Category Archives: International

#Brexit and the rise of Russia

“Stay in the EU and there’ll be an EU army” was yet another Leave lie. But EU cooperation on defence is of course essential. Its eastern frontier is now directly challenged by a crazy dictator, launching cyberattacks on government website and taking chunks of neighbours’ territory.

The UK offered the best intelligence and the joint largest military response to this threat to our allies, to which the EU brought democracy in the 1990s and 2000s.

Not only is the UK now on course to split from the EU, creating practical difficulties to cooperation to counter this obvious threat, but it is also on course to fall apart itself – something Russia knows all about but will thoroughly enjoy for all kinds of reasons.

Giving prominence to crazy dictators is not a very wise move in the current, uncertain world. Of course, the UK may soon effectively have one of its own.

The people misspoke last month.

UK not yet out of EU…

In my scenarios two days ago I noted that there is still a scenario – though very much the least of the four – where the UK remains within the EU. It is unlikely, but not as unlikely as some think, given that the whole process of extracting the UK from the EU is so complex and damaging. (To be clear, my “central forecast” would be the UK out of the EU and into some form of associate arrangement with the EEA by May 2019.)

To be clear how remaining in the EU is not going to happen: there is certainly not going to be a second in/out referendum; there is almost certainly not going to be a General Election won by a Remain party or coalition; and UK withdrawal cannot be blocked by Scotland. There is some “buyer’s remorse” among Leave voters but there are also Remain voters who are no particular fans of the EU. There was a referendum and Leave won, so it is the political position that the UK (all of it) will now proceed to leave the EU. End of.

However…

The assumption now is that the UK will leave the EU but remain in the EEA Single Market – known as the “Norway Model”. This is of significant benefit to many of those who voted Leave on grounds of sovereignty, because it means EU Law no longer has primacy (although in practice much of it still has to be adopted), UK citizens are no longer European citizens, and the UK can do its own trade deals and agricultural subsidy programmes. Single Market Access is also essential to keeping Scotland in the Union and to any hopes of maintaining London’s status as a global financial centre. However, it is hopeless for those who voted Leave on the grounds of immigration or border control, because a founding principle of the EEA is free movement of labour; additionally, only EU members can veto new EU members (who automatically also join the EEA upon meeting its requirements), yet each new member adds to the EEA membership fee.

Currently, Leavers are trying to argue that they will be able to join the EEA Single Market while at the same time implementing border control. Such a deal simply is not possible.

Ironically, it could be that the only way the UK can stay in the Single Market while implementing some form of inward border control is by remaining in the EU – not least since other EU countries may be minded to trade some form of border control in return for not losing their second largest member (and thus risking complete break-up).

As a pesky Liberal, the whole notion appals me, but here is how such a negotiation could go.

The UK could argue exceptionality on the grounds that, firstly, it particularly has to manage immigration from the Commonwealth; secondly, it was one of only three countries that allowed fee movement immediately to the new ten member states in 2004; and thirdly, it consists almost entirely of an island.

Here is a thing: as it stands, not all UK citizens are actually entitled to workers’ rights across the EU. As the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have severe restrictions on those who may live and work there, they are outside the EU and people attaining UK citizenship only by association with them have their passports “endorsed”, marking them as not qualifying under free movement of labour.

The UK could argue that, given the above exceptionality and that, in any case, some of its own citizens have “endorsed” passports barring them from free movement, that it too should in effect be allowed to “endorse” passports from other EU member states where these were given out on grounds other than “native qualification”. Politically, an obvious example to use would be a Syrian refugee who would not qualify for a UK passport but did qualify for one in Germany due to its more liberal approach; the UK may wish to argue that it does not wish to recognise that passport as one of an “EU citizen”, since it would never have allocated one in similar circumstances.

On top of that, the UK may wish to argue that its generosity in 2004 in particular should now be countered by an agreement that it would not have to give free movement to citizens from any new EU member state (effectively all Albanian passports would be deemed “endorsed” by the UK, for example).

It could argue all of that as part of its negotiation to remain in the Single Market, but the chances of a sympathetic ear from other EU member states are absolutely zero. After all, two years after invoking Article 50, the UK is out, agreement or no agreement – so why on earth would other member states even begin such a negotiation, unless it were in return, say, for excluding financial services from the Single Market (as per Switzerland) and thus delivering a clear economic penalty to the UK?

However, what if the UK were to suggest that such an arrangement, giving it greater control of its border and calming fears about the immigration impact of EU expansion, would mean it could stay in the EU after all (albeit under an arrangement branded something like “Associate Membership”)? There would be something in that for other EU member states, whose native citizens would still have free movement and who would have thus limited the chances of the UK’s withdrawal leading to further departures. And there would be something in it for those who voted Leave on grounds of immigration – in fact they would have greater control of the border (as well as a veto of new members) inside the EU than outside.

 

I wouldn’t be putting the house on it, but in these crazy times such an outcome is not entirely inconceivable.

Should we dare to imagine another Europe?

The constitutional and economic sabotage the British people have brought upon themselves through last week’s referendum shows no real sign of abating. Rarely has a population inflicted upon itself such immediate suffering.

Nevertheless, we are where we are and it may do no harm to use our imagination now.

One of my frustrations about referendums is they offer a binary choice on issues which, very often, are more complex.

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As we can see above, Europe is vastly more complex than just EU and non-EU!

It has always struck me that Europe is split more sensibly into groups, based on geographical and linguistic/cultural proximity. As can be seen above, many of these already exist – the Nordic Council, the Common Travel Area, the Baltic Assembly, Benelux, the Visegrád Group, Central Europe (CEFTA; the former Yugoslavia outside the EU plus Albania) and the Black Sea (BSEC above). There are even natural groupings among the remainder – German-speaking Europe, for example.

If we were to put all those together from scratch, would we be trying to group almost all of them into a single Union with its own parliament, bank and currency? I suspect not. Already Switzerland is in a markedly different position from Austria; and Norway from Denmark; despite the obvious geographical, cultural and linguistic similarities. Even within the European Union, we have Slovakia in the euro but Czech Republic not yet; Finland in the euro but Sweden probably never; Ireland in the euro but the UK formally opted out.

In fact, if we were trying to build single currencies into the equation, we would probably have single currencies for the different groups – a “Krone Zone”, a “Sterling Zone”, a “Balt zone”, a “Eurozone”, a “Zloty Zone” and so on. It is quite possible that those blocks would peg their currencies to each other and would even gradually merge; perhaps Benelux with German-speaking Europe, for example. Whether you would ever put Portugal and Latvia in the same currency is debatable, however.

We are not starting from scratch, but I do wonder if some non-euro EU member states will be tempted by the UK’s new post-EU status, which will probably (though who knows?!) be akin to Norway’s. At the same time Norway had a referendum to oppose EU membership in 1994 (coincidentally by 48:52!), Sweden passed its narrowly by the reverse margin. But would Norway’s and the UK’s (and for that matter, topically, Iceland’s) status not make more sense for Sweden, given it too has a not dissimilar intra-EU immigration profile and no intention of ever joining the euro? Then what about Poland and Hungary; might they too, as close allies of the UK in the EU, not also benefit from staying outside the euro and thus formally leaving the EU to join the new EEA satellite states? It is not crazy.

There are even states within the euro which may begin to feel they should be in another currency zone. Would Finland not be better sharing a currency with Sweden and/or other Nordics, having not had the tools to cope with the recent economic slowdown the way the rest of the Nordics did? And the oft-mentioned David McWilliams has long hinted that Ireland would be economically better off in the Sterling Zone, a view surely enhanced by the fact that instinctively economically liberal Ireland will find the EU top table colder without its British allies at it – unimaginable now but maybe not a decade or so hence. Should we then turn to whether Greece, Italy and other Southern European countries are really better off being unable to devalue their currency against Germany’s, once a core economic lever without which they have unquestionably suffered? It is at least worthy of consideration.

The question worth asking, in other words, is whether the UK’s imminent exit simply means the EU has become too large, not least because it was the UK itself which was prominent in arguing for a larger rather than a deeper Europe. There is at least an argument for the European Commission, Parliament and Central Bank to cover only the core Eurozone (in other words, the EU formally shrinks to cover only the Eurozone), with other parts of the EEA covered by the Nordic Council, the British-Irish Council, the Baltic Assembly or perhaps a Visegrád Council each with their own Commissions and Central Banks; these would then cooperate, perhaps via the European Council, to ensure the smooth and fair functioning of the European Single Market.

The crux of the issue is that the EU cannot possibly lose its second largest member and then proceed as if nothing has occurred, no matter how carelessly it happened. Clearly, there are a lot of people for whom the EU and its institutions are too distant, and it would be foolish to believe those people only live in England and Wales. Perhaps a more core Union, with other interrelated groups of countries forming a clear single market (and environmental alliance) in cooperation with it, would make for a more stable and relevant way to ensure European harmony into the 21st century?

Such things should at least now be considered, surely? And it would be wise for the UK to stay at the table while they are.

Lessons from Swiss German

Last week’s discussion led to one correspondent, who already has the coolest Gravatar ever, introducing Swiss German into the equation – something I had only ever previously done when discussing Ulster Scots.

My piece on “language interference” only really applies to lamguages of roughly the same standing – large national languages, in that case. Regional or minority languages, such as Catalan and Irish, are somewhat different, partly because they are in more limited use but probably mainly because speakers of such languages are always fluent and often in fact native speakers of another language. It is easy for two people speaking Irish as a second language to throw in an English word they know both will understand; or indeed for a foreign learner of Catalan just to switch to their fluent Spanish rather than hazard a guess at the Catalan in the knowledge that the Catalan listener (who will invariably also speak Spanish) will understand. This is a very different type of interference.

Of course, Scots (or Ulster Scots as it is known in Northern Ireland and Donegal) suffers this severely, as it is not just regional but also closely related to English, the most prominent global language. There is a fuzzy line and significant confusion between what is Scots and what is in fact Scots-influenced English, leading to wide (and frankly understandable) dismissal of the former’s claim to “language status” by the vast bulk of the population on both sides of the Sheuch (see what I did there?!)

So what about Swiss German?

To cut a long (very complicated) story short (so as to simplify it outrageously), Continental West Germanic constitutes a continuum of mutually intelligible dialects running from just beyond Ostend in northern Belgium to just beyond Graz in southeastern Austria. Speakers at each end of the continuum cannot understand each other, but all the way along there are speakers of different dialects who do.

Nevertheless, there is a significant dialect boundary running along a roughly horizontal line around Frankfurt am Main. This is not a perfect line, but a somewhat fuzzy one. Nevertheless, what is spoken to the north of it is undeniably “Low German”, and to the south is “High German”. The difference is marked in a sound shift – north of the line has “water”, “pepper” and so on as in English; south of it has “Wasser”, “Pfeffer” and so on as in modern Standard German; there are also fairly clearly defined grammatical and vocabulary differences.

As Holland (the area around Amsterdam and Rotterdam) rose to prominence, its “Low” version became the educated standard for the whole of the Germanic-speaking Low Countries (what we now refer to as the Netherlands and northern Belgium) – what we now refer to as “Dutch”.

What is now Germany, however, adopted a central standard which was, in most ways, “High” (i.e. southern); Austria and Switzerland (assumed for linguistic purposes to include Liechtenstein) also came to adopt this “High” standard – what we now refer to as “German”.

This presents the curious linguistic situation that the two largest cities in German-speaking Europe, Berlin and Hamburg, are in fact in traditionally “Low” German areas but had “High” German foisted upon them. Because the “High” Standard was for generations in effect a foreign language to be learned by northerners in those cities and elsewhere, northern German speech when speaking “High” became much more regularised (and is in effect the “standard” pronunciation recommended to foreign learners), where southern German speech retained significant regional variation (and is thus now seen to deviate more markedly from the High “Standard”, even though it is fundamentally more southern than northern).

One southern set of dialects which remained, in spoken form, significantly distinct from the Standard were those found in Switzerland, where over two thirds of the population are deemed “German speakers”. They do write Standard German (with minor variations), and speak an albeit markedly accented version of it when in the presence of non-Swiss or non-German speakers (such as in the national parliament), but in fact to each other they all speak Swiss German. This is not a single form but in fact a series of dialects characterised by the fact they underwent the aforementioned sound shift even more thoroughly and happen to be spoken in Switzerland and Liechtenstein (and also in the small neighbouring Austrian province of Vorarlberg). Notably this is the case just as much in urban areas as in rural.

You cannot learn Swiss German in the way you can learn Catalan, nor is there any serious movement towards formal writing (nor, thus, towards any form of written standard). It is a spoken language (albeit used in informal writing, such as internal tourism adverts, newspaper birthday greetings or unofficial emails), and a growing one. On German-language television and radio in Switzerland only news (of local Swiss content) is in Standard German; everything else, from political chat shows to traffic reports, is in Swiss German.

In practice, people from neighbouring parts of Germany and Austria (e.g. Swabia or the Tyrol) have no real difficulty understanding Swiss German, although even they would switch to Standard German in conversation with a Swiss. For Germans from further north or even Austrians from further east, however, comprehension can be difficult without some time taken to gain familiarity.

The main issue is pronunciation, which is broadly more gutteral and has marked differences in vowels (for example sein is pronounced more or less as “sine” in Standard German but similar to “seen” in Swiss). There are also minor differences in syntax (around word order in the clause and particularly a peculiar system of verbal duplication in some cases), in past tense verb forms (for example Standard German gewesen becomes Swiss gsi “been”), and in the range of meanings applied to a given word (for example “schaffen” means something between “to create” and “to accomplish” in Standard German, but more like “to work” in Swiss). Swiss also generally follows southern dialects for its food terms and pronouns, which can be quite different from the Standard usage; it also sometimes has its own optional dialect terms (which can vary from place to place), although in practice very few southern Standard German words are not also used in Swiss (with appropriate phonological adaptation).

Underlying all of this is a (probably subconscious) desire on the part of the Swiss to mark themselves out as distinct (something which characterises the country in many ways and even defines it, but which appears to be sociolinguistically specific to German speakers). Swiss German (to be specific: the distinctiveness of speech from Standard German even fairly well up the social and formal scale in Switzerland) has gained ground since the War while most minority languages and dialects in Europe were losing it. This matches a widely reported general antipathy between German-speaking Swiss and Germans generally; no such antipathy exists between French-speaking Swiss and the French nor between Italian-speaking Swiss and the Italians, and there is no linguistic parallel there either – and so the French of Switzerland is not notably distinct from that of France, and likewise for Italian.

So distinct are Swiss German speakers that, as reported in the comments section on this blog, they will often selected English (or French) words in preference to importing a German innovation. This tendency appears even to have crept into Swiss Standard German (which, for example, prefers English “tram” to Standard German “Strassenbahn” and French “velo” to Standard German “Fahrrad“, “bicycle”).

For all that, there is no question that foreigners and non-German-speaking compatriots will be addressed in Standard German; Swiss German is seen as specific to German-speaking Swiss and is not to be foisted on anyone else (indeed quite the contrary, it is as if outsiders are to be shielded from it). This makes the approach to and purpose of its development quite different from the approach to Catalan (an obvious linguistic parallel) or even seemingly Scots, as there are no notions of standardising the written form or competing generally with the Standard written variety.

Is it a language or a dialect? I asked a German-speaking Swiss that once, to be told politely in effect that the question was irrelevant. “Standard German” is “Standard German” and “Swiss German” is “Swiss German”. And that’s that.

What is the relevance of Swiss German to the rest of us? That is something to ponder as we eat our Muesli…

UK media’s referendum coverage is a disgrace

There is a widespread view across the UK that the referendum campaign is boring (and even pathetic) because people have neither facts nor reliable information. That is where the (broadcast) media are supposed to come in.

With the odd exception, however, the media’s coverage has been a disgrace. Focused as it is on personalities rather than on issues, and on the narrow interest of the political bubble rather than the very real social and economic consequences of the forthcoming vote, the media have failed us utterly.

BBC Newsnight last night was just the latest pathetic example. Who the hell cares what Chris Patten has to say about Boris Johnson?!

What a washed up politician who lost his seat a quarter of a century ago has to say about a buffoon who can’t even do his own shopping is totally and utterly irrelevant. It is not going to help pay the grocery bill if prices go up, or help young people’s education if they cannot move freely across the continent, or keep us safe if we cannot share intelligence! Nor does it speak to the EU’s great accomplishments of spreading democracy southward and eastward, clearing roaming charges or growing per capita income faster than anywhere else in the Western world; nor indeed to its unquestionable failings around the refugee crisis or even the pure unnecessary nonsense of maintaining institutions in Strasbourg.

The obsession with Conservative politicians is disgraceful because fundamentally it speaks to laziness. It is much easier to do a cheap interview for a cheap quip than it is to do proper research into the issues which really matter to people. Politics in general is covered like a soap opera of traded insults and mini-scandals, rather than the exchange of ideas and assessment of governmental competence that it is supposed to be. Worst of all, the media clearly has not considered that our future inside or outside the EU is not fundamentally a political issue at all, but a socio-economic one.

It is this failure to research the issues at stake properly which leads to the other nonsense of the campaign – namely that claims from each side are automatically afforded equal legitimacy. Actually, they should be assessed against the facts and anyone stating a blatant mistruth should be derided for so doing. Not all opinions are equally legitimate – some are informed by reason and evidence; others, well, aren’t.

And that is all to leave aside the fact that all the main players in the media’s soap opera are men. Is that not shameful?

All over the world now, from Trump to Hofer, we are seeing the rise of people who can manipulate the media easily because it refuses to be informed and refuses to tackle nonsense. The crisis in democracy across the world, in other words, is partly the responsibility of the media. The results could be very frightening.

Austria real cause for alarm

Bist du schwarz oder rot?” (“Are you black or red”) was the first question I was asked upon arrival to stay with a family in the Vienna suburbs in 1993. I have never forgotten it. Now, it really matters. 

For all our parochial concerns about devolved elections and even “Brexit”, perhaps the most significant political event in our lives occurred yesterday, in the form of the resignation of the Chancellor (head of government) of Austria.

Post-War Austria developed a system of “pillarisation” known as “Proporz”, whereby almost everyone was identified politically as “black” (centre-right, a supporter of the People’s Party) or “red” (centre-left, a supporter of the Social Democrats). Those two parties dominated elections, after which they almost invariably formed a Grand Coalition and dished out initiatives, ministries and even appointments in everything from the civil service to banks in proportion to size. (Indeed it was believed that even foreigners fell into one or the other, hence the question above.)

As the generations passed and memories of post-War occupation receded, younger people began to turn away from the two great monoliths and the allocations of appointments associated with them (one man’s “fair apportionment of appointments” is another man’s “corruption”), and parties such as the Liberals and Greens saw their chance. Unfortunately, the party which best grasped the opportunity was the Freedom Party, nominally liberal but really populist-conservative, led by the late Jörg Haider. He developed his own political base in the south of the country and rose from there to come second in the 2000 elections, thus securing a place in government. As Austria is associated in most outsiders’ minds with another right-wing leader of a not dissimilar name, foreign governments were appalled but there was little they could do.

Herr Haider was killed in a single-car crash, and so it was thought his movement would decline. This was another lesson of history not learned. Renewed and reunited, it won the first round of the presidential election last month ahead of an Independent Green, with the two great monoliths placed fourth and fifth behind another centrist independent.

Inevitably, below all this, there is a strong cultural and historical imperative. Austrians celebrate the fact, for example, that Ottoman Muslims made it as far as Vienna in the mid 17th century but no further; thus, the underlying notion that it is a Christian country is strong. There is also, among large sections of the population, an acute sense of loss; Vienna is the capital of a country of only 9 million, but any visitor can see it is obviously designed and built to be an imperial capital (as it was for centuries). Austria also never underwent the process of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” taken on in neighbouring (West) Germany after the War.

Why does this matter to us? By some measures, Austria is the most prosperous country in the EU except tiny Luxembourg. If its democracy is collapsing into crazed anti-immigration populism, no democracy is secure from it. It is also a significant warning to those who believe that collapse of the established political order is necessarily a good thing – in fact, if it is not properly managed and planned (as inevitably it isn’t), it is invariably a recipe for chaos.

For us in Northern Ireland, the post-Agreement generation is finding not that our politics is becoming more like everyone else’s, but that everyone else’s is becoming more like ours. In response to ever more complex issues (such as the refugee crisis), the population is turning for comfort to people offering ever more simplistic answers.

This is a bad time to be a liberal democrat.

#Brexiteers – what happens to EU workers?

I am going to use the Tuesday slot on this blog to ask those proposing “Brexit” a few questions, since they are the ones proposing change.

The first concerns workers from different EU states. What would happen to workers from other EU states currently working in the UK? And what would happen to workers and retirees from the UK living elsewhere in the EU?

The answer can’t be “nothing”, otherwise this would not be an issue raised at all. But it is also reasonable to assume it will work the same way in both directions – noting that 2 million nationals of other EU states live in the UK and 2 million UK nationals life elsewhere in the EU.

So?

“Norwegian Model” plus influence gives UK best of both worlds

For months now, supporters of so-called “Brexit” promoted the benefits of the “Norwegian Model” – a mythical land where access to the Single Market is secured while the country is protected from the perils of currency union, political integration and shared immigration policy.

Last Friday, David Cameron delivered just that – except the UK remains at the table, not only for EU issues but even for Eurozone issues where they affect the UK.

The UK is left in an enviable position. It is part of the world’s largest free trading bloc but shielded from having to contribute to Eurozone bail-outs; it has full access to the single market but does not have to participate in common migrant or refugee re-settlements; it can retain its alliances in Europe within a common agreed framework while also firmly committed to intelligence sharing, investment and cultural exchange with North America and Australasia.

The UK, in other words, is firmly rooted where it should be – at the centre of the civilised industrial world’s axis, speaking the world’s most spoken language, trading in the world’s largest free trade zone, operating as a global hub without obvious parallel.

If we trust Messrs Farage, Galloway and Grayling to come up with an alternative plan we could, of course, choose to throw this all away on 23 June. I know what my choice will be.

EU is all gain, no cost

This is, literally, a random UK tax bill (shared last week on social media) – showing how taxes are allocated.

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Now, spot the EU contribution…

And here is the thing – outside the EU, many others of these expenditures would increase:

  • Health costs would increase as reciprocal arrangements, generally advantageous to UK taxpayers since the British spend more time in other EU states than vice-versa, would likely be withdrawn;
  • Education costs would rise as Erasmus opportunities and other exchanges became more limited (ask any Norwegian about that);
  • Defence costs would rise as it became harder to form mutual arrangements under common regulatory frameworks, notably key ones with France;
  • Public Order and Safety costs would increase as data sharing inevitably became more limited;
  • Culture would become more expensive and cultural exchange became trickier;
  • Business costs would increase (no doubt with some government assistance required) to overcome tariffs now introduced with our largest export market – this would likely also see utility costs rise;
  • Government administration would increase as functions currently pooled with 27 other states (not least negotiating overall trade deals) had to be managed by one alone;
  • … and this is all before we get to the point that the average household would have less to contribute in tax because the cost of imports would have risen.

“Brexit” would cost. Be in no doubt about it.

Time for Cameron to step aside from EU debate

If you’re explaining, you’re losing.

One of the most astonishing moments of the Scottish independence referendum was when the three “unionist” party leaders shared a platform to explain “The Vow”. So badly had the “No” campaign been run, that it ended up doing the explaining – going into detail about what staying in the UK would mean. A less complacent and better run campaign would never have been in such a position; it would have forced the “Yes” side to do all the explaining (as Alasdair Darling had done successfully in the first debate), leaving all the uncertainty on the “Yes” side. As it was, it was left almost as unclear what a “No” vote would mean as a “Yes” vote – and a 30-point lead was reduced by two thirds come polling day.

Prime Minister David Cameron is now at risk of doing the same thing. He is spending far too much time discussing what his “reforms” are all about, at the expense of the much more fundamental debate about what is in the interests of households across the UK. The referendum question does not ask what we think of Mr Cameron’s reforms, nor (note well) what we think of Mr Cameron himself. It asks simply whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. That, and only that, is the issue.

Mr Cameron would be best, therefore, stepping aside now. His “reforms” are largely irrelevant. The issue is whether the UK wishes to remain part of the world’s largest free trade bloc (with the range of advantages that brings from a lower cost of living to an enhanced role on the global stage), or leave it and be sidelined (with all the uncertainties that brings from tariffs on food an electrical items to border controls and limited opportunities for R&D, science and agriculture).

As families for the first time in nearly a decade get used to wages rising in real terms but continue to be wary of global economic conditions, as we are faced with the greatest humanitarian horror on our frontier since at least the collapse of Yugoslavia, and as our free and democratic way of life is threatened by everything from Middle East terrorism to Far Eastern economic expansion, whether a few people have to wait a year or four years for in-work benefits is frankly neither here nor there.

Leaving the EU could see our holiday entitlements reduced; it could see the cost of living raised by up to £3000 per household; it could restrict our ability to seek trade, educational opportunities or even holidays in Continental Europe; it could destabilise the UK itself (with a second Scottish independence referendum and border controls re-introduced in Ireland); it could lead to American administrative, business and even military interests being transferred from the UK to a new “special relationship” with Germany, left as undoubted leader of Europe in the UK’s absence; it could see the withdrawal of CAP and PEACE funds from the UK’s periphery, enhancing the wealth gap between north and south (to the marked detriment of Northern Ireland); and it could see investment and jobs flow away from the UK, leaving our young people trapped with few opportunities (in a country which long ago lost its export base).

Proponents of “Leave” may want to deny some or all of the above. Let us hear them do so. Levels of child benefit for Romanians have nothing to do with anything – this debate is about the fundamental risk to our cost of living, job opportunities and social well-being that tearing us apart from the EU could cause. So let us have this debate, without delay.

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