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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, December 05, 2016

When the chickens come home to roast (yes, I did mean that)……… 

Brexit: Italian PM Matteo Renzi warns UK over EU rights.

It will be "impossible" for Brexit talks to result in a deal that gives Britons more rights than others outside the EU, Italy's PM has told the BBC. Matteo Renzi warned that leaving the EU would be a "very difficult process" - but the problems could be solved only after the UK began the exit procedure. He said the Brexit vote had been "a bad decision" but had to be respected. Meanwhile a German business leader said a so-called "hard" Brexit, rather than a "fudge", was the only option. Following the UK's vote to leave the EU in June's referendum, attention has focused on the government's likely demands in Brexit negotiations. Mr Renzi said he had been shocked and saddened by the referendum result, but repeated Mrs May's vow that "Brexit is Brexit", saying democracy had to be respected. Asked about whether there could be "flexibility" over EU rules on freedom of movement and access to the single-market, he said "I think this is a very interesting debate, because this debate will be a debate about the concept of rules in the EU." But he said that debate could only begin once the UK had triggered article 50 - the official procedure for it to start leaving the EU - and he warned: "It will be impossible to give to British people more rights than other people outside the EU."

UK spending grew strongly post-Brexit vote, ONS data shows.

The UK services sector grew 0.4% in July, much more strongly than expected in the wake of June's vote to leave the European Union. It shows consumers carried on spending as normal after June's Brexit vote. Other figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show economic growth accelerated faster than thought in the run-up to the referendum. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 0.7% in the three months to the end of June, up from the 0.6% first estimated. The second-quarter figures were well up from the 0.4% growth of the previous quarter. ONS statistician Darren Morgan said: "Together this fresh data tends to support the view that there has been no sign of an immediate shock to the economy, although the full picture will continue to emerge." The figures will help the Bank of England assess policy when it next meets in November. It has already cut interest rates since the UK voted to leave the EU and has hinted there could be another one if needed.

Tory ex-ministers push for speedy Brexit.

Britain could quit the EU well within the two-year time limit laid down by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Tory ex-ministers have told Theresa May. They also called for a work permit and cap system to control the number of EU migrants coming to the UK. Led by Leave campaigner John Redwood, the "Brexit Blueprint" urges a "take it or leave it" attitude to EU trade. Mrs May, who is due to tackle Brexit at the Tory conference on Sunday, says the right deal may not be the quickest one. She has already stated that Article 50, the formal mechanism for Britain leaving the EU, will not be triggered this year - but faces calls to clarify the government's demands. The so-called Blueprint was compiled at a private conference in Oxford's All Souls College earlier this month. It was convened by former Cabinet minister Mr Redwood with other contributions from former Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Peter Lilley and Sir William Cash. Mr Redwood told the meeting there was no reason why negotiations over the terms of British withdrawal from the EU should take anything like the two-year maximum laid down by Article 50. "It is in both sides' interest to reach an earlier agreement to reduce business uncertainty," he said. "If there is a breakdown or no likelihood of agreement, then the UK should withdraw and after the two-year period the UK will be formally out. Trade will revert to World Trade Organization rules."

Nissan boss warns on UK investment.

The boss of Nissan has warned that Brexit uncertainty and possible tariffs could damage investment in the UK's biggest car factory. Chief executive Carlos Ghosn said the firm would need "compensation" for tax barriers that might result from Britain leaving the European Union. Nissan's plant in Sunderland produces about a third of the UK's car output. The comments come amid warnings from the UK car industry about the risk of EU tariffs from Brexit. "If I need to make an investment in the next few months and I can't wait until the end of Brexit, then I have to make a deal with the UK government," Mr Ghosn, who also runs France's Renault, said at the Paris Motor Show. "You can have commitments of compensation in case you have something negative," he said. Nissan is due to decide early next year on where to build its next Qashqai sport utility vehicle. The plant at Sunderland is Nissan's biggest factory in Europe, employs 6,700 people and has the capacity to produce around 500,000 cars per year. "We would like to stay. We're happy, we have a good plant, which is productive but we cannot stay if the conditions do not justify that we stay," he added. Mr Ghosn told the BBC that the Sunderland plant would "lose competitiveness" if Brexit meant the UK had to pay 10% tariffs to import into the EU.

Brexit: May to introduce EU repeal bill in Queen's Speech.

Theresa May has said she is to introduce a "Great Repeal Bill" in the next Queen's Speech that will overturn the act that took the UK into the EU. It will remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and end the supremacy in Britain of EU law. The government will also enshrine all existing EU law into British law and anything deemed unnecessary will be abolished later. Her pledge comes as the Conservatives gather for their annual conference. The repeal of the 1972 Act will not take effect until the UK leaves the EU under the process for quitting the bloc known as Article 50. Mrs May has previously said she will not start the formal process of leaving the EU until next year. In an interview with the Sunday Times, the prime minister said the repeal bill would mark "the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country," she said. "It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end."

All details above from BBC News website.

[It’s interesting to see, with the Supreme Court appeal starting today, that passions have hardly cooled since the Referendum vote back in June. Yet again the crazy Right-Wing press is calling the case an affront to democracy knowing full well that not only is the case an *example* of democracy in action but the point it turns on is the essence of a democratic state – where the power lies, with the Government of the day or with Parliament itself. It is not and has never been about over riding the decision (stupid as I feel it to be) made back in June to leave the EU. It’s about using the proper procedure as laid down in our constitutional law and applying the rules not just when it’s convenient to those in power who want to rush everything through before people have an opportunity to scrutinise things properly. You do have to wonder what the Government is afraid of considering that most MP’s have publically said that they not oppose the enacting of Article 50. Hopefully we’ll be allowed to find out.]

Saturday, December 03, 2016

BoE's Andrew Haldane warns of regional growth inequality.

From The BBC

2nd December 2016

Regional inequality in the UK is becoming more pronounced, Bank of England chief economist Andrew Haldane has warned. London and the South East are the only places in the UK where income per head is back above pre-financial crisis levels, he said. Net wealth has also fallen in places such as the North East of England. But without action by the Bank, the regions could have faced economic contraction, he added. "The UK, I think, is towards the bottom of the league table within Europe in terms of its degree of difference across regions," Mr Haldane told the BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed.

He said that wage differences between regions of the UK could differ by as much as 50% and that the productivity gap between regions could be as much as 60%. Mr Haldane also said there had not been much evidence of those gaps shrinking over the past few years. "If anything these gaps, which are of long standing have nudged a little wider over the course of the UK's recovery," he said.

There was no single reason why there were such big and persistent differences between regions, he said. But he thinks differing levels of skills and research and development could be partly to blame. "Very much more of the research and development occurs, as you might expect, in those high productivity, high income regions of the country," he added. Mr Haldane said regional inequality was among the most important issues facing the UK. Reducing the gap could open up considerable opportunities, he said. For example, he said that if the productivity levels of all companies could be brought up to the levels of those in the most productive parts of the UK it would boost productivity "by fully 20%".

"It would take the UK right up there to rival the Germanies of this world when it came to efficiency and performance," he added. "That in turn I think would lift wages, it would lift incomes and would lead to a bigger pie as well as more equally redistributed one." However, the Bank of England lacks the tools to tackle the problem, according to Mr Haldane. "The tools we have at our disposal are, truth be told... few in number and rather blunt in impact. They tend to work by lifting all boats across the whole of the UK," he said.

[Oh, what a surprise! London and the South East are growing at the expense of the rest of the country and especially the North. Really? I mean, Really? I doubt if anyone living north of the infamous Watford Gap will be in anyway shocked by that particular economic gem. London has ALWAYS been in a parasitic relationship with the North of England. The (yet again) proposed high-speed rail link to Manchester and Leeds will accelerate that pull and drain more and more of what little wealth is generated in the North and deposit it in the already bloated coffers of Southern businesses. I think we are long overdue for another northern rising!]

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Just Finished Reading: Age of Extremes – The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm (FP: 1994)

I like reading a truly general history book from time to time. Delving into individual historical events or characters in any great depth is a must but you also need the wider context onto which individual aspects of history can hang giving the whole thing a much broader narrative structure – without such a structure history truly is just one damned thing after another. Well, if you’re looking for a sweeping narrative of the 20th century (or at least most of it) you can pick up much worse books than this one.
Despite its size (my edition was a large format paperback of just under 600 pages which would’ve probably been closer to 850 pages in normal size) such a book – even written by an excellent historian at the top of his game – can hardly do justice to something as complex as the 20th century which was (truly) an age of extremes. Quite rightly the author makes no such attempt. What he does do is to pick out themes, trends and ‘must see’ events which defined the 20th century and are still shaping the present one. The three events he points to – without a knowledge of which the 20th century simply cannot be understood – are World War 1, The Russian Revolution and the financial Crash of 1929. With such a knowledge – and the deeper the better – much of the last century becomes explicable.

Surprisingly, for a book covering this time frame, precious few pages focus on either World War 1 or Wold War 2. What the author is interested to point out is how the first led to the second and how the fallout from both created their subsequent worlds of the interwar collapse of Empire and the Cold War. What came from both, naturally, where a series of revolts, revolutions and the shaking off of Imperial ambition. The 20th century was a time of liberation and nationalism across Europe, Africa, the Far East and South America. Whilst some experiments in independence fizzled and died others defined a generation and helped to create unrest elsewhere. Above all else the processes at work in the world became increasingly global in reach and consequence. Globalisation of political ideology went hand-in-hand with globalisation of trade and the movement of peoples.

Of course the dominant contest in the second half of the century was the Cold War which fortunately never went ‘hot’ despite deep-seated fears on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Not surprising, given the authors Marxist credentials, a great deal of time is sent on both the Soviet Union and Communist China. However, the author is far from unreflective and both systems hardly get a free ride in his analysis of their many systemic faults and the collapse of the Soviet system is gone into in great details.

As difficult it is for a world class historian to precis the 20th century I do not intend giving even a hint of a precis of this valuable contribution to understanding the modern world. Naturally much detail is left out but a much more needed analysis takes its place. This is a book about the currents of history and about where those currents took and continue to take us. It is, above all else, a book of context, a place or device enabling the hanging of detailed events in a much broader background perspective. Here, with some reading around the subject and some delving into individual events you can begin to understand the Why of history rather than the How of history. Definitely recommended for anyone wanting access to the bigger picture.

Up next in History: 3 Battles that Made Britain – although somewhat interrupted by some special guests.