Category Archives: International

Las Vegas – the anger trumps the sadness

To be brutally honest, I found anger trumped sadness in my reaction to the Las Vegas massacre at the weekend. To express horror, grief and condolence is natural when people simply attending a concert are mass-murdered – yet the number of Americans who seem to find such levels of violence acceptable is astonishing. The number murdered in Las Vegas will be only a small proportion of those murdered across the United States this week.

It is worth emphasising a view I have expressed here before. Essentially, I do not think Americans are particularly violent because they have guns; I believe they have guns because they are particularly violent. There is a profound culture of using violence first and asking questions later, which in large swathes of the country engulfs everyone from law enforcement officers to average citizens. In a country where almost every administrator is elected or appointed by someone who is elected, it is this which blocks serious action on gun control, or indeed on many other things (such as proper police oversight). Quite possibly, this culture has a historical (and thus understandable) origin, but its continued political resonance in an otherwise civilised society is a mystery of horrific consequence.

Arguably, every country has its blind spots. The UK has its binge drinking, France its racially segregated banlieues, and the United States its culture of violence first. Yet for as long as a country as economically and technologically advanced as the United States cannot work out that everyday violence cannot be part of civilised culture, there will be more Las Vegas-style horror stories – and more grief overcome by anger.

Advertisements

The tragedy of Catalonia

I had the great fortune, from 1992 to 2008, to visit Catalonia for one reason or another every two years on average. On occasions it was for research work (democracy in regions, multilingual systems and so on); once for a conference; once to visit the centres for “linguistic normalisation”; occasionally just on holiday. I stayed with families there, worked in offices there, lunched with friends there, and so on.

For all that, I am not remotely qualified to comment on the current situation there, even though I am in direct contact with residents and activists in and around Barcelona.

Nevertheless, I have to say that people who are even less qualified to comment are, for some reason usually linked to justifying their own political positions in their own home regions, choosing to do so. People are free to comment as they please, of course, but uninformed (or worse still misinformed) comment is becoming a serious problem of our age. We are not in fact imparting knowledge or ideas, but rather reinforcing misconceptions. This is not good.

It is not good not least because it leaves no room for moderation. On one hand, we have the straightforward argument (advanced broadly by the Spanish Right) that independence referendums are unconstitutional and thus illegal. On the other, we have the notion that “self-determination” is both absolute and a synonym for “freedom”.

At great risk of wading into uninformed waters, I will address that latter first. Catalonia has not remotely begun to prepare for independence. The process of forming an independent state there would make Brexit look like a cake walk. Basic issues, like the fact a significant minority of the population are not Catalan, are simply wished away. The reverse is also true – many of the culturally “Catalan lands” are not in Catalonia. Even staunch Catalans had in fact generally if uneasily talked up “sovereignty” rather than “independence”, implicitly understanding the former to mean an equal place for Catalan language and culture in a federal Spain rather than the creation of a new nation state – a much tidier outcome given that “Catalonia” and “Catalanismo” have obviously distinct boundaries. So people abroad arguing for “Catalan freedom” as if there was a longstanding and well planned desire in Catalonia for outright independence are merely casting their own prejudices on to Catalonia, without any real interest in the complexities of the region or indeed the interests of its people at all.

Of course, the same applies in reverse. Simply to declare an independence referendum “unconstitutional” is bizarre – by definition (with the noble recent exceptions of Canada and the UK) independence/separation will always be unconstitutional, as it is in itself an expression that the constitution is deemed to have failed. Despite the removal of some polling boxes and the violence at some stations, it seems around 38% of the Catalan electorate voted for independence – compare 37% who voted for Brexit in the UK! That fact can never be undone. Given the choice of remaining within Spain under the current constitutional arrangement (which does not give Catalans, as they see it, linguistic and cultural equality), or leaving it, a lot and indeed probably a majority of Catalans would rather leave.

The blame game is also unhelpful. The failure of the Catalan police to follow legal direction is extremely worrying, and should concern anyone considering trying to build a new sovereign nation-state there. The more globally obvious failure of the Spanish police to follow that direction without allowing and even resorting to violence leaving hundreds injured has caused Spain a serious reputational problem made only more serious by its government’s apparent failure to recognise it.

A solutions game would be more helpful. It remains fundamentally the case that neither side – broadly “Catalonia” (represented by the Catalan regional government) and “Spain” (represented by the Centre right minority government of Mariano Rajoy) – really wants Catalonia to have to leave Spain, but this would now be an inevitable consequence of inaction. Yet it is extremely dubious whether the current leaders on either side are willing to look at the requisite action as this would inevitably require compromise – something which, sadly in the modern world, is rarely politically popular.

How they pull back from the brink with the fingers hovering over the button remains unclear, and that is Catalonia’s tragedy. On this day of unity, let us just hope that this region of sublime high culture can find some clarity in the days and weeks ahead.

Germany’s “Schwarzer Sonntag” election destabilises things further

Germany has voted and, as probably should have been expected but was not, the UKIP-like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has done better than the polls anticipated, apparently at the expense of Angela Merkel’s CDU. As ever, much of the analysis on this will be flawed.

Firstly, what is generally missed is that AfD (and to an extent the leftist Die Linke) are protest parties favoured by Easterners.

IMG_0382

That point is evident above, although my phrasing is specific – AfD and Die Linke voters even in the West are disproportionately Easterners.

This is important not just for the obvious reason that disenchantment is greater in the former East. The East, in broad terms at least, is different and always was (and this was evident electorally even pre-War and there are obvious historical reasons for it going back centuries). It is inevitably less enamoured with concepts such as the European Union, not just because it was not part of it at the outset, but because it naturally looks East (towards Russia) rather than West (towards France).

German reunification remains a staggering achievement, but the fact remains it was unplanned and was never thoroughly accomplished. Most obviously, Easterners never went through the process of post-War Vergangenheitsbewältigung that Westerners did, and thus have a much lesser sense that they have making up to do. Indeed, they are disproportionately likely to descend from Germans expelled from elsewhere.

Secondly, results like this are often assigned economic reasons. That is a mistake. They have much more to do with an emotional sense that somehow things are changing too quickly and even that identity is being taken away than any rational notion that jobs are less secure and finances less balanced. Germany after all still runs a hefty surplus while maintaining full employment even among young people.

Thirdly, the CDU/CSU did not lose all the votes AfD gained. In fact, it is likely that more of AfD’s extra votes came from the SPD than the CDU/CSU. The latter’s losses will have ended up primarily with the Liberal FDP which, like AfD, just missed out on the 5% hurdle for parliamentary seats last time. There is this bizarre tendency, despite all the evidence to the contrary from all over Europe and beyond, to assume that because we describe parties like AfD as “far right” their gains must come from the “centre right”. Actually as often as not they come from the “centre left”, which is in stark decline in Germany as everywhere else. Presenting the whole thing as linear from left to right hinders our ability to understand just what drives AfD (or UKIP or FPÖ or wherever) voters, most of whom take profoundly left-wing positions on many issues.

Fourthly, describing AfD voters dismissively as “idiots” or even “Nazis” is no way to tackle the problem. It is true that progressive liberal types will never really grasp what causes someone to vote that way. However, we do need to try at least to grasp the issues on which a decision to vote that way are based. If someone tells us that, for example, immigration is an issue, we may well suggest that in fact immigration is a positive; but have we really grasped the issue raised? Perhaps the issue is not so much immigration itself, but the consequences for people in certain types of community who feel that community is changing to their detriment? How do we address that, if we are ourselves not from that community?

In conclusion, the election campaign was very boring but the result suggests a Germany which is not as at ease with itself as many outsiders assumed. Of course, 87% of voters did not vote for the nationalist populists, and we should note that. But Germany is a country where divisions still run deep, and this election has brought them into the open. They will have to be addressed in a way more managed than reunification was 27 years ago next week.

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:

denmark

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.

img_8890

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.

Midnight

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).

1am

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).

2am

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).

3am

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).

4am

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).

5am

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).

6am

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.

7am

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).

8am

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.

9am

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).

Senate

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.

President

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?