Category Archives: EU

Calls for a United Ireland should wait a while

At the height of The Troubles, the North and South were very different places. Religion was important, economies performed differently, and attitudes to life were different between the communities. As religion became less important and as the EU started to dominate, as people aged and as economies converged, difference have become a lot less. Apart from ancestry and memories, there isn’t anywhere near as much difference now. There has never been a better time for nationalists to demand a vote on a United Ireland because the opposition to it right at the moment is probably the lowest it has ever been. Most (55%) of people in the North wanted to stay in the EU, so that offsets some of the opposition to becoming part of Ireland instead of staying in a Brexit UK. For some people, especially the young, the old emotions that drove the Troubles are quite alien and Brexit could be a strong deciding factor. Many remainers have already applied for Irish passports. If a United Ireland vote were to be magically organised within a few days or weeks, (the Ukraine managed to organise a referendum in two weeks) then with today’s demographics and circumstances, it is not unimaginable that it could win.

However, not everyone is young or such a remainer that they’d rather leave the UK and stay part of the EU. Many people still feel pain from the Troubles or the same loyalties and though both sides have admirably set aside old grievances to live together in peace with one another, that doesn’t mean those grievances have vanished. People are still not all the same, they are simply managing to negotiate and compromise instead of fighting, to live in peace better. Very many of the Unionist population would still find the idea of leaving the UK and joining with the South intolerable, regardless of the EU, and forcing a vote could well re-ignite tensions. Needlessly.

Of course nationalist want a United Ireland, but it would be far better for everyone to avoid pushing such a vote yet. The Troubles were not fun for anyone, and the peace that has been established is surely worth far more even to Nationalists than getting a United Ireland a few years earlier by hurrying to capitalise on a short term turbulence during Brexit.

A few years down the road, it is highly likely that economic performance of the UK and the South will have diverged a little, but not much. It is also likely that most all the advantages offered by EU membership will have been retained. Even if it still exists, the EU will be less significant because other countries may have left, new trade agreements will have formed, and sensible negotiation of trade and movement among friends will ensure a perfectly civilized and amicable Europe. The United States of Europe idea will certainly have been long buried.

Also, in a few years time, old emotions will have had a few more years to evaporate. Many of the old will have gone to their graves in peace, young kids will be young adults. Peace and living together in harmony will have had a few more years of being the norm, and will be far more resilient. It will be a better time then to consider asking again for a vote.

Even though I lived in Belfast all the way through the Troubles, I have no axe to grind at all on which way that vote should go. I don’t even care whether Northern Ireland stays in the UK or not. It matters to some but the chances of Nationalists finally getting their way are more likely to increase than decrease over the next few years. Sure, there is strong temptation to hurry to strike while the iron is so obviously hot, but it would be wiser for them to wait just a few more years for everyone’s benefit.

Putting a hypothetical but feasible date on it, surely it’s better to aim for a peaceful United Ireland in 2025 than risk a return to violence and bad relations just to get there a little quicker?

New book: Society Tomorrow

It’s been a while since my last blog. That’s because I’ve been writing another book, my 8th so far. Not the one I was doing on future fashion, which went on the back burner for a while, I’ve only written a third of that one, unless I put it out as a very short book.

This one follows on from You Tomorrow and is called Society Tomorrow, 20% shorter at 90,000 words. It is ready to publish now, so I’m just waiting for feedback from a few people before hitting the button.

Frontcover

Here’s the introduction:

The one thing that we all share is that we will get older over the next few decades. Rapid change affects everyone, but older people don’t always feel the same effects as younger people, and even if we keep up easily today, some of us may find it harder tomorrow. Society will change, in its demographic and ethnic makeup, its values, its structure. We will live very differently. New stresses will come from both changing society and changing technology, but there is no real cause for pessimism. Many things will get better for older people too. We are certainly not heading towards utopia, but the overall quality of life for our ageing population will be significantly better in the future than it is today. In fact, most of the problems ahead are related to quality of life issues in society as a whole, and simply reflect the fact that if you don’t have to worry as much about poor health or poverty, something else will still occupy your mind.

This book follows on from 2013’s You Tomorrow, which is a guide to future life as an individual. It also slightly overlaps my 2013 book Total Sustainability which looks in part at future economic and social issues as part of achieving sustainability too. Rather than replicating topics, this book updates or omits them if they have already been addressed in those two companion books. As a general theme, it looks at wider society and the bigger picture, drawing out implications for both individuals and for society as a whole to deal with. There are plenty to pick from.

If there is one theme that plays through the whole book, it is a strong warning of the problem of increasing polarisation between people of left and right political persuasion. The political centre is being eroded quickly at the moment throughout the West, but alarmingly this does not seem so much to be a passing phase as a longer term trend. With all the potential benefits from future technology, we risk undermining the very fabric of our society. I remain optimistic because it can only be a matter of time before sense prevails and the trend reverses. One day the relative harmony of living peacefully side by side with those with whom we disagree will be restored, by future leaders of higher quality than those we have today.

Otherwise, whereas people used to tolerate each other’s differences, I fear that this increasing intolerance of those who don’t share the same values could lead to conflict if we don’t address it adequately. That intolerance currently manifests itself in increasing authoritarianism, surveillance, and an insidious creep towards George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The worst offenders seem to be our young people, with students seemingly proud of trying to ostracise anyone who dares agree with what they think is correct. Being students, their views hold many self-contradictions and clear lack of thought, but they appear to be building walls to keep any attempt at different thought away.

Altogether, this increasing divide, built largely from sanctimony, is a very dangerous trend, and will take time to reverse even when it is addressed. At the moment, it is still worsening rapidly.

So we face significant dangers, mostly self-inflicted, but we also have hope. The future offers wonderful potential for health, happiness, peace, prosperity. As I address the significant problems lying ahead, I never lose my optimism that they are soluble, but if we are to solve problems, we must first recognize them for what they are and muster the willingness to deal with them. On the current balance of forces, even if we avoid outright civil war, the future looks very much like a gilded cage. We must not ignore the threats. We must acknowledge them, and deal with them.

Then we can all reap the rich rewards the future has to offer.

It will be out soon.

Brexit, Futurizon’s analysis

The EU has a population of around 500M. These people differ enormously but agree to cooperate for mutual benefit. Being able to trade more easily with other countries is obviously a good idea, and for that reason the UK joined the Common Market. A common market may work better if there are commonly agreed standards so that buyers can be sure of the quality of what they are buying. Some regulations and associated administration align well with seamless running of a common market.

However, since the UK joined the Common market, it has evolved into a very different entity. Rather than just regulating easy trade, it has gone in baby steps so that noone would notice far beyond any interpretation of a free trade zone, firstly into a ‘European Economic Community’ and now the European Union. The EU now is intended by many of its leaders and executors to become a single country, a United States of Europe. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to that, but not all of us want to go that way. Now we will have a vote on it. Do we want to stay in the EU, with all of its current issues, knowing what it is intended to become, or to leave, re-asserting our own sovereignty, making our own laws and renegotiating trade agreements, controlling our own future?

The EU is made up of very different countries. We have the Northern set, with high wealth, a strong work ethic, relatively low corruption, strong regard for law and order, and a high welfare net. We have the Eastern European countries, with lower wealth but in some cases more vibrant populations, aspiring, and determined to self-improve. And we have Southern European, Mediterranean set, aligned with a lower work ethic, a gentler pace of life, but more affected by corruption and in some cases higher enthusiasm to avoid taxes. Incompatibility between the interests of these three zones has often featured in the Euro collapse.

Trade

A Brexit UK  would have to renegotiate terms of trade with the EU. We sell the EU far less than we buy from them, so it is in the EU’s interest to give us favorable terms.

Inside the EU, we cannot negotiate terms of trade with non-EU countries, but those are the fastest growing markets. The EU is the least well performing major trading block in the world. It is in the UK’s interest to be free to pursue larger and faster-growing non-EU markets without EU-imposed restraints.

Will Britain be better off in the EU as Cameron says? Very probably not. We would keep favorable trade with a shrinking EU, and gain trade with a faster expanding rest-of-the-world.

Trade would continue. I would still work for EU companies, and they would still gain just as much by choosing me over another. You’d still be able to buy French cheese or wine, or a German car,  or Swedish furniture, they won’t suddenly refuse to sell it to you. They will fight with fierce competition for your business from other regions, and offer you fair reciprocation, so there is no reason to fear unbalanced trade sanctions. As far as trade balance goes, the UK has most of the aces in this game.

Free movement of people

Free movement of people coupled to differences in standard of living encourages people to leave countries with low pay and welfare and migrate to others with better pay and welfare. Countries are not permitted to choose who enters, so it may be the top engineers or brain surgeons that all countries want, or people who won’t contribute much, make big demands on expensive services such as education and health and to send generous welfare payments home.

The 7 year period where we can restrict in-work benefits that Cameron has negotiated would mean that if he can show that the UK is under undue stress, then we can disallow benefits to future immigrants in their first year of entry, increasing them to maximum over the next 3 years. The savings estimated for this is around £30M, or less than 45p for each UK citizen. Cameron might therefore have saved you 45p, if he can argue that it would otherwise cause too much stress. Bigger savings would only occur if potential EU migrants decide that a year’s restriction on in-work benefits is too big a problem and prevents their migration, thereby saving their impacts on health, education and other  welfare. I don’t believe that will be the norm. I would expect virtually no impact from this headline win in his negotiations.

Free movement of people is not a requirement for free trade. They are quite separate issues. It is perfectly possible to agree amicable terms of trade with another nation without allowing citizens to relocate freely between them. A Brexit UK that negotiates trade agreements with the EU and other trading blocks would still be able to use an Australian-style points system to decide who to admit and who to reject, whether from the EU or anywhere else. The UK still has borders where passports are required for entry, since it was not part of Schengen, but it is nevertheless true that once a person is given any EU passport, they are able to travel and live here at will. Some of the migrants currently entering the EU are the sort of migrants everyone would welcome, but some are terrorists, some are criminals, some are religious extremists and a huge problem is that nobody knows which are which, so many undesirables will be given EU residence and passports.

Brexit UK would be far less vulnerable to entry by unsavory migrants and terrorists who have somehow managed to be accepted in any other EU country. It would be able to attract the best people and fill the needs of our industries, but to refuse entry to those who would be an overall strain on our systems.

Security

Cameron says we will be safer in the EU. That is an insult to our intelligence.

The world is a dangerous place right now. North Korea, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa are already major threats to peace, and China may become a security threat. The UK is a leading member of NATO, which has been the backbone of our defense for decades. Brexit UK would remain in NATO. The creation and success of NATO is the main reason that European countries live in peace.

The EU provides little additional security benefit, other than streamlining working of police forces to make catching criminals easier. Extreme ongoing delays in dealing with the migrant problem instead demonstrate total EU incompetence in the face of a security threat.

The EU creates some severe security risks. It has been argued by some that the EU’s attempt to capture the Ukraine as a part of the EU was a significant factor in causing the problems we see there now. Given the overall threat from that and its encouragement to Putin to expand elsewhere, it is very hard to see how one could believe the EU has made us more secure.

By its failure to stem the migrant crisis, and with Angela Merkel almost single-handedly causing it by encouraging them to take the risks to come, the EU has led to thousands of migrants dying at sea, and millions of unknown migrants to enter, some having deliberately discarded their identification, others using fake identification, during a period in which ISIS have stated their aim to smuggle as many terrorists into Europe as possible among the migrants. Many EU countries are now experiencing severe internal problems caused by migrants, such as massive increases in rape, sexual assaults, violence, intimidation, antisemitic attacks and other crime. By contrast, the UK’s policy is to help refugees close to their origin and to carefully select those most in need of resettlement to be allowed to come to the UK. By that policy, resources are focused on those most in need, migration is discouraged, many lives are saved and the UK is protected at least in the short term from the more unsavory migrants until they obtain EU identities.

A Brexit UK would still be able to help refugees in exactly the same ways but by being properly in control of our borders, reduce the risk of terrorists and criminals entering with EU identities. If we remain, undesirables will be able to come here at will once they obtain an EU identity.

Cameron knows all of this, as do his ministers. To claim that the UK is safer in Europe while knowing the opposite is true is simply lying. Brexit UK would be safer and more secure.

UK Relevance

If any proof were needed that the UK has very little influence in the EU, then Cameron just provided it. He went to beg for a few very minor changes to the UK’s position and got very little of even that. He is certainly no Thatcher. Two world wars failed to make Germany controller of Europe. By many tiny incremental changes that were never enough to make people worry, today’s EU is de-facto a German dictatorship. As perfectly illustrated by the migrant crisis, the Germans often seem to run the EU as their own show, sometimes allowing their French allies to have some input, with other countries generally doing as they are told. While Cameron has to beg for changes to migrant regulations, Germany unilaterally changes their polices without consultation. Germany shouts and expects everyone else to do as they command.

The EU as a whole is the last well performing of any trading block, and unilaterally handicaps its industries by environmental regulations and taxes. It has reducing military influence as China, Russia and the USA still dominate worldwide events.

Voter say varies enormously between countries too. Numbers of seat in Brussels are allocated disproportionately to smaller countries. Being outside of the Eurozone also reduces the UK’s say. The best the UK can ever hope for if we remain is to have an ever-decreasing say in a rapidly diminishing Europe.

Brexit UK will be a small player in a large world, but we have always shown strength and influence  well above our numbers in every domain, economic, cultural, technological and political, and we would do so outside the EU. The UK could grow as the EU declines. Remaining will ensure decreasing worldwide relevance.

Sovereignty

Ever closer union is a headline aim of the EU. It wants to become a Unites States of Europe. It almost certainly will in due course. The process will take several more decades, slowed further by all its self-inflicted problems. A weak EU superstate will gradually emerge onto a much stronger world stage. An EU UK would be just one small region of that. We would be irrelevant, doing as we are told by un-elected bureaucrats from other countries, having a say only on unimportant local issues. Taxed heavily to subsidise other regions, without much representation at all.

Brexit UK would regain its sovereignty. It would make its own decisions, its own alliances, its own place in the world. There can be no pretense that we would ever again have the status once enjoyed by the British Empire, but we have enough national character to play our part well.

Independence and freedom are goals worth fighting for. Our leaders surrendered much over the last few decades, and our country has suffered the consequences. We once led the world, now our EU partners consider us mostly a nuisance. We still command some respect in the world, but it is diminishing year on year as our ability to self-govern is siphoned away. It is time to reclaim our freedom and to become a leader once more.

The Scots might argue for another referendum to leave. They are fortunate indeed that the last one failed, given what has happened to oil prices since. They would now be arguing over Greek style budgets. No canny Scot would vote to leave the UK next time knowing it would mean certain decline in standard of living.

I have tried to understand the mindset that says that a United States of Europe is a good idea. I don’t doubt that many people believe in it, and some of them for well-argued reasons. I have no doubt that we will see some of them articulate its merits during coming months, and I will listen to them, and in the unlikely event that they’ve got a convincing argument, I’ll change my mind. Until then, I can’t see what we can achieve all forced into a single country that we cant achieve by separate countries cooperating.

Islamification

Islamification needs a mention in its won right since it is a major challenge for Europe now and for several decades to come, specially since Europe otherwise was becoming far more secular. The EU intends to absorb Turkey in due course, an Islamic country. The Islamic minority in other countries in Europe will grow greatly, as millions of Muslims already in the EU before the migrant crisis are joined by the millions of migrants already arrived, on the way or coming later, and then later joined by their families. Much higher birth rates feature in the Islamic community than ‘native Europeans’. Even leaving aside terrorist threats from extremist subgroups, many attitude surveys have shown that most Muslims do not consider their culture compatible with western values. Even peaceful Islamification already creates significant tensions right across the EU, and that will increase as numbers increase. Far worse of course, Islamic extremism and activism will also increase in line with numbers, especially as growing communities become more emboldened. Resurgence of far right parties claiming to fight back against Islamification is already evident and will undoubtedly worsen. The two will eventually very likely be in conflict. I have written many times comparing Islamic extremism and its response with the IRA problem in Belfast where I grew up. Islamification will be a very significant problem in the EU in coming years. Having better control of our borders won’t stop it also affecting the UK, where I calculate it could potentially become 13 times worse than the IRA troubles give the right stimulus, but it will help prevent it from getting far worse.

Brexit UK will still have a significant problem from Islamic terrorism, but an EU UK will have a far worse one.

If Brexit, then what?

The Common Market no longer exists. It was a good idea and it could exist again. In fact, watching current fragmentation of the EU, with fences being erected, borders closed, arguments over migrants becoming fiercer, and watching the slow car crash collapse of the Euro, there is every chance that European union as it is today could collapse. If Britain leaves, some other countries will look at having such freedom again. It is very likely that Brexit could stimulate partial evaporation of the EU, and an end to the dream of a united States of Europe. Britain could form alliances with other countries leaving to establish a proper common market, determined to be no more than a common market.

The EU is already creaking, pushed by several forces. Brexit could be the end of a nightmare, and the resurgence of the dream of a Common Market of sovereign states.

If we stay, that collapse might happen anyway. The seeds of doubt have been planted, watered and much fertilizer will be poured on them in next months and years. The EU is weak and will get weaker. It may survive and the nightmare United States of Europe might happen. Britain staying might even encourage further progress towards that goal. But even if Brexit fails, there is still every reason to expect that the nightmare might end all on its own, that others will realize that what we all actually want is a Common Market, not all the other stuff.