Dragon Overload

GeorgeDragon2017_300Just a year ago we were in the build-up to a referendum vote on EU membership – with no prospect of a change of government until 2020 and a hope that the vote would clear the air.

Now the effects of the unexpected result have fired up activists for all sorts of causes and launched a range of political campaigns. So rather than just one dragon for St George to slay there are now dozens …

But at least with England’s national day falling on a Sunday this year we do get a chance to enjoy some historic re-enactments and grab a short break from the political upheavals around us.

Step Forward or Sideways?

As you will all be aware since our last check on the Leaving The EU Scoreboard the UK has taken that all important first step – sending in our resignation letter. But then today’s announcement of a snap UK general election threw more fuel onto the already overheated political fires. With UK local elections already called for next month the various party political machines are now going into overdrive. And with some big votes due within the EU there will be plenty of diversions in Europe as well. So given that many (all?) politicians have self-interest high in their priorities the chances of any meaningful progress on Brexit look slim. True a general election will give a new mandate to who ever wins. But recent UK results have been very close and we could have an unexpected draw.

Scoreboard2In the light of today’s news Grandad’s recommended second Brexit step – suspending EU payments – seems very unlikely to happen; at least in the short term. So creating a rather obvious weakness in the UK’s negotiating position. Instead the EU have used the opportunity to put in their first precondition – a multi-billion euro bill to cover future expenditure. A demand with little in the way of detail to support it – yet that has to be agreed to before the UK can start discussions on any trade issues. The worry is that this will be the first of many expensive obstacles designed to keep British tax payers on the EU hook for the maximum time. A process that has already started with the EU machinery wiping off 30 days off our 730 days (two year) maximum through simply waiting for a meeting to approve their own draft guidelines. The UK elections will wipe off another 40 or so days and the diverse demands of the EU members could mean that even approving the guidelines could stretch out further.

And Grandad’s recommended third step – repeal of the 1972 act giving the EU jurisdiction over the UK – has become tied into a much bigger piece of legislation. A bill that was proposed for the next Queen’s Speech (the target date of 17-May was left unconfirmed even before today’s news) but not to be enacted until the final leaving date. Again this creates a major weakness in the UK’s position. The EU is able to force through legislation and financial commitments that the UK has no option but accept. We will be an opponent of the EU when trading with the rest of the world – but under the control of increasingly hostile EU politicians and bureaucrats.

So a new UK government faces some 660 days of one-sided poker playing – if they are foolish enough to play by the rules imposed ..

Another Year, Another Windows Update

StocksD_120Little did we know, back in the 1980s, how much time we would all have to spend installing software updates.

Back in 1986 when Grandad installed Windows 1.0 on an Intel-powered PC it was only one or two megabytes of optional software distributed on floppy disks. Now 31 years later much the same process is being repeated as the Windows 10 Creators Update multi-megabit download runs in the background while this post is being typed.

Officially this latest iteration is version 1703. And at times like this it feels like large chunks of my life have been spent installing everyone of them. Hopefully this latest code monster will not  bite – and this does not turn out to be the last before the crash …

Remembering Why We Are Free

Canadian Memorial, Vimy Ridge, Arras

The Battle of Arras and specifically the four-day fight for Vimy Ridge will always be remembered by Canada due to the huge losses involved. And today marks the 100th anniversary of this traumatic episode in the history of the nation.

Many thousands have made the trip to witness the commemoration lead by the Canadian Prime Minister, the French President and members of the British Royal Family.

With the total Allied casualties for the 1917 Arras campaign being estimated at 158,660 the battle for Vimy Ridge was just one element. But, like the ANZAC commemoration for Australia, it soon became an enduring part of the Canadian national identity.

For Britain it became one more sad milestone in a bloody world war that was followed, within a generation, by a second covering even more of the planet.

It is easy to decry these conflicts has being pointless and misguided. But many of us owe our very existence to our ancestors’ efforts to protect us from enslavement by the enemies of freedom. Sadly  today’s generation still need to be prepared to do it all again.

Government Generosity

Today Grandma received her annual letter spelling out her pension benefit for the year ahead. And the combination of basic state pension, pre-97 additional state pension and graduated retirement benefit made for a grand total of £75.05 per week.

Heckerslyke_160Now these letters do not say what the pension was before but a quick search found the 2016 letter which confirmed that Grandma will soon have an extra £1.82 per week to spend. Expressed as a percentage that is a 2.485% increase. And is just 1p per week below the 2.5% increase guaranteed by the triple lock – so we can take that as near enough.

Despite £1.82 per week being insufficient to cover this year’s unavoidable cost increases there are a number of financial pundits calling for abolition of this triple lock on the grounds of future cost. The Government Actuary  has also called into question the triple lock for similar reasons while the Office of Budget Responsibility has stated that the policy is unsustainable. So after 2020 Grandma’s pension increases should not be so generous – if they exist at all – according to some key economists and statisticians.

Just to put this into some sort of perspective a senior policy advisor at the Office of Budget Responsibility (nowhere near the highest paid there) receives a typical salary of £1,120 per week – so for them to have a salary increase limited to just 1% means that they get £11 per week extra to pay for the same cost increases that Grandma faces on her £1.82.

To lower the bar a little the national minimum wage increased from £7.20 to £7.50 per hour; which for a 35 hour week means a rise to £262 per week – an increase of £10.50 or 4.175%. So a larger amount and higher percentage than those Grandmas who are being falsely labeled as taking too big a share of the tax collected. Yet after all this figure-juggling by statisticians Grandma still only has £75 per week to live on – a figure well below the national poverty line.

Lies, damn lies and statistics …

You Cannot Be Serious!

It’s supposed to be just one day each year – but not that you would know that by reading the media reports and political statements surrounding the attempts by the UK to have a new relationship with the EU.

Fool in April or all the time?

Instead we are suffering from a range of demands and pronouncements that even the most cynical must be surprised by. Which of them are jokes and which are genuine? Which are serious plans and which are simply said to stir up dissent? Are any of them worth even repeating?

No trade deal negotiations before Article 50. No trade deals after Article 50 unless the UK pays 60,000 million euro. No exit agreement unless Gibraltar accepts control by Spain. No exit agreement unless the UK breaks links with the Commonwealth. UK to keep paying into EU for three years after leaving. Assets owned by the EU will not be shared with UK on leaving. EU citizens will retain free movement in / out of UK after leaving. UK will still need to subject to European court decisions after leaving. EU will continue to have access to UK intelligence resources after leaving for free. UK military resources will still be assigned to defending EU borders even if the EU countries do not pay their contractual contributions to NATO. Social security benefits will still be paid to EU citizens even if they are not UK tax payers or residents.

The list goes on and on … And with various political factions in each of the 27 EU members having their own demands perhaps they hope that the UK will be overwhelmed, give up and comply. However that’s a dangerous strategy since an increasingly likely outcome is that the EU will only benefit from a polite UK goodbye. Either way we will see little in the way of thanks or reward for the forty-four years of contributions paid by you and me – the typical UK tax payers – into the EU money pit. But only time will tell who has been the biggest fool.