Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Can we stop the 'Democracy is beautiful' platitudes? This vote was a travesty

In the West we are brainwashed to always view more democracy as better. But the Brexit fiasco shows how inappropriate referenda are.

Being a Swiss person in England on Saturday, British journalists were keen to get tennis star Roger Federer's take on the Brexit chaos taking place around him. He gave a politician's answer. "It’s nice to have democracy here, that you have an opportunity to vote. It’s a beautiful thing."

Really Roger? You think what we've seen over the past days is "a beautiful thing?"

David Cameron expressed similar sentiments in his resignation speech after losing the vote. "The country has just taken part in a giant democratic exercise, perhaps the biggest in our history," he said. "We should be proud of the fact that in these islands we trust the people for these big decisions."

Monday, 27 June 2016

The UK Parliament can block Brexit, but it needs a mandate

There is zero prospect for a second referendum, but a general election may be called in the next few months that would be a de-facto second vote. The result could be an unravelling of the main political parties.

In the three days since Brexit, social media has been abuzz with the prospect of holding a second referendum. The argument goes that so many leave voters did not understand what they were voting for, it justifies holding a new poll. 

An official petition asking for a second referendum has collected more than four million signatures, which will force a parliamentary debate on the subject.

But the idea of a second referendum is fanciful. The process of the first referendum was so ugly, so destabilising, that few would want to put the UK through that again. 

Like Trump, Brexit won by accident

Brexiteer fumbling this weekend gives an impression of self-interested politicians who launched a campaign they didn't expect to actually win. Sound familiar?

This morning's appearances on the Sunday shows by the politicians who campaigned for Brexit was a full-on car crash. Perhaps the most extraordinary was Ian Duncan Smith's interview with Andrew Marr.

After trying to get any shred of information from IDS, Marr finally asked, exasperated, “What’s the plan?” “How do you mean?” IDS responded defensively. So Marr cited, for example, the leave campaign's promise to spend the "£350m per week that the UK sends to Brussels" (a completely inaccurate figure) to instead fund the NHS. 

“We never said that,” IDS replied. Marr was indignant. “Yes you did. So even if there was £350m per week, which there isn’t, how are you going to fulfil all of your other spending promises?”

“We never made any commitments. We just made a series of promises that were possibilities," IDS responded.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Ireland faces its doomsday scenario

Both sides of Ireland are in a panic because Brexit could make the peace process unravel. But perhaps the North has come far enough to allow a non-violent reunification of the island.

"Of all the things that could happen to an Irish government short of the outbreak of war, this is pretty much up there with the worst of them," wrote The Irish Times, the republic's main newspaper, as the world woke up to the "Brexit nightmare" on Friday morning.

"Ever since David Cameron announced that he would hold a referendum back in 2012, Irish officials have regarded the prospect of a British exit from the EU as the worst thing that could happen [to Ireland]," the paper wrote. "[Irish PM] Kenny now faces leading Ireland through a period of difficulty and uncertainty unprecedented in the last 50 years, more complex and unpredictable than the recent financial crisis, more destabilising the Northern Troubles."

The UK is Ireland's biggest trading partner. One billion euros worth of goods flow freely across the Irish Sea each week, tariff-free because both countries are in the European Union. If the UK leaves the EU while the Republic of Ireland stays in, customs duties will have to be imposed on that trade. That is, unless the UK joins the EEA, but I've written before on why that is unlikely.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Why Spain will not object this time to an independent Scotland

Spain is less likely to veto EU accession for a Scotland that is leaving a non-EU country.

Today Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland, left an emergency cabinet meeting in Edinburgh and declared that her government will seek "immediate" bilateral discussions with Brussels to "protect Scotland's place in the EU."

She already said yesterday that a second referendum on Scottish independence was "highly likely" following the UK's vote to leave the EU. The vast majority of voters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted to remain in the EU, but a majority of people in England and Wales voted to leave - resulting in a 52% vote for leave. 

All of it gives the impression of a vote driven by English nationalism - whether the leave voters realised it or not. With their vote, they may have created the nation-state of England. It now seems likely Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the union.

Sturgeon has said it would be unconstitutional for Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will.

Friday, 24 June 2016

European in London? Here's what's going to happen to you

In a great irony, there is likely to be an increase in immigration from Europe over the next two years as people hope to be grandfathered in to a future visa regime.

Many of my friends who are non-English EU citizens living in London (a category I myself used to be in) have asked me today what's going to happen to them. 

They live and work in the UK on the basis of their EU passport. What happens when the UK pulls out of the EU, and freedom of movement across the channel comes to an end? Are they going to be immediately deported?

I've reassured them that most likely some kind of arrangement will be made for those EU citizens who have been living in the UK a long time. They're not all going to be immediately deported. But some of them might. I think it is likely that in two years, EU immigrants already in the country are going to have to apply for permission to remain, on the basis of the existing tiered visa regime.

Here are the different possibilities:

Welcome to the 1930s

For years, we thought it would be Greece that would trigger Europe's collapse. It turns out it is England that has brought us to the edge of the abyss.

The world woke up to terrifying news this morning. Against the recommendations of nearly all experts and world leaders, against the expectations of the financial markets and the bookies, England has voted to leave the European Union.

As expected, the world's financial markets went into panic mode. The pound lost 8% of its value, hitting a low not seen since 1985. Continental European markets have lost about 8%, US markets are currently down 3%. Analysts expect further losses on Monday. 

It is all reminiscent of the panic after the Lehman Brothers collapse in September 2008, or perhaps more relevant to Europe, the height of the Greek debt crisis of 2011 and 2012.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Yes, the gig for the UK journo in Brussels is to stretch the truth

A tell-all Facebook post by a former journalist at The Times has gone viral this weekend, exposing a truth that most in the EU press corps already know.

On Friday Martin Fletcher, a former foreign correspondent for Britain's The Times newspaper, posted some explosive allegations on Facebook.

"For 25 years our press has fed the British public a diet of distorted, mendacious and relentlessly hostile stories about the EU," he wrote. "And the journalist who set the tone was Boris Johnson."

Fletcher describes how, in 1999, he arrived in Brussels as The Times' Brussels correspondent, shortly after Boris Johnson's stint covering the EU capital for The Telegraph. Johnson later went on to become the Mayor of London and the main politician backing a British secession from the European Union. If there is a vote for Brexit on Thursday, Johnson is likely to be the next UK prime minister.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Orlando has no relevance to Brexit

The ad created today by Leave.eu was not only in poor taste - it was a lie.

Given that we are in the final week before the UK's momentous referendum on EU membership, there has been a lot of speculation today about what effect this weekend's tragic event in Orlando will have on the vote.

Some, it appears, were eager to ensure it had an impact. This morning the Leave.eu campaign sent out a tweet with this political ad, with an accompanying message saying the EU allows free movement for AK-47s.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

After divorce, UK and EU unlikely to be 'friends with benefits'

The EEA was not built for a country the size of Britain. To think that the EU will allow it to easily join is folly.

This week the EU's most powerful finance minister, Germany's Wolfgang Schäuble, will say in an exclusive interview to be published by Der Spiegel that the UK should not be given special access to the EU common market, à la Norway, if it quits the bloc.

"In is in, out is out," he will say in the interview, which was seen and previewed by The Guardian.  “That won’t work, it would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market."

Friday, 10 June 2016

No, the EU does not have 'five presidents'

How many Brits could name John Bercow, Mark Carney or George Osborne? Well these are the equivalents for three of the "five presidents" cited by Michael Gove in the Sky News debate.

During the live Brexit debate on Sky News last week, 'out' campaigner Michael Gove, the former UK minister for education, was taken to task by interviewer Faisal Islam.

Asked to back up his claims with hard facts, Gove deflected. Asked to name notable experts saying the UK would be economically better off outside Europe, he demurred. But he could tell he was on to a winner when he distracted from the questions by turning to the audience and asking them a question himself, "There are five presidents run the EU. Can you name them all?"

There was an awkward silence from the audience, and from Islam. No, it turns out, nobody could name them. Since then the Leave campaign has ran with this 'five presidents' line, and the British media has heralded it as an excellent point for the leave camp (The Guardian called it a "superb" moment for Gove in the debate).

There's only one problem - it's completely bogus. 

Just because there are a number of people with the title "president" in the European institutions does not make them all comparable to the "president" of the United States, France or Russia. But this is what Gove is implying.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Ryanair for rail? Don't hold your breath

New 'budget trains' between Brussels and Paris give the illusion of competition, but in fact are designed to block new market entrants.

After 24 years in the making, today there is finally light at the end of the world's longest tunnel. Today in Switzerland the first train is passing through the monumental Gotthard Base Tunnel, carrying Germany's Angela Merkel, Italy's Matteo Renzi and France's Francois Hollande.

It will carry passengers between the German-speaking canton of Uri and the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in an astonishing 16 minutes. It will cut the journey time between Zurich and Milan by one hour. 

Though you might expect a massive infrastructure project like this to be opposed by environmentalists, it was in fact welcomed. It will stop the daily journey of hundreds of trucks carrying goods over the Alps between Northern and Southern Europe, a journey which has been causing huge environmental damage.

It is part of the steady expansion of high-speed rail across Europe. Trains will be able to link up with Italy's impressive Frecciarossa trains, which whizz passengers from Milan to Naples in just four hours, at 360 km/h (224 m/h). New high-speed routes are coming online all over Europe.