional colour.)

I’ll not hold my breath.

Is NI capable of public service reform?

In the midst of the Brexit entertainment, the RHI inquiry has been keeping Stormont occupied. Whatever the political fallout, it is evident already that it will demonstrate something beyond doubt – Northern Ireland’s Civil Service is in need of significant reform.

The media are highlighting the apparently obvious issue that the crux of the problem was that generalist civil servants could not fully comprehend a specialist issue (renewable energy). Perhaps the real issue, however, is that many surely noted the nonsense of offering subsidies greater than the actual value, but seemingly no one felt able to do anything about raising it.

I recently glanced at the application pack for a job in the NI Civil Service (which, by the way, is not a particularly significant employer here – many jobs which would be seen as “civil service” are in fact government jobs elsewhere, e.g. in a Health Trust). The advert specifically noted that the job was open to people from outwith the Civil Service. Yet, in practice, it wasn’t.

For, to have a reasonable chance at getting such a position, a candidate was required a strong knowledge of a vast table of competencies. Realistically, such competencies cannot be picked up off a page; in practice, those who could demonstrate those competencies from their past professional career would be at an advantage, meaning those who already knew them (i.e. those already in the Civil Service) would be at an advantage. This is in fact discrimination – it may be unintentional, but inevitably those setting the terms of the position will set them in a way biased towards themselves. This is widely recognised when it comes to tackling sexual discrimination or religious discrimination. Here was another example. An organisation really open to outsiders would not be forcing them into a straitjacket of internally recognised competencies before they even enter – quite on the contrary, it would be considering what additional skills and indeed ways of working they could bring into Service and emphasising those as priority.

When it comes to reform, this is very troubling. The Review of Public Administration was an example of such a shambles. The whole purpose was to save money and deliver what was known as “co-terminosity” – so that Council boundaries, police district boundaries, Health Trust boundaries and so on would align. Having taken so long that an additional local government election was required, the outcome astonishingly failed to meet either requirement. It would, literally, have been better not to do it at all.

Areas such as the Bengoa reforms are even more complex and many multiples of times more important. So the question has to be asked honestly: are we really up to it?

And then we have the vast complications of Brexit. Here, over 140 powers will be added to the devolved mix, even all other things being equal (and they may not be). Yet there will be a scant resource allocation coming with them. This threatens to cause paralysis in Whitehall, never mind Stormont. It will require vast reform – “doing more with less” as the slogan goes.

Add to this the prospect of marked additional powers to manage Northern Ireland’s specific solutions, changes to financing including corporation tax powers and reform of the education system. We have to ask serious questions about how any administration could possibly be prepared. However, this administration – one where new skills and thinking are actually discriminated against even when the need for them is recognised – will surely be particularly unprepared without reforming itself.

It is not only new skills and new thinking which will obviously be required once the RHI Inquiry is finished, but also the whole notion of the “generalist” civil servant. Rightly or wrongly, people will pose the question: can the same person drift expertly between managing the introduction of PIP one day to overseeing policy on the replacement of CAP the next? Is this a reasonable expectation of anyone?

Nevertheless, the broader issue seems why lower ranks seem disempowered (from, for example, raising queries when subsidy levels appear to exceed actual outlay). Northern Ireland’s administration needs experts with experience, coming most likely from outside the Service to work at least alongside generalists; and it needs people who will speak up, without fearing for their promotion prospects as a result. This is the level of the reform required.

One of the interesting aspects of an article from Queen’s University about additional powers for Northern Ireland post-Brexit was the implication that the public needs to be better informed and take more care. This perhaps is the crux of it. Bungles around RPA or RHI may sound like an alphabet soup, but they are not inconsequential. We need a public sector which is better at reform (including of itself), and a public which is better at caring about it.

UK desperately needs to improve productivity to avoid another crash

It is a sign of the times that the Chancellor’s announcement that the UK’s deficit would not now be cleared until 2031 was scarcely mentioned after the Budget yesterday. Yet it is astonishing. The Conservatives were elected in 2010 on a pledge to remove the deficit by 2015. They then delayed this to 2020. Now they are adding a full decade and some. It is hard to believe Labour would have done any worse.

Let us again be clear also that we are merely talking about the deficit, not the debt. The deficit is the amount by which the debt rises. So the debt is soaring to almost unthinkable levels already; that the deficit will not be closed for another fourteen years defies credibility.

The UK Government has tried to reduce the deficit by reducing public spending but, as any business or even household will tell you, it is always easier to clear deficits and debts by raising revenue rather than reducing outgoings. Raising revenue means raising taxes. Or does it?

All other things being equal, raisng revenue does mean raising taxes. Yet in fact there is another way – raising productivity would mean that the amount of revenue raised even from the current tax base with people working current hours would be increased. Since the UK lags at the bottom of Western productivity levels, this increase could be quite dramatic if the UK even moved towards the OECD average.

We are now at the stage, however, where this is a must. Few in the UK are unemployed but many are underemployed. This situation is only worsening as it is masked by headline figures. It is a serious issue, however, because debt levels are unsustainable and can only mean another crash is imminent. Car financing, for example, is now totally out of control; in the South of England and the Channel Islands property prices are simply ludicrous to the extent that they must crash some time; and household debt continues to rise as consumerism (rather than productivity) keeps the economy from stalling completely.

In other words, the UK has to raise productivity now, or it faces another crash. (And all this is regardless of the consequences of Brexit, which will plainly not help.)

A Bangor “marina quarter” could thrive

I have had occasion to be in what is referred to as “Bangor town centre” a few times recently and it was in general a pleasant experience. It always struck me, even when I served in its Council, that Bangorians can be a bit hard on their own town. However, I would venture to suggest that is partly because they have a peculiar view of what Bangor is, and indeed what its “town centre” is.

Firstly, Bangor is (by Irish standards) a large town but it is essentially at the end of the line. Unlike places like Lisburn, Banbridge or Ballymena, it cannot hope that people from elsewhere will just pop in for half an hour or so – people have to have a specific reason to visit. This has implications, particularly for what it must offer.

Secondly, after its comparatively rapid expansion during the Troubles (when it was seen as something of a “safe haven”), the geographical and demographic centre of Bangor is in fact Bloomfield. Indeed, Bangor may now be the only town in Western Europe most of whose residents live outside its so-called “ring road” (really a throughpass now)! This too has implications – in line with residential locations, we have business parks, wildlife centres and several major leisure offerings springing up outside the so-called “ring road” and thus away from the so-called “town centre”.

Thirdly, Bangor’s nighttime offering cannot be turned back a generation. The youth of Northern Ireland used to descend on Bangor from all arts and parts again because of the aforementioned “safe haven” perception. The end of the Troubles and the revival particularly of the vastly bigger (and, for most people, nearer) Belfast city centre has changed all that permanently. The past is the past in that regard.

So, what can be done about this? More or less what is being done about it, thankfully.

In fact, I have long believed the area around Bangor High and Main Streets leading from Ward Park through to the Station should be re-designated the “Marina Quarter”. This would be primarily a daytime (but occasionally also specific nighttime) leisure offering, ranging from outdoor facilities (such as Pickie Park) to indoor facilities (more or less as now proposed for Queen’s Parade) with a significant marine element (such as the boat tours now available). This should be accompanied by a deliberate attempt to bring small businesses in the service sector to that location, as it is now decently served by restaurants and coffee shops already and well connected by bus and rail, but much cheaper than Belfast city centre – there is no reason PR or law firms could not be based there, for example. Indeed, the now dilapidated Flagship Centre could perhaps be best reinvigorated not by shops as a retail centre but by service sector start-ups as a business hub. This in turn would bring more people to the area during the day, helping existing hospitality and retail businesses to thrive.

The thinking, in other words, has to go beyond what was there before and also beyond “shops” (twenty years from now most retail offerings will consist of a single Northern Ireland store supported by an internet-based delivery network incorporating new technologies such as 3D printing anyway). In Bangor’s case, provided the designation is right, with determined leadership to follow through roughly on the current course, the future could be very bright.

UK harmed by bizarre exceptionalism

I was planning to write a piece on the frankly bizarre British exceptionalism evident in Brexiteers’ cheery dismissal of the simple facts around the poor performance of the UK economy and its huge vulnerability to leaving the Single Market (which will inevitably send living standards crashing, particularly among the poorest).

It turns out I do not need to, the CER has done it for me here.

Anyone with a genuine interest in the UK’s future and the well-being of its people must read and grasp that linked article.

Is the West really poorly served by roads infrastructure?

A recent post over on Slugger attracted a lot of attention because it made an apparently unanswerable case that there is an infrastructural east-west divide in a Northern Ireland. Although I myself have long been strongly supportive of improved road links to the North West, I would suggest the case that the West is particularly poorly served by infrastructure is, at the very least, debatable.

The maps in the linked post appear obvious – all of Northern Ireland’s motorways bar a small stretch of the western M1 and all of Northern Ireland’s railways except the scenic Coleraine-Derry line lie east of the Bann. Obviously, therefore, the West is poorly served?

Well, not necessarily. Here, for example, is the straightforward Google map covering all of Northern Ireland:


Sure, all of the blue seems shifted to the east, but what about the green? If you choose to focus on primary roads rather than specifically motorways, suddenly the West does not seem particularly poorly served at all.

It is true that there is only a limited amount of dual carriageway in the west, but there have been notable expansions to the dual carriageway network there in the past few years, including the extension of the A2 from the outskirts of Derry to the airport and the extension of the M1, as the A4 expressway (the first in Northern Ireland in fact) to Ballygawley. There were also pre-existing stretches which clearly hinted at greater things to come before the Troubles intervened (notably the A29 north of Cookstown). Much of the single carriageway network in the west is in fact superior to that in the west; with their hard shoulders, the A6 single carriageway is better west of Toome than east of it and the A4 in Fermanagh is generally much better than, say, the A3 or even the A7 further east. Therefore, in terms of the basic primary route network, it is far from clear there is a west/east divide.

It should be noted that there are also stretches of road, most obviously between Lisburn and Newry (currently still a basic dual carriageway, not even an expressway), which are blatantly sub-standard but which serve significant social and economic corridors.

Then we come to population density. This again can be visualised here, courtesy of Wikipedia:


The Belfast “Travel to Work” area accounts for less than a sixth of Northern Ireland’s land mass, yet it contains half the population. Not only is it therefore inevitable that the wider (multi-lane) roads are generally found there, but also that money will be spend on freeing up major intersections to improve traffic flow. Railways and expressways require critical mass – of the type found in areas as densely populated as Greater Belfast and the area around it, but not in rural Tyrone. Furthermore, even purely objectively, the above map shows there is at least a case for prioritising the Belfast-Armagh-Dungannon corridor (more or less the old Linen Triangle) ahead of any other – as was done when it received the first motorway.

The above map also demonstrates rather clearly why the A5 corridor (well to the west) was never prioritised before the Irish Government offered specific money towards it. In fact, the priority North-South corridors (linking M2/A6 to M1/A4) would objectively be Antrim-Lisburn and Magherafelt-Cookstown-Dungannon. Building an expressway to link such comparatively small population centres is not redressing a balance, but rather shifting it clearly in favour of the west. There is an economic case for doing that (albeit a highly contested one), but we need to be clear that is what is proposed.

The map also shows why it is difficult to maintain railways in the west. With such a low population density, in practice people need cars to move around from and to precise locations at precise times. With the population thinly spread and cars necessarily predominating, there is simply no chance that mass transit will be widely used. Overlay the current Northern Ireland rail network on the above map and you will see it is far from illogical that it serves where it serves.

On top of all of this is the reality (countered only by a heavily subsidised airport in Derry) that Northern Ireland’s ports of entry are in the east. Again, it is understandable why two ports and two airports are positioned in the Belfast area (and a third main port along the Belfast-Dublin corridor), given that most people and goods are arriving in from the east and, not least as a consequence of that, that is where most people live. Noteworthy also is that Northern Ireland’s main cross-border corridor is (understandably for the same reason) along the east coast to Dublin. This does not just mean that people entering Northern Ireland generally do so (again, to emphasise, for wholly understandable reasons) in the east, but so does freight. To get goods into Northern Ireland requires in practice bringing them in to Belfast (either directly or via Dublin along the east coast) and then distributing from there. It is hardly surprising, in this context, that infrastructure will reflect this reality. Put another way, good infrastructure around Northern Ireland’s ports of entry serves everyone in Northern Ireland, not just those who happen to live near them.

It is interesting, therefore, that we hear plenty about “evidence-based policy-making” but we do very little to explore the basis on which that “evidence” is developed. Clearly people living in the west, and perhaps Nationalists in general, will prefer to promote aspects of the Slugger article linked above to make their case, and they are not wrong to; but people in the east and perhaps Unionists more broadly will prefer to emphasise the points above. The notion that there is one set of “evidence” on which all decisions must be based is flawed. It depends, somewhat, on exactly what your vision is and what you are trying to achieve.

Nevetheless, we can say with certainty that the case that the West is uniquely poorly served by infrastructure in Northern Ireland is less clear objectively than it is to people in the West!

Careful whose analysis you buy on Conservative/DUP deal

I cautioned after the General Election about the risks of poor political punditry, and that warning has been plainly justified in the past 45 hours or so. Rarely has so much rubbish been written by so many about so few.

Firstly, the DUP was not given £1b – infrastructure and public services in Northern Ireland were. (Of course, should there be no Executive, the DUP will be the only Northern Ireland party with direct influence over this as it is the only party with representation in the Commons; but it is public money, not the DUP’s.)

Secondly, it is quite normal for parts of the UK to be given money over and above Barnett. Glasgow City Council was once given £500m directly. Whether it is right or wrong, it is hardly unusual.

Thirdly, the biggest expense incurred by the arrangement will not come to Northern Ireland specifically, but to pensioners across the UK through the maintenance of the Triple Lock and Winter Fuel Payment. Again, whether that is right or wrong is a debate to be had, but it is the case.

Fourthly, the arrangement does not directly endanger the Agreement. Of course, if Brexit were mishandled, there are some risks around common treatment of UK and Irish citizens which could breach at least the spirit of the Agreement, but a deal on parliamentary votes in itself does not breach it. After all, three SDLP MPs took the Blair and Brown Government’s whip on every issue throughout its term (even sitting on the government benches), and no one raised any query about that at all.

Fifthly, the best commentators (and there are some, but there is a clear difference between the good and the not so good) have noted the interesting details of the Northern Ireland aspects of the deal. Less than half the infrastructure spend is accounted for by the York Street Interchange, leaving the rest in the hands of future Finance and Infrastructure Ministers (Sinn Féin held both roles until 9 January); most of the Health spend is specifically for transformation and may not otherwise be spent (which means anyone holding up transformation will be deemed to be throwing away £200 million); commitments to shared education have essentially been abandoned (that is, at least, an honest assessment of where the four largest parties are on sharing).

Sixthly, no, the DUP did not ask for marches to be re-routed, creationism to be taught in schools, environmental safeguards to be reduced or even in fact for a single penny towards a Military Covenant. Note well those who thought they would, and heed not their analysis in future!

Seventhly, the DUP will continue to sit on the opposition benches because it is in opposition, just like Fianna Fáil in Dáil Éireann. This is confidence and supply, not coalition.

Eighthly, there is also some misunderstanding on behalf of Northern Ireland-based commentators with regards to Great Britain. Northern Ireland is not, in pure economic or infrastructural terms, a particularly special case. Other regions, not least Wales, are by most measures poorer; and many parts of the UK have inferior roads (and almost all have less comfortable, less punctual trains).

Oh and ninthly, as part of the overall UK Budget, £1b is not much. Some of the ideas around what it could have been spent on in Great Britain are fantasy. As noted above, the cost of the U-turn for pensioners is vastly higher.

Politically, UK-wide, the deal is probably enough to secure the Government through to the end of Brexit negotiations (although nothing is certain), but the numbers remain tight and Brexit will not now be quite as “hard” as once intended. However, it may not last much beyond that and it does not necessarily secure the Prime Minister herself in post for the full two years (indeed, arguably it makes it easier to replace her, in the knowledge that an election is at least twenty months way even from party conference).

In Northern Ireland, the will already existed on the part of the two main parties to restore the institutions so they will in all likelihood be restored (the deal makes little practical difference to this, contrary to many suggestions). Whether all the ducks can be brought into a row to achieve this by the end of the week is another question, and is in the balance.

Further fundamental errors are apparent in the external discussion of how this deal may affect Northern Ireland. There is the assumption that the Agreement itself suddenly brought peace to a warring place; actually that was a gradual process and indeed it is not yet complete (intimidation in the form of gangsterism right up to and including petrol bomb attacks continues to retain a higher degree of tolerance than it would anywhere else in Northern Europe). This assumption leads to a second assumption that somehow one political wrong step would see the whole thing unravel and people in Northern Ireland once again decide that the Troubles were better than the peace they now have (there is not even the means for that to come about, far less the desire). We are at once neither as well integrated nor as inclined towards outright civil war as the external commentariat seems confusedly to think.

Out of interest, many things are actually going rather well in Northern Ireland at the moment, contrary to its reputation as a backwater with nothing to offer but a begging bowl. Tourism is going through the roof; exports are up 14%; in soccer, boxing, motorcycling and other sports the locals are excelling. If politicians from the parties with the biggest mandates were to opt to take responsibility for smoothing things over for the rest of the decade and for using their mandates to engage in real reform, life here could be very good. We will see if they are up to it soon enough.

Constitutional question irrelevant to EU debate

The totally obvious point that, if Northern Ireland chose to “leave the United Kingdom and join with the Republic of Ireland in a United Ireland” it would then become part of the EU even after the rest of the UK had left, is not news. Nor is it really very helpful.

The significant political issue around Brexit is the status of the border. If this can be managed in such a way that the border remains a practical irrelevance with free movement of goods, services and people across it, Northern Ireland’s departure from the EU will be an irritation but potentially little more than that. If, on the other hand, the border becomes so relevant that vehicles are regularly stopped at it for customs checks and application of tariffs, then it is a whole different issue. This issue, Nationalists and some others suggest, could simply be solved by having a United Ireland.

Well, no. Placing Northern Ireland in a United Ireland in such circumstances would then place it on the wrong side of a “hard border” from what is by far its main trading partner – Great Britain. In fact, at a purely economic level (noting that if things were decided at a purely economic level the UK would not have voted to leave the EU in the first place), it would be the height of madness to swap the UK for the EU, given that the UK is many times more important to Northern Ireland’s economic and financial well-being than the EU is.

Therefore, that whole debate, not for the first time, completely misses the point. Irrelevant of constitutional desires, what Northern Ireland should be looking for out of the UK-EU negotiations is a gateway arrangement whereby it can trade as freely as possible both with the rest of the UK and with the rest of the EU.

It should be noted that Northern Ireland’s position in this regard is far from hopeless. The European Council (in effect now representing the European Union’s remaining member states post-Brexit) has already said that Agreements must be protected and the border must remain open. The UK Government seems rather more indifferent to the whole matter, but it too has no interest in anything other than a prosperous Northern Ireland with an open border.

Noting, additionally, that the race to the bottom on corporation tax now makes the case for lower corporation tax in Northern Ireland all but redundant, we now have to face the fact that the Northern Ireland economy has no “silver bullet” (if it ever had) to get it back on track. Why not replace a now redundant cause for lower tax with a “Gateway Arrangement” enhancing not just Northern Ireland’s economy but also its social well being?

Not for the first time, constitutional debates will get us nowhere; but a bit of creative thinking just may…

Brexit not UK’s biggest problem

An Irish diplomat was recently reported as noting that the UK Government has worked out just what an economic catastrophe Brexit is.

That is bad news.

If you pay attention to nothing else ever on this blog, pay attention to this, however – there is worse news.

Manic car buying on credit… frankly crazy mortgages… mass credit card debt… pay-nothing-up-front consumer booms… that was exactly where the UK was in 2007. We all know what happened.

Yet it is also exactly where the UK is now. In fact, the UK’s credit card debt ratio and car buying spree is in fact considerably worse than it was then.

Now, as then, all these debts (and leases) are being packaged up and sold in bundles, the majority of which constitute relatively solid loans and are thus packaged as “AAA” (the highest possible rating). Now, as then, banks simply do not have enough money in their vaults – too much of it has been lent out. Soon, as then, the minority of the debts and leases which are plain junk will bite, will cause a run even on the safe loans, and financial institutions will fall.

The result will be another financial catastrophe. House prices in England will plummet, lending will become impossible, government revenues will crumble.

Peculiarly, Northern Ireland will suffer least from this because house prices and car sales have remained at a relatively sensible (i.e. fairly depressed) level, although credit card debt is a serious concern as will be the inevitable “austerity” which affects what is still an overwhelmingly large public sector (though not as comparatively large as a decade ago thankfully).

In England, where the average house price exceeds £300K and car sales are the comparatively fastest in Europe, however, there is the real prospect of a calamity worse than the first “Credit Crunch”.

The simple fact remains, as it did 10 years ago, that the UK does not pay its way in the word. Its trade deficit, contrary to Brexiteer fiction, is actually a monumental disadvantage because it means the economy (and thus the whole of government finances for Health, Education, Defence etc) runs in deficit and thus on credit – which means when there is no credit (as there soon won’t be) the country is essentially bankrupt.

No one will heed this warning, of course, any more than they will heed the warnings about the insanity of leaving the European Single Market or the EU Customs Union. It is part of the human condition that we do not learn from negative memories, even if comparatively recent. Mark my words, however: we will soon regret that flaw…