Tuesday, 31 May 2016

REVIEW: illustr8ors - Photopia

After building a reputation off of an EP and a debut album (not to mention a killer live act) under the Black Wolf name, Photopia is the first album by these five guys under their new moniker of illustr8ors. Ridiculous spelling aside, the evolution in sound here undoubtedly prompted the change in branding, and whilst the band maintains the same broad rock flavour as their earlier incarnation, there's a definite new maturity to their sound, setting it apart from earlier releases.

A record of consistently good album tracks, initial listening revealed no real stand out. The possible exception being Shush Shush, which qualifies as the only obvious single amongst the 10 tracks on offer. After multiple listens though a couple more come to the fore (Feels Like Dying, Steady Slow) and once you're familiar with the songs you can really start to appreciate the craft on offer. Won't Bury Me for example offers a tonne of groove, and the light and shade employed in Grace, coupled with an arena-rock chorus, demonstrate a real honing of the craft since the youthful exuberance of the Black Wolf releases. Nowhere is this more evident than the slow burning Citizen. Invoking 90's grunge the track builds to a great crescendo with which to end the album, though one would have loved a longer guitar solo to really put the icing on the cake. One suspects the influence of producer Toby Jepson in that.
Ultimately one of the band's greatest strengths also proves to be it's biggest weakness. Scott Sharp, besides possessing a stupendous larynx, is capable of some fantastically poetic lyrics. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of this imagery, the words don't always marry themselves well to the melody, which may explain the lack of any real anthemic hooks here. There's a lot to be said for descriptive verses, but in this format a 'Keep It Simple Stupid' approach to the chorus often wields the best results, as opening track Something Biblical attests.

Changing the name of the band is one way to get around the 'awkward second album' problem, but ultimately there's a real development in sound here and you get the sense that the Bristolian quintet now have a much greater sense of who they are and what they want to achieve. It's a grower, but Photopia is very strong album who's nuances are much more appreciated in familiarity.


Something Biblical
Your Animal
Feels Like Dying
Won't Bury Me
Swimming With Anchors
Steady Slow
Shush Shush
Heal You

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 6: The Environment

In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.

One of the less prominent, but no less misleading, arguments in this campaign has been that the EU is an effective protector of the environment. This is no doubt based upon it's various directives and green targets which it imposes on it's members in order to drive down their carbon-footprint. This however only paints part of the picture, and belies the way that the EU actually operates, and what it's priorities are, when setting these policies.

A prime example of this was the adoption of palm oil as a biofuel. The European Commission's Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil scheme contained an association of hundreds of palm oil growers, processors, traders and distributors, as well as some non-governmental organizations working in palm-oil producing nations, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This lobbying effort eventually resulted in the EU pushing palm oil as an alternative fuel, meaning that the palm oil producers it licenses can qualify for subsidies. An effective effort on the part of the lobbyists. However, palm oil is not an environmentally friendly biofuel. According to Friends of the Earth at the time of the EU's announcement, "Palm oil is driving deforestation, wildlife loss, community conflicts, and accelerating climate change. Instead of greenwashing palm oil, the EU should outright ban its use as a biofuel." Furthermore, Rainforest Rescue have set out the horrendous effects palm oil manufacture and biodiesel refineries have had, from deforestation to human rights violations. Indeed the Commission's own research into palm oil concluded that extra demand for food crops such as palm oil for the production of biofuels can have a significant impact on climate change, forests and peat swamps destroyed to make way for land to grow biomass for fuel can have an even worse impact on CO2 emissions than some fossil fuels, and that palm oil was one of the worst biofuel sources in terms of indirect land use change. But as other's have noted, Brussels is a lobbyist's paradise.

Palm oil is just one example. Only last year we had the scandal of Volkswagon cheating emissions tests. Almost uniquely in the world, the EU had adopted standards that promoted diesel engines, enforcing emissions standards that focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of nitrogen oxide (NO2).
This was a result again of successful lobbying efforts on the part of European car manufacturers to revive their flagging diesel industry. Diesel emits four times more NO2 than petrol and 22 times more of various other pollutants. However, it does produce 15 per cent less CO2 than petrol, so a massive operation was begun to sell the new standard as part of the Kyoto climate change process to reduce CO2 emissions. Health risks were overlooked, and the conversation was skilfully turned to global warming. The European Commission thus prioritised a cut in CO2 emissions over the more immediate health problems caused by exhaust fumes.
According to Simon Birkett, of Clean Air in London: ‘It was practically an order to switch to diesel. The European car fleet was transformed from being almost entirely petrol to predominantly diesel. Britain, Germany, France and Italy offered subsidies and sweeteners to persuade car makers and the public to buy diesel.’ As a result, diesel cars went from less than 10 per cent of the UK market in 1995 to more than half by 2012, with equivalent rises across the continent, and the EU had successfully promoted a dirtier, more environmentally harmful, fuel.

Corporate lobbying has meant that not only does the EU back environmentally harmful policies, but it also works to restrict access to greener alternatives. Thanks to pressure from EU ProSun, a German led alliance of European solar manufacturers, the EU imposes tariffs of up to 68 per cent on Chinese Solar panels. The protectionist nature of the EU has meant that we in Europe are paying unnecessarily high prices for low-carbon technology. This has had a detrimental effect on the industry, with only 7GW of solar power installed in the EU in 2014, down from 21GW in 2011, and employment in the sector more than halving in the same period.

Leaving the EU will give us the freedom to pursue a much more effective environmental policy. We can take a further leading role on the world stage in shaping global regulations that help, not hinder, businesses that are pursuing environmentally friendly solutions to the world's energy problems, and by eliminating punitive tariffs on low-carbon technology, increase the adoption of green energy here at home. Pushing down the cost of living and increasing jobs into the bargain.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 5: Security

In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.

Over the past week or so the issue of security in a post-Brexit world has been pushed to the forefront of the debate, notable highlights being Cameron's intimation that leaving could be the first step towards World War 3 and that ISIS back Brexit. It's entirely possible to dismiss these claims out of hand as being every bit as ludicrous as they sound of course, but the wider point of whether EU membership is good for our security and whether or not extricating ourselves from the political institutions of Brussels threatens that security is worth answering. Downing Street has orchestrated it so that various foreign intelligence chiefs and military personnel appear to back our continued membership though there's plenty of former intelligence heads and Generals wrongly claimed by the In camp, who conclude the opposite.

Firstly, the point has to be made that the two most important pillars of our national security are our membership of the 5 Eyes intelligence group and NATO. It is these two pillars that, for differing reasons, mean we shall remain as secure (or otherwise) regardless as to whether we stay or leave. Broadly speaking though, the exact same principle that applies to the economic arguments applies to that of security. Namely, both the UK and European nations need each other to help fight off any threats, regardless of whether we're in political union or not. Leaving the EU does not mean we shall cease co-operating with our allies on the continent in matters of national security. It does not mean that we stop presenting a united front against terrorism, or Russian belligerence, or any other threat. Merely that we wish to work with our allies as an independent, sovereign nation, rather than as part of a larger federal group. Indeed, only last month French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, reiterated that relations will remain close between the UK and France in intelligence and security in the event of the British people voting to Leave.

The example of France withdrawing from the integrated military command structures of NATO in the 1960s can be analogous here. Although it had left those structures in order to establish a more independent defence policy, it still contributed heavily to NATO missions. Indeed, in some aspects it had a galvanising effect. Precisely because of doubts about France's commitment to western security, French politicians re-affirmed their loyalty to the alliance and continued to spend heavily on defence in order to counter that impression. There is no reason why a post-Brexit UK would not do the same, loudly trumpeting our commitment to the Western cause whilst maintaining, or maybe even increasing, our defence spending. This would both reassure our allies, and continue to present a strong, united front to our enemies.

Despite Nick Clegg's recent assertion that talk of an EU army was a 'dangerous fantasy', Germany is now pushing for exactly that, and it has been repeatedly called for by numerous EU leaders, not least EU President Jean-Claude Juncker. Britain has long opposed such a move, for good reason, fearing it could undermine it's membership of NATO, as well as the desire to maintain an independent military. However, it's entirely possible that, freed from British opposition, the EU could progress towards it's long sought after operational headquarters, providing the UK with a more effective partner than it currently has. Moreover, without the underlying spectre of joining an EU army, Britain may find it easier to collaborate militarily with it's European allies. As it is, the EU is hamstrung by a unanimity requirement, making it slow to react to security crises. The EEC (and subsequently the EU) came about not to provide peace, but as a consequence of the peace secured on the continent by NATO and the idea that the UK leaving the EU could threaten that peace is preposterous. Constitutional democracies do not go to war with each other.

Of course, it's not just military capabilities that provide our security. On intelligence, the Five Eyes program (between the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) provides an invaluable tool in combating global terrorism. An unusually broad agreement, it allows for the exchange of intercepted raw traffic, analysis, work on cryptology, and intercept theory, and has played a role in thwarting numerous attacks, particularly in the post-9/11 era, in which it has become increasingly important. Whilst this does raise questions about privacy, it does show the benefits of co-operating with our Anglosphere allies above our friends on the continent. European intelligence is notoriously leaky, but there are calls for a greater push towards unifying the continent's operations. This poses a direct threat to our involvement in the Five Eyes program, as Washington would be loathe to share information that was at risk of being exposed. Indeed, American intelligence services already see Europol as a liability and regard it as suspect.

So there are questions about what threats continued EU membership poses to our security. Not just on the ramifications of being part of more integrated intelligence and military operations, but also on being party to the consequences of the EU's approach to foreign policy. No-one is excusing Putin's actions in the Crimea, but there is no doubt the EU's expansionist ambitions towards Ukraine inflamed tensions with Russia. Furthermore, the migrant crisis, and the EU's haphazard attempts to deal with it, have exposed some of the problems with free movement across the continent. Whilst the only politically expedient route out of the EU - EEA via EFTA membership - maintains freedom of movement, it does give us access to the EEA's emergency brake, meaning there is a mechanism of dealing with the security threats of mass immigration currently unavailable to us. Were the migrant crisis to flare up again with ISIS looking to take advantage of that, the 'Norway option' does provide us with the tools to respond to such a threat.

So in conclusion, just as leaving the EU does not mean an end to trade with Europe, nor does it mean ceasing co-operation with our allies against external threats. Indeed our current strongest defences are borne out of non-EU alliances and with the greater push towards federalisation, it is voting to stay that offers the greater uncertainty about the future of our national security. The greater threats posed by mass immigration can be mitigated by taking the EEA route out of the EU and utilising that option's emergency brake, and the need to quell any talk of the UK abandoning it's responsibilities in the event of a Brexit vote could well have a galvanising effect on British defence. Leaving EU political union gives us no reason to fear for our national security.

Friday, 20 May 2016

REVIEW: Buffalo Summer - Second Sun

Second Sun is the sophomore effort from Welsh rockers Buffalo Summer, taking the bluesy classic rock established by their eponymous 2013 debut and using it as a foundation to reach entirely new heights. The four lads from Neath have somehow maintained their familiar sound yet demonstrate an evolution in song-writing that indicates they've a future as much, much more than a classic rock nostalgia act.

The opening three tracks aptly demonstrate what the band are all about, continuing the big riff, big groove blueprint set out by their first album but with the polish and confidence that comes from several years honing your craft on tours across the UK and Europe. Make You Mine containing the first of many sing-a-long choruses and the Aerosmith-esque groove of Heartbreakin' Floorshakin' making it impossible to decline singer Andrew Hunt's invitation to 'get your dancing shoes on'.

Track 4 though, is when we get the first real evolution of the Buffalo Summer sound. Maintaining their signature groove but under a more mature, cooler vibe, a theme continued from here on out. Light Of The Sun encapsulating this perfectly, providing a real highlight midway through the record.
There's big, radio-rock choruses sandwiching out and out rockers - the balls to the wall, AC/DC style assault of Into Your Head a stand-out track - as well as hints of R&B and even Americana on the uplifting Priscilla. In many ways they save the best 'til last, album closer Water to Wine's country inspired guitar lines invoking images of top-down, windswept road trips, beers-on-the-beach jam sessions and adolescent, summer love affairs. It's a cracking song, with guitarist Jonny Williams' rip-roaring lead work bringing the curtain down on an impressive 12 tracks.

Buffalo Summer's embellishment of their established base ingredients with a more mature approach to song writing and a willingness to pull influence from outside their blues rock core make this an impressive second outing. If they continue in this vein, higher heights undoubtedly await.

Find it on iTunes


Heartbreakin' Floorshakin'
Make You Mine
As High As The Pines
Light Of The Sun
Into Your Head
Little Charles
Bird On A Wire
Water To Wine

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Government's EU Leaflet Dissected.

I finally received the Government's pro-EU leaflet today (our delivery was postponed here in Wales so as not to interfere with the Welsh Assembly elections). I've already admonished the sending of this leaflet, but this post will take a look at each of it's claims. I must admit that the earlier description of this pamphlet as propaganda may have been somewhat hyperbolic but having read it, it's actually spot on. It's entirely one sided and is often more notable for the information it omits, rather than that which it claims to provide. Regardless, let's get started:

Page 1 - An important decision for the UK

"On Thursday, 23rd June there will be a referendum. It's your opportunity to decide if the UK remains in the European Union (EU).

It's a big decision. One that will affect you, your family and your children for decades to come. 

The UK has secured a special status in a reformed EU:

- we will not join the euro
-we will keep our own border controls
- the UK will not be part of further European political integration
- there will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for new EU migrants
- we have a commitment to reduce EU red tape

The Government believes the UK should remain in the EU.

This leaflet sets out the facts, and explains why the Government believes a vote to remain in the EU is in the best interests of the people of the UK. It shows some of the choices the UK would face if there were a vote to leave.

If you would like further information, please visit the Government's EU referendum website at EUReferendum.gov.uk"

It starts off well, each of the 4 opening sentences are entirely factually accurate. Sentence 5 however is where it starts to fall down. The myth of the UK's 'special status in a reformed EU' is presumably based on Cameron's renegotiation, though it's curious that this renegotiation isn't mentioned specifically anywhere within this leaflet. Cameron's renegotiation goal was pitiful in scope, and the PM achieved even less than that. What meagre reforms he did manage to get an agreement on, have yet to come into effect and - despite lying to parliament about it - are not legally binding. 

The UK not joining the euro is a given. That's an option that we've had since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and despite some Europhiles thinking, inexplicably, that it would still be in our long term interests to join at some point, a political party's chances of getting the support of the electorate with that on their manifesto are akin to a cat's chances on the River Styx.

We do indeed keep our border controls, but this in no way exempts us from the freedom of movement that is a necessary part of our EU membership. It's technically true, but is clever wording, omits the fact we're still subject to freedom of movement laws, and is pure spin. A reoccurring theme throughout this pamphlet.

I'm not entirely sure what the claim that the UK will not be part of further integration is based on. Again, it could be alluding to Cameron's claim to have secured an opt-out of 'ever closer union' during his renegotiation, but as these 'reforms' are not legally binding, and amount to nothing more than the tweaking of some wording anyway, it's an entirely fatuous claim. Similarly the 'tough new restrictions' on migrant welfare claims are dependant on the sham renegotiations, and the commitment to reduce red tape is something the EU has been saying it will do for years and yet hasn't managed to do so.

The claim that this leaflet sets out the facts is as accurate as a claim, were it to make one, that it is in fact a banana.

Page 2 - A stronger economy

"The EU is by far the UK's biggest trading partner. EU countries buy 44% of everything we sell abroad, from cars to insurance. Remaining inside the EU guarantees our full access to it's single market. By contrast, leaving creates uncertainty and risk.

The EU's Single Market has over 500 million customers and an economy over five times bigger than the UK's. The Single Market makes it easier and cheaper for UK companies t sell their products outside the UK, creating jobs as a result.

Being inside the EU also makes it more attractive for companies to invest in the UK, meaning more jobs. Over the last decade, foreign companies have invested £540 billion in the UK, equivalent to £148 million every day."

This section, like every argument about the economy when it comes to our EU membership, wrongly conflates that membership with access to the Single Market. It is not necessary to be a member of the EU in order to have access to that market, which runs from non-EU Iceland to non-EU Turkey, encompassing every European country bar Belarus and Russia.

It's true that 44% of our exports go to the EU. It's also true that ten years ago this was 55%. Our exports to the EU are declining whilst our exports to the rest of the world are growing, though of course the leaflet neglects to mention this fact. This is precisely why, in a time when globalisation is only increasing, we should leave the EU and rejoin the top tables of world trade. Shackled as we are to the EU's declining share of global commerce, we cannot fully engage on the world stage where our economic growth will come from. I've already expanded on this point in a previous post.

Maintaining access to the Single Market whilst freeing ourselves up to pursue trade agreements elsewhere means that that £540 billion of foreign investment could increase exponentially. This is why I, and many others, advocate the EEA via EFTA exit route, genuinely affording us the best of both worlds.

Page 3 - Improving our lives

"Cost of living

If the UK voted to leave the EU, the resulting economic shock would put pressure on the value of the pound, which would risk higher prices of some household goods and damage living standards.

Losing our full access to the EU's Single Market would make exporting to Europe harder and increase costs.

Travel abroad

Millions of UK citizens travel to Europe each year. The EU has made this easier and cheaper.

EU reforms in the 1990s have resulted in a drop in fares of over 40% for lower cost flights.

From next year, mobile phone roaming charges will be abolished across the EU, saving UK customers up to 38p per minute on calls.

EU membership also gives UK citizens travelling in other European countries the right to access free or cheaper public healthcare.

Some argue little would change if we left the EU. But there are no guarantees UK customers would keep these benefits if we left."

Once again, the leaflet conflates EU membership with access to the single market, leaving the EU using the Norway model as an interim measure negates any possibility of economic shock. Though were there a weakening of the pound this would make UK exports more attractive thus somewhat negating the 'harder to trade outside' argument. As for the higher prices of household items, this is pure speculation again. What isn't speculation is that, thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy, food prices within the EU are roughly 17% higher than they otherwise would be under market conditions. The EU is not just a free trade area but a protectionist customs union. The high tariffs it places on imports from outside the market, keep African farmers (for example) from exporting their produce to Europe at a competitive rate, keeping them impoverished and our food prices higher.

It's true that the EU has made it easier to travel between the continent's various nations, though there is no need to be in political union in order to achieve this. Visa-free arrangements between nations have existed for far longer than the EU has and there is no reason why, outside the EU, we could not seek similar arrangements with our allies across the world. Some have even speculated on a free trade area with free movement in the Anglosphere.

The reduction in flight costs across the continent is down to the Single European Sky initiative, which includes the 28 EU nations as well as non-EU members such as Norway and Switzerland, and is also observed by other nations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Albania. The suggestion that leaving the EU means a hike in air fare then, is nonsense.

As I discussed in an earlier blog post, the removal of mobile roaming charges is down to global initiatives instigated by the International Telephone Users Group and the OECD, not the EU. Far from an argument for continued EU membership, the fact that such regulations are being increasingly made at a global level indicates the importance of our leaving in order to shape these regulations at the top tables before they are implemented by the EU. Furthermore, these being global regulations means that these benefits are indeed guaranteed in the event of a Leave vote.

The European Health Insurance card actually doesn't offer as many benefits as traditional travel insurance, and anyone who has been on holiday to a non-EU country knows that getting such insurance isn't quite as taxing as performing cranial surgery. Though once again, the EEA/EFTA option keeps this benefit in place.

Page 4 - What happens if we leave?

"Voting to leave the EU would create years of uncertainty and potential economic disruption. This would reduce investment and cost jobs.

The Government judges it could result in 10 years or more of uncertainty as the UK unpicks our relationship with the EU and renegotiates new arrangements with the EU and over 50 other countries around the world.

Some argue that we could strike a good deal quickly with the EU because they want to keep access to our market.

But the Government's judgement is that it would be much harder than that - less than 8% of EU exports come to the UK while 44% of UK exports go to the EU.

No other country has managed to secure significant access to the Single Market, without having to:

- follow EU rules over which they have no real say
- pay into the EU
- accept EU citizens living and working in their country

A more limited trade deal with the EU would give the UK less access to the Single Market than we have now - including for services, which make up almost 80% of the UK economy. For example, Canada's deal with the EU will give limited access for services, it has so far been seven years in the making and is still not in force."

As I've already stated, leaving the EU via the EFTA/EEA route eliminates any uncertainty and 'potential' economic disruption. Though it's worth mentioning that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty states that any member state leaving the union enters a period of negotiation lasting two years. So where the Government has pulled the '10 years (of uncertainty) or more' from I confess I haven't the foggiest of ideas. Any negotiations post-Brexit would need to be completed as quickly as possible to minimise any economic disruption, both to the UK and to the EU. The eurozone is still pretty much stagnant, whilst the UK economy is growing so both sides will be keen to minimise any economic disruption caused by Brexit. This incidentally, is another argument in favour of the Flexcit model.

The leaflet tries to downplay the importance of the UK to the European economy by contrasting the 44% of UK exports (down from 55% a decade ago you'll recall) to the 8% of EU exports to the UK. That 8% that the Government so summarily dismisses is equivalent to somewhere in the region of £60 billion a year. With Greece crippled and in danger of losing it's debt relief, and Italy on it's knees, the EU cannot afford to take a hit of that size by engaging in a trade war with a post-Brexit UK. Both sides will want to secure trade arrangements quickly, regardless of the figures involved.

The text in bold is an attempt to refute the so-called 'Norway option' that I've advocated elsewhere in this post, however it is again misleading due to it's omission of crucial information. The claim of having no say over the rules of the single market in this instance is entirely false. Norway does in fact have input into the rules and regulations of the EEA, but this is increasingly inconsequential. EU regulations are increasingly decided by global trading bodies that Norway has access to. The UK is subject to EU collectivism at these top tables of global trade and so ultimately has less say over the rules. There is an emerging global Single Market in which the EU is an increasingly redundant middleman. We should be taking a lead role in the formation of these regulations, not having our influence undermined by the EU.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that Norway actually only adopts 9% of EU legislation, according to the EFTA Secretariat. For non-EU, single market accessing Switzerland it's precisely 0%. They have to abide by those regulations when exporting to the EU of course, just as they must abide by Indian regulations when exporting to India, yet not having a say over those rules doesn't stop it being the Swiss' second largest export market after Germany.

Norway does not, as the leaflet claims, 'pay into the EU'. It does participate in various EU schemes voluntarily which it pays into, as any intergovernmental scheme would require. However, this is more likely a false conflation of the EEA grants to which Norway is a party, with the UK's own EU membership fee. This money does not go to the EU. You can read more about it here.

Finally on this section, the Government implies that there is a Single Market for services, which there isn't, and then goes on to say that Canada's deal with the EU has limited access for services despite not yet being in effect after seven years of negotiations. Why the failure to secure a comprehensive trade agreement after seven years is an argument for EU membership I haven't the faintest idea.

Page 5 - Controlling immigration and securing our borders

"Securing our borders

The UK is not part of the EU's border-free zone - we control our own borders which gives us the right to check everyone, including EU nationals, arriving from continental Europe.


The Government has negotiated a deal that will make our benefits system less of a draw for EU citizens. In future, new EU migrants will not have full access to certain benefits until they have worked here for up to four years. The Government will have greater powers to take action where there is abuse of our immigration system.

Some argue that leaving the EU would give us more freedom to limit immigration. But in return for the economic benefits of access to the EU's Single Market, non-EU countries - such as Norway - have had to accept the right of all EU citizens to live and work in their country.

Keeping us safer

EU membership means UK police can use law enforcement intelligence from 27 EU countries, and will have access to fingerprint and DNA information.

EU cooperation makes it easier to keep criminals and terrorists out of the UK. Since 2004, using the European Arrest Warrant, over 1,000 suspects have faced justice in UK courts and over 7,000 have been extradited."

Again the Government asserts that we control our own borders meaning we have the right to check everyone who arrives, which is true, but doesn't state that we have no right to refuse any EU nationals entry, as is the case.

I've already covered how the Government's renegotiation is a sham and not legally binding so I won't flog that particular deceased equine any more. What can be said however, is that the restriction to in work benefits for EU migrants is such a minor issue that I genuinely can't think of single person, including the most Kippery of Ukippers mentioning it before Cameron made it the flagship goal of his pitiful new deal. As has been well documented, immigration into this country, leaving aside the social aspects for the moment, has been of huge benefit. Migrants take out far less than they put into the system. Moreover, the stronger UK economy and (now even higher) minimum wage act as infinitely stronger pull factors than any in-work benefits migrants may or may not be eligible for. What the 'greater powers to take action where there is abuse of our immigration system' are, I'll be damned if I know. It takes the, hotly contested title, of most unqualified statement within the leaflet.

The European Arrest Warrant is a spectacularly illiberal piece of legislation, allowing for the deportation and imprisonment of citizens without due process. Take the story of Andrew Symeou for example, wrongly extradited to Greece on suspicion of murder to spend a year in a maximum security prison before being cleared of all charges. You can read a more detailed explanation of the problems with the EAW here. Moreover, this fails to acknowledge the role Interpol plays in the cross-border policing of crime. There's also a conspicuous absence of any mention of cross border intelligence sharing. This is presumably due to the ineffectiveness of  the EU's own intelligence service, and the important role that non-EU institutions such as the Five Eyes intelligence sharing service has played in countering international terrorism. There's also no mention of the role NATO has played in securing peace on the continent, something else often falsely attributed to the EU. The EU's freedom of movement rules have also been criticised for facilitating terrorism on the continent.

Page 6 - The benefits of EU membership

"The UK is part of the EU, a group of 28 countries which exists to promote economic security, peace and stability. The EU operates as a single, free-trading market, without taxes between borders.

The UK has secured a special status in the EU. The UK has kept the pound, will not join the euro and has kept control of UK borders. We have ensured that no UK powers can be transferred to the EU in the future without a referendum. The UK will keep full access to the Single Market, with a say on its rules. For every £1 paid in tax, a little over 1p goes to the EU. The Government judges that what the UK gets back in opportunities, job creation and economic security from EU membership far outweighs the cost.

Opportunities for you and your children

EU membership means you and your family have the right to live, work or study abroad in any of the 27 other member countries. It also guarantees many employment rights.

The UK as a leading force in the world

The UK is a strong, independent nation. Our EU membership magnifies the UK's ability to get its way on the issues we care about. EU action helped prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; and the EU is leading the world on tackling climate change."

Once again we are given the 'special status' myth as well as the disingenuous statement of controlling our borders. We have indeed kept the pound, going against the advice of many of the same people who are currently advocating for our continued EU membership. As I've mentioned, taking the EFTA/EEA route out of the EU ensures we maintain full access to the single market, giving us a say over EEA rules, a right of reservation on the implementation of those rules, and crucially, a say in the formation of those rules at the global level before the EU sets about implementing them. As for cost Norway's EEA grants and so on amount to £134 per head per annum. The UK figure is £252, meaning the EFTA/EEA route offers the same benefits whilst potentially offering a substantial saving in fees. The freedom of movement of UK citizens would also be maintained by the Flexit model. 

Employment rights, like many, many others, are guaranteed by a plethora of ILO conventions to which the UK is a signatory. This is yet another example of regulations being made at the global, not EU, level.

The UK is indeed a strong nation, we're the 5th largest economy in the world, the 4th military power, a member of the G7 and G20, a member of NATO, a nuclear power, and one of 5 permanent seat holders on the UN Security Council. It is because of this strength that those who wish for us to leave the EU believe we will be more than capable of conducting ourselves satisfactorily on the world stage. The assertion that we are currently independent though, would be hilarious if it weren't so risible. The fact Cameron had to go around Europe with a begging bowl in an attempt to secure his measly reforms puts that idea to bed. We have outsourced our trade policy to the European Commission and, far from having our influence magnified, are increasingly marginalised at the global level because of that.

Page 7 - A once in a generation decision

"The referendum on Thursday, 23rd June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union.

The Government believes it is in the best interests of the UK to remain in the EU.

This is the way to protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK's economy for every family in this country - a clear path into the future, in contrast to the uncertainty of leaving.

This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.

If you're aged 18 or over by 23rd June and are entitled to vote, this is your chance to decide.

Registration ends on 7th June. Find out how to register at Aboutmyvote.co.uk and register online at Gov.uk/register-to-vote"

The Eurozone is stagnating and if Greece and Italy's woes continue, could well be plunged back into recession. Schengen, the migrant crisis, and the spread of ISIS has rendered Europe less secure than it has been in decades. The UK economy is best strengthened by turning our heads towards emerging global markets rather than remaining fixated on an economy that is the same size now as it was in 2006. There is indeed a clear path into the future of our EU membership, as set out in the Five President's report. This report sets the tone for the next stage of EU integration, aiming for "deeper integration of national labour markets", "coordination of social security systems", and harmonising "insolvency law", "company law" and "property rights". Despite being rubbished as a 'dangerous fantasy' by Nick Clegg just two years ago, there are now open calls for a combined EU army and foreign policy. A vote to remain is not a vote for the status quo but to continue along the path of further political integration. The UK will be much better served by forging her own path, co-operating with her neighbours and allies on the continent, but not bound to the goal of a federal Europe. Remaining is the far riskier option.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Cameron's Referendum behaviour is unbecoming of a Prime Minister

Of all the weapons grade bullshit the Remain campaign has elected to spout about our membership of the EU, none of it has come close to Cameron's scaremongering today. Speaking at the British Museum, our Prime Minister all but professed that leaving the EU could result in World War 3. “Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking?” asked Cameron, apparently oblivious to riots and protests taking place in Greece and elsewhere across the continent that put a serious dent in the claim of the EU ensuring peace and stability in Europe.

Cameron also performed the signature move of the Europhiles in conflating Europe with the EU. "Whenever we turn our back on Europe, sooner or later we come to regret it" he said ominously. No-one but no-one of course is suggesting we do anything of the sort. Withdrawing from the political institutions of the EU in no way means we shall cease co-operating with our neighbours on the continent. We shall also maintain our membership of NATO, the organisation to which peace in Europe can be more accurately attributed. But the invocation of the war dead, referencing the "white headstones of lovingly tended Commonwealth war cemeteries" was a new low.

Cameron's behaviour throughout this referendum has been a stain on the office of Prime Minister. Be it the attempted removal of purdah rules, the circumventing of those rules in the publication of the government's dodgy leaflet, his ludicrous speech today, or most egregiously, lying to parliament about his meagre reforms being legally binding, Cameron has sullied the post to which he was elected. He may have pledged to stay on in the event of a Leave vote to implement that result, but it's increasingly difficult to see how he can be trusted to, let alone command the authority to do so.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 4: The Democratic Argurment

In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.

"There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties." - Jean Claude Juncker, EU President.

Of all the arguments about the economy, global influence, sovereignty, immigration and so on, the deciding argument for me is the one of democracy, and the EU's apparent aversion to it. It is apparently somewhat of a running joke on the continent that were the EU applying to join itself, it would be refused on the grounds of being insufficiently democratic.  The European elections that so few of us actually take part in, send MEP's to represent us in the European Parliament. However, unlike every other elected parliament on the planet, this one has no power to introduce, amend or repeal legislation. That is the sole purvey of the European Commission, comprised of unelected officials. Indeed, commissioners are often people who have recently lost elections (Juncker, Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock and so on), never mind won them. The lack of any direct responsibility to the people over which they rule - and the lack of power for those people to remove them from office should they be judged to be doing an insufficient job - means that the commission has no backstop, nothing to prevent it from imposing undesirable legislation upon the people of Europe.

"I'm ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious... I am for secret, dark debates." - Jean Claude Juncker

The EU's aversion to democratic process doesn't rest with the way in which it makes it's laws. On those occasions in which the people of Europe have been consulted, they have often been roundly ignored or indeed, asked again in order that they might produce the 'right' answer. When the Danes voted No in a referendum on the Maastricht treaty in 1992, they were asked to vote again a year later, the subsequent Yes vote leading to riots in Copenhagen. The Irish rejected the Treaty of Nice in 2001 and were made to vote again in 2002, following a sustained pro-EU campaign. Both the French and Dutch electorates voted No to the EU constitution, a clear rejection of the federal European project that document signified. The EU came back with a reworded constitution in the form of the Lisbon Treaty ("the constitution in all but name") and subsequently foisted it on those that had rejected it in it's previous form. The Irish to their credit, again held a referendum and voted against the ratification of the treaty. They were made to vote again.

"If it's a Yes, we will say 'on we go', and if it's a No we will say 'we continue" - Jean Claude Juncker

More recently, 61% of the Greek electorate voted to reject the terms of the euro bailout but were again roundly ignored. It remains to be seen what the EU's response to the recent Dutch referendum will be. Voters there rejected a treaty that would result in closer economic and political ties with Ukraine. Although the treaty has been signed, it has yet to be ratified in the Netherlands. For what it's worth, the Ukrainian President has said that his country will continue to implement the association agreement regardless.

"Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?" - Jean Claude Juncker

However, it's not just the electorate that the EU considers inconvenient. In 2011, both Greece and Italy saw democratically elected governments removed and replaced with Brussels-appointed technocrats. In Greece, Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou was replaced by former European Central Bank member Lucas Papademus following Papandreou's public commitment to hold a referendum on the EU's bailout proposal. This act of consulting the people was roundly condemned by a whole host of European leaders eventually leading to Papandreou standing down before Papademus was appointed to implement the EU's reform agenda. This so called 'caretaker' government was at least comprised of members of the two largest parties in Greece. The same could not be said for Italy. Following Silvio Berlusconi's resignation after sustained pressure from the EU, former European Commissioner Mario Monti was appointed to introduce a whole range of reforms. His government was entirely technocratic, containing not a single party representative or parliamentarian. 

"We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it."
- Jean Claude Juncker

Regardless of your politics, whether you be left or right wing, a campaigner for the Green party or a member of UKIP, one thing we should all agree is crucial, is the ability of the electorate to hold those with power to account. If we cannot vote to remove the legislators, if they ignore our decisions in referendum, and if they replace democratically elected governments with technocrats in order to implement policies that the people of those countries have not voted for, then we do not have that ability. Tony Benn, a stalwart of the Labour movement, best summed it up with his 5 questions to those in power:

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you exercise it?
To whom are you accountable?
How can we get rid of you?

It is those two final questions where the EU falls catastrophically short. The EU commission is accountable to no-one as they are not an elected body, and because they are unelected, they cannot be removed by the people of Europe. So regardless of how you think governments should run, regardless of your theory of government, regardless of your politics, if you believe in democracy and the power of the people to change their government and to hold their elected representatives to account through the ballot box, voting to leave the EU in June is the only way to safeguard that power.

"When it becomes serious, you have to lie" - Jean Claude Juncker

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 3: Influence

In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.

One of the main objections to leaving the EU, especially via the 'Norway option', is that it would remove our influence, both on the world stage and also over the rules that apply to the European single market. This belies an ignorance of how globalisation is affecting the formation of global regulations.

In campaigners often cry that we need to be at the top tables in order to influence the rules, and I couldn't agree more. Their error is in believing that the EU is the top table, when in fact there are a whole host of global regulatory bodies that we don't have access to because of our EU membership. When engaging on the world stage, we our bound by the 'common position' of the EU, meaning we are unable to independently present our case and protect our own interests. We do not have a seat at the biggest top table - the World Trade Organisation - because our EU membership obliges us to outsource our trade policy to the EU. The other top table, the UNECE, is the regulatory body from which the EU derives much of it's regulations. Non-aligned states as well as EFTA members all have input and influence at this level, helping shape the direction and scope of regulations before they are adopted. We, as EU members, are again obliged to adopt the common position of the EU, meaning our interests our watered down by 27 other member states before they are presented at the top table as part of a combined EU negotiating position.

Not only that, but there are times when the EU not only waters down our negotiating position on the international stage but actively undermines it. As a brief summary of one example, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had set up a correspondence group to address the impact of environmental regulations on the yacht building industry in relation to vessels of under 500gt (gross tonnage) in size. There was concern from a number of countries and organisations that these yachts could not be built to comply with the regulations within the specified time frame, as the existing technology was not yet suitable for installation due to constraints on space, design restrictions and significant cost impact. This posed a severe threat to jobs and revenue in one of the industry's most commercially vibrant sectors. The UK, working with other European partners, produced a paper for submission to the IMO proposing to extend the deadline for the application of these regulations to vessels under 500gt by three years. The UK's proposal had the backing of several member states and the European Commission was fully aware of it's importance to those members. Here's what happened next, direct from the government's own balance of competences report:

It was at this point that the Commission claimed competency and set about requiring the UK and other Member States to withdraw all support for the proposal. From this point on the Commission refused to consider the merits of the industry’s proposal and Member States were threatened with infraction proceedings if they did not adhere to the Commission’s competency. Both the MCA and the UK’s permanent representative to the Commission worked hard to push the UK’s position, but to no avail.

The only opportunity the Commission offered to contest this decision was if the Council of Ministers voted that Member States would retain competency on this matter, knowing full well that this issue could not be brought before the Council within the timeframe prior to the MEPC65 meeting.

Owing to this decision by the Commission, the UK and its partners had to find an alternative IMO member (from outside the EU) to submit the paper on its behalf. While the UK was able to secure the support of other IMO members to undertake this submission, the Commission’s position still meant that the UK and other member states were unable to support or vote on the proposal at MEPC65. The Commission had, in effect, rendered 27 votes at IMO redundant.

So far from amplifying our voice at the global level, the EU actively undermined our position and then removed our vote. With friends like these...

Also this week, In campaigners have cited the abolition of roaming fees across the EU as a prime example of why we are better off in. Putting aside the argument that the inevitable price rises phone companies will implement to offset costs mean that those that stay at home will now be subsidising those who travel through higher phone bills, it is also inaccurate to credit the EU with this accomplishment. It owes much more, again, to global initiatives instigated by the International Telephone Users Group and the OECD - the former having published a report on the issue 17 years ago. A host of international organisations, including the WTO, set about forming policy which resulted in India committing to removing roaming charges in 2013, shortly followed by African countries and Latin America. You can read more about it here, suffice to say that the EU has been much slower to implement the abolition of roaming charges and has also had it's implementation criticised as unambitious.
Two examples then, of how regulations are increasingly made at a global level. By leaving the EU (a place where we have little to no influence, having lost the vote all 72 times we have set our face against EU policy, despite having increased our opposition to EU rules in recent times) we can cut out the increasingly superfluous middleman and wield our influence, as the 5th largest economy in the world, on the global stage.

All of this is best summed up by Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union:

1. Member States shall coordinate their action in international organisations and at international conferences. They shall uphold the Union’s positions in such forums. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall organise this coordination.

In international organisations and at international conferences where not all the Member States participate, those which do take part shall uphold the Union’s positions.

2. In accordance with Article 24(3), Member States represented in international organisations or international conferences where not all the Member States participate shall keep the other Member States and the High Representative informed of any matter of common interest.

Member States which are also members of the United Nations Security Council will concert and keep the other Member States and the High Representative fully informed. Member States which are members of the Security Council will, in the execution of their functions, defend the positions and the interests of the Union, without prejudice to their responsibilities under the provisions of the United Nations Charter.

When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position.

An enormously far reaching provision that means that on the world stage, Britain is not a sovereign nation. Obliged by it's membership of the EU to adopt the position of the Union and uphold it's interests, even if that comes at the cost of the UK's own interests. This is precisely why we will be better off voting to leave.