Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Impossibility of the Prime Minster's Answers #Brexit #NorthernIreland

Today the Answers given to some of the Prime Minister's Questions did not seem to be logical however they do cast some idea of the shape that Brexit will take.

Basically Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Blackford, David Simpson, Michael Tomlinson Gregory Campbell, Kenneth Clarke and Simon Hoare asked her in various forms about Northern Ireland, Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement.

From the answers we received today we have learnt the following:

  1. She is committed to the Good Friday Agreement
  2. She is committed to devolution in all parts of the UK
  3. She does not want to see a hard border on the island of Island
  4. She does not want to see a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea
  5. She does not want to undermine the UK common market
A lot of this was in relation to the draft proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market. If as Boris said yesterday it would be possible to control the NI border as easily as between Camden and Islington this would be that easy peasy lemon squeezy option. As there would therefore not be that much of a border on that land border and it could be dealt with in a electronic way.

The problem is that you have the Good Friday Agreement that almost 20 years ago was the settled will of the majority of people North and South in Ireland. A lot of that functionality was based on there not being anything different between the two parts. I mean we were both in the largest trading bloc in the world and surely we wouldn't be foolish enough to throw that into jeopardy for the uncertainly of negotiating with the rest of the world including the rest of the EU. 

Now you are trying to make a frictionless border, but in the words used today the UK clearly wants to divert from the requirements of the customs union and single market as to apply this merely to NI would "undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK".

But surely having devolved powers, which have also been recently promised to be increased post-Brexit, means there is already certain differences between the powers. Scotland has only recently used its tax varying power. The DUP are adamant that on certain areas Northern Ireland should be able to make their own decisions (if only someone was actually sitting in the Assembly able to do so). So how can something affecting one part of the UK therefore threaten the UK common market?

Maybe we have seen something about the post-Brexit situation. May's government wants to move away from the regulations that tie us into the customs union and single market. Some of those regulations are so that we produce compatible products that we can then sell to our largest and closest overseas (or in the case of Ireland down the road) markets. Can the plans really be that radical that it will undermine the UK market if NI remained.


Has the PM let the cat out of the bag. Will international business pick up on that. What about British business that exports a large proportion. This does not sound like a great economic promise to them of frictionless trade with the EU.

How is it going to be possible to meet all the objections that the PM has clearly outlined multiple times today? From what she has said today it seems impossible. The UK government clearly has no plan for how to deal with the Irish problem after 20 years of having an answer after centuries of not we look like we are being sacrificed once more.  

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Investment Opportunity: My post-Brexit Business Plan

Listening to Boris this morning I have come up with a business plan that will work with the comparability of Brexit with the congestion charge. It my own solution to the obvious issues of the Irish problem afterwards.

I shall set up four Boris Bike Hire Shops. A pair in Newry and Dundalk with the other pair in Derry and Muff. This will allow people to get the train from Belfast either North or South and get off at the station hire a bike and cycle across the border to avoid the congestion charge.

This will be a highly profitable outcome post Brexit and I need to get negotiations the two Foreign Secretaries in the International Trade Ministers soon to get the franchise.

Brexit is no Congestion Charge Boris

On the Today programme this morning Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tried to compare being outside the EU with being part of different London Boroughs.

Firstly it was clear from his choice of boroughs Camden, Islington and Westminster that Boris has never lived south of the river and had to awkwardness of trying to get a black cab home. When drivers refuse to carry passengers "Sarf of the River". Although I did love the loophole I found of asking a driver to take me to Hampton Wick (North of the River) I could guarantee that the driver would come over Putney Bridge (to go south of the River) and head towards Kingston Bridge but I would ask to get out in Kingston near a taxi rank  to make it home.

Of course the connection Boris was making was about a frictionless congestion charge zone in a built up area to a border through often rural areas. Of course on that rural boundary it will not just be the vehicles crossing it that will need to be looked at but also what they are carrying. Boris after all is one of those advocating that when we leave the EU we also leave the customs union. So he is looking at a rural border where arms have been smuggled in the past as being controllable in the same way that London can read the number plates of every cars that has to go along a defined road in an urban environment.

Maybe Boris is looking at his other great enthusiasm the Olympics and will have a fleet of drones like at the PyeongChang opening ceremony patrolling the border to record every vehicle, person, cow and sheep that crosses the border between the roads.

Also while I joke about the Thames being a border in London in Belfast or Londonderry/Derry there are borders between communities. Belfast has its Peace Walls and the River Foyle is largely a divide with the West bank being predominantly Roman Catholic and nationalist and the East bank being largely Protestant and unionist. So Boris before you dare to compare London to the Irish situation look at a bit more history and present day rather just wiff waff on.

In conclusion to even attempt to compare the London Congestion Charge to Brexit is belittling the issues that the UK as a whole faces, but to seem to wipe out the Border issue in this way even more so. The fact that these comments came from the Foreign Secretary gives me no confidence that Britain's future post Brexit is in safe hands.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Sammy it's not about scare stories but opportunities

I do love it when I get to school my one time Economics teacher Sammy Wilson especially when it is about economics. When I read that Sammy Wilson (my teacher for the final term of 1986-7) said Loyalists were applying for Irish passports due to Brexit scare stories I had to laugh.

Sammy should know all about cost benefit analysis especially when it comes to "opportunity cost". In economics this is the value of the next-highest-valued alternative use of that resource. In this case it the cost of time on travelling on holiday. Everyone born on the island of Ireland is entitled to apply for an Irish Passport and the Good Friday Agreement allows everyone in the Northern Ireland to identify as British, Irish or Both. So there is no need for loyalists to renounce their British citizenship to get and Irish Passport.

The other thing to look at then is what people in Northern Ireland use their passport for. As photographic ID to get on flights to the rest of the UK. The UK has promised that the UK/Ireland agreement on freedom of movement will not be changed post Brexit and neither have the Irish who also want a frictionless border.

Next there is holiday flights, most short haul locations that are popular would be in the EU so there is an potential opportunity benefit in being able to go through the EU passport holders queue rather than the non-EU queue. I once had to bring a group of largely non-EU residents into the country at Dover. I whizzed straight through but as the leader of the group hung around in case there was any issues with the members of the group, all but one of the other leaders also being non-EU. I was there long after the majority of EU passengers were safely on their way. Post Brexit going to Spain, Greece, Amsterdam of anywhere else will see more scrutiny of an UK passport or at least be in a queue with people who face more scrutiny no matter what the best outcome is.

Finally there is longer-haul flights and in recent times with the improved road to Dublin and the express bus from Belfast to Dublin Airport a lot more people in Northern Ireland will fly from Dublin to America that maybe catching a flight to London and transferring. So having an Irish passport at Dublin Airport would be a breeze.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP and their Conservative friends have yet to give firm answers as to what will happen post Brexit so many people are looking at it objectively. The costs of having an Irish passport instead of a British one are negligible in monetary terms, but the benefits in terms of time outweigh any additional cost. Therefore it is economically opportune to take up an Irish passport ahead of Brexit, if things aren't worse afterwards they can always get a British one when it is time to renew but that will be based on experience rather than promising utopia in all things post-Brexit. As no matter how much Sammy et al are in cloud cuckoo land about Brexit not everything will be as it is now.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Suicide, the DUP and Me

Today I head that a friend, fellow LGBT+ activist and member of another political party has been suspended from a suicide prevention charity because of comments he posted linking suicide with the DUP. Just under a year ago a member of my close extended family committed suicide. Looking back at the draft I attempted to write at the time a number were trying to address that subject in a relevant way but they never really hit the mark or passed my standards for pressing publish. This time I hope this is different*.

I first considered taking my life in the 80s when I was 15/16 it was a grey day down by the docks as I contemplated jumping in the cold waters off the pier. It was during the period that the DUP were still attempting to safe Ulster from Sodomy. It was a phrase I had heard often, it was a phrase that even at that time I knew was directed at me although at the time I was attempted to fight who I was. 

I didn't jump as you can tell as I am here writing this but that was far from the last time I half felt depressed because of my sexuality.

I went to tertiary education in Kingston starting at the Polytechnic but graduating with a University degree in total I spent 10 years learning to be and to love me, but at the same time still fighting being me. I had grown in confidence, I had grown into an adult me, I was more in control of who I was and more able to defend what I stood for. Something that happened very early on in an Economics tutorial being able to defend a position that was opposite to that of the tutor.

It was in the five years I was back in Northern Ireland that I first really came out. However, this was also a time when I became anxious once again over who I was. My parents reaction was good, as was that of those I worked with and played bowls with. However, before too long I was over in Scotland and away from Northern Ireland for another 8 years. 

However, let me tell you what still knocks me most, makes me most depressed and on occasion leads me to fight suicidal thoughts. It is the times politicians or church people run me down for being gay. The language they use, the assumptions they make about how I live and the way they keep doing it. Now I am mostly able to stand my own when facing these debates. Like a good student I am well prepared with all the background reading I would need and more. I know the facts, I know the etymology of the verses that clergy will quote at me, sometimes better than they do.

However, there are times that continually doing so, or just having a tough time standing up for myself does lead to depression. I reckon it I weren't stronger I would not still be here. If I didn't have the support of many good friends both of faith and without I would be just another statistic. There are certainly some members of the DUP who may prefer that I was a statistic rather than a thorn in their side a constant reminder in their inbox for them to ignore. 

The thing is that the DUP in my experience tend to ignore when anyone raises LGBT+ issues with them. So I am please that they are meeting with the Equal Marriage campaigners here. However, while their representatives may block me out the same cannot be done for them or their supporters. I need to stay abreast of the news and current events and often we here the hateful comments about LGBT+ people on our TVs, Radios or Newspapers. It is something I wish I could avoid but at the same time know I have to respond to, stand up to and be heard. This is not just for me but for those who are the shy me that I was in my teens, the insecure me, the scared me and the suicidal me.

So while the DUP are ignoring reports that do show that LGBT+ people are more likely to have self-harm and suicidal intentions, someone who points out that they don't take action is suspended for doing so. I certainly feel more suicidal when I'm being called abnormal, an abomination or have a deviant lifestyle. This mostly comes as a direct result from Northern Irish politicians and Northern Irish Christians, when people accept me strangely I don't feel like that.

So is there a direct link between the institution homophobia for the DUP and self-harm and suicide?

Considering the party not only have never voted for any positive LGBT+ legislation but have petitioned of concerned every bill that has come before the NI Assembly. Their elected representatives are amongst the most vocal in belittling LGBT+ people with words whether in political chambers or debates on media. 

In my personal opinion there certainly is a constant straw attempting to break the camel's back. It has not yet got all the way through but on occasion it has been close. Whether from the DUP, religious leaders or ordinary members of the church I was born into all have at times come close to me committing suicide.

*Even after writing that at the start there are still parts of this I have not included in the above despite the length.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Cycle of Brexit: Endangering the Norwegian Model

So it appears that rather that following the Norwegian model of living with the EU Theresa May's vision for what Brexit means looks like it is endangering it.

Norwegian officials have warned Brussels that they are watching negotiations over Brexit closely. If a special deal is reached with the UK this will lead to Norway looking at renegotiating the terms under which it operates with the EU. The fact that May's government wants out of the Customs Union and out of the Single Market while still maintaining favourable conditions of trade and access with the EU is not looking good for countries like Norway who have reached an agreement with the EU and remain outside.

At a time when countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also looking to enter the Customs Union the stance that the UK is taking means we are no longer having to appease just 27 other counties. There are also the additional 4 countries in the European Free Trade Association1, the 6 with Stabilisation and Association Agreements2, the 3 in the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area3 as well as the 4 with bi-lateral Customs Union arrangements4. In other words all of Europe until you get to Belarus and Russia.

Now you have to consider that some of the EU nations who border or surround some of those countries affected do more trade with them than the UK. When it comes to consideration of the remaining 27 EU nations all accepting the Brexit deal. The threat of Norway and potentially the others looking to also renegotiate their deal with the EU means that the chances of the special deal that May, David Davis and Boris Johnson say they can get looks less and less likely to happen. The EU cannot afford to give special terms to one nation who pulls out of the EU if it impacts on the deal they have with 17 other nations that the EU also has deals in place with. Effectively Britain is up against 44 not just 27 other nations when we sit at the negotiating table.

If the other 17 are paying something to the EU to benefit from their deals to help them trade with the EU and the UK refuse to pay anything we can expect to get nothing. Seventeen countries willing to pay for special access to the EU is going to be more beneficial than allowing one country to have access who is paying nothing. The Brexiteers have been playing high stakes poker with a bluff in their hand. It is the smaller stacks at the table from the associated nations who the EU will be gauging now that the UK has gone all in. That revenue flow is important to them, they may yet call on our all or nothing bet.

If the UK scrambles away from the EU with nothing David Davis hasn't run the impact reports, but Scotland has. Is it worth it?


1 Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein
2 Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo
3  Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine
4 Turkey, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino

Thursday, 11 January 2018

EU Court rules definition of Marriage now includes same-sex marraige

One of the leading arguments the pro-Brexit, anti-Equal marriage unionist DUP have used to say that the marriage laws in the rest of the United Kingdom do not apply here is that the EU don't define marriage that way.

Until now.

Today the Advocate General of the European Court has said the "definition of marriage has now evolved to include same-sex couples". He also calls on all member states to recognise same-sex marriages that have taken place in other member states. The word spouse most now not only apply to opposite sex couples.

This may course interesting IF the Northern Ireland Assembly can get back up and running. Currently same-sex marriage from other parts of the UK are relegated to civil partnerships. However, if the right of spouses of any marriage have to be recognised that will have to change. It means that same-sex marriages would have to be recognised as marriages in Northern Ireland and takes us one step closer to hopefully allow same-sex marriages to take place here as well.

No doubt the DUP will try and come up with some other excuse quoting their rapidly shrinking list of countries that do not recognise same-sex marriage. Saying after years of quoting EU court definitions that we are about to leave and that should now apply to us now. Bear in mind that the DUP have uses Great British law when it agrees with them, over marriage they used Irish law after the British didn't along with EU. Now that even the EU laws are changing where next?

The DUP are losing the argument and soon and very soon I hope to see marriage equality, not just same-sex marriage come to Northern Ireland.