Hooray for the 2nd Referendum!

It’s nice to agree with your most implacable opponents every now and then. That’s why I was especially cheered to hear Patrick Stewart’s reasoned and measured arguments as he championed the new People’s Vote movement in various television studios nearly a fortnight ago. It’s hard to deny that we’d never make different, better decisions if we could see further into the future. After all, how many of us wouldn’t want to turn back the clock and not have a particular argument, or choose a different path that didn’t lead to a dead end?

When it comes to weighty matters of state, we all cast our votes based more on hope and belief than any meaningful knowledge of the future. That inescapable truth probably explains why we’re permanently disappointed that our destination bears only a passing semblance to the exciting postcard we received. So it’s with a big dose of hindsight and a little humility that I’ve come to embrace the idea of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The landscape is so dramatically different and so many arguments resoundingly disproved that I can see no other alternative. We’re just not where we thought we would be.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet informed voters that a Council of Ministers would make Europe-wide decisions. However, that competency was transferred to the unelected European Commission in 2009. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet assured voters that “no important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.” However, both the Maastricht
and Lisbon Treaties handed many important policy powers to the same unelected European Commission. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet declared that “through membership of the [Common] Market we are better able to advance and protect our national interests. This is the essence of sovereignty.” I can’t possibly speak for 17.4 million leave voters, but I’ll bet the farm that a significant majority of them believe that regaining control of UK border policy, money and laws is the true essence of sovereignty. It’s taken a little over forty years for that glib official statement to be tested in the real world and found so desperately wanting.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet stated that Commonwealth countries would not be disadvantaged by Britain’s membership of the EEC. Yet less than two pages later, the very same leaflet states a UK voting to leave the EEC would no longer be inside the Common Market tariff wall – but outside.” The pamphlet didn’t try to explain how splitting the Commonwealth between those behind and those outside the EEC’s tariff wall was beneficial to the countries left outside. The eagerness of those same nations to embrace new trading ties with the UK shows that statement to have been utterly false, and I suspect Edward Heath and a large portion of Parliament knew it back in 1973.

Whilst some of the Government’s claims regarding the Common Market may have been accurate in 1975, an awful lot has changed in forty years. New treaties, new power structures and new laws have transformed the EEC beyond all recognition, and in the light of those radically altered conditions, it was right and proper that at long last a second referendum on EU membership took place on June 23, 2016.

Some of the more embittered remain factions highlight the fact that older voters were the deciding demographic in the referendum result, as though that somehow counts for something. Despite ridiculous and condescending claims that older voters represent a non-existent past, they are in fact the very same people who’d voted to remain in the EEC in 1975. They’d just developed a better understanding of what they were really voting for this time around. Sound familiar?

Mr Stewart and his chums at People’s Vote HQ can celebrate the fact that we’ve already had a second EU referendum. When considering new developments and changed circumstances that were unknown in 1975, the electorate has soberly and very sensibly changed its mind.

The North London, 2nd referendum set can sleep soundly knowing that democracy was well served by the 2016 vote, and they can focus on really important things like writing letters to the Guardian.

The People’s Vote of 2016 was a triumph for democracy.

Image courtesy of nwhomebuyers at FreeImages.com

Does the EU Really Want a Trade Deal?

The evidence suggests it doesn’t.

It feels like forever since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Following that momentous day, the long-suffering British public have been buried by a blizzard of headlines, briefings, position papers and statements of principle. Everything from security, to the Irish border, through citizens’ rights, the “divorce bill” and back to the Irish border has been subjected to the most intense scrutiny and debate. Offers, rejections, accusations and counter-offers have become the new normal for Anglo-Brussels relations.

The only subject consistently absent from this flurry of proposals and propaganda is trade.

Funny that.

It’s become increasingly clear that the EU is desperate to talk about everything except trade. It’s surely no accident that the first phase of the exit negotiations makes no mention of any future trading relationship between us, and now that phase is concluded, the thorny issue of the Irish border has popped up once again, seemingly from nowhere.

The EU knows perfectly well that its so-called “backstop” position on the Ireland issue is completely unacceptable to the UK. So why go to the trouble of including it in the draft Brexit treaty?

The outrageous “divorce bill,” demands for ECJ supremacy and now the de-facto annexation of Northern Ireland are all part of a pattern of behaviour that’s starting to resemble a disgruntled employee who’s trying his hardest to get himself fired.

Why?

To put it simply, the European Union has no political interest in being a good neighbour and dependable partner to the United Kingdom, and is therefore trying to force Britain to abandon the talks. The uncomfortable truth is that while a far-reaching and ambitious treaty will help both the people and businesses of Europe, it will not help the European Union.

And that’s what really matters.

In practical terms it should be a cinch. We’re already so closely aligned that maintaining standards for EU markets while diverging in other areas should be the easiest thing in the world, so why is the EU making it so difficult?

Because Brussels knows full well that if the UK can exit the European Union and continue with (relatively) frictionless trade, other nations will soon stampede for the door. After all, what country would not wish to strengthen its domestic legislature while paying a manageable price in terms of trade? If Britain can strike a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, then the EU is finished as a global political force, and it knows this. The once omnipotent European Union would be politically neutered and gradually reduced to the status of an international trade body if Britain gets a good deal. Ironically enough, this would transform the EU into the kind of continental trading bloc we first joined back in 1973, and that’s something most Europeans and Brits would be quite happy with. However, such a dramatic loss of political power is something that the European Union will never accept. Make no mistake, Brussels is willing to pay any price in European misery to preserve its own supremacy.

If Brexit has served no other purpose, it’s proved beyond doubt that what’s good for Europe is bad for the EU, and all Europeans would do well to think long and hard about how we got ourselves into this position.

Images courtesy of Arztsamui & franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Not Charity When There’s no Choice

I donated money to Oxfam last year…and so did you if you’re a UK taxpayer. That’s how generous we are here in Blighty. We give without even knowing or being asked.

In fact the UK government donated over £200 million of taxpayer’s cash to Oxfam alone in 2016. Tax free of course.

That’s not charity. It’s State policy, sub-contracted through the cuddly sounding “aid sector.”

I’ve no idea how many trillions of dollars the developed world has given away in aid these past decades, but we’ve seen precious little progress to show for it. With seemingly endless conflict, famine and migration crises, our generosity seems to have done almost nothing to alleviate the Developing World’s most acute social and economic problems. A true cynic might begin to wonder if the “aid sector” has any real interest in actually solving any societal and cultural problems. After all, it could be argued that increased prosperity and self-reliance are bad for the aid business as they diminish demand, and overseas aid donations have become big, big business.

In this case the word donations is a euphemism for the State confiscating our property via taxation, before handing it over to an ever growing list of multi-billion dollar enterprises on our behalf. It may surprise many of you to learn that the single biggest recipient of UK Government aid during 2016 was Pakistan, a nation that can somehow afford nuclear weapons yet can’t (or won’t) govern its own territory or educate its population effectively. I wonder how they manage to pay for all that shiny military hardware?

I’ve no doubt Pakistan’s ruling elite is indeed grateful for the £463 million the UK government donated to it last year, as it leaves them free to pursue their global and regional agendas without the cost and bother of building schools, hospitals and other such boring but vital infrastructure. Why fix the road yourself when your neighbour will do it and you get to drive all the same? This bottomless bucket of guilty-conscience cash is a great advantage to an entrenched ruling class, as it weakens any potential grassroots challenge to their authority. A population dependent on aid is easily controlled, because hunger is a powerful political persuader.

There’s some serious coin in compassion these days, with Oxfam’s Chief Executive trousering a hefty £119k per annum as far back as 2013. Indeed, Oxfam’s own statement from August of that year claims the figure was “in the lower quartile of what other large charities paid for their chief executives.” This state-funded largess makes the latest revelations regarding the behaviour of some Oxfam staff all the more reprehensible, especially with former ministers claiming this is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

When it comes to charity and generosity of spirit, we in the developed world have no reason to reproach ourselves, but I’ve got a nagging feeling we’re about to learn that everything we thought we knew is wrong.

Image courtesy of Alex_ ugalek at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Brexit Blue is now a Thing

Symbols matter.

We all know they do, despite the fact we often pretend they don’t. This enduring truth was never more sharply defined than during the recent spat over the UK’s intention to revert to blue passports after leaving the European Union.

Hailed as a step forward by some and derided as a regressive irrelevance by others, it’s been instructive to observe not only the varying reactions to this announcement, but also the surprising depth of passion and feeling it’s evoked on both sides of the Brexit divide. It’s interesting to note that the change of colour will in no way affect the passport’s function (except perhaps within the EU itself), but that’s done nothing to cool the heat on either side of this increasingly bad-tempered debate.

That’s the trouble with symbols. They wrap so many deep-rooted ideas together that they become stronger and more enduring than the multitudes whose lives they touch. Just think of an iconic brand like Coca-Cola, which has become much more than just a fizzy drink and is now an essential part of America’s cultural DNA. It’s become a proxy symbol for the very idea of America and American culture worldwide.

Like countless conquerors before them, the EU Commissioners understand this only too well. They know that to destroy an idea, identity or culture, you must first destroy its most readily recognised symbols. Why else would they have invested so much time, money and treasure to chip away at passport design? The passport is the most universal, yet also personalised symbol of both national and individual identity. If (as has so often been claimed) trade and security cooperation were really the benign end goals of the European Project, there would simply be no need to waste time and treasure harmonising national identity documents. Yet still they went at it with a passion and drive bordering on the obsessive, and they’ve never let up. It’s surely no coincidence that the words European Union appear first, and above all other national symbols, signs, crests and stamps. This is no accident, and those two words are there for the sole purpose of signifying the EU’s supreme legal authority over member states. There is no other logical explanation for those words’ primary and prominent positioning on every citizen’s most valued identity document.

It’s worth noting that the burgundy passport was mooted by some as a stepping stone to the eventual removal of national symbols from all EU passports. Such a move proved to be universally unpopular, but still the EU Commissioners thought it important enough to risk the ire of both citizenry and national governments alike by sending up a test balloon.

Whether you believe that nation states are a barrier to human progress or the essential driving force behind it, there is no longer any credible argument that the EU has not been a decades-long attempt to create a pan-European identity at political, legal, cultural and individual levels.

This is the problem that unreformed remainers and referendum deniers will face long into the future. They betray their true intentions, attitudes and beliefs with every casual insult and untruth they knowingly fling at those whom they clearly believe to be their inferiors. After all, if passport design is just a distraction from the real issues of jobs, prosperity and trade…why are they so upset by the change? I know the answer, so do you…and so do they.

As for me, I’m just happy the words “European Union” will vanish from my passport in due course. That’s because I’m not far from fifty years of age, and 2016 was the first and only time I’ve ever been offered a real choice on these important issues of sovereignty and identity. There’s something to be said for returning to the “original” blue design, as that was the colour of UK passports before this nation was ordered to change it…just let that thought sink in for a minute. In time, the design will doubtless change again, but have a care, because a passport is a symbol, not just a little piece of paper.

We’ve all known it all along, and that’s why people get upset.

Image courtesy of Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing will satisfy the Eurocrats now

With Theresa May’s heavily trailed Europe speech rapidly approaching, the commentariat have gone into a kind of speculative overdrive as they feverishly try to second guess the shape and form of any revised Brexit offer the Prime Minister might make. Tales of a two year transition period and a £35 billion Brexit bill have been bandied about for the last week, and will no doubt become even more speculative as the big day draws closer.

People shouldn’t get their hopes up. As I explained in my earlier article, it seems unlikely that any deal offered by Britain will be sufficient to satisfy the EU negotiators, regardless of what each member state might privately think.

If, and it’s a big if, the figure of £35 billion is even reasonably accurate, it cannot simply be forked over without expecting something in return. Such an offer will surely be conditional on the UK exiting both the Single Market and the Customs Union in March 2019. This would allow the UK to negotiate trade on its own while retaining tariff free access to the Single Market for a short period. It will also deliver on Britain’s commitment to the current EU budget period which ends in 2020. This all seems quite reasonable, generous even, but Michel Barnier et al have thus far proved completely unwilling to accept any offer which is not an exact continuation of the current status quo.

Britain is often accused of wanting to have its Brexit cake and eat it, yet it’s the European Union which has steadfastly sought to retain every advantage it currently enjoys and give nothing in return.

For reasons that have never been fully explained, the EU seems to believe it can easily extract tens of billions of pounds from a leaving member state in return for a vague promise of future trade talks, with no certain outcome. Nobody in their right mind would accept that kind of dodgy get rich scheme pitch, and the Prime Minister must know the political and financial folly of such a lopsided arrangement.

Instead of engaging in constructive discussions, Brussels has embarked on a counterproductive campaign of deliberate discourtesy every time the UK has offered a solution to any Brexit problem. This cannot be an accident, just look at their responses so far…

Theresa May is “living in another galaxy” when it comes to the colossal, nebulous and ever-changing “divorce bill.”

Proposed customs and border arrangements are “a fantasy.”

An offer regarding citizens’ rights is a “damp squib.”

The Irish border proposals are “magical thinking.”

Conclusion: the EU has no interest in reaching any kind of pragmatic, mutually beneficial accommodation with the first nation ever to cut ties with this increasingly authoritarian bloc. They can’t risk setting a dangerous political precedent as they know for sure that other nations will follow. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the no-deal Brexit scenario was probably decided within hours of the referendum result.

This will be the background behind the Prime Minister’s speech on Friday. She may be gracious and accommodating, or combative and confrontational. In fact it doesn’t really matter which approach she adopts because the response has already been decided. It’ll probably take under an hour for the inevitable hoots of laughter and derision to pour forth from the Brussels bureaucrats and their metropolitan media enablers.

We’re wasting our time.

Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

North Korea’s A-Team H-Bomb

Where the hell did that come from?

North Korea’s alleged H-bomb test seems to have taken the world completely by surprise. Indeed, when it comes to constructing impossible devices with no resources, Big Kim and his boys would surely give the A-Team a run for their money.

There are two possibilities here. Firstly, that a nation instructing its soldiers to “steal corn from the fields” has somehow managed, in complete secrecy, to expedite such a rapid development in its nuclear program that the power of its weapons has increased fivefold in eighteen months.

The second possibility is that they’ve had outside help.

Given that Pyongyang’s gloating publicity pictures immediately made me think that Sean Connery was about to burst in and beat up the bad guys, I’m pretty confident that, as usual, China is the hidden director behind this latest international drama.

Let’s look at the evidence. China controls roughly 90% of North Korea’s trade and supplies aid directly to Pyongyang, thus bypassing the United Nations. To put it another way, North Korea is completely dependent on China for its continued existence. Despite it endless propagandising, the DPRK is in fact a Chinese franchise state, almost completely under Beijing’s control. The North Koreans literally do not eat without the continued support and goodwill of the Chinese Communist Party.

This inconvenient truth naturally raises another important question. Why is China giving material support to North Korea, and thus encouraging this dangerous escalation of tensions between (alleged) nuclear armed states? Surely China’s interests lie in keeping their impoverished neighbours on short rations. Business as usual has been very lucrative for the Chinese, as they circumvent UN sanctions by plundering North Korea’s mineral wealth and laundering it through their massive manufacturing sector. That rather grubby practice has given Western consumers cheap iPads, funded China’s continued military expansion and made a handful of merchant banks and global corporations rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Everybody’s happy, except the starved and brutalised peasantry of the North Korean gulag. Hey ho.

Instead of continuing to grow ever wealthier and more powerful, China suddenly seems willing to risk all that by pushing its most closely controlled vassal state into a game of nuclear brinkmanship with unknowable outcomes. For some reason, Beijing now believes this is the right path to follow.

What has changed? What could possibly be at stake to risk such a hazardous and uncertain course of action?

I believe the answer lies here, in plain sight.

With little fanfare and even less mainstream publicity, a press release recently appeared on the official White House website. In part it says that “President Trump is signing a Presidential Memorandum to direct the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to examine whether China should be investigated for unreasonable or discriminatory policies that may harm American [intellectual property] rights, innovation, or technological development.”

The memorandum itself specifically states that China has “implemented laws, policies, and practices and has taken actions related to intellectual property, innovation, and technology that may encourage or require the transfer of American technology and intellectual property to enterprises in China or that may otherwise negatively affect American economic interests.”

In other words, China stands accused of wholesale appropriation and outright theft of huge amounts of intellectual property from Western companies, developers and agencies. Unsurprisingly, Beijing has bristled at the mooted enquiry, denouncing it as a “unilateral and protectionist practice.” However, an Associated Press article claims that “more than 20 percent of 100 American companies that responded to a survey by the U.S.-China Business Council, an industry group, said they were asked to transfer technology within the past three years as a condition of market access.” The article goes on to say that “foreign business groups complain companies are being squeezed out of promising Chinese markets or pressured to hand over technology for electric cars and other emerging industries.”

No wonder the Chinese have released their snarling attack dog to threaten the current cosy world order, the very foundations of their suspiciously swift economic and military growth are under real threat, perhaps for the very first time.

The information war has finally arrived in the real world, and it could get bloody.

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Revealed: The World’s Biggest Blowhard (and it’s not Donald Trump)

Either large swathes of the media class have lost their ability to reason clearly, or they are deliberately choosing to ignore the wealth of evidence that suggests North Korea is nowhere near as combat ready as it would have the world believe.

Now I’ll admit that’s a pretty bold statement, but that insular country’s latest missile launch is a perfect example of rhetoric leaving reality far behind. Let’s abandon the spin and consider the known facts for a moment.

We know that on Tuesday morning, North Korea launched what appears to be some kind of intercontinental ballistic missile. Given that country’s pathological propensity for pretentious self-aggrandisement, does anyone think it a little odd that the only record of that momentous, paradigm shifting event is a single series of still photographs? I do.

Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a country whose biggest export appears to be video footage of its seemingly endless parades celebrating this or that glorious revolutionary whatever. We’ve all seen those terrifying looking trucks trundling past the camera dozens of times now…trundling past mind, not actually performing in the field anywhere. For a nation that defines itself by its military might, its air force seems painfully shy at these bombastic occasions…funny that.

North Korea reminds me of the blotch-faced blowhard at the end of the bar. He always has a lot to say about this or that conflict somewhere in the world, based on his own extensive experience in Iraq, or was it Afghanistan; you know, while he was in the Army, or was that the Navy? The details are always just vague enough to be unverifiable.

Whatever you may think of his North Korea policy, President Trump has now sent two (or maybe three) US carrier groups to that part of the world, and they are bringing a clear message with them. That message is clear because US carrier groups have seen action in the past, their activities and capabilities are known and have been recorded countless times. In other words, the existence of US carrier groups has been proven beyond any doubt. The same cannot be said of North Korea’s alleged conventional forces, let alone its alleged nuclear capabilities.

Does anyone think, for one second, that if big Kim possessed anything like a US carrier group that there would be any doubt as to its real-world existence? It would be steaming across the globe and causing a nuisance everywhere it goes; and as for the accompanying propaganda, my God, we’d never hear the end of it. Even microscopic life outside this galaxy would be aware that chubby Kim junior has a got great big boat and he’s not afraid to use it.

However, recorded and verified history tells a very different story of North Korea, revealing a country that simply cannot continue to exist without outside help. That lack of self-reliance was tragically demonstrated after the Soviet Union collapsed, leading to a famine in which hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions perished. Today it continues to rely on foreign aid from its avowed enemies, and still can’t manage to pour concrete in a straight line. Here’s a link to some footage of them apparently building a massive apartment complex in Pyongyang, but look closely, what’s wrong this picture?

There are hardly any machines! Where are the diggers, the earth movers and the core drillers? The official State news channel is probably the only place you’re likely to see any technology of that kind hard at work. Are we really expected to believe that a nation unable to muster a modest amount of construction equipment is capable of producing a miniaturised atomic device, and fitting it to a missile that can break orbit and then descend to a pre-designated point? In other words, real rocket science. That’s without even mentioning all the sprawling secondary industries required to support such a technically demanding endeavour. I’m calling bull**** on this whole Potemkin pretence right now!

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that North Korea has indeed launched some kind of missile, but I’ll bet real, folding money that they didn’t build it themselves. It’s worth noting that the top secret, uber secure launch site is less than forty miles from the Chinese border. That can’t be a coincidence.

For all China’s public protestations about North Korea’s belligerent behaviour, nobody in that insular and impoverished nation so much as puts food in their own mouths without Beijing’s blessing. It is a terrible indictment of our current world order that a permanent member of the UN Security Council has knowingly kept the North Koreans on starvation rations for nearly a quarter of a century, all in the name of keeping US troops far away from its own borders. In reality, North Korea is just one huge Chinese buffer zone, and always has been.

This latest missile launch is not a show of strength, it’s a sign of desperation. There is no way that either Pyongyang or Beijing would risk the ire of the most powerful military the world has ever known, unless they believed their decades long bluff was about to be called.