Saturday, 25 June 2016

Eurogeddon is cancelled

It has been less than 48 hours since the result of the referendum came in and already Project Fear has been shown to be the ludicrous fear-mongering exercise it was. When the initial result came in, there was an inevitable drop in the value of sterling and a plunge in the markets. This was entirely expected, especially as the markets had been betting on the opposite result so a dramatic correction was inevitable. But despite the cries of doom and 'we told you so' from Remainers (who should have realised that assessing the economic impact of Brexit three hours after the referendum result was a little premature) this state of affairs did not last the day. Sterling rallied to around the same level as it was trading at in February, and the FTSE, despite hitting depths not seen since, err, Tuesday afternoon, closed 2.4% up and recorded it's strongest weekly result in 4 months. Moreover, the Government can now borrow at historically low rates, just 1.08% for 10 years and at under 2% for 30 years. Hardly the Black Friday George Soros was predicting. In the banking sector HSBC chairman Douglas Flint said the bank's "commitment to British businesses, customers and staff in the UK remains undiminished" and a JP Morgan highlighted that they "will continue to serve our clients as usual, and our operating model in the UK remains the same."

But it wasn't just in the financial markets where Eurogeddon failed to materialise. Aston Martin reaffirmed it's commitment to a £200 million investment in a plant in Wales. The CBI, despite it's prophecies of doom going into the referendum, suddenly proclaimed that UK businesses are "used to dealing with challenge and change and we should be confident they will adapt." Barack Obama also pirouetted against his 'back of the queue' comments a few months ago, saying in a statement that: "The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom’s membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of US foreign, security, and economic policy.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said "the UK will remain a strong and committed Nato ally, and will continue to play its leading role in our alliance", a position reiterated by our own defence secretary who reassured our partners that Britain would not be "withdrawing from the world."
The sentiment expressed by Obama was echoed by the US state department; "Nothing’s going to change about the deep and abiding relationship we have with the UK, which is a special relationship”, Hillary Clinton, and the GOP who said: "Our friends in the United Kingdom are our indispensable ally, and this is a very special relationship, and that relationship is going to continue no matter what. Period, end of story."

It wasn't just the Americans reaffirming their desire for co-operation. The Canadian President Justin Trudeau issued a statement saying: "The UK and the EU are important strategic partners for Canada with whom we enjoy deep historical ties and common values. We will continue to build relations with both parties as they forge a new relationship." Closer to home, Angela Merkel stressed that "the negotiations must take place in a businesslike, good climate. Britain will remain a close partner, with which we are linked economically", and French President Francois Hollande, describing Britain as a "great, friendly country" in a televised statement, reiterated our historical ties, and confirmed our close relationship, particularly in defence, would be preserved. Paris also reiterated that there would be no changes to the arrangement regarding Calais. Italy's foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni said: "Great Britain will certainly remain our friend and our ally in NATO."

As for trade, German newspaper Die Welt cited a finance ministry paper, and detailed how Germany should offer Britain "constructive exit negotiations" aimed at making the UK an "associated partner country." The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also urged a positive outlook saying: "We have to accept the decision that was made, and not go looking for revenge." The WTO also offered their support with the director general tweeting: "The WTO stands ready to work with the UK and the EU to assist them in any way we can." The Icelandic government is apparently already discussing the possibility of a trade deal with the UK, and will raise the issue with EFTA. Tellingly the country's President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson discussed in a statement the renewed importance the EEA would have, paving the way for the UK to join them. "Iceland and Norway will now, in a totally new way, become participants in negotiations that must take place between the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the European Union and member states of the European Economic Area with this new triangle of countries in the North Atlantic. Our significance with regards to relations with our neighbours as well as the member states of the EU has undergone positive changes.”

So, just as I and every other person on the Leave side were saying beforehand, we will of course continue to work with our friends and allies across the globe. Leaving political and judicial union with Europe does not mean an end to trade and co-operation, and nor does it mean isolation and withdrawal. The economy will stabilise and will continue to grow, especially once Article 50 negotiations are concluded and a deal is struck (watch Sterling skyrocket when that deal is announced, especially if it's the EEA deal that will maintain full single market access). The campaign, and the rhetoric, is over. Political realities have set in. Life continues, as do our relationships, and we set off on the long road to our departure from the EU. We will leave the same way we went in, gradually and in stages, and the turmoil that Stronger In predicted will fail to materialise. Like every apocalypse, reality never correlates with the prophecy.

Friday, 24 June 2016

A message for Remainers

Dear Remainers,

I know that right now, you don't particularly want to hear from people like me. We voted to leave the European Union, an act you thought, and I'm sure still do, is folly. But the votes have been cast, on an exceptional turnout, and a decision has been made. You might not like it, but that's the way democracy rolls sometimes.

I know you're angry, and upset, and confused, and worried to death about what in the name of all that is holy is going to happen now. If the result had been reversed, I would have been equally despondent this morning. But I ask of you, even though you despair, to not succumb to the urge to label your fellow countrymen as ignorant, racist, bigoted, xenophobic or just plain stupid. Many of us that have voted to leave have done so after reading just as much as you have, after discussing the ideas, exposing the lies on both sides, and simply came to a different conclusion as to what was best for the UK. The notion that having concerns about immigration makes you racist or xenophobic belittles the discourse and does a disservice to the intelligent men and women on both sides who are seeking a solution to those concerns. Indeed, for many of us, immigration wasn't even the deciding factor. Or a factor at all. We thought the economic arguments supported our case, and we were also worried about the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. So again I ask you, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, not to become your enemy in the instant that you preach. You made sound arguments for being an open and tolerant country. Do not betray those principles by shutting down those that disagree with you over our EU membership with cries of idiocy and being intolerant of a different point of view. Many of us on the leave side share the exact same ideals as you do. We want Britain to be an open, tolerant country. Co-operating with our allies and trading freely with our neighbours. Pursuing a global agenda to tackle the issues that face us all, with the goal of prosperity for everyone.

Because though this vote went against you, this was not a vote against your ideals. It was merely a defeat for your preferred method of pursuing those ideals. We have made a democratic decision that, as a nation, we believe we best pursue those lofty goals as an independent country, outside the political union of the EU. You may not agree with that choice, but it is the one that has been made. Now we need your help. Because there will be people who's goals for our country elevate different priorities, and some of those we know are not beneficial. But this is where the beauty of democracy and the marketplace of ideas will shine through. Because those ideals that we both hold dear, have the arguments behind them, and if we pursue them together, united, we can truly achieve the progressive vision for Britain, Europe, and the world that is our shared ultimate aim.

One of the joys of this referendum campaign, and indeed politics in general, for me, is being able to have prolonged discussions with my friends about the issues at hand. Whether we be exchanging tweets or comments on Facebook, sending texts or WhatsApp messages, conversing on the phone or debating over a pint, it has been thoroughly enjoyable thrashing it out with you. I've learnt a lot from our discussions, and I hope I've perhaps caused you to think differently about some areas too. But the true joy is in how, away from the tawdry headline grabbing of the official campaigns, it has been an incredibly civil affair and has never degenerated into personal insults. I respect each and every person I have discussed this issue with, and though we may disagree, often profoundly, I have absolutely no doubts that you are good people, doing what you truly believe is right. All I would ask is that you extend me and those who voted with me, the same courtesy. There will always be bastards on any side, but they are never, ever representative of the whole.

So let's unite, pull our collective socks up, and make this work. There is plenty to be done, and a long road ahead. By rallying around the EEA option as a starting point for Brexit we can allay the fears over the economy that many people currently have. Then let's use that as a spring board to help this country achieve what we all agree it is capable of.

Brexit it is

I have a confession to make. This entire referendum campaign I have been unbelievably hypocritical. The entirety of my argument was predicated on the belief that the British electorate could be trusted to run our own affairs, and choose the right government, implementing the right policies, to secure a more prosperous, global future for us all. But the entire time I was making this argument, I still expected Remain to win. I trusted the electorate to make the right decisions after Brexit, but I didn't trust them to vote for Brexit itself. I've never been so pleased to have been proven wrong, and I promise never to doubt us again.

The excitement once the results started rolling in meant that I got less than two hours sleep last night and there was a genuine feeling of elation as I walked into work this morning. I genuinely felt giddy, though how much of that was the result and how much was the fatigue I couldn't say. It is a momentous occasion, a decision that will change the course of our country. In many ways it's terrifying, yet also incredibly exciting.

That said, that pleasure in victory has been tempered somewhat by the hysteria that has been seen from Remainers across the media, both mainstream and social. From some of the reactions you would think we hadn't voted to leave a political institution, but instead declared war on China. And Russia. And pledged to fight those wars using nothing but sticks for guns and kitchen utensils for armour. It needs to be reiterated now that absolutely nothing is going to change in the short term. The fall in sterling once the result was clear was entirely expected, as was it's subsequent climb. As soon as the deal with the EU is concluded, assuming it maintains full single market access for the UK as it should, the pound will skyrocket. Also, the fall in the FTSE, far from a crash, was a correction after the markets had gambled on the wrong result, and is now trading at similar levels to how it was in January. Judging the impact of Brexit on the economy after only a few hours is more than a little premature. Some of the blame for the fall can of course be laid at the feet of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and by extension the remain campaign too. If Cameron and Osborne had prioritised their offices of state over their views on the EU, they would have reassured voters, and the markets, that they would do everything in their power to minimise any economic impact of a leave vote, and set out beforehand how they would go about doing that. Instead they chose their roles as campaigners over their roles as custodians of our economy, portraying Brexit as a leap into the dark, and thus some of the panic that has ensued this morning is entirely of their own making.

It is for this reason that I am glad Cameron has decided to step down as Prime Minister. I am also glad that he is not doing so right away. We need stability now, to reassure the markets, and it was good to see him attempt to do so in his resignation speech. What happens to Osborne now is up in the air, but he, even more so than Cameron, has to go. His manipulation of the Treasury to his political aims and the threatening of the electorate with his ludicrous 'blackmail budget', has disgraced his office. Add this to his perpetual U-turns, his utter failure to hit any of his austerity targets, and his constant elevation of politicking over fiscal prudency, and I cannot see how he can remain as chancellor any longer.

I also want to take a moment to address the video of Nigel Farage currently doing the rounds. I'm astounded people are so worked up about it, claiming it is a betrayal of everyone who voted leave. For those that haven't seen it, this is what's causing the hubbub:

Interviewer: "The £350 million a week which we send to the EU, which we will no longer send to the EU, can you guarantee that's going to go to the NHS?"

Farage: "No I can't."

Of course he can't! He's not the Prime Minister, he's not the chancellor, the health secretary or a member of the cabinet. Despite repeated attempts, he's not even an MP. More than this though, this referendum wasn't electing Vote Leave (thank Christ), it was whether we remain a member of the EU. Vote Leave are not forming a government, and their suggestions about what to do with the money we will save on our membership fee - which despite the faux outrage now, everyone knows isn't £350 million a week - are just that, suggestions. The point is that it will be up to our democratically elected government to allocate those funds, and they may well choose to allocate them to the NHS. It will be down to us to decide in a general election, and that's what the entire democratic argument of the referendum has been about.

So yes, there are uncertain times ahead. But this vote to leave the EU has shown that we as a country are not afraid to take these challenges head on, and we are confident in our abilities to overcome then. This is just the first step, and I for one, can't wait for what's next.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A final plea on polling day

Today, Britain will go to the polls and decide whether or not we will leave the European Union. The past few months have been one hell of an interesting affair, with wild claims being bandied about on both sides of the argument. There are few people I pity more than those who have been relying solely on the official campaigns for their information, the level of debate has been almost farcical at times and the media spin on all sides has only muddied the issue further still. Given this, I can understand some people making the argument that it's far too complex an issue to be decided by a referendum and that it should be down to our elected representatives to decide. That said, the reason we are having a referendum in the first place is because our elected representatives have ceded power and sovereignty to the EU over the last four decades without once consulting the public, be that in a referendum or making explicit manifesto pledges to do so at a general election.

Fortunately we live in the age of the internet. Of smart phones and social media. This has made it easier to proliferate some of the more questionable claims from both camps, but equally has also made it easier to counter them. Whilst I have been blogging here about the various reasons for leaving as I see them, as well as trying to counter some of the misinformation propagated by both campaigns, I've also spent an inordinate amount of time on social media making the case for a progressive Brexit and countering any misconceptions I've come across. It's felt a little like beating my head against a wall at times (if I see the 'still pay, no say' fallacy about the Norway option one more time I shall need to be escorted to a room with cushioned walls wearing a jacket with extra long sleeves) but by and large the debate has been overwhelmingly civil and some have said that I've helped them understand things they were previously unsure about. It's been humbling, I'm by no means an expert, but I've done as much reading as I can (often hiding out during my day job to peruse articles on global regulatory mechanisms and the various characteristics of the EEA agreement), I feel I've learnt a lot, and I've tried to make a positive, informed case. Before we go to the polls, allow me to briefly summarise it for you.

The EU is an outdated construct. It was formed in an era when trade blocs seemed to be the way forward. But in the modern age of globalisation and the internet, geographical proximity has never mattered less for trade. There is a global single market emerging, with a whole host of regulatory bodies that we do not have an independent vote and veto on thanks to the EU, and indeed our position is often undermined because of our membership. As the 5th largest economy in the world, and using our ties to countries across the globe to build coalitions, we could wield significant influence in the shaping of trade regulations before they get anywhere near the EU, and push for regulatory harmonisation at a global level, facilitating free trade across the world. Freed from the confines of the common external tariff, we can pursue trade deals with the rest of the global markets that are growing exponentially, the benefits of which will be reaped both at home, and world wide. Offering free trade to African farmers for example, will help push down food prices here whilst allowing them to export their way out of poverty, rather than leaving them impoverished by virtue of being unable to compete with European farmers, thanks to the tariffs the EU places on their goods. By removing ourselves from the tariffs the EU imposes on Chinese solar panels, we can more effectively and more cheaply pursue greener energy sources here at home, again driving down the cost of living. Engaging with the world gives us a myriad of these possibilities.

Not that we have to choose between the EU and the world. Because Article 50 only allows for two years in which to negotiate a deal to leave, the only feasible route out is the so called 'Norway option'. This step to the EEA via EFTA maintains full access to the single market, and ensures an economically neutral exit, and a secure platform from which to start disentangling ourselves from the EU. Brexit is a process, not an event, and we cannot undo 40 years of political integration overnight. Contrary to what the Remain side will tell you, this does not mean that we still pay without having a say over the rules. The EEA agreement itself disproves this:

"According to the principle of unanimity applied in the EEA Joint Committee, all the EFTA states must agree in order for new EU legislation to be integrated into the EEA Agreement and for it to apply to cooperation between the EFTA states and the EU. If one EFTA state opposes integration, this also affects the other EFTA states in that the rules will not apply to them either, neither in the individual states nor between the EFTA states themselves nor in their relations with the EU. This possibility that each EFTA state has to object to new rules that lie within the scope of the EEA Agreement becoming applicable to the EFTA pillar is often referred to as these parties’ right of veto.

So far, this right has not been exercised. This is partly because when EU legislation is to be integrated into the EEA Agreement it is submitted to the EEA Joint Committee at the final stage of an extensive process of information and consultation between the contracting parties. The purpose of this process is to ensure that agreement is reached on such decisions. During the negotiations on the EEA Agreement, compromises were found if a state had constitutional objections to the content or could invoke fundamental national interests. Even though constitutional problems are unlikely to arise in the day-to-day EEA work, the will to reach necessary compromises must still be regarded as a basic condition for cooperation." So Norway is consulted regularly via the EEA Joint Committee on any regulations pertaining to the single market and even has access to the EFTA veto.

Nor are their payments anything like as much as ours. Norway's expenditure relating to the EEA consists of several factors. Firstly there is the 'Norway Grants', aid paid by Norway as a form economic rehabilitation of post-Communist countries. These amounted to around €804 million from 2009 to 2014. Most importantly, this money is not paid to the EU.
There are also EEA grants, for which Norway provides 95% of the funding. This brings the total to €1.8 billion for that 5 year period. EFTA contribution to EU programmes affecting the EEA amounted to €1.7 billion, with Norway providing roughly 96% of the cost. Norway also participates in several EU programmes, including Horizon 2020 and the Erasmus research programmes, as well as participating in 26 EU agencies, relating to health, research, and education amongst others.

Norway's contributions are the price paid for a service, and funding is not one way. Norway's net contribution over the period was €620 million, or €90 million per year. Applying this on a pro-rata basis to the UK upon rejoining the EFTA, we would contribute approximately €2.5 billion a year. A large part of this would be for continued participation in many of the same programmes and agencies that we currently enjoy. Finally Norway pays roughly £7 million a year towards the EFTA budget. The UK's contribution in total then, on a pro-rata basis, would be roughly £2.36 billion a year. A saving of nearly £6 billion a year on our current contributions. So whilst being a member of the EEA does involve costs, it still represents a potential 75% haircut on our current financial obligations.
The EEA agreement does maintain free movement - something I'm inherently in favour of, and would like to see an independent UK sign more free movement accords with other countries - but it does offer greater protections than we have now. Article 112 of the EEA agreement gives us access to an 'emergency brake', and Lichtenstein, through various protocols and addendums to the EEA agreement, have set a precedent for quantative restrictions on free movement. Moreover, pursuing independent policies outside of the EU, gives us greater scope to address the push factors that ultimately contribute more to migration.

Leaving the EU does not mean turning our back on Europe. We will still continue to trade with our neighbours on the continent, and co-operate with our friends and allies to tackle the challenges we all face. But we can do so as an ally, as an equal, not as a subordinate to a supranational institution that itself is pursuing all the trappings of statehood. Because make no mistake, the EU is not standing still. The Five Presidents report explicitly sets out future plans for further political and economic integration, including common EU taxation and harmonisation of welfare systems. Even if you believe that Cameron's opt out of 'ever closer union' is meaningful, the only consequence will be increasing marginalisation within an EU pushing forward with federalisation. As the EU expands, welcoming new countries into it's ranks, our influence will be diluted further still. We are on two fundamentally different paths. Far better to get out now and work alongside the EU as a constructive partner.

But ultimately, the economic arguments, and debate about immigration are secondary to the one of democratic accountability. The EU Commission is the sole legislative arm of the EU, and we do not elect the people that comprise it. There's a fundamental democratic principle that laws should not be passed nor taxes raised except by our elected representatives. At the EU level they would be our MEPs but they have no power to introduce, nor repeal legislation. That is the sole purview of the Commission. There are those that argue that we should stay inside the EU and seek to reform it. I admire their optimism, but even when faced with the potential exit of one of it's most important members, it refused to offer any meaningful concessions. Only yesterday Jean Claude Juncker has said that: "British voters have to know there will be no kind of any negotiation. We have concluded a deal with the prime minister. He got the maximum he could receive, and we gave the maximum we could give, so there will be no kind of renegotiation." I don't see how that can be any clearer. The EU just does not do reform. By restoring the supremacy of the UK parliament we have the chance to reinvigorate our democracy. Our government will no longer be able to shrug at a problem and say it's out of their hands, they will have to get to the real business of actually governing us. Knowing that their votes count for more, people will begin to engage once again. One of the positives of this referendum is just the sheer number of people who appear to be engaged with the issue. If it matters, people will care. Leaving the EU could be the first step in revolutionising our democracy. There is an appetite as a result of this referendum, for greater democratic control and we can tap into that and pursue real reform, in the way we elect our representatives, in the make-up of the House of Lords, and beyond.

Far from being an inward looking, isolationist choice, Brexit is the outward, global option. It has the potential for us to pursue a truly global agenda, pushing for real change both at home and on the world stage, and most importantly, it gives us the ability to vote for a government that will do it. Vote Leave.

The 'Tory Brexit' argument is as nonsensical as it is undemocratic

Increasingly I've been seeing the argument that the EU isn't perfect, but it's better to stay in to prevent the evil Tories from gaining more power. This 'Tory Brexit' argument, as John McDonnell calls it, is the most vacuous I've seen from the remain side. There are sensible, cogent arguments to be made for staying in the EU, but this is not one of them. It's incredibly undemocratic, short sighted, and fantastical.

It misses the entire point of the democratic argument for leaving the EU. Those of us that advocate doing so in order to reclaim power from Brussels, aren't doing so to give that power to the Tories, or Labour, or whatever political party happens to command a majority. It's to give that power back to the UK Government, and by extension, the UK electorate. We do not need a supranational entity comprised of unelected bureaucrats to provide a backstop to the UK parliament, that is the job of us as voters. It is not for Jean Claude Juncker to hold the British government to account, it is for you and me.

The insinuation of course in this line of attack, is that were there a Labour, or left-wing government currently residing in Westminster, then these people would have no problem in voting for Brexit. I'm not entirely sure when these people expect that to happen, especially considering that Labour have seen fit to elect their most euro-sceptic leader in decades and he is still campaigning for remain, and by extension, the overrule of the democratically elected UK government by the unaccountable EU commission. Tony Benn must be spinning in his grave at this betrayal of the left's historical democratic principles. He was a man who could see that the short term fear of the opposition occasionally implementing policies when in government was not enough of a reason to neuter Westminster entirely.

It's also an incredibly short sighted, and indeed selfish, view of the issue. Granting the presumption that everything the UK government currently does is appalling and everything the EU does is wonderful, there is absolutely no guarantee that that will always be the case. If by some miracle Jeremy Corbyn wins the election in 2020, many of the left wing policies he advocates are incompatible with EU law. He cannot offer state aid for the UK steel industry. Nor can he re-nationalise the railways. If the left truly wish to see the back of Cameron and his policies, they should enable a left wing party to do so in the event of it winning an election. But their short-termism in seeking to remain in the EU to apparently muzzle the Tories will not allow them to do that. There is a complete lack of democratic principle in this argument. Were it myself, and we currently had an uber-socialist government being overruled by an uber-libertarian EU commission, I would still vote to leave. The argument for leaving the EU is ultimately not a left wing nor a right wing one. Nor is it a capitalist or socialist one. It is a democratic one. We're not voting to choose a government tomorrow, we're voting on who should have the power to decide a government. It must be us, and only us.

Cameron and Osborne have treated voters with contempt

I'm a skeptic. I like to question everything and for those of you I debate with on social media, you know I can be an argumentative sod at times too. That said, I'm not a cynic. My entire political philosophy is more or less underpinned by the belief that if you take the six billion people in the world and round off the bastards, you're left with six billion. I honestly believe that the overwhelming majority of people are good, honest and decent and want the best for themselves and everyone else. I also believe that if you give people the means to do so, they will try to accomplish exactly that, and look to help those less fortunate than themselves whilst they're at it. This is precisely why I am a small government guy, I have too much faith in humanity to be a socialist. This, perhaps rosy eyed, view of the world even extends to MPs, from those wearing green rosettes to those wearing purple. They may disagree wildly on how to get there, but everyone agrees the destination is the same: peace and prosperity for everyone. And do you know what, I believe the same is true of David Cameron and George Osborne. I do not doubt that they genuinely believe that staying in the EU is in the UK's best interests. But the way they have gone about making their case has shown nothing but contempt for the electorate.

This was evidenced on the special edition of Question Time on Sunday night in which the Prime Minister was subjected to questions from the public. One audience member, when dealing with the issue of Cameron's renegotiation, likened him to Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper declaring 'peace for our time' less than twelve months before we declared war on Hitler's Germany. Admittedly, I had low expectations of Cameron's renegotiation, and I fully expected what little reform he did achieve would be dressed up as a much bigger win than it was. That said, I was still amazed, not just at how little reform was achieved, but by how little Cameron was asking for in the first place. The fact that he had to compromise on even that speaks volumes about the EU's aversion to reform, even when faced with the exit of one of it's most important members. But, just like Neville Chamberlain, Cameron returned with these reforms and proclaimed them as a successful renegotiation, albeit, tellingly, without as much fanfare as I was expecting. His claims of a 'special status' because of a few tweaks to migrant welfare is laughable. But by claiming that these reforms are legally binding, he has told a flat out lie. Not just to the electorate, but to parliament as well. And this contempt for voters manifested itself when confronted with the Neville Chamberlain jibe during Question Time. The usually statesman like Cameron got angry and confrontational. He knew he had been rumbled. When Cameron asserted that his reforms, such that they are, were guaranteed (though interestingly he did not use the term 'legally binding') because the other leaders had agreed to them, he was, rightly, openly heckled and laughed at.

But this contempt is not just the purview of our Prime Minister. George Osborne last week threatened voters with an emergency budget in the event of a Leave vote. The chancellor said that a vote to leave would mean a hike in taxes, cuts to NHS spending, the removal of the triple lock on pensions, and a host of other measures. Never mind the fact that over 50 Tory MPs have said that they would block such a measure, it would be completely unnecessary. As I've mentioned many times, the only feasible route out of the EU is via the EEA, aka, the Norway option. Adopting that as an interim measure, not only gives us a stable platform from which to gradually unpick 40 plus years of political integration (remember, Brexit is a process, not an event), but also maintains full access to the single market meaning that, bar some short term instability in the currency markets (which are rarely stable anyway), leaving the EU will be an economically neutral exercise. Even were that not the case, the worst case scenario predicted by the IMF is an incredibly shallow recession of 0.8%, and thus the scale of austerity Osborne claims he would implement is ludicrously unnecessary and economically illiterate. Furthermore, if there is a leave vote on Thursday, absolutely nothing changes. We don't suddenly exit the EU on Friday morning. Life will go on exactly the same, and even if Cameron was crazy enough to execute Article 50 at that time, there is still the two year exit negotiation period to navigate, in which we would still be members of the EU. This means that there is absolutely no need for an 'emergency budget'. I assume Osborne knows all this - and if he doesn't we're in deeper trouble than anyone suspects - so the sole exercise of this intervention can only be to frighten the public into voting the way he wants them to.

Much of the uncertainty in the markets, and indeed the electorate, around the economic question of our leaving the EU has not been a result of the prospect of Brexit itself, but from the claims of economic armageddon from the remain side. Had Cameron and Osborne prioritised their roles in the two highest offices of state above that of their roles as campaigners, they would have sought to reassure both the markets and the electorate that they would seek to maintain access to the single market and the most favourable trade deal possible in the event of a Leave vote and mitigate as far as possible any negative economic consequences. Instead they have sought to hugely exaggerate the economic implications of leaving the EU - Osborne's treasury analysis is a deceptive work of economics on a gargantuan scale - in order to frighten people into voting the way they deem best.

What is heartening though, is that voters have paid no attention to Cameron's claims of economic meltdown, special status in a reformed EU or world war three. Nor have they heeded Osborne's threats of punitive fiscal policies. The electorate have listened to these propositions, examined them, and rightly found to be lacking any substance whatsoever. Similarly, in the name of balance, they are well aware that the £350 million a week Vote Leave claim we pay to the EU, is a gross figure and thus not entirely accurate. Nor are they the xenophobes and bigots some would paint them as. Whilst they worry about the pressure on public services that mass migration entails, they know that on balance, immigration is a huge force for good and are roundly appalled by the likes of Farage's 'Breaking Point' poster. The reaction of the British electorate to the ludicrous claims on both sides of the debate has been the sole shining light in the whole affair, and is precisely why I am entirely comfortable in voting to leave the EU, and trusting them to elect our law makers. I only wish that our political leaders had shown them the same faith.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Timeline Theory

Ever since we got our first look at Breath of the Wild at last week's E3 conference in LA, Zelda fans across the internet have been speculating as to where in the notoriously convoluted Zelda timeline the new game will fall. Is it pre-Ocarina of Time, before the split? Does it take place sometime after Wind Waker in the 'Adult Link' timeline or does it follow on from Twilight Princess in the 'Child Link' branch? Maybe it's set on the controversial 'Fallen Hero' arc of the timeline? There's been next to no information about the story within Breath of the Wild so far, but there has been a couple of little clues dotted around the footage shown in Nintendo's Treehouse Live presentation that may give an indication as to it's placement.

A fellow Zelda Universe writer has explored this predicament in great detail themselves on the site, and have come to the conclusion that Breath of the Wild takes place on the fallen hero timeline. It's a great piece that takes the Sherlock Holmes approach of elimination, and that whatever remains, however improbable, must be the case. Myself, I've gone for the opposite approach and rather than trying to work out where it doesn't fit, instead use the few clues we have so far to hazard a guess as to the most likely placement. The ZU piece, once it's established that the game takes place after the Ocarina of Time fork in the timeline, moves on and eliminates the Adult Link timeline from the equation too. However, I believe this is dismissed far too quickly and is in fact, given what we know so far, the most probable place for the game to be positioned.

Adult Timeline

The adult timeline takes place after the events of Ocarina of Time and incorporates Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. At the end of Ocarina Ganondorf is sealed away. Eventually though, Ganondorf breaks free and wreaks havoc on Hyrule, and despite the people's prayers to the gods, the Hero of Time does not return to save them. King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule decides to leave the fate of his kingdom in the hands of the gods, who then choose to flood Hyrule, sealing the kingdom, along with it's king, and Ganondorf, beneath the ocean. It is this act, and the character of Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, that I believe holds the key to Breath of the Wild's placement.


One of the more surprising elements of the Treehouse Live footage shown at E3 was the inclusion of the Koroks. These characters have only ever appeared in Wind Waker, which lends weight to the Adult Timeline placement of Breath of the Wild. The history and origin of the Koroks is explained in Wind Waker by the Great Deku Tree. He tells how Koroks are “spirits of the forest” and “little children of the woods.” Moreover, the Great Deku Tree considers them to be his “cherished little children.” Most crucial though is this line: “Once upon a time, long ago, the Koroks took on human forms, but when they came to live on the sea, they took these shapes.” So the Kokiri, the forest children of Ocarina of Time eventually become the Koroks of Wind Waker. Indeed this is confirmed in Hyrule Historia. This transformation happened as a direct result of the great flood and so it stands to reason that Breath of the Wild takes place sometime after Wind Waker.

But hold on, I hear you cry, we know what happens after Wind Waker already. Indeed we do. Ganondorf is defeated by Link and Tetra, the Master Sword embedded in his skull and his body turned to stone. The Hero of the Winds and the Pirate princess then head off across the ocean in Phantom Hourglass in search of the New Hyrule which is then established and plays home to the events of Spirit Tracks. But what of the Old Hyrule, lost beneath the flood? What of Ganondorf and the Master Sword? What of King Daphnes Nohansen?

Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule

They all remain under the ocean for the rest of time. Or do they? In his final monologue before sending Link and Tetra off in search of a new kingdom they can call their own, he says "If only I could do things over again. Not a day of my life has gone by without my thoughts turning to my kingdom of old. I have lived bound to Hyrule." We already know that Daphnes has lived for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, from the flood to the events of Wind Waker. There is nothing to suggest he cannot go on living beneath the sea, washed away with his beloved Hyrule. 

Perhaps Nohansen's desire to restore Hyrule to it's former glory led him to call upon the gods - or even utilise the power of the Triforce - to drain the ocean? This explains why the Temple of Time we see in the Treehouse footage is in ruins, having spent so many years at the bottom of the Great Sea. The rusted, dilapidated state of the Master Sword in the trailer indicates it's deterioration, tarnished by it's many years lost in the ocean depths. It also explains why the Koroks are now living in a world devoid of the Great Sea of Wind Waker. Furthermore, in footage of Link foraging in Breath of the Wild, we see our hero acquire Rock Salt whilst exploring a mountain. The description describes it as "Crystallised salt from the ancient sea", which is surely a reference to the Great Sea of Wind Waker? In his pursuit of restoring Hyrule to it's former glory, Daphnes inadvertently broke the seal securing Ganondorf in stone. This calamitous act released Ganon to wreak the havoc described by the old man in the opening stages of Breath of the Wild. This is why the enemy that is 'just barely contained' within Hyrule Castle is referred to by the old man as the Calamity Ganon. Indeed the only other reference we've seen to the old enemy, by the monks at the end of each Shrine, only refers to Ganon, with no 'Calamity' epithet. Perhaps this is something only Daphnes - and the people of Hyrule who know of his mistake - add to the Ganon name.

When we first encountered the Old Man at the beginning of the game play footage of Breath of the Wild I immediately shouted out 'that's the king of Hyrule!' The resemblance between the two, I thought, was uncanny. 

This supposedly random hermit also seems peculiarly knowledgeable about the kingdom. He gives Link a history lesson about the Great Plateau upon which they stand being the birthplace of Hyrule. He also wistfully describes the great ceremonies that used to take place in the Temple of Time. Once Link uses his Sheikah Slate to activate the resurrection tower, the old man asks him if anything unusual happened whilst he was at the top of the tower. Once Link tells him about the voice he heard, the old man replies 'I suspected as much' and then asks Link if he recognised the voice. When Link tells him he did not, he replies that it is a 'shame.' This I think, allows us to further speculate on what is occurring in Breath of the Wild.

Hero of Time

Link starts the game hearing a voice telling him to wake up. He emerges, not from beneath a duvet but in some sort of bath of a mysterious liquid. We are then told that this room is in fact called the Shrine of Resurrection. I'm speculating somewhat wildly now, but join me on the ride. What if, knowing the evil he had inadvertently unleashed, Daphnes sought some way of resurrecting the Hero of Time in order to banish it?

There's no doubt that the Sheikah play an important role in Breath of the Wild, and Aonuma has mentioned how there is a greater focus on technology within the realm of the new Zelda. This Sheikah technology is something that the old man is peculiarly knowledgeable about. In a segment of game play skipped through by the Treehouse employee during Nintendo's stream, we are given some more information. The old man says “The appearance of those towers and the awakening of this shrine... it’s all connected to that Sheikah Slate you carry on your hip there. Long ago, an advanced civilisation known as the Sheikah inhabited these lands. It has been quite some time since I’ve seen or heard of the Sheikah Slate... It was the power and wisdom of the Sheikah that saved this land time and time again. But their civilisation disappeared long ago... or so it is said. It is interesting, however, to think... that something of them might still remain hidden away in a shrine such as this.”

Once again, this seemingly random old man knows a hell of a lot about an ancient and mysterious tribe. He also describes them as 'advanced'. Given the close ties between the Sheikah tribe and the Hylian royal family, it would make sense that the King would know this, and would also have heard tales of some of their advanced power. Perhaps even bringing people back from the dead? I propose that Daphnes set about tracking down some of the advanced technology of the Sheikah in order to revive the Hero of Time to claim the sword of evil's bane, now hidden away in the wooded area shown at the end of the Breath of the Wild trailer (the sacred grove perhaps?) restore it to it's former glory, and cast Ganon back once more.

Many fans are already speculating that the voice Link hears at the beginning of the game is Zelda. If this were the case, this could explain why the old man asks Link if he recognises the voice, knowing that they have met in the past. A seemingly throwaway line in the Treehouse footage also hints at this being the same Link that fought Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time. In this video, at the 15:20 mark, Link is clearly referred to by the Treehouse member as the 'Hero of Time'. It could be nothing, but then again...


This theory is by no means perfect. It neglects the 100 years Aonuma says Link has been asleep prior to the start of the game. This fact would also mean Link's slumber started at the same time that Calamity Ganon laid waste to Hyrule. (This information is gleaned from this footage my colleagues at Zelda Universe took of the opening segments of the game). This could be crucial, or it could be coincidental, we just don't know yet. Another argument against the Link of Breath of the Wild being the same Hero of Time as Ocarina of Time is that the newer incarnation is right handed, whereas the original Hero of Time was a lefty. Aonuma doesn't seem to think this apparent ambidexterity is all that important to the story though, giving the excuse that he's right handed because that's where the buttons are on the controller. So if Aonuma can dismiss it, so can I!

Safe to say, any timeline placement - and any story details - are complete speculation at this point. We will no doubt get an official timeline placement before long, and if not there will be plenty of speculation and analysis once the game releases and we have more information. Until then though, for my money, a post Wind Waker, Adult Link timeline placement makes the most sense.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 8: Reform

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.

"Britain is better off inside a reformed EU", so says David Cameron. There's every possibility that he's right of course, we'll just never know because a reformed EU isn't even remotely on offer. Preceding this referendum, the PM embarked on a renegotiation with European leaders in an attempt to get better terms for the UK's membership of the European Union. Back in 2013 when Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech in which he promised this referendum, he also set out what he saw as the issues with the EU and what areas he wanted to reform. The PM spoke of the growing frustration of the EU, with it seen as something done to people, rather than something acting in their interests, with decisions taken further and further away from them. He spoke of how the EU "must be able to act with the speed and flexibility of a network, not the cumbersome rigidity of a bloc. Not weighed down by an insistence on a one size fits all approach." He acknowledged that there was no European 'demos', and that "power must be able to flow back to member states not just away from them. It was promised by European leaders a decade ago. It was put in the treaty but it has never been properly fulfilled."

After winning the election, Cameron was given a mandate to go and seek those reforms. On the Marr show in January last year he affirmed his ambition for wide-ranging 'full on' treaty change. The Bloomberg speech also mentioned exemptions for small businesses from EU directives, changes to the working time directive and repatriation of social and employment law - the latter a 2010 manifesto pledge. But with every subsequent reveal it appeared that he was asking for less and less from our European partners. All those exemptions he'd mentioned at Bloomberg were dropped from his negotiations. He didn't even ask for them. Cameron made no attempt to reform free movement, instead opting to focus on in work benefits for migrants. This seemed to be somewhat of an own goal as prior to making it a flagship proposal of his renegotiation it was an issue that barely anyone mentioned.

The Conservative manifesto said: "We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years." It also proposed a "new residency requirement for social housing, so that EU migrants cannot even be considered for a council house unless they have been living in an area for at least four years".
Cameron also wanted to prevent EU migrant workers in the UK sending child benefit or child tax credit money home. "If an EU migrant's child is living abroad, then they should receive no child benefit or child tax credit, no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid."
Cameron had to compromise on the welfare aspect of his renegotiation quite considerably. The four-year 'emergency brake' on in-work benefits wasn't so much an 'emergency brake' as a light feathering of the throttle, with benefits being phased in over the four years. Cameron failed in his original demand to ban migrant workers from sending child benefit money back home.
The final agreement Cameron secured mentioned no changes to social housing entitlement as they were yet another area he'd dropped before preliminary negotiations began.

So he went from seeking wide ranging reforms and full-on treaty change, to requesting a minor tweak in welfare provisions for EU migrants and even then he had to compromise on that. The vague semantic changes he's been promised about 'ever closer union' and a proposal to reduce the regulatory burden are so vague as to be inconsequential. Moreover, these changes haven't come into force yet, with the PM merely stating that the commitment to these reforms is legally binding. This itself has been shown to be completely false. So there's no guarantee that the pitiful reforms Cameron did manage to secure will ever come into force anyway.

Of course, the fact that the renegotiation has all but been dropped from Remain campaign literature belies how insubstantial it is. Despite this, there's an overarching argument from the In camp that the EU isn't perfect, but we should stay in anyway to help reform it and change it. But if all we can secure is a minor tweak to welfare - itself not guaranteed - when one of it's largest members is threatening to leave, how can we possibly expect to enact the sort of reforms Europhiles claim they want once we've voted to remain fully committed to the project? Indeed, there's evidence to suggest that we could in fact exert greater influence for reform from outside the EU. Australia, by building coalitions on international forums managed to secure greater reform to the EU's CAP than any member state has managed from within. There have been numerous calls for reform throughout the EU's history, yet it has still marched inexorably onwards towards it's stated goal of federalisation.

Because of course none of this means that there won't be changes in the EU. This referendum is not a vote between leaving and maintaining the status quo. There are clear plans to continue towards full political and fiscal union. The Five President's report details the steps to be taken over the next few years to complete this amalgamation. Whilst mainly dealing with the Eurozone, there are several areas in which it specifically pulls in all 28 members, both Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries, particularly in the area of fiscal and banking union. And then, on top of this, there's the talk of tax harmonisation across the Union, as well as a consolidated EU military force. There's no such thing as a qualified Remain vote. Brussels will take a UK vote to stay in the EU as an endorsement of these plans. Given that they're being talked about openly, we cannot plead that we didn't know that that was what we were voting for. Plus thanks to Qualified Majority Voting, we're all but powerless to stop it. 70 times the UK has voted against EU legislative proposals, and 70 times we have been defeated. This is precisely why we should leave. We are on a fundamentally different path to our allies on the continent, and no amount of aspiration to reform the EU will change that.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

REVIEW: Rival Sons - Hollow Bones

The fifth album from California rockers Rival Sons continues their trend for writing albums distinct from their predecessors. Yet in many ways it consolidates everything that's brought them from playing small clubs and bars, to opening arenas as special guests on Black Sabbath's final world tour, into one supremely accomplished package.

There's plenty of Scott Holiday's signature guitar work throughout, almost single handedly demonstrating that riff based music is not only still kicking, but happy to take on all comers in a no-holds-barred, steel cage contest. Which is not to say that there's no subtlety to the music. Rival Sons are masters of light and shade. This is shown in a number of tracks, Thundering Voices contrasting another huge guitar line and sensational drumming from Michael Miley with a delicate chorus and a middle section that immediately evokes Led Zeppelin's No Quarter. After being compared to the 70's behemoths since day one, Rival Sons have finally gone full Zep and it is awesome.

There's new tricks on show in the soulful Pretty Face, and the epic Fade Out again showcases that command of dynamics with some brilliant lead work from Holiday. One of the highlights of the album actually comes in the form of the first cover to grace a Rival Sons release. Their rendition of Ike and Tina Turner's Black Coffee - taking it's cues from the sublime Humble Pie version - is stripped of the high quality production that graces the rest of the album and fully demonstrates just what makes Sons such an exciting band. Without the bells and whistles you can really hear the talent on show, and the almost free-form, jamming nature of the track's closing moments is a glimpse into why they are one of the best live bands this writer has ever seen. Hollow Bones Pt.2 though is a masterful tour-de-force, and a clear demonstration that the band can be just as accomplished in a studio setting as in a live environment.
The album closes with a heart-wrenching and beautiful acoustic ballade from singer Jay Buchanan. It contrasts wonderfully with the more powerful preceding tracks, layers of strings and lap steel guitar building throughout the song, and is a beautiful ending to the album.

All in all, Rival Sons have struck a happy medium between the raw energy of their earlier releases and the high production values of their previous album Great Western Valkyrie. One gets the sense of a signature sound emerging, and the quartet, aided by '5th Son' producer Dave Cobb, certainly know how to use it. Hollow Bones is another outstanding addition to the Rival Sons discography.


Hollow Bones Pt.1
Tied Up
Thundering Voices
Baby Boy
Pretty Face
Fade Out
Black Coffee
Hollow Bones Pt.2
All That I Want

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The EU Referendum is in danger of being illegitimate

If a Leave vote triumphs on June 23rd it will be nothing short of a miracle. Not least because of the gross incompetency of the official Vote Leave campaign, but because, and without wishing to don any tin-foil headgear, there has been attempts to stack the deck in favour of a Remain vote every step of the way.

Firstly we had the wording of the referendum question itself, the original of which the Electoral Commission judged to unfairly favour the Remain side, forcing the government to reword it to it's current format.

Then the government attempted to amend the purdah rules in the run up to the referendum itself, allowing it to use the full force of the government machine right up until polling day. Fortunately, this too was defeated in the house of commons. Not to be outdone of course, the government circumvented this particular hurdle by financing a mailshot - at a cost of £9m to the taxpayer - before the purdah period came into force, despite previously stating that they had no intention of doing any such thing. This came on top of the funding allocated to each camp, in effect doubling the amount of public money spent on the Remain campaign. Despite it's claim to be an impartial leaflet, it was an appalling piece of propaganda, full of half-truths, omissions and outright fabrications.

Furthermore, the government has not shied away from using Whitehall and the civil service to it's advantage. Reports in February detailing how senior civil servants were being issued guidelines banning the disclosure of documents related to the referendum, to pro-Brexit ministers. Moreover, Harry Cole reported in The Sun that the government had enlisted a team of civil servants to prepare all the anti-brexit messages you've been hearing from various world leaders. Or were you under the impression that those warnings had been spontaneously given?

On top of these underhanded tactics, we've been getting increasing reports of activity that undermines the integrity of the franchise itself. The Electoral Commission has admitted that over 3000 EU nationals have wrongly been sent polling cards and postal votes, despite being ineligible to vote in the referendum. Postal voters in Bristol were issued with voting guidelines which seemed to indicate a preference for a Remain vote. Polling cards in Stoke had been found to have been dumped in a field.

This doesn't even cover Cameron's lying to parliament about his pitiful reforms or indeed the prospect of there being no informed consent for either result. The whole exercise has been conducted in extraordinarily bad faith, and whatever the result, it's safe to say that the issue will be far from settled come June 24th.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 7: Costs

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 most prevalent issues pertaining to the UK's membership of the EU is the cost of that membership and whether or not it represents good value for money. This debate has been muddied exponentially between the various use of gross and net figures, the amount of EU expenditure in the UK, the fact that as a net contributor we fund that expenditure, the cost of regulation, what's seen as EU waste and so on. It's difficult therefore to cut through the hyperbole and come to a conclusion as to whether the vast sums we send each year to Brussels constitute value for money.

Let's start with UK budgetary contributions. Vote Leave's headline grabbing figure of £350 million a week is only partially accurate. It is based off of the UK's gross contribution to the EU budget which, last year, was £17,8 billion. However, this does not take into account the UK's rebate, worth £4.9 billion last year, or public sector receipts worth a further £4.4 billion. So the actual cost of UK membership in 2015 was £8.5 billion. This itself is no small sum, but it's indicative of Vote Leave's incompetence that they opted for the gross figure, leaving themselves open to accusations of being misleading, rather than the net figure which few would argue was inconsequential. The UK's net contribution to the EU budget for the period of 2009 to 2014, taking into account rebates and receipts, was £48.6 billion.

So whilst Vote Leave's figure is somewhat misleading, there's no denying that we are a substantial contributor to the EU budget.

Now, opponents of the Norway option claim that despite not being in the EU, Norway still pays around the same for access to the single market. This is just as inaccurate as Vote Leave's £350 million claim, if not more so. Norway's expenditure relating to the EEA consists of several factors. Firstly there is the 'Norway Grants', aid paid by Norway as a form economic rehabilitation of post-Communist countries. These amounted to around €804 million from 2009 to 2014. Most importantly, this money is not paid to the EU.
There are also EEA grants, for which Norway provides 95% of the funding. This brings the total to €1.8 billion for that 5 year period. EFTA contribution to EU programmes affecting the EEA amounted to €1.7 billion, with Norway providing roughly 96% of the cost. Norway also participates in several EU programmes, including Horizon 2020 and the Erasmus research programmes, as well as participating in 26 EU agencies, relating to health, research, and eduction amongst others.

Norway's contributions are the price paid for a service, and funding is not one way. Norway's net contribution over the period was €620 million, or €90 million per year. Applying this on a pro-rata basis to the UK upon rejoining the EFTA, we would contribute approximately €2.5 billion a year. A large part of this would be for continued participation in many of the same programmes and agencies that we currently enjoy. Finally Norway pays roughly £7 million a year towards the EFTA budget. The UK's contribution in total then, on a pro-rata basis, would be roughly £2.36 billion a year. A saving of nearly £6 billion a year on our current contributions. So whilst being a member of the EEA does involve costs, it still represents a potential 75% haircut on our current financial obligations. Especially with news today that the EU could well be looking to increase our contributions after a Remain vote.

But it's not just the UK's contributions to consider when evaluating how the EU handles it's finances. The EU itself is extremely wasteful, and incredibly opaque when it comes to it's expenditure. Take for example MEP's expenses. European Parliament members can garner huge sums, tax free and without proper scrutiny, on top of their £60k salary in the form of grants and allowances. This doesn't even take into consideration the amount that can be claimed in expenses.

Then there's the travelling circus that once month sees the European Parliament decamp from Brussels to Strasbourg at a cost of around £130 million. This includes loading 5 trucks up full of plastic trunks, that once contained files and papers, but have now been rendered obsolete by email and the internet. It's a perfect example of the EU's general inertia and reluctance to reform it's procedures.

So not only will leaving the EU mean we will pay significantly less for market access, whilst still having - arguably a larger - say over the rules, it will also mean that we can spend money much more wisely, giving greater value to taxpayers.