BREXIT THOUGHTS

 

Many thanks for visiting this page and welcome to it. The posts are those I've put on my website since the EU referendum - either as Thoughts on posts or Comment posts. 

 

I hope you find them of interest and that perhaps they may contribute to your own thinking on this subject. You will pick up on two of the themes that appear: that we should have a global, rather than European, vision of the future; and that we should put the whole issue of Brexit in perspective.

 

Please keep scrolling down!

 

For a lighter look at Brexit you might like to read a few limericks on the subject.

 

 

 

Thoughts on …

 

Brexit in perspective but three big deals                                 24/1/19

 

I agree with the prime minister that there are more important things in life than Brexit. As she said recently, the things that matter most are personal milestones such as getting a job, getting married, starting a family or buying a house.1

 

She could have added that many other aspects of our personal and family lives are always going to be far more important than issues like Brexit: loving and being loved, staying in good health both physically and mentally, enjoying friendships and having absorbing interests. For many, how we spend our leisure time and how well our football team is doing, will quite understandably be more relevant to our lives.2 And, of course, traumatic life events that have a lasting effect on us, like serious illness, bereavement or divorce will clearly have an enormous impact on our lives.

 

But because the issue of Brexit has dominated political discussion for almost three years and received saturation media coverage it has come to be seen as far more important than it really is. However, we need to guard against believing things are important in our lives just because they are covered so extensively in the media.  We must not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by the running soundtrack of the news.3

 

I go further than the prime minister. Not only is Brexit far from being the most important thing in our personal lives it is equally far from being the most important issue to have been addressed by parliament since the Second World War – as our politicians and pundits keep telling us. They are wrong, and their hyperbole does a huge disservice to our political discourse. To borrow an expression from another turbulent setting this is fake news.

 

The politicians and pundits are wrong because they are unable to grasp the fundamental truth I have just stated: that what happens in people’s individual lives is of far greater significance than the political theatre that takes place at Westminster – however absorbing this can be and however extensive the media coverage it attracts.4 Brexit has been high on drama but low on significance. What matters in the process of government is not the drama but dealing effectively with important issues.

 

Since the Second World War there have been thousands of important issues on which there has been legislation which has affected everyone’s lives more profoundly and directly than anything to do with Brexit. And, in fairness to our politicians, the legislation does seem to have addressed many of these issues quite effectively.  

 

Arguably it was the legislation which created the NHS that has had the greatest effect on the greatest number of people. This towering piece of social legislation has been of immeasurable benefit to all of us for the past seventy years and to compare its significance with what parliament is labouring to achieve now is an insult to the legacy of Bevan and others.

 

Legislation in the fields of education, welfare benefits, pensions, social care and child support has also had a profound effect on our lives and continues to do so. Laws that have been passed in the areas of health and safety, consumer protection and employment rights have affected each one of us and regular adjustments in rates of taxation or the level of the minimum wage have greatly affected our personal incomes. Road safety legislation affects us every time we drive our cars.

 

Momentous legislation has been enacted across a wide range of other areas too. The landscape of society has been completely reshaped by laws which have embodied reforms on gender equality, racial discrimination, disability, same sex relationships, marriage, divorce and abortion. The effect of these social reforms on the lives of countless people has been incalculable.5

 

Apart from enacting legislation parliament has supported the government of the day – the executive – when crucial decisions have had to be taken to safeguard the interests of the country. Such decisions have had far more serious consequences, good and bad, for individual citizens than anything that will arise from Brexit. Consequences, for example, for members of the armed services making the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts in Korea, the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.  Consequences, too, though maybe less serious, when the Heath government declared states of emergencies in the 1970s, and when the last Labour administration took measures to deal with the global financial crisis.

 

Everyone can think of examples of how their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones, have been hugely affected by many pieces of legislation enacted in recent decades, or by some other government action. Positive examples would include life-saving treatment from the NHS, qualifications we gained during the course of our education, financial support for illness or disability, housing benefit, and home ownership achieved through the right-to-buy scheme introduced by the Thatcher government.6 On the negative side examples would include the loss of a loved one killed in military action, being made redundant as a result of failed economic policies, and, bringing the argument right up to date, finding life more of a struggle because of payment difficulties with universal credit.

 

I accept that the issue of Brexit has a certain amount of constitutional and economic importance for society but compared with the examples just cited and many other aspects of our personal lives it pales into significance. To use some vernacular that incorporates the word of the moment it is simply not the big deal it is claimed to be.

 

On the economic front it is not a big deal whether we pay a little bit more or a little bit less for a bottle of wine or an imported item of clothing.7 On the constitutional front it will not be that big a deal if, as I hope, we regain some of the sovereignty we have lost in recent decades.8 As I have indicated above our parliament has had no difficulty passing a vast amount of legislation which has brought massive benefits to society so it is logical to conclude that our constitution is functioning reasonably well.

 

Clearly Brexit would be a big deal if it resulted in a serious decline in living standards amongst the least well-off in society. I don’t want this to happen. Nobody does. But I think it is extremely unlikely. In the project fear campaign run by the remain side during the referendum we were warned of the dire consequences that would immediately follow a No vote. They didn’t happen and I don’t believe they will.9

 

Which brings me to what, in fact, do amount to big deals associated with Brexit. They are big deals because they are big opportunities and I can think of three of them. The first is that Brexit provides an opportunity to move away from current orthodoxies and gradually begin to reset our economy. Not being locked into EU trading arrangements will provide entrepreneurial businesses with improved global opportunities for trade but, more importantly than this, I am hopeful that leaving the EU will incentivise us to begin producing more manufactured goods ourselves and more of our own food. Becoming more self-sufficient and self-reliant would be good for jobs and good for the economy as a whole.

 

The second big deal is this. Leaving the EU must be used as an opportunity to focus our minds on the kind of society – the kind of nation state – we actually wish to inhabit. We have become a compassionate and tolerant society, and despite Brexit generally good-humoured, but we need to try a lot harder to become a fairer society in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth.10

 

And the third big deal that Brexit can deliver? It is one that doesn’t come any bigger. It is a great opportunity and a perspective on Brexit that regrettably has been overlooked.

 

It is the rather obvious perspective that the future of our planet must be global, not European. A global future in which we embrace, as never before, our shared humanity. A future in which all continents and all nations come together. One where the citizens of democratic, sovereign nations forge the kind of societies they wish to construct for themselves as well as reach out in friendship and love to their fellow human-beings wherever they live.

 

The great opportunity, the biggest deal, that Brexit presents is for the UK to take the lead in persuading the countries of the world to work in harmony with each other to confront the major global problems of poverty, ill health, inequality and conflict and, when necessary, the minor problems of trade and tariffs.11 For some people, especially politicians and pundits chained to a geopolitical mindset of the past, this will require a leap of imagination which takes us way beyond the inward-looking aspirations of the European Union. It will be a leap that will enable us to focus properly on global issues and find global solutions  – just as we are attempting to do with the challenge of climate change.

 

Technology, both old and new, has shrunk the world and made global interactions at an individual and collective level easier than ever before. We are constantly buying products from each other, visiting each other’s countries and having sporting competitions amongst ourselves. We communicate easily with friends and relatives overseas, we move to different parts of the world to live and we have husbands and wives from different countries. It should not be difficult, therefore, to make the imaginative, and for some perhaps, the emotional leap to thinking about political decision-making in global terms.

 

There has been too much hype surrounding Brexit as well as totally unnecessary rancour. It is not a big issue in the context of our personal lives and is a long, long way from being the most significant political issue to be addressed since the Second World War.

 

When we leave the EU let us continue to be good friends with our European neighbours but use our departure to have a new perspective on the world. This will contribute to greater harmony across the globe and that would be the best deal of all.

  

 

Notes

 

1  Theresa May’s New Year message, 1/1/19.

2  Bill Shankly, a former manager of Liverpool F C, made the famous remark that football was not a matter of life and death, it was much more important than that.

3  We should not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by anything!

4  I have to confess I have found it extremely absorbing but I am a bit of a politics geek.

5  On the whole it is probably fair to say that parliament follows rather than leads social change.

6  In my view the right to buy scheme was an excellent idea which allowed many people to get a foot on the housing ladder. For some thoughts on home ownership see:                                 http://www.quercuspublications.co.uk/thoughts_on_36_-_40_copy.html

7  Tariffs are just one of many factors that affect the price of imported goods. Others include the cost of production, with labour costs being a crucial factor, supply and demand, cartels, productivity, competition, shareholder value and, in the case of a bottle of wine, a serious amount of excise duty.

8  Some real constitutional advances would be: reform of the voting system, the introduction of more direct democracy, a written constitution and the abolition of the House of Lords.

9  See Ruth Lea’s post on project fear at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2018/01/23/project-fear-was-groundless-the-uk-economy-has-been-remarkably-resilient/                                                Plus according to the latest figures from the ONS unemployment is currently at 4%, its lowest level since 1975, and earnings increased by 3.3% in the year to November 2018.

10  We can begin the process by significantly raising the minimum wage, reducing tax for those on lower incomes and introducing compulsory        profit-sharing schemes.

 

11  See: The EU Referendum and a Global Vision and Brexit – a global, good news story.

 

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27/1/19

 

An open letter to all who support a second referendum

 

Dear fellow citizen

 

This will be a virtually impossible challenge but I thought I would give it a go. I would like to try to persuade you not to support holding a second referendum on the issue of leaving the European Union.

 

You clearly believe that leaving the EU will be damaging for our country. I fully accept that this is a sincere belief which in a democratic, tolerant society you must always be allowed to hold. I happen to take a different view which is equally sincere and equally permitted to be held. I take a different view because I believe we should be much more outward looking and have a global, rather than European, perspective on the world. I understand and respect your view and I am sure you understand and respect mine.

 

In an unusual act of direct democracy, something I would like to become an integral part of our political system, my side of the argument narrowly won. No doubt people on both sides had different reasons for voting the way they did but generally speaking they knew why they voted in a particular way.

 

Before the referendum the government had stated in parliament and in a leaflet circulated to every household that the result would be honoured.1 Since there was a majority of votes cast in favour of leaving the EU this is the decision that must therefore be implemented. I know many people were disappointed with the result but this is not a reason for politicians or anyone else to obstruct the process of leaving. They can, and should, continue to express their views but should certainly not attempt to sabotage the implementation of the democratic decision of the majority of those who voted.

 

Unfortunately it seems this is what they, and you, are attempting to do by calling for a second referendum in the hope that the result will be different. I am not persuaded by the spurious argument put forward by some of our politicians that because they cannot reach an agreement the only course of action is to let the “people” decide. There is nothing difficult or complicated about agreeing a deal to leave the EU despite what looks like an obstructionist strategy from Brussels. It simply requires some firmness of purpose in our negotiations with Europe plus a willingness by all MPs to reach a compromise.

 

The “people” have already decided and if their decision is not implemented their votes will have been discarded. On a personal level this means my own vote will have been discarded. In effect it will have been stolen, and stealing is dishonest.

 

As someone who thinks about political issues I know you will be aware of how important it is in any discussion to be open to understanding the other person’s point of view. In the context of this discussion this requires you to reflect on how you would feel and react if the referendum result had gone the other way and you were now being asked to give up your remain vote.

 

I therefore urge you to reject what seems to be an unworthy position and choose a different path. This would be to support the prime minister’s deal which is a sensible compromise accommodating the views of both leavers and remainers, and thus in the interests of the whole country.

 

I have heard the comment that that those of you who have taken part in marches have been marching for your children’s future. We all want the best for our children’s future and, indeed, for our grandchilden’s future. This will clearly be a global, not a European future. It is one we must shape to be the best it can be for our own children and grandchildren, but also for everyone else’s children and grandchildren throughout the world.

 

If you can spare the time you might be interested in looking at some of my thoughts about the sort of global vision we need for the future. (see below) They are thoughts that are rather different from the current orthodoxies of economic globalisation.

 

I hope you will perhaps be able to find a moment to think about your position with regard to this issue and perhaps also be open to changing it.

 

With best wishes

 

Yours hopefully

 

Alan Kerr

 

 

PS   In case you’re wondering, I’m not of the same political persuasion as the prime minister – I voted Corbyn at the last election.

 

1  "If the British people vote to leave, there is only one way to bring that about, namely to trigger article 50 of the treaties and begin the process of exit, and the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away." (David Cameron, Hansard, 22/2/16)                                                      "This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide." (Government leaflet)

 

For posts on Brexit which put the argument for a gobal future please visit:

 

The EU referendum and a global vision

 

Brexit – a global, good news story

 

and for the latest offering:

 

Brexit in perspective but three big deals

 

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Thoughts on …

 

Brexit – a global, good news story                                          24/12/17

 

The story of the birth of Jesus is a global story. Its celebration is a global celebration. The Christian religion, which began with the story of what happened two thousand years ago, is a global religion. The Christian message is a global message. It is not the only global message with a religious basis but for reasons rooted in history it has become well known throughout the world.

 

The Pope and other leaders of the Christian Church will talk about humanity in global terms when they share their Christmas and New Year thoughts. Sermons preached from church pulpits in this country and overseas will refer to what is happening across the globe and prayers will be said for those who are suffering anywhere in the world.

 

There will be an abundance of other global associations during the festive season as there always is. Food and drink from many different countries will be an essential part of the festivities; many Christmas presents will have been manufactured abroad; media coverage will be global with the focus on Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, and on Sydney on New Year’s Eve; and there will be an assortment of American films to while away the time.

 

Most importantly there will be a myriad of global communications with families and loved ones who live in other parts of the world. Technology and social media make this an easy process nowadays but traditional communications in the form of Christmas cards and letters will still be used.

 

The world includes Europe of course. We will be eating and drinking produce from our European neighbours and many people will be travelling to European destinations. But the world is much more than Europe. The global community is much more than the European community. When Britain leaves the EU it must continue to trade and do business with its neighbours but at the same time must look to develop its own connections with the wider world. I am optimistic it will be able to do this successfully.

 

However, it must renew its global presence in ways other than through trade and business.  Not by trying to become a global military power again but by doing the opposite: by becoming a global, peaceful force for good in the world.

 

The society we have forged here in the United Kingdom falls a long way short of being perfect. There are far too many people struggling on low incomes while others can afford the comforts and luxuries of modern life. There are too many people who are trapped in cycles of substance abuse, too many, especially among children, who suffer because of relationship problems and too many who are vulnerable or disadvantaged for various reasons. There is much more we can do to improve the lives of our fellow human beings in our own country.

 

But that should not prevent us from looking outwards, way beyond the European Union, to the rest of the world and helping to make it a better place for the whole of humanity. It is what we do already whenever the government sends our quota of financial aid or assists with emergencies. It is what we do when the government discusses matters of pressing concern with other members of the international community. It is what individuals do when they donate money to overseas charities or choose to work in countries where there is poverty, disease or conflict.

 

But we can do more. We can build on the enormous fund of instinctive compassion we have for our fellow human beings and argue for strong ethical and moral frameworks to guide the governance of all countries and the way they interact with each other. Our belief in the rule of law and democracy, however imperfect the structure of the latter may be, can be used as an example to nations where there is political and social instability. Our compassion, generosity, sense of fairness, tolerance, diversity, self-reliance, respect for others and generally friendly dispositions, can also be used to show the sort of values and attitudes that contribute to the health of a society.

 

We can offer a new kind of leadership to the global community. We can offer it quietly, gently and with humility, with no flag-waving and no air of self-importance. We can offer it respectfully, valuing other beliefs and traditions, whilst firmly putting the arguments for tolerance, human rights, fairness and democratic institutions. We can offer it in a spirit of neighbourliness, love and compassion.

 

We can show leadership in the way we trade and do business by ensuring there is absolutely no element of exploitation in our dealings. We can aim to pursue trade deals which directly benefit the disadvantaged. We can insist that the highest levels of integrity are applied to all transactions and that any attempts to avoid or evade tax are dealt with robustly.

 

In international affairs we can show leadership in bringing peace to the world by taking an active role in conflict resolution. We can take a lead in the long-overdue enterprise of strengthening the United Nations. And most ambitious of all we can take a lead in ridding the world of nuclear armaments by not renewing Trident.

 

The leadership we offer will be through the example we set, through argument and persuasion, and through mediation in disputes. Wherever possible we should aim to offer it in cooperation with other countries.

By leaving the EU we are embarking on a new course which will benefit this country economically and politically. If we choose to embark on a new course in terms of our global obligations we can help make the world a better place. This will require us to build on what we already do and commit ourselves to a strongly ethical approach to relations with other countries.

 

If we succeed in this ambitious endeavour this will be a good news story for the UK, for Europe and for the whole of humanity. It will be a different sort of Brexit story, a global good news story and a fitting story for Christmas and the New Year.

 

See also: The EU referendum and a global vision

 

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Thoughts on …

 

The EU referendum and a global vision1                                                                    20/6/16

 

It is puzzling, and regrettable, that we do not have a global vision of the world despite our ever-increasing global connections.  Many people now travel quickly and conveniently all over the world and communicate regularly with their families who live abroad. We happily trade with far-distant countries as we have done for hundreds of years, we do business on every continent, we have strong sporting, cultural and academic links with other nations and as consumers we buy a vast range of products made in foreign factories thousands of miles away. We welcome many workers from overseas who contribute to our society and support our economy through being employed in a wide variety of occupations.

  

There is, today, a huge, positive, global dimension to our daily lives and to the daily lives of everyone else on the planet. It must be sensible, therefore, for people everywhere to acknowledge they are global citizens and not just citizens of the country where they happened to be born.

  

My global vision is that we continue, of course, to travel all over the world, continue to trade and do business internationally, and continue to have as many links as possible with other countries. But I would like our vision to be massively enlarged. As caring individuals and as a caring, outward-looking nation we should be striving to create a better world – not just a better world for ourselves or the residents of Europe, but a better world in every corner of the globe. We should be working to secure the well-being of every person on the planet wherever they happen to live.

  

Our unwavering commitment should be to create a world where no one is suffering because of hunger, poverty, disease or conflict; a world where everyone has basic human rights and liberties; a world where everyone is remunerated fairly for their labour, has a comfortable standard of living and has access to high quality health and welfare provision; a world where all nations and groups of people live in peace with each other.

  

The future of our country should not be narrowly European. It should be truly international and global. I believe we urgently need to use our natural generosity of spirit and basic values to help shape a better world which will benefit all its inhabitants including ourselves. Being so closely associated with Europe has distracted us from our obligations to our fellow human beings elsewhere. On 23rd June I shall be voting to leave the EU in order that we can embrace a global future.

  

  

1  These thoughts were written as a letter to various newspapers but to my knowledge it has not been published.  

  

22/6/16 My thoughts on the result. I haven't looked at the opinion polls but I will in a moment. I'm going for 55% remain, 45% leave.  

  

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Thoughts on …

  

The result of the EU referendum                                               24/6/16

  

Well. How wrong I was. I’m delighted and surprised at the result of the EU referendum. Delighted because, although I’m strongly pro-European as I’m strongly pro every other country in the world, I have never been a fan of the European Union – I voted No in 1975; surprised because understandably most people tend to be politically cautious and prefer the status quo to the unknown.  I’m very pleased my prediction was way off the mark. I predicted 55% to 45% remain.

  

I felt sure that this morning I would be writing that the vote to remain was not quite as momentous as politicians and BBC correspondents were asking us to believe. We would, after all, still be getting up, having breakfast, going to work, doing the school run, the shopping and maybe some cleaning.  We would still be carrying on with our daily lives in the way that we normally do and above all we would still be loving and supporting those are close to us. Outside our personal spheres Glastonbury would still take place, complete with mud, as would Wimbledon, and as would the next round of European football championships. If the sun wasn’t shining it wouldn’t be because the world had come to an end it would be because we couldn’t see it above the clouds.  And all of this would be true, of course, whichever side had won.

  

I say well done to the many people who voted to leave in the North East and Wales and other former industrial areas. I am not surprised they wished to register their dissatisfaction with the political establishment. The decline of large parts of manufacturing industry in this country has created high unemployment and brought hardship to many of these regions. As a country we should appreciate the contribution to our prosperity made by generations of people who toiled in coal mines or steel plants. We owe them for what they have done for well over a hundred years. Being a member of the EU hasn’t delivered on the debt we owe. We need to make the northern powerhouse, and other powerhouses, work through our own policies and not rely on those that have been handed down from Brussels  

  

I hope that leaving the EU will be better for families everywhere in this country who are not well off or who are disadvantaged. I hope leaving will be better for the poor and disadvantaged throughout the world. As I said in my previous column I am strongly of the opinion we should be truly internationalist, not narrowly European. We should have a clear global vision in which we strive to improve the well-being of everyone whichever country they happen to live in. We should be doing this through trade, through education, through aid, through encouraging small businesses and through constantly putting the case for a fairer society. In countries where there is suffering because of conflict we should be willing to intervene as an international community through the United Nations. Where global decisions need to be taken on climate change or other problems we should have international cooperation accompanied by international, not European, legislation.

  

I have to say I found some aspects of the referendum campaign not to my taste. I didn’t like the impression given by the leave side that people from other countries should not find us welcoming and appreciative of what they contribute to society. I didn’t like the hostile attitude to Turkey shown by both sides. I thought the way the cost of our membership of the EU was presented by the leave side was highly dubious and I thought the scare-mongering by remain was ridiculous. I didn’t think the debate was generally conducted in a spirit of mutual understanding but sadly our politicians seem unable to engage in debate about anything without being confrontational.

  

Back to momentous decisions. Lots of people will be making some in their personal lives in the next few days and these will be much more momentous. They will be making decisions such as whether to get married, whether to apply for a job or whether to buy a house. In the wider world of global politics a momentous decision has just been made in South America where the government of Columbia and the Farc rebels have signed a ceasefire ending a conflict which cost the lives of almost a quarter of a million people.. Here in the UK political arena we should start thinking about some of the momentous decisions we should take in the future – perhaps about whether to allow the money markets to dictate what should be happening in society, perhaps about whether to raise the minimum wage to a much higher level or perhaps, even, about whether to have more referendums – on renewing Trident, for example, or going ahead with the new high speed railway.

  

One instant decision should be made by our political leaders. When we finally get round to leaving the European club we should immediately give our membership fee to the NHS. As for me my not very momentous decision today has been to celebrate the news I heard early this morning by setting down these thoughts. And I now have a very minor decision to make about whether to do something in the garden. Life goes on.

    

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Brexit – making a meal of it     20/12/17

 

The UK government and the European negotiators have done well so far despite a few bumps on the road. An agreement has been reached which allows the negotiations relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU to move on to the next stage.

 

But what I am baffled by is how long it has taken to get this far and why the whole process has been made to appear so complicated by our politicians and the media. It has even been claimed by some of them that the logistical effort required to leave the EU and strike out on our own will be greater than anything else the state has had to manage since the Second World War. I doubt it. I would have thought that setting up the National Health Service and implementing the Attlee government’s programme of nationalisation was much greater. Moreover, I find the comparison an affront to all those involved in what was the most truly incredible logistical and organisational effort this country has ever engaged in.

  

It seems to me that the three areas of concern that have been the focus of attention in the initial discussions, the so-called divorce settlement, have been perfectly straightforward to resolve. There was never going to be any difficulty over the rights of EU citizens living in the UK or British citizens living in the EU since common decency and the principle of reciprocity were obviously the best way to resolve this issue. The question of the Irish border generated a lot of hot air, together with irresponsible comments about a hard border undermining the peace process, but since there was widespread agreement that as far as possible the status quo should be preserved a sensible solution was plainly in the interests of everyone.

 

The financial settlement had the most potential for difficulties. However, I imagine that most people agree that we should continue to pay our share of the obligations that we have entered into as a member of the EU. There are far better things on which to spend the £39 billion exit fee but it is right that we should honour our commitments. It is an enormous sum of money and serves to remind us of the misguided decision to join the club in the first place.  

 

Given that there has been nothing complicated to resolve in the issues that have been negotiated so far I think it’s fair to say that our politicians have been making a meal of the whole process. Which is a wholly appropriate metaphor when you consider the countless slap-up meals, paid for by you and me, which have been consumed by Theresa May and many others during the negotiations and which seem to have been an essential accompaniment to them.

 

I hope that large helpings of goodwill and common sense will accompany future Brexit negotiations rather than large helpings of fine food. If this is the case there will be no need to make a meal of anything and we can look forward to an agreement that will be good for everyone.

 

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Thoughts on ...

 

Syria and Brexit                                                                       4/5/18

 

Syria and Brexit have been two of the biggest news topics of recent years, the former having been covered for a lot longer than the latter. (1)


The news from Syria has filled me with despair. Most of the time I'm optimistic about the world. I consider myself fortunate to live in an age when large swathes of humanity have access to the most amazing comforts and conveniences, to excellent health care and to extensive welfare provision. There seems to be less absolute poverty in the world and fewer people are dying of starvation.


The way we organise society and behave towards each other has also improved immeasurably over the centuries. We can see this in our strong commitment to the rule of law and the fact that most countries have democratic systems of government. We can see it even more clearly in the way we care for people with disabilities and in the lessening of prejudice against those who are different from ourselves.


But I feel despair at what has happened in Syria. Despair that people have endured, and are still enduring so much; despair that human beings can inflict so much suffering on each other; and despair that the international community has been powerless to bring the conflict to an end.


The suffering has saddened me enormously, as much as any other news I have seen on television in recent years. Constant bombardments have killed and maimed people indiscriminately and the anguish of losing loved ones has been visited upon many families. Living conditions have been appalling, homes have been destroyed and millions of innocent people have become refugees. The use of chemical weapons, and the way in which children have been caught up in the conflict, have added further unimaginable horror to an already horrific situation.

 

Compared with the trauma of the inhabitants of Syria the anxieties of some of some of my compatriots in the UK about Brexit are trivial. I certainly don't want to see anyone suffering as a result of Brexit and fervently hope there is no adverse effect on people's jobs.


But I'm not too distressed about currency speculators who may have lost money through the falling value of the pound, nor other speculators who may have seen share prices decline, nor the CEOs of financial institutions whose bonuses may be affected by a reduction in their business.


Nor am I going to worry too much about all of us having to pay a little more for imported goods as a result of a devalued pound. If we cut down on our expenditure on Costa coffees or upgrading our smartphones we will manage perfectly well.


As for the spurious difficulties over what to do about the Irish border they pale into insignificance compared with the situation in Syria.


Brexit should be good for our country in many ways but for me one of its great benefits is the opportunity it gives us to have a more global perspective on the world rather than one that is too centred on Europe. We must use this wider perspective to strive to ensure the well-being of individuals in whichever country they happen to live. We can do this by supporting the economies of different countries, helping to develop their systems of health care and education, and persuading their governments to govern in accordance with the rule of law and the principles of democracy.


We can also use our influence to exercise some global leadership to persuade other nations to join with us to exert all necessary pressure to avoid violence and conflict whenever there are disputes in the world. This leadership should ideally take place within the forum of the United Nations which we should do everything possible to strengthen.


It is only by having a powerful United Nations which is vested with the authority to intervene effectively in disputes between and within countries that we will be able to prevent terrible tragedies such as the one in Syria. I hope Brexit will inspire our politicians to take a wider view of the world and reach the conclusion that decisions and actions in the future should be much more global and much less European.

 

 

1 Lyse Doucet's reports on the conflict in Syria have been outstanding. She has described the events with clarity and compassion.


See also:

The suffering in Syria 

Brexit - a global, good news stor

Alternative manifestos (section on our global obligations)

 

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The common-sense solution to the Irish border issue     25/7/18

 

It seems to me that the issue of the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations is a spurious difficulty that has been grossly exaggerated by those opposed to the idea of the UK leaving the European Union. The issue should not have been allowed to become such a prominent factor in the discussions and under no circumstances should it be used to obstruct the democratic mandate given by the British people to leave. 

 

In the unlikely event of there being no free-trade deal with the EU there is a very simple and common-sense solution to the matter. When we leave the European Union the Republic of Ireland should be given special status in recognition of its long-standing, close association with the UK. This would allow it to import goods from the UK, but only from the UK, without having to impose the tariffs that other EU countries were applying. Since there is no reason why the UK would want tariffs on Irish imports the status quo of free trade between the UK and Ireland would continue.

 

Under this special status arrangement the free movement of Irish and UK citizens across the border would also be allowed to continue.

 

There is nothing complicated whatsoever in implementing this solution. Politicians in Europe, Ireland and the UK have a duty to adjust their present mode of thinking to one in which a much more accommodating approach can be adopted. I accept that those who want the UK to remain in Europe would be deprived of one of their arguments, and that the lawyers involved in drawing up excessively complex plans for leaving would have their work and pay cheques reduced, but I would regard such consequences in a positive light.

 

Goodwill and common sense on both sides must be at the heart of the Brexit negotiations in order to deliver what the British people voted for in the referendum. Moreover, these attributes must be permanently to the fore in order to deliver mutually beneficial cooperation with Ireland and all our European neighbours long into the future.

 

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