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On the “Brexit and War” Question: Not as Silly as it Sounds

Russia conducted an exercise of 80,000 troops in 2014 simulating an invasion of the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It isn’t unreasonable that our Article IV NATO allies and EU partners feel a mite worried about the bellicose behaviour of their nuclear-armed Neighbour, who has 800,000 men under arms. Russia could bring forces to bear, invade, and mop up all resistance in the Baltic states within a week. The only thing stopping him taking back what Putin has described as “not real countries”, is the security guarantee they enjoy from NATO, and especially the USA.

Far from being “provocative”, the Western alliance has bent over backwards to accommodate Russia’s paranoia. No troops have been permanently stationed in the Baltic until recently. There is constant communication (from NATO) in order to prevent misunderstandings. (Much less is forthcoming from Russia). NATO exercises in the region have been no more than a few hundred troops. There is certainly no massing of forces that could possibly threaten Russian territory, and the west has no interest in provoking Russia. The idea that the Association Agreement the EU was to sign with Ukraine was in any way “provocative” to Russia should be met with a snort of contempt and derision, let alone the idea the Euromaidan protests were “anti-russian” or orchestrated by “fascists”. (So please don’t say so in the comments, I’ll simply delete such Putin-toadying).

But the Russian state’s default position is Paranoia. In the Siloviki, you have, in effect, a state captured by its spooks. They are in thrall to Alexandr Dugin‘s doctine of Eurasianism, and feel encircled by enemies, chief amongst which in the Kremlin’s demonology are NATO and the European Union. NATO is the shield, but the EU is the means by which we will defeat Putin’s eurasianism. By bringing countries like the Baltic states and Ukraine into the European system, we demonstrate the profound failure of Russia as an alternative. Ultimately the Russian people would be better off embracing western values, and without Putin’s toxic and paranoid statecraft.

While the world watches Syria, Russia is busy pouring poison into western discourse with the explicit aim of breaking the world order in place since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. So Putin supports “anti-systemic” parties of left and right. He bankrolls the French Front National and Hungarian Jobbik. Alec Salmond and Nigel Farage were regulars, and well paid, on Russia Today, Putin’s toxic little propaganda swamp. Aaron Banks, UKIP and Leave.EU’s biggest donor is married to a Russian, and has form for repeating Putinist lies. Jeremy Corbyn regularly used to spout Russian Propaganda, before he was forced by circumstance to converse with grown-ups for a change. Green parties have money siphoned to them (anti-fracking, to support Russian energy interests). Putin is absolutely delighted at the Rise of Donald Trump. It has been alleged Russian Bombing of Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria was undertaken deliberately to create refugees, to further destabilize and undermine the European Union. I suspect, though this was not more than a secondary benefit, to the ultimate goal of making Mr. Putin look good on Russian state TV.

We’ve never had an enemy like this before. Russia is a spy agency, which has captured a Nuclear-armed state, but it’s not clear Putin is in complete control. The entire apparatus of the state is about creating an alternate reality, in which fact and fiction merge. Maskirovka, raised to a governing philosophy. but with no real end-game in sight. There is something of the Thomas a Beckett about the chaos in Donbass: Putin says “will no-one rid me of this Turbulent Priest” and before you know it, two provinces of Ukraine have declared independence backed by significant invasions of Russian regular soldiers. Putin cannot back down without losing face, but cannot escalate for fear of provoking NATO. The shooting down of MH17 was the moment the Ukrainian donbass separatists over-stepped their mark, but there’s no way out for either party. Ukraine faces an existential threat, and the Russian regime is based on never showing weakness.

With a frozen conflict in Ukraine, things can escalate rapidly. It is the Nature of Putin’s cult of personality, he needs constant action to keep the narrative of strength going. This was the ultimate reason for the Deployment of Russian Forces to Syria – to get a limited war onto Russian TV that can be used to demonstrate the Greatness of Mother Russia, which makes the sacrifices the long-suffering Russian people worthwhile. But Russian forces have pulled out of Syria, and there’s little glory in the stalemate outside Mariupol. What next?

Sweden and Finland, neutral during the cold war, are inches away from Joining NATO, so threatened do they feel. Swedish subs are continuously dealing with Russian incursions. The Russians are actively buzzing US warships in the region. The RAF having to scramble to intercept Russian Nuclear bombers is a weekly occurrence. It’s constant provocation. A Russian flotilla sailed through British waters last week.

Putin may be a master tactician, but he fails as a strategist. This is, to my mind the single biggest risk of the UK leaving the EU. Brexit would send a message (whether or not this is true) that NATO’s number two power is no longer serious about its commitments to its allies. He’ll have split off Europe’s most potent military power from the EU. This will embolden Putin to try to further split the west, because it suggests our Nations’ commitments to each other isn’t as strong as it was in 1989. This is especially true if there’s further success for “anti-establishment” politicians like Donald Trump. If Putin has an opportunity, and he’s an expert opportunist, he is likely to take it to try to break NATO, having already broken the EU. We do not want to tempt the Kremlin to gamble on the UK’s willingness to spend blood and treasure to defend Narva. Because if the UK won’t, the USA won’t. And if the USA won’t, NATO is finished. And if NATO is finished, the whole of Eastern Europe could well come under Russian suzerainty again. And that, we think (as well as the Survival of one Mr. V.V. Putin) is the ultimate aim of the Russian state.

Finally, EU sanctions matter. With German “ostpolitik” and much of continental politics actively in Putin’s pocket, it is the UK who drove sanctions on the Russian regime when they invaded another soverign European nation. And make no mistake, the EU matters, and the sanctions are hurting the regime. The UK is influential in EU foreign policy, perhaps the most influential power. Without the UK in the EU, the EU would not have taken as robust a stance on Crimea as they did.

Now is NOT the time to be upsetting the international institutions which have been so crucial to delivering peace and prosperity to so much of the former soviet empire. “Brexit risks war” isn’t as silly as it sounds.

'Leave' Has Just Lost its Economic Argument

Michael Gove, who is likely to be the person most responsible for setting the parameters of Britain’s negotiation with the EU after a leave vote,  indicated on the BBC Today programme the UK will not stay in the common market. We would seek a free trade agreement like Albania, or Iceland.
This means the risks of #brexit have gone up. The prospects of a risk-free slip into the EEA have gone. We must therefore run the risk of the foreign investors on whom we rely to cover are triple deficit (current account, fiscal and trade) going on strike.
Where this to happen, In order to tempt them back, the Bank of England would need to raise interest rates , which slows growth. The UK may not be a default risk , but as a country with I need for constant inflows of foreign capital we may need to print more money to cover the bills . Investors will therefore need a higher return to compensate for the risk.
This is one mechanism by which leaving the EU could slow growth. There are others. The UK may become a less attractive place for foreign companies to invest. And not just because of access to the single market. For all its faults, the EU has been consistent in its application of laws surrounding state intervention in business and preventing government’s interfering too much in markets. Leaving risks that benign business environment.
The risk therefore of a catastrophic cycle of interest rate hikes and currency issues has to be set against the sheer paucity of the potential benefits from leaving the EU . Just what are we hoping to achieve? Why are we risking prosperity in this way?
An honest answer would make use of Gandhi’s aphorism ” it is better to be governed badly by oneself, than well by other people.” If it is simply about democracy, then supporters of brexit will need to be honest about the potential economic costs.
The post EU UK could become the free market prosperous business-friendly place of brexit fantasy, but it could equally become a paranoid insular protectionist hell hole of UKIPpery, or worse yet, the Labour Party could nationalise everything in sight. These are both outcomes European Union protects us from.
The problem is brexit becomes a tabula rasa on to which everyone can paint their own ideal post EU UK . Then arguing against brexit becomes an argument against everything that person holds dear. Many have spent decades seeking confirmation for a prior belief that the EU is behind all the bad things. Nothing can persuade these people that leaving the EU isn’t a panacea to solve all the UK’s ills. It’s a peculiar Mania.
The lesson of the ERM debacle is not that the EU is evil, but that the UK should not have joined the euro, and we didn’t. It doesn’t follow we should leave the EU too. The EU is not the enemy. The UK is not going to join the euro. EU is not going to Force the UK into a superstate, a European army, or a single currency.
The European Union is a collection of some the freest, most prosperous and happiest democracies on Earth. The Euro project has impoverished half the continent on the altar of political vanity. But that is not the question we are asking in this referendum. We are asking specifically whether the UK should leave the European Union.
What are the benefits of leaving the EU? If they aren’t economic, they seem mostly to accrue to politicians who gain greater freedom to interfere in our lives. And what do we the people gain, to offset the probability of a negative economic outcome?
Will we lose the right to live, work and travel at will from Helsinki to Lisbon and from Warsaw to Dublin? Probably not, but it’s a risk. Will UK be better off economically speaking speaking? Probably not. That means people will lose jobs.
The risks are real, the benefits seem ephemeral. And very fact that we are having this referendum now means should the EU develop in a way that is an anathema to British interests, for example if  as I am told is “inevitably” going to happen,  the Euro is forced upon the UK, we can always leave another time. The very fact of this referendum undermines fatally the sovereignty argument.
Thankfully the polling seems to indicate the remain campaign is winning.

I dislike the EU intensely. I’m voting to Remain in.

I get it. You hate the EU, and Jean Claude Juncker’s a twat. I get it, the desire to kick Guy Verhofstadt in the bollocks. I understand on a deep and visceral level the desire to headbut Martin Shultz and wedgie Neil bloody Kinnock and hang him on a clothes peg by his underpants until they rip. I want pour itching powder into all their underwear drawers. Jaques Delors especially. But for better or worse, in the EU or out, we have to work with these bloody people, and the tin-pot countries they come from which show precious little gratitude for the British blood poured into their soil over the centuries for the privilege they still enjoy to not speak German (or French or Spanish). Instead they must speak English…

I get the desire to send RAF Typhoons on punitive strikes against the wasteful and absurd Strasbourg Parliament building, with or without the MEPs still inside. I understand the desire to have HMS Dragon, the most modern air-defence destroyer on the sea to be deployed against Spanish fishermen. I get the desire to set fire to French sheep (mainly because you’d get in less trouble than you would setting fire to French farmers). I too deplore the wasteful CAP. Above all, I want the entire commission, parliament and bureacuracy of the EU lined up and bogwashed by the smelliest upper-sixth prefect, one after the other while they practice their English irregular verbs. All right-thinking people agree.

I’m still voting to ‘Remain’.

The most likely scenario should the UK leave the EU, is that not a lot would change. There will of course be some disruption before people realise this, probably leading to a small recession. But upon UK leaving the EU, slipping into the EEA will feel like a more comfortable shirt. Long-run, we may even be better off and happier. This will likely suit our historic national desire for “the open sea” over the continent. But  UKIPpers will still be grunting about immigrants, and deplore the fact we still have to obey EU rules. But as we will no longer have any formal means to influence them all that much, they’ll have to lump it. Thankfully without their MEPs (and EU money) they’ll fade away.

We’ll be free to trade with the world (as if we aren’t already…)? Well here’s the Economist suggesting it’s nowhere near as easy as Brexiteers pretend to negotiate new trade agreements.  This EEA scenario holds no fear for me. But it’s by no means a given, and nor does it achieve much beyond ‘not being in the EU’.
If we aren’t staying in the EEA, then negotiating a new arrangement with Europe will likewise be nowhere near as simple as Brexiteers will have you believe – and it will be negotiated in an atmosphere of bad blood. There will be a recession, and probably a long and deep one. We will in the short to medium term almost certainly be worse off.

However there is a broad strand of ‘Leave’ thought that wants the UK to be the catalyst for the collapse of the entire EU project. The problem is with Brexit, a systemic collapse is far from just being a ‘KIPper’s mastubatory fantasy, it could happen, and there exist outside forces, who’ve already got influence, that will be urging it on. This systemic collapse WILL cause a massive recession, both here and even worse, in the EU, and lead to all the geostrategic points that I’ve been raising in all my previous essays on the subject. Vladimir Putin would be delighted. World trade – heretofore liberalising albeit at a glacial pace would go back by 30 years.
You can’t have it both ways: glory in the imminent collapse of the EU AND paint the downsides of that scenario as ‘Project Fear’ when it’s absolutely what most brexiteers desire, when the mask slips.
You can EITHER control EU immigration OR keep all the trade benefits of the EEA, but not both. Leaving the EU can either be low-risk OR you can control EU immigration and “get our country back”. Not both. 
Even the best case scenario of EEA membership, (which I suspect most Brexiteers only favour to have any chance at all of securing a ‘Leave’ vote at all) will leave the UK not much better off, with significant risks all on the downside, should any more damaging scenarios play out.
Leaving this bloody stupid organisation our idiot neighbours built simply isn’t a good gamble. Stay in, and keep the more excitable Federast knobbers under control as best we can is in the best interests of the UK, and that of our friends and allies on the continent. Basically that means staying in, to work with the Germans to prevent the French screwing everything up. Again.
If leaving was government policy, and I knew therefore which of the options I’d be voting for, and the risks and benefits were clear in advance (and we were opting for EEA…), I’d probably go for it. But it isn’t, they’re not and so I won’t. I’m not taking a risk with my prosperity, just to please idiot ‘KIPpers. That’s that. 

I don’t buy Any of the Arguments for Brexit

If you listen to Brexiteers, the EU is holding us back from trading with the world. The only thing stopping the UK having free trade with everyone is the EU. Upon leaving the EU, we’d lose none of the trade advantages with the EU (on which more later), nor the 50-odd trade agreements we’ve currently got with EU membership, and everyone who doesn’t already have an agreement with the EU would be clamouring for a trade agreement with the UK. Let’s think about it for a second, and does it seem remotely plausible? 
Now, Pete North argues that out of the EU, the UK would sit in the WTO and have more influence than as part of the EU. No-one (with the possible exception of Lord Owen) who’s actually been there agrees with this view, which even if true, isn’t the slam-dunk he thinks it is. The EU is influential as the world’s largest market, and the UK is influential in the EU. There *may* be advantages to leaving the EU in our ability to negotiate trade agreements, but you need to be wildly optimistic to imagine the short-run disruption wouldn’t be greater than the benefits of extra trade agreements.
The short-run effects of Brexit will be a recession, probably costing 2% of GDP or so. Not disastrous. But I don’t believe the mechanisms by which faster growth can be achieved will work over the longer term. Simply because there’s little that does, bar free trade, something Brexit risks impeding at least as much as we’d gain with trade agreements elsewhere. Because of the single market the UK economy is 10% or so larger than it probably would have been absent EU membership. If you do the maths, that’s a tiny, tiny increase in annual growth over 40-odd years, but such is the power of compounded returns. The UK would need to work very hard to maintain trade advantages with allies to whom brexit would represent two fingers, and take advantages elsewhere. It is possible Brexit could benefit the UK in trade terms. But it’s moot, and there is certainly a risk brexit could damage the UK’s trade.
The EU needs the UK’s  market more than the UK needs the EU“. This is just mercantilist fallacy. Even accepting the silly idea exports, not imports, are the purpose of trade, the EU takes 45% of UK exports. The UK takes 10% of EU exports. Who is more important to whom?
We’re shackled to a corpse“? Well the UK has been the best performing advanced G20 economy for some time, during which the Eurozone has lurched from crisis to crisis. It doesn’t seem to have held us back, any more than any other major trading partner being in trouble would have done. In 1972, the UK was the sick man of Europe. It isn’t now. It’s simply not credible to argue the EU has held us back in any significant way, and nor is it credible to argue on this basis, “the real risk is staying“.

“Immigrants, waaaa!” Most of Britain’s migrants come from outside the EU, and under most Brexit scenarios in which the UK retains access to the Single Market, we’d accept free movement. Like the Norwegians. So I don’t think #Brexit would have much effect on immigration, unless it caused an economic catastrophe.

The UK is impotent in the EU because “We lose more votes in the Council of Ministers than any other nation“? The second “least influential” country by this measure is….
….is….
….is….
Germany.
In any case, the UK is in the winning majority 87% of the time. But these lost votes are a measure of assertiveness, not supplication. France, like the UK did under Blair, votes for stuff with which it disagrees, in order to preserve consensus. It’s France, not the UK running up the white flag in Qualified Majority Voting. France disagrees with the EU on free trade, and has to suck it up, mainly because the UK and Germany won the argument long ago.
Does anyone still buy the “£[insert made-up number] billion we send to Brussels” argument? Most of which, if we want access to the single market, we would have to pay most of our current contribution anyway. Most of the gains from leaving will have to be spent subsidising British farmers.
It’s NATO not the EU that has kept the peace in Europe“. Of course NATO was the shield, but the EU helped win the peace. Enlargement (another British win against the French who feared rightly it would prevent “ever closer union”) pulled former Warsaw pact countries firmly into the Western orbit, and made them richer and free. Brexit will at best, change nothing bar a slight reduction in contributions, at risk of antagonising allies, and emboldening our principle adversary, at a time when the west needs to present a united front to prevent WW3. The carrot of potential EU membership has been used to improve the behaviour of Governments for many years. Watch, as the carrot got snatched away, Governments in places like Ankara and Kiev backslide on democracy, corruption and human rights. To imagine the EU had no role in the successful transition to democracy in Poland, the Balitc states, and central Europe is ridiculous.

The EU is open in its plans for a Superstate“…. and this has been a dream of the more starry-eyed official and Europolitician since its inception, but this has been resisted by… all its nation-state members. The Eurozone may yet become a superstate, if the Germans can be persuaded to allow fiscal transfers to Greece. I’m not holding my breath. As for the UK, we can leave at any time, if the dastardly plot to take over the British army becomes any more than a pipe-dream of a few Brussels eurocrats. An EU superstate, even one which the UK is not a part of, would be harmful to British interests. Staying in, we can continue to prevent it happening.

The UK would gain influence if we left” The EU is one of the Major clubs of the west. The UK is the only country in all of them: NATO, 5-Eyes and the EU. We are the hinge on which the alliance of democracies turns, a vital cog linking the USA, Europe and the Commonwealth. If you don’t think that position brings influence and advantages then I’ve a bridge to sell you.
Brexit will diminish both the EU, which loses a major commercial, diplomatic and military power, and the UK, which loses its position at the pivot of western alliances. It’s difficult to see much in the way of benefits from leaving, and much in the way of risk.

The Eurosceptic case for voting ‘Remain’.

I came of political age as the ERM debacle and Maastricht ratification process corroded the Tory party. Saving the pound against its “inevitable” inclusion in the Euro project made me a Eurosceptic. The Queen on the money, the ability of the state to finance itself *is* sovereignty, and the ability to generate our own finance has been the United Kingdom’s saviour in three world wars, and it would be a profound piece of treason to give up a world reserve currency.

Next to currency, any other pooling of sovereignty is trivial and easily unwound. NATO which extends from the Arctic to Asia Minor, the area to which the UK MUST respond to any attack is arguably a far greater pooling of sovereignty than what remains of the EU. I will NEVER accept the United Kingdom adopting the Euro and I’d take to the rooftops if necessary to prevent it. I am deeply hostile to the idea of ever closer union, and any conversation with one enthusiastic about a federal Europe often has me reaching for a cudgel. I am a Eurosceptic.

Too many people like me, blooded in politics in those bitter divisive battles which pitched Tory business-toadying against Tory patriotism in a civil war whose skirmishes continue to this day, want to restart the war. For many, trust in the EU forever lost, they have spent 20 years believing every anti-EU pitch from the UK press (however untrue), and simply not considering any benefits of being in the club, hiding in an intellectual jungle pretending like Hiroo Onoda that the war wasn’t over. So satisfying, so heady was the victory over the Euro, they now yearn to defeat the EU itself, and so they have worked themselves into a hysteria where the EU is a silent enemy poisoning everything.

All this willful cognitive bias by the ‘leave’ camp means going into their campaign that they have so long demanded, with some truly dreadful arguments, based on exaggerations, lies and wishful thinking. You can almost hear in their words a background by Elgar, the sound of a merlin engine, the image of a lone Tommy in battledress standing on the white cliffs of dover, fist raised to Europe as the Supermarine Spitfire roars overhead he yells “Very Well, ALONE!”

I shouldn’t need to say this. The European Union isn’t Hitler’s Germany, nor is it the USSR. It is a collection of some of the most successful, happy, free, prosperous nations on earth who seek to do business together, and yes, club together to solve problems (environmental, political and financial) that face us all. Shielded from many of the worst problems by our Island fortress, the British experience is different. And our unique experience is reflected and recognised. No-one serious now expects the UK to join the Euro, or Schengen. The UK’s implacable hostility to a “Euro-Army” has prevented one being formed. Without the UK, an EU defence policy would be worthless.
For all the grunting about immigrants’ benefits about which I simply don’t care, what Cameron has achieved is a recognition, even from the likes of Guy Verhofstadt that the UK’s status is special, and that should be reflected in the treaties. An opt-out from “ever closer union” was in-effect achieved in Maastricht with our Opt-Outs from the Euro (with Denmark) and Schengen (with Ireland), and this development achieved by Cameron is symbolic, but not meaningless: future treaties will be easier to negotiate because a UK opt-out is already considered a possibility from the outset.
A UK vote to leave the European Union wouldn’t be a disaster for the UK. The UK is a big, powerful, influential country with nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers (soon…) and a permanent seat on the UN security council. To imagine we need the EU in any serious, existential way for our prosperity or security is laughable. 3,000,000 jobs “depend” upon the EU? These kind of nonsense numbers discredit the people that make them, no less than the ‘KIPpers wanting to pull up the drawbridge. But it would be a disaster for the EU, and that would harm our interests in the long run, to very, very little benefit.

To What Problem is ‘Leave the European Union’ a Solution?
The most likely ‘Brexit’ scenario would be to leave the European Union but remain in the European Economic Area, so we’d still have access to the single market, have to take on board a lot of the trade legislation and still pay dues at much the same rate. Not sure what this achieves except getting out of the decision-making process which at the very least allows us to keep an eye on the French. 
Without us in the EU, the EU will run off and integrate. Great, you may say, good luck to them, but that would betray 500 years of British foreign policy. They will become more protectionist, and that won’t help us, not at all. A messy European collapse after Franco-German mismanagement will inevitably need the Anglosphere grown-ups to pick up the pieces. Again. Better to prevent that happening. The Zero-sum thinking by many on the ‘Leave’ camp – believing what’s bad for Europe is good for us – is particularly toxic and idiotic.
From 1975, when the UK was “the sick man of Europe” to now, when we’re seriously expecting to overtake Germany (and even Japan’s) GDP,  it’s simply not evident that the EU has held the UK back. I don’t credit the EU with all, or even much of this turnaround in the UK’s fortunes. But the idea we’re “shackled to a corpse” is absurd. The EU isn’t preventing the UK being the USA’s 2nd largest investor, after Japan for example.
In 40-odd years of EU membership, the UK’s economy hasn’t aligned at all to that of Europe. We are still the home-ownership obsessed mid-atlantic economy, hypersensitive to interest rates that we were. This gives the lie to the “inevitable” integration to which we’re allegedly subject.
We do get outvoted more than any other nation. That is why we’re negotiating a special status and all our opt-outs. This isn’t evidence that the UK is put upon or suffers under the Euro-yoke, more that the EU, but that the UK is a steering and restraining influence. We cannot always have our way, but being outvoted on lots of trivialities, it does seem we have set the EU agenda on enlargement and free trade.
“But they make all our laws” I hear you say! So what? Really, who cares where the law comes from, and the idea much of this would change were we out is absurd. Most of what the EU sends is intragovernmental negotiated directive on international things the EU is supposed to be for like climate change, or high-volume, low-impact trade law. As EU referendum points out all the time, most of the trade regulations come from world bodies anyway. I just can’t see why he thinks this a compelling argument for ‘leave’. The fears of EU law being “supreme” that the “roman system” will replace common law and that we’ll all inevitably be dragged into a superstate are just paranoid fantasy. We’ve secured the opt-outs to remain a free, independent nation. The Eurozone will integrate, and we will lead the ‘outs’ who won’t.
What about immigration? Well if you want access to the free market, you have to accept free movement of people. Free movement of people is a good thing. What about the Syrians, I hear some of you grunt? Well, Didn’t Cameron play a blinder there? Most of the refugees will not become EU citizens so there’s no “danger” even if “they” are all itching to cross the channel as soon as they’ve got their German passport. Our biggest source of immigration is India, which, last time I checked, isn’t in the EU.
It’s simply difficult to see what benefit leaving the EU for the EEA has for the UK, over what we’ve already achieved, and so many of the other arguments sound like paranoid fantasies of people who’re desperate to justify an emotional loathing of the EU.
And now the case for ‘Remain’.

First, let’s get “project fear” out the way. Businesses hate uncertainty. From the ‘Leave’ vote to any certainty as to the business environment post withdrawal, there will be investments put on hold, weakening of Sterling, projects delayed as decision-makers wait and see. This will probably cause a recession. People who advocate for out must persuade me the benefits outweigh the damage of an unnecessary recession. Thus far, they haven’t.
Where many see “the EU” as a disaster, I see “the Euro” as the disaster in much the same way ERM was a debacle for an otherwise excellent government. The Euro is not the same thing as the EU.
The European Union – it’s extension to the East and the very Free Market we all hope to keep were british-driven projects. While it’s true NATO has delivered peace, the EU has done a good job in institution-building in post-fascist Greece and Spain (sadly, much good undone by the Euro-catastrophe).
When the Berlin Wall came down, Ukrainians and Poles had the same living standards. Poles who were able to orient west, were able to enjoy significant benefits and investment from the EU. Democratic institutions (admittedly currently being tested by ‘Law and Justice’) have been built and corruption squeezed. There is still much work to do, but former-soviet eastern and central Europe has done well out of the EU, and we have benefitted from their growth. Ukrainians want some of that – an association agreement due to be signed in 2013 is not an “act of aggression” by an “expansionist” EU to appease “fascists” in Kiev, it’s part of making the world a better place through trade and investment. Putin, however threw his teddies out of the pram, and thousands of people have died.
Putin hates the EU, and fears it. He fears it, because it offers the people of former soviet satellites evidence that the Russian embrace is not warm or friendly. It is paranoid, and parasitic. The EU gives hope to the people who want these places to become as free and prosperous as Tallinn or Warsaw. The EU offer a way to quietly destroy enemies by making their people rich. The only world leader itching for a ‘Leave’ vote is Vladimir Putin, because he knows the UK is important to the European union, and now is not the time to be having an almighty row with our allies.
You may say “our interests are not served by Europe” and in narrow, financial terms you may be right (though I’m not convinced by that, and there’s plenty of evidence the EU makes us richer). But in the broader interests of a free, confident, rich and united west who can look the totalitarian masters of Russia or China in the Eye and say “do your worst” the EU is part of that process. Because standing together, the West, in its clubs: NATO, the EU can still set the agenda. The USA wants the UK to remain in the EU for the same reason it wants Scotland to remain in the UK. The USA is a hegemon, but one that desires its friends to be as united, strong and free as it is. While Russia, by way of comparison wants its satellites, poor and dependent. The EU is a bulwark against totalitarianism. Perhaps the Carrot to NATO’s stick. The UK’s role is to be a leader in all major clubs of the west NATO, 5-eyes and the EU as such we are the hinge on which the unity of the Atlantic west rotates. The UK leaving leaves us, and our allies weaker and more divided, just as we need to be unified in the face of a newly dangerous world.
Now is not the time
It is possible sense could prevail, and a post-EU UK could be a free, open, prosperous and happy place. But I suspect any leave vote would be driven not by the open-minded, but by the dull-witted sour old gits who want to pull up the drawbridge and return to 1956. It’s possible a ‘Leave’ vote could have ‘Falklands effect’ in restoring the national mojo, a return to national self-confidence. But it could also trigger a recession, Scottish independence and the collapse of everything I hold dear.
Now, with the SNP in Holyrood, Putin in the Kremlin and the world recovering from the biggest financial crisis in a century, there is no need to roll the dice. The ephemeral benefits simply aren’t worth the risks, and there’s no evidence the EU is doing us harm beyond losing a few votes in the Council of Ministers over things that don’t really matter.
All the Brexiteers needed to do was wait until the next treaty and turn that into an in/out thing. But they were too stupid to see even that.  When perhaps, the threat of Scottish independence will have receded, and Putin’s safely swinging from a gibbet, and then I might say “very well, alone”. But now is not that time. They wanted the battle too much, the ‘KIPpers; they hated the wrong enemy with an intensity and passion that has completely blinded them to new threats. And that, ultimately is why they will lose; their foul chauvinist miserablism looks worse even than turgid bureaucracy of the EU.

On Those EU accounts that “haven’t been signed off”…

They have. Each and every year.

It’s sad that such a central trope from the ‘Leave’ campaign turns out to be an outright lie, but there you go. I suspect it’s because grunting ‘KIPpers cannot tell the difference between “material error“, around 4.8% (which is lower than the USA’s 5% but well over the UK’s 1%) and “the auditors not signing off the accounts”. But 5% of the money goes missing doesn’t make for an easy soundbite, because just 5% going missing sounds like a pretty good job, for a government.

The EU spends its money in places where corruption is rife, and the institutions of Government are weak, like Romania or France, not in places with strong institutions like the UK or Germany. And the European union funds are going into especially corrupt sectors like construction. Perhaps this error rate is understandable. Building roads and airports in Romania is going to help the Romanians, and eventually us. Just as the Marshall plan rebuilt Europe after the Second World War, and gave the USA a rich continent to trade with, rather than a poor continent which needs supporting in a little over a decade, Western Europe should have been MORE generous to the East when the wall came down.

Had Russia been treated after the Cold war like (west) Germany had post 1945, then perhaps Russia would not now be having its tantrum, and  threatening to nuke everybody.

So, the closer you look at the arguments being deployed by the ‘Leave’ side, the worse they get.

  • The cost? Non-EU Norway pays 90% of our fees per head for access to the single market (which we want, right…?), UK’s EU dues are falling.
  • Democracy? The belief the EU rules the UK is overblown fantasy. The UK remains a democracy, in the EU or out. The EU spends 5% or so of UK managed expenditure, and shovels a lot of high-volume, low impact trade law to us much of which we’d implement even if we were out. This really isn’t a big deal.
  • We’d be free to trade? I think this is the weakest argument of the lot: The EU’s trade deal with India was scuppered by, urm…. the UK, citing immigration concerns. You think we could do better alone? Australia and NZ would welcome us back with open arms? Possibly, but they both see the USA as far more important. The USA is ridiculously protectionist, despite which, the EU might get TTIP through. I doubt the UK could do much better. The EU isn’t hampering our trade with the USA or Australia. And in any case, the EU is THE champion of free trade in Global fora, mainly because of British influence.
  • We’d control our borders? Well most of our immigrants currently come from outside the EU (mainly the Indian subcontinent), where we do in fact have control. I doubt much would change here. In any case the immigration of hard-working polish plumbers is less of a problem to most people than ‘KIPpers imagine.
  • We don’t want to be part of a superstate? And we’re not. The Eurozone may become one, but the non-Euro countries will not be part of it. 
I am persuadable. I don’t like the EU. C’mon guys, you’ve been itching for this referendum for 20 years. Is this the best you can do? To what practical problem is ‘Leave the EU’ a solution? Because I cannot see it. 

The Annual Prediction Game: the world is STILL getting better. Mostly.

Electorates across the rich world are losing the plot, and increasingly backing utter numpties all over the place. Mostly, the likes of Trump, Le Pen and Corbyn will not win elections, and sanity will prevail. The last 6 years have seen middle-class wages stagnate in the rich world and voting for these populist goons is a way express dissatisfaction with this fact. Meanwhile, the global poor continue to get better off. 

2015 saw a continued decline in the number of people in absolute poverty, who struggle to get adequate calories to survive. Fewer than 10% now live on less than a $1.90 a day, down from 36% in 1990. 1990, by the way is the year the world started to abandon the idiotic economic shibboleths of socialism and embraced markets. It’s not even clear in-country inequality is rising in the west. Anyone who says “the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer” under capitalism, is simply wrong. 

Even the rise of populist politics in the west can be seen as a symptom of success. In previous generations, semi-educated morons would be too busy surviving to have opinions, and nor would they have any means to express them. Should morons express themselves, educated people would have had the confidence to ignore them. Now morons not only have opinions, and a means to express them, but they expect to be taken seriously! Worse, educated people, who are usually achingly tolerant, have internalised the idea that all opinions are equally valid, while being ashamed of their status. The morons’ great yawp of disatisfaction mouthed by the likes of Farage and Trump will, however, pass as successful economies resume stuffing their fat mouths with bread and circuses, and the Morons stop listening to politicians again, even ones that stroke their prejudices. 

Corbyn is a slightly different phenomenon: here an antediluvian trot has taken advantage of a disorientating defeat, and been swept on a wave of unusual unity from the hard-left to capture Labour. Young, ignorant pillocks, who don’t remember the piles of corpses and devastated economies left behind by Socialism, have flocked to his banner. Moral certainty, and so the nice-sounding homilies of socialism poison a new generation. 

Democracy means playing whack-a-mole with bad ideas, and this dispiriting process has sucked the confidence out of the West. Without an enemy with which to contrast ourselves, we’ve rightly turned to solving problems within. But this focussing on our problems has given many the impression there are fundamental flaws in our society, and created a yearning for certainties. Hence the support, on both the idiot left of Corbyn and the Trump/Farage moron right, for the likes of Putin. 

The return of real wage growth will see off the populists in a way rational argument won’t. If they’re getting richer, people will stick with the status quo.

War has taken more lives in 2015 globally  than in the previous few years. We have spent the peace dividend following the defeat of the Soviet Union. But Russia is re-arming, China is starting to throw its weight around, and the Middle-East is in flames, and so the West must pull together and re-arm too. Although Fukuyama’s “end of history” was widely derided, we have acted for 25 years as if he was right. The free west needs to rediscover its confidence, and start asserting itself again. Democracy’s march has slowed. Dictators have learned to manage the process. Idiot socialism is coming back. Whatever the faults of our society, the free-market liberal democracy remains the best, freest society yet devised, and we should be confident in our moral righteousness, when facing down our enemies, domestic or foreign.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Last year’s predictions were as follows:

  • I think 2015 will be the year the FTSE breaks 7000. One day it will, one day I will be right.
  • Oil will fall to $40, and maybe below and stabilise in the $40-60 range. USA becomes the world’s swing producer
  • The Conservatives will win a thin majority in GE2015. There maybe 2 elections. Don’t ask me how. no polling backs this up. But the country doesn’t want Miliband, and Cameron’s actually done a pretty good job under difficult conditions and doesn’t deserve to be sacked. UKIP to win 3-5 seats, Farage to fail in Thanet, the party’s national vote share in the 10-12% range.
  • China’s growth over the past few years will prove to have been overstated. China’s slowdown to get worse. India to continue to develop rapidly. Modi proving his critics wrong: He may be the man to get India working and taking its rightful place as a major economic power.
  • Russia will try to save whatever face it can for Putin, as it withdraws from Ukraine in response to the falling oil price and continued sanctions. Russia will be set up to rejoin the world financial system in 2016.
  • IS will be reduced to a rump by the end of the year, as having been stopped in their tracks on a number of fronts, they will find the supply of jihadis will dry up.
  • Darfur will be the international flash-point to watch
How did I do?
  • The FTSE did break 7,000 and then collapsed. 1
  • Bang on the money about Oil 1
  • Bang on the money about the election, though I overstated UKIP’s seats. 1
  • Bang on the money about China and India 1
  • I under-estimated Putin’s willingness to make his people suffer for his grandiose designs, though the Ukraine ceasefire is mostly holding 1
  • Perhaps over-optimistic about ISIL’s defeat, but they are certainly in retreat. 1/2
  • Not sure a great deal happened in Darfur, indeed it seems to be quietly solving its problems. 0
5.5/7 ain’t bad! And looking forward:
  • The FTSE 100 will recover lost ground, and make a new high in 2016. Oil will remain below $60 for the foreseeable future.
  • Inflation will remain low, and there will not be an interest rate rise in the UK until at least the 2nd half of 2016, and probably not until 2017.
  • The UK will vote to stay in the EU, and do so relatively comfortably.
  • Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but it doesn’t matter. Hillary Clinton will be the Next president. However ghastly she is, the GOP is going through the same existential madness that is currently gripping the Labour party in the UK. Hell, given the current bunch of twat-o-matic onanists vying for the Republican nomination, I’d probably have to vote for her.
  • Corbyn will remain leader of Labour through 2016, and will poll in the mid 20s by the end of the year. 
  • Labour will start losing MPs to defections and a small chance of a formal split in the party.
  • We’ve seen peak UKIP: I estimate a 25% chance of Douglas Carswell resigning the whip in protest at ‘KIPpers being mostly ghastly pillocks with horrific views.
  • ISIL will continue to be degraded, and continue to lose ground to various forces. Putin will continue to prop up Assad, and Syria will become increasingly binary, as Russian and Regime forces grind down all (non-ISIL) opposition to the regime. 
  • It is likely the west will grudgingly accept Assad’s part in the post war Syria.
  • It is possible 2016 could be the year of the QSD, a Arab League and US-backed coalition of (mostly) non-jihadi, democratic (ish) Syrian groups.
  • The conflict in Ukraine will remain frozen, Putin’s aim being a nation with an open sore, which cannot therefore join NATO or the EU.
  • If the last decade was China’s, the coming one looks like it may be India’s. India is just too corrupt and chaotic to manage ‘big bang’ development by government fiat, but China’s getting old before it got rich, and there is *a lot* of mal-investment to purge. China’s economy will weaken sharply in 2016.
  • India’s rise may be more sustainable, as it will have to be driven from the bottom up. India’s growth rate will be higher than China’s (largely fictitious numbers) again in 2016.

Immigration: Some is good, More isn’t Necessarily Better

The reason the UK is attracting migrants from all over the world is, thanks to our Empires, our Language is the word language. Migrants are more likely to speak English than French (which is why Algerians and Senegalese tend to stay in France). There are a huge number of people from all over the world already living here, so migrants can plug into existing communities.

Thanks to the invention of free-market, liberal democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries, and especially since the rejection of Socialism in 1979, the UK has a vibrant and diverse economy, that can absorb near-enough everyone who wants to come and play. The UK is richer than Poland, and despite Labour’s best efforts, remains a better place to live than Eritrea. We have secure property rights, which means foreign oligarchs can stow their looted wealth in the form of London property, where the likes of Putin cannot confiscate it.

The UK is a prosperous country, with an open economy, secure property rights and a relatively liberal society. British people are tolerant of immigrants and the UK enjoys good community relations.

We do not have ID cards, and the police cannot stop you on a whim. Thus “illegal” immigrants find it easy to find work in the grey economy. Because we have a relatively generous welfare state, there are a lot of jobs – fruit picking, cleaning, domestic labour, care etc out of which the UK-born have priced themselves. The prize – indefinite leave to remain – is within reach of almost anyone who can get here, and work undetected for long enough.

That is why people cling to the axles of lorries to leave France, and it is mostly something of which we can be proud.

People, self organising in Calais, for the right to cling to the axle of a Britain-bound Lorry.

Immigration is good. It does not follow that more is better. That tolerant and open society requires that the majority in it are born, and steeped in it from birth. The main fear the native population has from immigration is communities – the Bradford Pakistanis for example who come to dominate an area, and then cease to integrate. Integration into mainstream British life is vital, if that open society is to be maintained. The Ugandan asians and the Afro-Caribbeans who came over in the 50s and 60s have integrated. Sikhs and Hindus do. Arabs and Eastern Europeans do. Nigerians do.

Despite our success in integration, we cannot take the millions waiting to cross the mediterranean, though in practice we do end up taking most of those camped at Calais. In making it hard to come (sales of wetsuits, and the discovery of corpses in Holland and Norway are indicative of the risks people are willing to take) we limit the number prepared to try.

We cannot allow too many people brutalised by war, ignorant of how to survive in a liberal society to come, lest they are tempted create their own ghettos like Bradford. Too many people, and the incentive to learn English properly, and the imperative to integrate that comes with it, is lost. And it is the Ghettos that people object to, not immigration. It’s not race, it’s the compatibility of culture and the rate of change of a society; a rate of change that many of the people neither asked for, nor want. When a majority of children in the local school are not British, people question the change: Is this for the best?

So. Net migration to the UK is running at 1-200,000 a year. We add two million people every decade or so. This is why the UK is climbing the charts of National GDP, not falling. We’ve even got Germany in our sights. UK to be the 4th Largest economy (US$ Nominal terms) on earth in the not too distant future. Immigration is at such a level that the UK has halted its relative decline. Whatever the economic benefits, there are limits to immigration consistent with a liberal, tolerant and free society, especially from countries without a tolerant, liberal and free culture.

Labour, in office openly sought to “rub the right’s nose in diversity”, hoping immigrants would vote labour in perpetuity. The risk comes when the electorate never bought into the plan. When it was suggested there were limits to migration, people were told they were “racist”. The idiot poujadism of UKIP was the result: leading to the return of openly Nativist politics to the mainstream of British politics. The contempt Labour have shown for the electorate on this issue, is one of the main reasons they are facing oblivion now. The mixing up of Migrants with refugees and asylum seekers to suggest “we” have a moral duty to take people, is just continuing this ignoble tradition of contempt.

People want to stem migration of illiterate spouses from Pakistan, but these people are coming to join relatives already here. People want to limit Lithuanian bricklayers, or Polish plumbers but these people are covered by EU free movement of people (and in any case are vital to dealing with the shortage of housing…). We and the EU need to do much more to stem the flow, humanely, of very poor people from Africa, Afghanistan and Syria, and this includes aid and intervention to put their countries back together. So this leaves skilled migrants from outside the EU such as Nigerian doctors, Malawian nurses or Chinese people coming here to study, all of whom are particularly helpful to the UK economy, if there is to be any reduction in the number of Net Migrants.

It’s all counter-productive. Cameron deserves blame for setting a silly target on a whim, and Labour deserves blame for encouraging the boil to fester for a decade and creating the problem of legitimacy immigration now faces. Any attempts to control immigration mean putting bureaucrats in control of whom a Bradford Pakistani can marry, or whether a Somali can work as a Taxi driver. It’s going to throw up hard cases and inhumanity, as any bureaucratic system inevitably must. This sticks in my libertarian craw. There are going to be Canadians and Australians not granted leave to remain despite holding down decent jobs and living with British people. And all this because of silly targets, and the failure of some communities to integrate. We cannot stem the immigration people do have a problem with, so we’re abusing immigrants who’re going to accept our norms and be accepted.

We cannot take them all. The right-on left should stop the sanctimonious moral preening of pretending we can. We cannot stop them all coming. The idiot right should stop demonising people who’re mostly just trying desperately for a better life for themselves and their families.

We are lucky to have been born here. Part of our duty is to protect the legacy of good governance and social harmony we’re bequeathed. This legacy needs protecting from immigrants who won’t ever share our values, if too many come at once as well as from idiotic populists on the right, dog-whistling to racists and from left-wing extremists who hate our society and way of life, and who wish to see it swamped to spite an falsely concious electorate which repeatedly failed to vote socialism. Net migration is running at 1-200,000 a year. We can cope with that, just. Especially if they come from a variety of places, both terrible and less terrible. But not much more than that, really.

There you have it: An unsatisfying fudge, like so much of the democratic politics that have created the society immigrants are prepared to risk so much to join. Much more fun to read a moral absolute – a Guardian editorial telling you how brave and noble the immigrants are, or the Daily Mail’s dehumanising sub-fascist rhetoric. But the extreme position is almost always wrong, and the unsatisfying fudge of democracy works, despite appearances.

How Syriza crashed Greece.

Consider a single-currency area, like the UK. There are bits of it that are doing well. London and the South-East for example, that subsidises the rest from its excess taxation over expenditure. Only London and the South Eastern regions are net contributors to the UK treasury, but it is barely questioned there that it is reasonable for taxes levied in Reading be used to build roads in the Rhonda or Rothesay. Thus the Welsh for example are compensated for having an interest rate not quite suitable for their economy, as interest rates are set for the economic centre of Gravity, which in the UK probably lies somewhere around Oxford.

Now consider the Eurozone. There are no fiscal transfers, because Germans, who didn’t mind subsidising other Germans upon unification, baulk at subsidising Greeks whom they regard as feckless layabouts (erroneously – further discussion here). But the centre of Gravity of the Eurozone probably lies somewhere around Frankfurt. Thus the Germans, and their associated northern European countries have an appropriate interest rate, and the Spaniards and Italians do not. The Spanish Government, denied monetary levers in the run-up to the crisis, sought to cool an over-heating economy by running a fiscal surplus. You cannot accuse the Spanish Government of being “profligate”. The same is true of Ireland. Portugal’s situation wasn’t quite as clear-cut, but their debts were not out of control. 
Obviously, the asset price bubbles built up in Spain and Ireland, and the subsequent bust took out their banks, which required bail outs. Denied the stimulus of looser monetary policy, by an excessively hawkish European Central Bank, who’s setting rates effectively for Germany, the only other option to these economies is a devaluation in place – cutting wages and living standards until they’re competitive with Germans.
The falling tax revenues mean deficits. Lack of EU fiscal transfers mean Austerity, and meanwhile the ECB is still not responding with interest rates. For the periphery, even Governments like those of Spain or Ireland who sought so, so hard to be prudent in the good times, the Euro is massively pro-cyclical. There will be booms, there will be massive busts and there’s little, if anything any Government in Madrid or Dublin can do about it. This was predicted by economists from the notorious pinko Paul Krugman to arch-“neoliberal” Milton Friedman.
Added to this, the Greeks were not prudent. They near-openly lied about their debts and deficit to get into the Euro, hoping lashing themselves to the mast would encourage some degree of fiscal sanity. But the problems were too entrenched, and sorting them out meant unpicking the settlement of a civil war. The result is that while the Spanish and Irish have endured a savage recession, the Greeks “devaluation in place” was a depression costing 25% of GDP. A grinding, seemingly endless round of austerity and reform that left 50% youth unemployment and an economy in tatters.
The ironic thing about the election of Syriza in January 2015 is that Greece had done the hard work and by mid 2014 was the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone, and had a primary surplus (meaning they were balancing the books before debt service was considered). Given the bailout terms, Greece’s debt service took a smaller proportion of GDP than did Ireland, Spain, Italy or Portugal. By 2014, Debt to GDP in Greece was actually falling. All they needed to do was keep up the reform, and “Austerity” – continual tax rises and spending cuts would no-longer be necessary. The Germans would get their money back, eventually. Greek growth would take over the heavy lifting from austerity after years of tax rises and spending cuts. Economies emerging from such depressions can often grow fast.
Then, in January 2015, they elected a bunch of hard-left Yahoos, who encouraged a bank-run, shattered what was left of business confidence, and were forced to introduce capital controls because of a childish and unreasonable petulance wrought by economic fantasy which could only have come from a Marxist academic “economist“.  Privatise state assets? The horror! Make civil servants turn up to work, and don’t let them retire on 80% of salary at 58? The inhumanity! The Greek people may have been sick of Austerity. But if they’d just seen it through, they’d be heading up now, rather than enduing a 3 week bank-“holiday” and queueing up at ATMs for their daily ration of cash. Syriza have probably cost Greeks another, entirely unnecessary, 10% of GDP, and the resultant continuation of Austerity that comes with it. This makes Yanis Varoufakis (the “minister of Awesome” according to twats on Twitter) the most unsuccessful finance minister in history.

All the pointless yes/no referendum on the terms of the bail-out did was make a Euro exit, something Greeks apparently don’t want, much more likely. As it happens, Alexis Tsipras, after sacking Varoufakis, looks like a man who’s about to capitulate completely. It would’ve been better had he done so much, much earlier, and not caused such a catastrophe for the ordinary Greek citizens.

*slow hand clap*
There is a theory that all this was deliberate; a means to build socialism in the ruins of post-Euro Greece. But this assumes skills and ability “anti-establishment” parties almost never possess. Never ascribe to malice that which can be put down to incompetence.

This crisis is ultimately the fault of Generations of Greek governments, especially the ones who conspired to get Greece into the Euro by all means fair and foul. It’s the fault of the designers of the Euro who ignored all economic advice and wanted Greece in for silly, romantic reasons: Hellas is mythologised as the birthplace of a European idea of democracy. But the current acute crisis was not inevitable. And the blame for that is the hard-left morons of Syriza and the Greek people who voted for them.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” HL Mencken

If you elect the hard-left, you get a financial crisis. Every. Single. Time. Basically because capital is faster-moving than the people who want to confiscate it. Greece was warned. They did it anyway. The only thing people like Syriza and their supporters are any good at is shifting blame onto anyone but themselves. 

On the UK, Russia and the EU

The Centrepiece of this parliament will be the in/out referendum on British Membership of the European Union. It will probably define the UK’s very survival as a nation, and define the UK’s place in the world over the next few years. I am sceptical about the EU project, I regard the parliament as a risible cargo-cult democracy. It lacks a ‘demos’ so any attempt to give someone like JC Juncker ‘legitimacy’ are a fig-leaf. It’s bureaucratic, pumping out regulation and diktat, pouring glue into the economies of Europe. It’s a costly vanity project for politicians who’ve either come from very small countries and need supra-national bodies to contain their egos, or for Politicians who’ve been rejected by their domestic electorates. But none of this really matters.

Because the EU has been a stunning success. Several countries, Spain, Portugal, and the former communist East were dictatorships in my living memory. And while it’s the Atlantic alliance which beat communism, it’s the EU which ensured Poland is a country where a return to autocracy is as unthinkable as it is in Spain by entrenching free-market liberal democracy and building institutions. Money, too was poured into the post Fascist south and again into the post Communist east. Nothing says “we’re friends now” like building roads and hospitals. The world east of the Iron Curtain, and south of the Pyrenees, is immeasurably better, freer and safer thanks to the EU.

 

YES, because the EU is bigger than a Cost Benefit Analysis for the UK

Of course the stupid, hubristic, economically illiterate, clumsy vanity project, the single European Currency has undone much of the good work in Spain and Portugal. But this isn’t a post about the Euro, which the UK will never join, but about the EU.

The UK is not a small country, unable to survive outside a big trading block. So any argument from Europhiles which suggests the UK will be a great deal poorer outside simply won’t wash. The EU would be forced to treat with the UK, a nuclear-armed UNSC permanent member with the 5th largest economy on earth, (and rising we will probably overtake Germany some time this century) with slightly more respect than they show Norway (which is, as an aside, the country with the world’s highest living standards) or Switzerland (not known as an economic basket-case). What this means is ‘Brexit’ is unlikely to be as disruptive as many imagine.

The flip-side of this, is there simply aren’t many benefits from leaving. Much EU regulation comes from world bodies, and the EU, as the World’s largest market has enormous influence in the WTO and the like, and the UK working with likes of Germany and Poland in favour of Free Trade against the French, mean the EU is more likely to deliver the world trade Environment made in the UK’s image.

The EU is a bulwark, alongside NATO against autocracy. Putin is creating an odious personality cult. He’s spent his oil revenues building a highly effective military with which he threatens his neighbours. He’s tearing up the rule-book, annexing territories under a doctrine not dissimilar to Hitler’s  ‘Heim ins Reich‘ by which he justifies aggression with the rights of Ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries. And it should be remembered that ‘neighbouring countries’ include EU and NATO article 5 members.

At present, the Baltic states are indefensible against the forces Russia can bring to bear right now. NATO is enervated, divided and indecisive. And Putin’s philosophy sees NATO and the EU as organisations that threaten his regime. And he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. When Yanukovych suspended laws necessary to implement the EU-Ukraine association agreement, thereby giving in to Russian threats of trade sanctions, and outright bribery, the people of Ukraine stormed Maidan square in Kiev. The people of the Putinist world want a better world, even as oligarchs and governments try to crack down on dissent. And it is the duty of the Free world to stand up for the vast majority of people who rather like democracy and freedom. They vote with their feet in vast numbers, as soon as they get the money and leave the hell holes their countries have become for bolt-holes in London, Spain and Cyprus.

At about the time of the Maidan protests, Russia started planning the annexation of Crimea. Putin’s military is dependent upon Ukrainian uranium, and several strategic resources – the gears for his armoured forces, and avionics for his aircraft for example are made in Ukraine. So the EU association agreement heralded a Ukraine looking west. And made Russia even more vulnerable to EU sanctions than they are now.

Worse, from Putin’s point of view is the threat posed to Russia’s oligarchic kleptocracy by a stable, uncorrupt, westernising Ukraine on Russia’s border. Eastern Poland and western Ukraine were mostly part of the same country almost in living memory. Those regions which formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland are the rich, western-looking bits of Ukraine (they are the poor bits of Poland – the rich bits used to be Prussia – History runs deep). And they had the same living standards as their cousins in Poland in 1990. Now the poles are three times richer, and Ukrainians are looking at Poland and saying “I want some of that”. The fact is, unless there is a stunning military success, Putin has already lost. Kiev will probably be an EU city within a decade; The people of Ukraine, West of Donetsk and Mariopol at least, certainly want that. Putin cannot sustain the unrest in Ukraine indefinitely as it costs vast money which in a years’ time, he simply won’t have.

None of this makes Putin’s gamble in Ukraine valid or reasonable, and those who argue that it does are despicable quislings.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. Russia is in the same place as Germany was in the 1930s. A once-great power, humiliated by defeat, who elected a demagogue promising to restore Russia’s Glory, who rebuilt a mighty military, and who sees the world in zero-sum, ethnic terms. That demagogue enjoys total control of the media, and near total public support. Like Germany (and Japan) in the 1930s Russia faces enemies awakening to the threat, and who are slowly reacting and re-arming. (Yes we are: an Army can be built in a year or two, Notice how the Navy is getting the Lion’s share of defence spending right now – Carriers, world class destroyers and frigates, and in the Astute class, the finest Nuclear subs asink?). And Like the axis powers, there is a calculation that can be made that they possess the power to sweep all aside RIGHT NOW, but know they will inevitably lose any protracted war. Russia will run out of Foreign exchange reserves this year, absent a rise in the oil price above $80. The demography means they cannot fill their establishment of conscripts, and the health of recruits is not good. Russians have long been breeding below replacement rate, and this is reflected in future cohorts being smaller than Putin deems necessary. Russia’s economy is broken. They export oil, money and people. The population is falling. Male life-expectancy at 55 is worse than much of Sub-Saharan Africa, worse even than eastern Glasgow. Putin has created a hellish society, capable only of suffering for mother Russia, despite the talents and education of her people. If Russia is to defeat NATO, he must go NOW or be slowly squeezed by sanctions and demography, and see the EU and western democracy advance to his Border with Ukraine. There will be no “buffer” protecting Muscovy from Europe.

For there is only one possible result of a protracted war between NATO and Russia, and that is Russia’s total and complete defeat. But what Putin (and his quisling cheerleaders in the west) might calculate is that the Article 5 defence of Estonia for example is a paper promise. If Putin can annex a chunk of Lithuania or Estonia, and it doesn’t trigger a massive response from NATO, then NATO’ s broken. And Putin is busy making the mistake of Dictators through history: mistaking the slowness of decision-making in democracy for weakness. But Britain Germany and France together spend more than Russia does on Weapons. The USA is still mighty beyond compare. And the People of the EU will simply not accept Russian aggression. Would I as a (still, just, semi-detached) soldier die in a ditch for Estonia. Yes. I would. Indeed this is the one issue keeping me in the reserve forces. When Yamato launched the assault on Pearl Harbour, he said “all I fear I have done is roused a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible desire for vengeance“. The Sleeping giants are in this instance, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Spain. The world’s 2nd Largest economy, the World’s largest economic bloc. Anyone think the Australians wouldn’t help? And China would not tolerate an aggressively expansionist Russia, with whom they have territorial disputes. A total Russian defeat would suit China quite nicely. I would make the same warning to Putin. You think you’re surrounded by enemies? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Ukraine is not an Article 5 NATO country. Ethnic Russians in the Donbass, long dependent on Russian Putin-toadying media, will believe the lies about Nazis in Kiev. And Putin’s aim is to ensure there is sufficient unrest in the East that it exists below the NATO threshold of action, but above which the EU will be comfortable taking Kiev on Board. I don’t think Putin desires war with NATO, but we’re in a situation where miscalculations like MH-17 when (probably) separatist rebels used Russian-supplied kit to shoot down a Malaysian Airliner. Would NATO have been so phlegmatic had a British Airways airliner been shot down?

Given the geopolitical risk, now is not the time to break up the institution which offers millions of Ukrainians hope there’s a better way than Putinist Kleptocratic oligarchy to which they’re condemned, and the instability it threatens for the world. Ultimately, a victory of the West, Kiev, Minsk, and Moscow one day becoming EU cities, will be a victory for the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian people over the oligarchs and governments which blight their lives and keep them poor.

The same is true of the UK. A broken UK will effectively remove one power with potential to make a meaningful contribution to stopping Putin and Putinism, leaving a greatly diminished rump UK. And ‘Brexit’ will trigger another Scottish referendum, and probably destroy the country I most care about. Mine.

The world stands on the cusp of war, in reality closer to global thermonuclear war than at any time since the 1960s. Now is not the time to start breaking up our alliances. Rather than break up the EU, I want to see it expand further. Free movement from Vladivostok to Lisbon, from Helsinki to Gibraltar, maybe, hopefully including Istanbul one day. That is a libertarian view. Imagine all those Russian engineers, capable of putting men into space using slide-rules and duct-tape working for the general good in a liberal free-market democracy. The EU has its faults, and those faults are mostly French. But it is overwhelmingly a force for good, with a better track record of entrenching democracy than any institution on earth (with the possible exception of the British Empire). Even if the narrow cost-benefit analysis of EU membership is marginal for the UK, Think big. British European Policy has been consistent on ‘Europe’ for 500 years: if the Hegemonic power in the Continent cannot be England, then we will ensure no-one is. Let’s reform, and thereby strengthen the EU, thereby defend the UK, and vote to stay in the European Union, not wholly for our sake, but for theirs.

Should the UK remain in the European Union? I will be voting Yes.