Category Archives: International

Chlorinated chicken shows how prejudiced *both* sides are in Brexit debate

I am going to let you into a secret. I don’t know the first thing about food standards and even less about the use of chlorine in the preparation of chicken.

Here is thing, o Twitter users: in 99% of cases, nor do you…

Yet somehow last week half the people in social media appeared to have become experts. Their knowledge was such that they were able to tell us, beyond doubt, that allowing chlorinated chicken into the UK would constitute a “decline in food standards”. But what was this “expert opinion” based upon, exactly?

In the same way as some on the Leave side exhibit all kinds of prejudice against all things Continental, this looked suspiciously like prejudice against all things American. The assumption is that chlorinated chicken is a big food standard problem (because the EU banned it) and, implicitly, that American standards are generally lower anyway. Are they? Well, I don’t know. How do so many people in social media seem to know?

As it happens, chlorinated chicken was banned in the EU in the late 1990s. Do you not remember the big fuss at the time? Well, actually, nor do I.

It appears, in fact, that subsequent advice to the European Commission has been that chlorinated chicken is not, in fact, a major hazard. Presumably, this is why Americans eat it quite happily. Although of course it is a well known fact that European visitors to the United States avoid chicken there in the knowledge that it is chlorinated. Or maybe not so well known fact. Or maybe that they don’t actually avoid it at all?

Implicit to all of this is the widely held view in Europe that North America is an unregulated free-for-all. I can only conclude that most people who think that have never actually been to North America. My own experience of it, in fact, is that you are constantly being instructed everywhere you go – you cannot even enter a car park with all sorts of instructions about which zone to go to if your ticket is green, your car is blue, or your plate ends in the letter “K”. Regulations and bureaucracy are in fact everywhere.

Because I know nothing about food standards, it is absolutely possible that allowing chlorinated chicken would constitute a decline. However, what was noteworthy was how many people who had clearly never before had any knowledge of the issue were suddenly jumping on the issue like seasoned experts. This, as is a constant theme on this blog, betrayed (in the very precise meaning of the word) a blatant prejudice.

I would still very much like to remain in the EU. But you know one thing which definitely does not help that already uphill task? Blatant prejudice.

We are all guilty in “post-truth” society

The year is not very old, but this is probably the most important and challenging article you will read during it:

The Death of Expertise

The problem is, we all know the “Death of Expertise” is going on around us, yet few of us recognise it afflicts us ourselves.

For example, I have now seen well educated, highly able, very professional people sharing this picture (originating, I believe, from the Bernie Sanders campaign) countless times:


In the words of Blackadder: “There is just one problem with it. It’s b*****ks.”

Excuse the extreme language, but in this case it is necessary. We are, as human beings, inclined to believe what we want to believe. The “Death of Expertise” article above notes the essential point here: it is not that we are lying, it is that we are all engaging in the fallacy that the world is as we think it ought to be. It is not.

To re-emphasise, there is nothing at all accurate about the above. The average Danish worker works a 37-hour week; there is no minimum wage (industries negotiate with trade unions for what is in effect a voluntary living wage in certain sectors, which is typically around $11); universities, health care and child care are not free but are paid for through extremely high taxes (many people may over half their income in tax, plus everyone faces a VAT rate of 25%).

There are many reasons Denmark is the fantastic country it is, but it is simply unacceptable to say “Here is my political platform; here is a happy country; here is the utterly deceptive pretence that that country is happy because of my political platform”.

And highly educated, well respected, professional people (the “Guardian-reading lefty liberals” as well as the Mail-reading white van man) can be just as likely to fall for it. That, perhaps, is the most scary part of all in the “death of expertise”.

UK has never been “independent”

2017 will of course be an interesting year because the UK will start along the road to what the victors in June’s referendum often describe as “independence”. Thousands of miles away, Jamaica will likely choose to join other Commonwealth Realms in the Caribbean in a move towards a Republic. The two are linked interestingly.

Leavers tend to omit the point that, on their own terms, the UK has never been independent. In the 17th century, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands became the first English colonies – and they were English, not British, because the UK did not exist yet.

The Union, in its various forms, therefore always relied on free trade. This was, of course, usually on its own terms as an imperial power, as crucial raw supplies were brought in, typically under protection of the Royal Navy, from the Americas, the Middle East, South Asia, the Far East and Australasia.

Decolonisation after World War Two saw the British recognise that they still needed free trade and supplies of what they themselves could not produce to prosper, but they could no longer do it on their own imperial terms, and thus doing it from great distance became rather pointless. They were not alone – countries such as France, Belgium and Portugal faced the same reality just as Spain had already faced it. Thus, in trading terms, the faraway Empire was swapped by necessity, but absolutely consciously, for the European Economic Community by the UK and other European (former) powers. It was this Community which, collectively, allowed them to continue to trade with the rest of the world while still largely dictating the terms, all while allowing for the adjustment to nearer trade between European powers of roughly equal economic size and living standards.

Put simply, some time between 1956 (Suez) and 1972 (European Communities Act), the UK got around to making the only realistic adjustment available to it. During those wilderness years, living standards in the UK slipped from the highest in Europe to the sick man of Europe but, backed by its new economic might within the European Community/Union from 1973, it saw per-capita income grow faster than any other major comparative (G7) economy. The UK swapped, by necessity, “imperialism” for “interdependence” – and it in fact proved rather good at the latter.

The UK, as an entity, has thus either been “imperial” or “interdependent”. It has never been “independent” – recognising always that this would be a rather foolish status for a soggy peripheral island with almost no natural resources and limited land area.

So, this “independence” lark could be intriguing, because the Union as we know it has never before experienced it. Only one thing is for sure – those hoping to “take back” something will be disappointed.

Story of an Airport debacle

In the early 1990s, it was decided that a new hub would be ideal. Nevertheless, big planning applications ranging from public transport links to tendering for construction led to fifteen years passing before construction began in 2006. It was decided to name the new project after a grand statesman and all seemed set for completion by 2014.

However, a combination of everything from utterly incompetent project management to political gameplaying to what most regard as low-level corruption saw the project stalled time after time. Project estimates proved hopelessly inadequate as time passed by, and chaos ensued. Even a start date of late 2017 (remembering this all started a full generation ago) has been delayed by a public transport planning dispute, with a possibility now that the whole farce will extend into the ’20s.

It is quite possibly the single most embarrassingly ridiculous example of project management in the post-War Western World.

Yet no, this is not Northern Ireland! The hub in question is Berlin Brandenburg Airport. It was supposed to replace two airports but will now only replace one because passenger estimates are now so hopelessly outdated.

Have a think about that the next time a Northern Irish person tells you that the Northern Irish are uniquely useless, or even that the Germans are efficient…

(The statesman was Willi Brandt. His foundation is currently considering withdrawing its permission to use his name, given the scale of the scandals around the airport’s construction.)

Dies habe ich vor dem schrecklichen Anschlag am 19./12. bei einem Berliner Weihnachtsmarkt geschrieben. Es ist wichtig, dass das freie und demokratische Leben so weitergeht, wie vor dem Horror. Berliner haben wie keine anderen Bürger für diese Freiheit und diese Demokratie gekämpft und gelitten. Dementsprechend sind meine Gedanken bei den Opfern und Angehörigen, und allen Berlinern möchte ich mein herzliches Beileid aussprechen und ein freies und friedliches Fest wünschen. 

Guide to US Election

Americans go to the polls on Tuesday to elect their House of Representatives (lower legislative house, from 435 districts electing one each), a third of their Senate (one from two thirds of states), various State legislators… and of course their President (and Vice President).

The President (and Vice) is elected by an Electoral College of 538 delegates; 435 from each State in proportion to population, another 100 two from each State regardless of size, and 3 from the District of Columbia (the federal capital of Washington). Of the 50 States, 48 have their delegates elected “winner takes all”; thus, whichever candidate wins California gets all 55 available delegates from California voting for them. The remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, appoint two delegates based on the State-wide result and the remainder (two in Maine and three in Nebraska) individually based on the winner in each Congressional District.

A candidate requires only a plurality of votes to win the state (i.e. more votes than anyone else, regardless of whether this constitutes an absolute majority), but needs an absolute majority of the Electoral College (270 delegates) to win the election. Should no candidate attain this, regardless of who wins the overall popular vote or who has most delegates, the President is elected by the House of Representatives and the Vice by the Senate.

The two main candidates are Hillary Clinton (D-Democrat) and Donald Trump (R-Republican). The only other candidate running in all 50 states is Gary Johnson (L-Libertarian).

The United States is of course spread across numerous time zones and, in any case, each State manages the election. Thus electoral law varies across the country, including what the arrangements are for balloting, the circumstances under which a candidate may appear on the ballot paper, and the time at which polls close.

Additionally, there are variations in when networks feel content to “call” States for one candidate or another, bearing in mind the embarrassment caused by the erroneous early call of Florida for Al Gore in 2000. Nevertheless “calling”, based on early vote counts and exit polls, remains a feature of the night.


This diagram from the Washington Post, showing how the States voted last time (blue Democrat; red Republican) demonstrates that it is State population, not area, which counts – beware the standard maps!

So, what are we looking out for (with thanks to the Washington Post and APCO Worldwide), all times GMT (EST+5, PST +8, CET -1)?

Closing times refer to the whole state, given with the relevant number of Electoral Votes and the winning party in 2012 in brackets. Clinton can afford to lose 62 Electoral Votes versus 2012 and still win.


Rumours usually fly about exit polls at this stage, but no States have all polls actually closed before midnight.

Be very careful with such rumours. They usually have no basis in fact whatsoever! Wait for actual counts before making any assumptions as to the winner.

Now closed: Georgia (16-R), Indiana (11-R), Kentucky (8-R), South Carolina (9-R), Vermont (3-D), Virginia (13-D).


Kentucky (8) and West Virginia (5) will by now be called for Trump.

Vermont (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Virginia (13) may be formally deemed too close to call at this hour – if it is called for either candidate (probably Clinton), that is a very good early sign.

Otherwise, realistically we are still stuck with entirely unreliable rumours for another hour or so!

Now closed: North Carolina (15-R), Ohio (18-D), West Virginia (5-R); Alabama (9-R), Connecticut (7-D), Delaware (3-D), DC (3-D), Florida (29-D), Illinois (20-D), Maine (4-D), Maryland (10-D), Massachusetts (11-D), Mississippi (6-R), Missouri (10-R), New Hampshire (4-D), New Jersey (14-D), Oklahoma (7-R), Pennsylvania (20-D), Rhode Island (4-D), Tennessee (11-R).


Texas (38), Indiana (11), Tennessee (11), Alabama (9), South Carolina (9) and Oklahoma (7) will by now be called for Trump.

Massachusetts (11), Maryland (10), Rhode Island (4) and the District of Columbia (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Illinois (20), Connecticut (7) and Delaware (3) should by now be called for Clinton; any significant delay is a real problem for her.

New Jersey (14) may initially be deemed too close to call but should soon be called for Clinton.

Georgia (14) should initially be deemed too close to call but may soon be called for Trump.

Maine‘s state votes and one of its districts should be called for Clinton, but its other district may be too close to call.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) should at this stage be too close to call – an early call for either candidate in either state, particularly for Clinton in North Carolina, would be big; do not expect either to be called soon, however.

Trump should be on at least 98 and Clinton 64 at this stage if all is as expected.

Now closed: Arkansas (6-R); Arizona (11-R), Colorado (9-D), Kansas (6-R), Louisiana (8-R), Michigan (16-D), Minnesota (10-D), Nebraska (5-R), New Mexico (5-D), New York (29-D), South Dakota (3-R), Texas (38-R), Wisconsin (10-D), Wyoming (3-R).


Arkansas (6), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6) and Wyoming (3) will by now be called for Trump, as will Nebraska‘s state votes and of its districts (but not the third).

New York (29) will by now be called for Clinton.

Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should at this stage be deemed too close to call; they will probably not be called for some time.

Virginia (13) may still be deemed too close to call; because of the vagaries of counting there, nothing is to be read into that.

Trump should be leading at this stage on at least 123, but Clinton closing on at least 93.

If, however, this is not the case and a landslide is apparent, the winner may be formally called over the next hour or so.

Now closed: Iowa (6-D), Montana (3-R), Nevada (6-D), Utah (6-R).


Louisiana (8), Montana (3), North Dakota (3) and South Dakota (3) will by now be called for Trump.

Pennsylvania (20) will be deemed too close to call; if it is close, this state may well be decisive, but the winner may not be known for some time.

Ohio (18), Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should also at this stage be deemed too close to call.

New Jersey (14) should by now be called for Clinton and Georgia (14) for Trump; ongoing delays in either signify real problems for the supposed winner.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) may finally be called around now; they are both significant, particularly if they change hands (on the basis of the last election, the former should go for Trump and the latter for Clinton).

Trump must be extending his lead on at least 151 and probably 166 at this stage to win; Clinton must be on 107 and probably 111.

Now closed: California (55-D), Hawaii (4-D), Idaho (4-R), North Dakota (3-R), Oregon (7-D), Washington (12-D).


California (55) and Hawaii (4) will by now be called for Clinton.

Missouri (10) and Idaho (4) will by now be called for Trump.

Florida (29) and Iowa (6) will at this stage be deemed too close to call.

Washington (12) and Oregon (7) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Clinton.

Arizona (11) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Trump.

Virginia (13) should by now be called for Clinton, if she is to win.

If it is to be a close election, the scores should now show it – with Trump on at least 180 rising towards 191 and Clinton 170 rising towards perhaps 202.

On the other hand, if either candidate has won clearly, this will be apparent by now and networks may begin to call it at this time.

All polls are now closed. Last closing is Alaska (3-R).


Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) will at this stage be too close to call.

Utah (6) may at this stage be too close to call because of a local Independent candidate McMullan, but should soon be called for Trump.

Alaska (3) may initially be deemed too close to call, but should soon be called for Trump.

Meanwhile, Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should by now have been called for Clinton; if either has not been, particularly if there is a real chance she has lost either, it is a potential problem for her.

Iowa (5) should by now be called for Trump if he is to win.

Florida (29) counts quickly, so watch for it being called any time now.

Trump could still win from 202, Clinton probably needs to be ahead now around 215228. That said, the overall scores could be affected by a range of things – the issue really is whether close States are being called, and for whom.


Ohio (18) should by now have been called for Trump; if it has not, it is a real problem for him.

Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should by now have been called for Clinton (the latter may be delayed somewhat because of a strong showing from Libertarian Johnson).

Unless it is very close, we should by now have a clear idea of the winner. If it is very close, all eyes should be on Pennsylvania (20) and perhaps Colorado (9).


Virginia (13) should be now have been called for Clinton, if she is still in with a chance.

Florida (29) may by now have been called for Trump, if he is still in with a chance.

If it is very, very close, we may even be looking at one of Maine‘s and one of Nebraska‘s districts.


We should now have calls everywhere, including in Pennsylvania (20), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), any of which could be decisive if it is very close.

If it is close, we may also have to wait in some cases for mailed votes. Some States allow these up to two weeks after polling day, provided they are postmarked no later than today. Regardless, if the outcome is still unclear at this stage, we are probably heading for recounts and the courts.

House of Representatives

The Republicans are likely to lose seats but keep control of the House; the way the districts are proportioned is hugely in their favour (they have, in effect, an in-built 40-50 seat advantage because of the way the boundaries are drawn).


Democrats needs to pick up 4-5 seats in the Senate to take a majority; this is probable, as most seats being defended (from 2010) are Republican.


It is a tricky call because this election is like no other, but the likeliest of many conceivable outcomes according to the pundits is a Clinton win declared around 6am GMT (ending on just over 300 Electoral Votes). But many other outcomes, including a landslide either way (Trump could conceivably go as high as 332Clinton as high as 370), are possible – so it may be worth being up from about 3am on!

My own instinct is Clinton will do poorly in the Mid West (perhaps even losing Michigan) but well in the South West (doing well in places like Arizona) to move over the 270 target as western states’ polls close – but that only has to be ever so slightly out for her not to win at all, an outcome I am more concerned about than many of the aforementioned pundits.

We shall see!

UK being bossed around by EU on “Hard Brexit”

Former Chancellor George Osborne returned to public view last week to warn that, although the people of the UK had voted for “Brexit”, they had not voted for “Hard Brexit”. As a matter of straightforward fact, he was completely correct.

However, what if “Hard Brexit” is the only type of “Brexit” on offer? I suspect that is the word from the grape vine of UK diplomatic channels, and is the reason the Prime Minister is creeping that way.

We need to be very clear. The invocation of “Article 50” merely determines the route by which the UK would leave the EU. It does not determine the future relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU; nor does it even clarify whether or not the UK may be able to retain membership of the European Economic Area (the “Single Market”) or the European Union Customs Union. Were it to become apparent – as it may already have through diplomatic and legal channels – that leaving the EU also automatically means leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union, this would mean “Hard Brexit”. That is a straightforward matter of fact; there is nothing that can be done about it.

Upon leaving the EU by “Hard Brexit”, the UK would then have the option of seeking further negotiations to soften the blow. However, any sort of association would be subject to ratification by all 27 remaining members – in each case at least through one legislature, usually through two, and in some cases via referendum (noting that the last such attempt was rejected by the Dutch in a referendum this year). At every stage, each country will seek to extract an extra concession or two, and even then it only takes one to reject it – leaving the UK firmly “Hard Brexitted”.

All the discussion so far focuses on what type of “Brexit” the UK wants or should go for. More important, in fact, is what type of “Brexit” the rest of the EU wants. The EU is bossing the UK around, and that is why there is only one type of “Brexit” available – the “Very Hard” kind. The “Very Hard” kind which is not in the UK’s interests, and that no one actually voted for…

If State Aid rules were broken, is the State not responsible?

Away back in February, I explained why the Irish Government is quite happy to let a huge, wealthy corporation like Apple not pay any tax. The previous January I noted that this was not without penalty to the humble customer.

This August, the intervention came. Let us assume that the European Commission is right and State Aid rules were breached by Apple’s rather favourable tax arrangements in Ireland (even though I make no such assumption, personally).

Who established those tax arrangements? Was it Apple, or Ireland?

Quite obviously it was Ireland. And this is not a victimless crime. Who is to say that Apple would not have preferred the lower labour costs available in Northern Ireland, were it not for the fact that it could enjoy such favourable arrangements South of the border? In effect, Ireland applied tax arrangements which were tantamount to “cheating” within a Single Market in which other jurisdictions compete for business such as Apple’s. That is why State Aid rules exist.

So, er, why exactly is the effective fine being applied to Apple and not to Ireland?

“Proxima Centauri b” biggest story of 2016

2016 has been a dramatic year – one which may well be looked back upon as a serious society changer in a similar way to 1968.

There is no question at all, however, about what is the biggest story of the year.

Pale Red Dot

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Source:

The discovery of Proxima Centauri b is potentially the most profound astronomical event since 20 July 1969, and perhaps the most profound discovery for four hundred years (since Galileo).

It was only within the last generation that the very existence of planets outside the Solar System was confirmed. With Kepler, thousands have been discovered, although still overwhelmingly planets with are larger than Neptune and close to their star (far closer than any planets in the Solar System are to the Sun, in most instances), and only around the 15% or so of stars which are relatively similar to the Sun. Although it was long considered likely that there were other planets out there, what was most exciting about this is that we can now reasonably infer that almost every star we look at in the night sky has a planetary system. That is exciting – and profound, because it raises the probability of life to very high, and of intelligent life to much higher than we had previously been able to assume.

Every now and then, of course, a planet has been proposed and subsequently confirmed which is within the “habitable zone” (sometimes known as the “Goldilocks zone” – not too cold, not too hot, but just right to support life). Often, further observation has made the crucial existence of an atmosphere to support life less likely. Nevertheless, the important thing is that it captures the public imagination (frankly then making continued funding for this vital research for humanity more politically and socially palatable).

In recent years and months, a much wider range of planets have been discovered, confirming that small planets (like ours) are in fact quite common, even though they were not initially easy to find. Gradually the data are moving to include planets as far away from their star as the Earth is from the Sun, and then further, to give us a much clearer idea of how typical or atypical the Solar System is. Increasingly the odds suggest it is fairly typical – and that is, in itself, very exciting because it cannot be bad for the prospects of finding life (and intelligent life).

Then came 2016. Proxima Centauri is much smaller than our Sun, but is also part of a three-star system, so in fact it was the type of Star initially ignored in the hunt. We now know, significantly, that even such a star can support a planet and, what is more, a planet in the “habitable zone” (that zone is much closer than in our Sun’s case).

The Sun would be visible to the naked eye in the night sky on a planet or moon up to around 80 light years away; although of course there are much larger stars visible to the naked eye on Earth which are much further away than that. However, that roughly 80-year radius seems reasonable because, unlike intergalactic distances and such like, we can easily comprehend it – it makes the average star visible to the naked eye and it means that light reaching us now left those stars within the average healthy/lucky human’s lifespan (for example, light from the sun reaching any alien who can see it with the naked eye left within my father’s lifetime).

Proxima Centauri is just over four light years away – milimetres, in cosmic terms. It is the very closest star to our Solar System; it has a planet around it; and that planet is within the habitable zone. That is stunning – and profound.

It is not profound because there may be intelligent life on that planet. There probably isn’t.

It is not profound because there may well be life of some sort on that planet. If it isn’t intelligent, that confirms life exists somewhere else – which is profound, but actually would confirm something most people (at least, most people who think about it) now assume to be the case anyway.

It is profound because all of us, when we are lucky enough to get a clear night (ideally away from the city lights), look up at the stars in wonder. There is now, for the first time, a reason to go to one of those stars; because we have found one which has a planet absolutely worth visiting. And it is profound because it is possible, within a human lifespan (i.e. when people now living are still alive), that humanity will see images taken directly by a human-made space probe from a habitable planet around another star. We may already know by then that there is life out there, or that probe may be sent to explore whether there is; we may already know by then that the planet could be inhabited, or that it is not but once may have been; we may indeed already know by then that alien civilisations exist, or that they do not within any relevant range of us. Regardless, the very notion of humans already alive seeing directly taken images from the surface of a planet in another system is something which will be looked back upon, just as Galileo is, for centuries.

Ultimately, we humans are not economic units. We are emotional explorers. It’s how we have come to be what we are. And it is how we will be what we come to be. This discovery, therefore, gives us just a hint – quite possibly long after religions, nation states, or even economies have ceased to exist – of what we will come to be. We are truly lucky to be alive to experience it.

How is UK to leave EU?

My former colleague Gerry Lynch recently posted this on Facebook:

The will of the people must be respected. Which will is that? The will that the UK can get its cake and eat it with the EU more than it already had, with all the benefits and none of the costs of membership? Or the will said the UK is a great country and can thrive entirely outside European structures and has no need of the single market? Or the will that said that immigration was too high and the undoubted costs of leaving the EU were worth getting the level of immigration under control? Or the will that said immigration was great and the UK should lead the world as a tariff free, regulation free, country with the minimum possible border controls? Or the will that just wanted to stick the finger to Cameron and Osborne (both of whom have been forgotten in an amazingly short space to time)?

Too right. 

So here is a straightforward challenge to those who want the UK to leave the EU – tell us how. And here is a straightforward platform – do it right here, on this blog!

Any comment on this blog post either directly here or on Facebook will be taken as an offer of a guest blog post, next Tuesday (and Tuesdays thereafter if there are more than one). Let’s hear it!

Meanwhile, here is how I would do it. Well, of course, I wouldn’t leave at all. But here is how I would attempt to respect the will of the people without collapsing the economy or causing constitutional chaos.

I would put an offer to the heads of government across the rest of the EU stating as follows:

  • from 1 July 2017, for six years, the UK will place a cap on the number of people allowed entry to the country from the Schengen Zone for the purposes of work, announcing that cap six months in advance each year;
  • also from that date, the UK will take over the full operation of its international aid budget (knocking around £20-£30 million off its contribution to the EU budget);
  • during that seven-year period, the UK will remain a member of the EU on the terms negotiated by David Cameron, but will agree to leave the room for discussions pertinent to the Single Currency or the Schengen Zone;
  • after four years (from June 2021), the UK will negotiate with the European Council the terms under which free movement within the Single Market will work into and out of the Schengen Zone, and on the basis of that negotiation the UK will then make a decision specifically on whether or not to remain within or leave the Single Market (determining its future relationship with the EU on the basis of that decision).

What is in this for the various sides?

For everyone (the European Council, the UK Government, Leave supporters and Remain supporters), the headache of how precisely the UK goes about leaving the EU is postponed for a reasonable duration while it is worked out.

For many Leave voters, the UK reclaims “control of its borders” – forever, if it so chooses (but on the understanding that maintaining such “control” into the next decade means restructuring the economy to leave the Single Market). This should appeal at least to some of those who voted on “sovereignty”, and to almost all those who voted on “immigration”. Those who don’t much like “international aid” will also see this restored to the UK and thus some money brought back to the UK (even if this is actually somewhat irrational).

For Remain voters, the debate is shifted to where it should be – the Single Market. Ultimately the future decision is not EU or no EU, but Single Market or no Single Market. This is a recognition of the reality that the UK does not get to set the terms alone of remaining within the Single Market.

For the European Council, there is at least a window of opportunity to re-define the EU somewhat, making the “core EU” (Single Currency and Schengen Zone) distinct from the “associate EU” (the Single Market without the Single Currency and Schengen Zone). Not only might it be possible to avoid any member state technically leaving under this new dispensation (the obvious risk being if the UK goes, so might the likes of Sweden), but it may even be possible to tempt countries such as Norway and Iceland in, since the “associate” membership option is not far from EEA, but with a common and clear framework.

For the UK Government, there is the chance to reflect that concerns raised in the referendum about immigration have been fully taken into account; but also that concerns raised concerning economic reconfiguration and the difficulties with the legal changes required to leave the EU have also been given time for resolution.

For Scotland and Northern Ireland, there is at least time here to determine exactly what they would do, should the UK opt to leave the Single Market; and, presumably, to make the case not to. For the Republic of Ireland, there is also a window of opportunity to consider exactly what its interests are with regard to free trade and movement with the UK, versus with the rest of the EU.

The UK Government’s external core argument would be that it is a little rich for other EU member states to lecture on how important absolute free movement is, when in fact only the UK (alongside Ireland and Sweden) implemented it upon the EU’s expansion in 2004. It would be precisely because the UK took in so many EU citizens from that date that it would be making the case for not having to do so now; as well as being on a separate land mass and outside the Schengen Zone. Its internal core argument would be that leaving the EU takes time and needs to be subject to further detailed consideration, but that the direction of travel is now established without a reasonable counter offer towards a looser EU.

Surely, of course, the European Council would reject such an offer? Well, maybe. But maybe not. You don’t know until you try. Actually my bet is the European Council would accept the offer – after all, there is no institution in the world more expert at can-kicking-down-the-road.

Impossible? Impractical? Not actually respecting the will of the people? Well then, your turn… right here, next Tuesday…

102 years on, we have learned nothing from WW1

The lights went out across Europe this day 102 years ago. A generation never saw them lit again.

The tragedy is not just the 17 million lives lost in that war and the 50 million lost in the one directly consequent to it. The tragedy is we have not learned.

I wish I could disagree with Tobias Stone in this article about how history is bound to repeat itself. Indeed, I have written similar myself, though not as effectively.

I am not by nature particularly a pessimist, but 102 years on the lights are about to go out again. Post-factual eras where people ignore those who actually know what they are talking about and turn to strong men always turn out the same way – in revolution and war. We can only hope it will not take as long this time for the light to return.