Response from President Juncker on UK’s EU referendum


I was, and still very much remain, deeply opposed to the referendum on whether or not the UK should remain within the EU, and on the outcome which was decided by a small minority of those who voted and which is moving towards the UK leaving the EU (see my views on why we should remain in the EU here).  The referendum should never have been called, since in a representative democracy, decisions are delegated to elected representatives.  The campaign itself was full of half-truths and deceit, especially promulgated by those in favour of leaving the EU.  The UK government is spineless in taking the tough decision not to accept the referendum outcome in the interests of the country as a whole.

I have therefore been taking whatever action I can to promote the case for remaining, even despite the referendum outcome.  As part of this process, I sent the following e-mail to the President of the European Commission on 28th June.

Dear President Juncker
 
You and colleagues at the European Commission must be feeling very frustrated with the people of the UK.  I am so sorry for this.  I believe that the majority of people in the UK do indeed value their European heritage, and indeed want to remain as the integral part of Europe that we are.  I would therefore urge you to explore ways through which the very unfortunate decision by a relatively small number of people in the UK might actually be rejected, and not to press too swiftly on accepting the outcome of the referendum. As you are well aware, there are discussions in Scotland and Gibraltar, as well as a petition to the UK government with almost 4 million signatures on it, about how we might explore ways of remaining an integral part of the Union.  A welcoming voice from you to those of us in the UK who value Europe would be very much appreciated.
 
Let me take this opportunity to remind you that only 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU, representing but 37% of the electorate (for clarity, I note that the turnout was 72.2%, so 27.8% failed to vote).  However, the total population of the UK is around 65 million people, and includes the young people below the age to vote who will be most affected by this decision in the long term.  Therefore, only 26.7% of the people of the UK actually voted in favour.  How can we accept such a decision?  Almost three-quarters of the UK population did not vote to leave Europe.
 
It is critically important at this juncture, when extremist people who did not tell truths to the UK population have gained the ascendency, that our friends in Europe do understand that there are very many people in Britain who value our historic and contemporary links with our European brothers and sisters, and do not want these to be yet further tarnished by the behavior of selfish and arrogant people in our country.  You will have seen the behavior of Mr. Farage today in the European Parliament where he was described by MEPs as a liar who used Nazi propaganda.  We cannot let people such as him come to power.  Yes, in a democratic society all voices must be heard, but we must do all that we can to prevent those who can cause such damage from coming to power.  Most people in Britain are not racists or fascists.
 
I do hope that you can have the statesmanship and leadership to be able to act wisely in this difficult situation, and recognize that it is in Europe’s interest to hold on to the UK, and not to let a relatively small group of people do irreparable damage.
 
With best wishes
Tim

I had not expected a reply, but thought that if enough people wrote then at least he would know that wise people in the UK were dismayed by the outcome of the referendum.  I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to receive the following e-mail yesterday:

Thank you for sharing your views with me following the result of the United Kingdom’s Referendum.
 
I am sad about the choice of the British people. The European Commission worked hard to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union.
 
European leaders offered the United Kingdom a fair deal that reflected their hope that the United Kingdom remained part of the European Union.
 
This is an unprecedented situation but the European Union will stand strong and uphold its core values of promoting peace and the well-being of its peoples.
 
I truly hope that the United Kingdom will be a close partner of the European Union in the future.
 
I wish you well.

Jeab-Claude Juncker
 European Commission
200, rue de la Loi,
1049 Bruxelles

To be sure, this is probably a standard e-mail, written by an official (which is why I feel that I can make it public), but I just wanted to share it here because it seems to strike such a generous and thoughtful chord, typical of our brothers and sisters in other European countries, who care deeply about the UK.

This can be contrasted, for example, with the response I received on 6th July from Philip Hammond to a similar letter that I sent him:

Thank you for your recent correspondence about the result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
 
The British people have voted to leave the EU and their decision will be respected. The Government will now prepare for a negotiation with the European Union, working alongside the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments, to ensure that the interests of all parts of our UK are taken properly into account in that process.
 
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has announced that he will step down in the coming months, stating that new leadership is required for this important next step in the UK’s path. The Prime Minister has also announced that he will leave it to his successor to decide when to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin the formal two-year process of exit negotiations.
 
Article 50 is invoked only when the Prime Minister writes to the European Council.  Parliamentary approval is not required.
 
The Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority have spent the last few months putting in place robust contingency plans for the immediate financial aftermath in the event of this result, and the Bank has announced that it stands ready to provide £250 billion to continue to support banks and the smooth functioning of markets.
 
I can also reassure British nationals living in European countries and European citizens living here in the UK that there will be no immediate changes in their circumstances.
 
There will be no immediate change in the way Britons can travel, in the way our goods can move or the way our services can be sold.  The UK will remain in the European Union with all the rights and obligations of full membership, while we negotiate our exit with our European neighbours.
 
Speaking personally, I am disappointed by the result because, as I said during the campaign, I believe that Britain is stronger, more influential and better off inside the European Union.  By voting to leave, we have set ourselves a huge economic challenge and, in the short-term, we can expect a negative impact on living standards.  The Government’s job now is to do everything in our power to negotiate the best possible deal with the European Union to minimise the negative economic effects in the medium- to long-term.  In parallel, we will need to start to re-shape the UK economy for life outside the EU.
 
The British people have spoken and our job is to implement their decision.  I will do so to the best of my ability in whatever capacity is asked of me.  The challenges ahead will require steady hands, good judgement and solid pragmatism.  The zealous rhetoric of the campaign needs to be put behind us.  In my judgement, the person best able to deliver these qualities is the Home Secretary, Theresa May – and, for that reason, I will be backing her in the leadership contest.
 
On the specific concerns you raise about the validity of the referendum result, I do not believe it would be appropriate to have a second referendum on our EU Membership and the Prime Minister has been clear that this is “not remotely on the cards”. The British people voted, through a free and fair referendum on 23rd June, for the UK to leave the European Union. Whatever one’s view of this decision, it must be accepted, and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin.
 
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
 
Regards,
 
Philip Hammond

I do not think that the referendum was necessarily fair.  The British public was beguiled by lies, half-truths and deceit promulgated by deeply unpleasant, arrogant and selfish people such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage, who had no realistic plan for the future.  It is to be regretted that Boris Johnson has been made Foreign Secretary in the new Tory government, much to the dismay and bafflement of senior officials across the world. It is, though, at least some good news that Messrs Gove and Farage are currently in the wilderness.

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The stained glass of Chartres Cathedral


Traveling south across France provided an opportunity to stop off overnight at the wonderful old medieval town of Chartres in the Beauce plain to the north of the river Loire in France.  At the centre of the old town is the magnificent Gothic cathedral, rebuilt in the first quarter of the 13th century after the earlier Romanesque cathedral had been burnt down by fire in 1194.  In the summer, it is now beautifully lit in a son et lumière display at night. The cathedral has one of the most extensive and beautiful sets of medieval stained glass windows in the world, and it was wonderful to see these with the morning sunshine flooding through them.  The glass was largely donated by the rich guild members of the town between 1210 and 1240 and beautifully portray scenes from the bible alongside those from daily life in the 13th century.  I particularly like those of agricultural production and wine making, captured in the selection of my photographs below.  These also include a beautiful earlier blue window of the Virgin and Child that survived the fire of 1194, and was reincorporated into a 13th century window.

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Education reform in Pakistan: rhetoric and reality


Shia TretOne of the most interesting aspects of my visit to Pakistan in January this year was the informal, anecdotal information that I gathered about educational change in the Punjab, and in particular DFID’s flagship Punjab Education Support Programme II.  I should declare right at the beginning here that I used to work for DFID (between 2001 and 2004), and I am a member of their Digital Advisory Panel.  I have many friends in the Department, and I admire much of the work that they do.  I was therefore indeed shocked by what I was told and what I summarise below.

When ever the subject of this particular programme came up in conversation in Pakistan, it was always greeting with severe criticism, even derision.  Most of my conversations were with educationalists, academics, landowners, and rural people in the Punjab.  I have not shared these comments before, because they were indeed anecdotal, and I did not see the evidence with my own eyes.  Nevertheless, a report that a colleague recently shared with me by Gethin Chamberlain in the Mail on Sunday (not a paper that I ever usually read!) updated on 14th April 2016,  coincides so strongly with what I was told that I do feel it is worth sharing some of my insights here.

In summary, the Mail on Sunday report commented that:

  • “Department for International Development gives £700m to Pakistan
  • In Punjab, which gets £383m, auditor general uncovered huge corruption
  • 5,000 schools and 40,000 teachers syphoning off cash in other area, Sindh
  • Rana Mashhood is under investigation for corruption”

To be sure, such allegations undoubtedly reflect internal political battles within Pakistan, and continuing complaints about corruption more generally in the administration of agriculture in Punjab (see for example, reports in the local press about matters such as laser land levelling technology, and the widespread corruption in the Agriculture Department of the Punjab Assembly). They are also intended to add fuel to the newspaper’s campaign to “end foreign aid madness”!  However, they nevertheless reflect poorly on the role of DFID and on the implementation of this particular programme.  There is an amazing dissonance between the rhetoric of success, and what I heard on the ground in Punjab.

The DFID programme is ambitious, as highlighted in a report in 2013 by Sir Michael Barbour (DFID’s Special Representative on Education in Pakistan, and Chief Education Advisor at Pearson) entitled The Good News from Pakistan: How a revolutionary new approach to education reform shows the way forward for Pakistan and development aid everywhere.  In this, he says “This time it’s going to be different” (p.9).  The work of DFID is wide ranging, and has many elements to it, but one of Barber’s main contributions was to explore ways through which expansion in low-cost private sector educational delivery might spur the government to reform itself (pp.49-50).  The private sector is also involved heavily in other ways, with British Consultancy Firm iMC Worldwide (an International Development and Engineering Consultancy) being the main contractor in rolling out much of the school building programme on the ground, through the Humqadam initiative.  iMC maintains the rhetoric of success, claiming that “In Punjab, the programme is helping the government to meet overall provincial needs, by providing missing facilities in 16,000 schools and providing 27,000 additional classrooms”.  The Humqadam website itself provides further euphoric statements about Britain’s support for education in Pakistan, noting that “Evidence regarding Pakistan’s education opportunities comes from none other than David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.  Following a recent visit to Pakistan, he laid the foundations for the initiation of this programme by highlighting the importance of education and Great Britain’s deep commitment, the Department of International Department (DFID), to support education sector reform and the promotion of a quality education for all school age children” (sic).  Humqadam goes on to note that they are working on school construction and rehabilitation using a £184 million allocation of funding from DFID, as well as funding from the Australian DFAT.

Irrigation and peopleThe reality, as it was relayed to me, is very different. Clearly, these are anecdotes, but the following were the main points that my colleagues mentioned:

  • They felt that the project was well behind schedule, and feared that delays would mean that delivery would thus be rushed in an attempt to catch up, leading to poor quality.  The programme was frequently described as a “joke”.  In contrast, DFID’s Development Tracker page suggests that there was a substantial over-spend in 2013/14, and a slight underspend in 2015/16, with 2014/15 being just about on budget.  Moreover, DFID’s most recent review of the project dated January 2016 had provided an overall very positive account of the work done so far, although it did note that “The school infrastructure component has been slow to perform” (p.2).
  • There was also a strong perception that those involved in the design of the project had not grasped the actual realities of the educational challenges on the ground in Punjab.  The truth of this is much more difficult to judge, but there was undoubtedly a feeling that the views of influential “outsiders”, who rarely visited schools and villages on the ground, but spent most of their time talking with senior government officials in offices in Lahore or Islamabad, had been prominent in shaping the programme.  Interestingly, I also overheard a fascinating conversation between two foreign aid workers over breakfast one day in a smart international hotel.  They were absolutely scathing in what they said about the programme in both design and delivery, and seemed to verify the comments that I had previously received from my Pakistani friends.  I so wanted to go over and ask them more, but I had felt guilty about listening to their conversation; in my defence, they were speaking so loudly that it was actually impossible not to hear what they were saying!
  • CowsFor me, though, the most important thing was what people said about the actual delivery of school building on the ground, and how it did little to counter the  power of landlords.  I was, for example, told on several occasions that some landowners used the newly built school buildings as cattle byres, and that the first thing that teachers had to do in the morning was to clean out all of the manure that had accumulated overnight before they could start teaching.  More worryingly, I was given one account whereby my interlocutor assured me that on more than one occasion a landlord’s thugs had beaten teachers and threatened to kill them if they ever returned to their new school buildings.  The reality and threat of rape for women teachers was a common complaint.  Again, I never witnessed this, but the assuredness of those who told me these stories, many of whom I deeply trust, makes me inclined to believe them.  This is the perceived reality of education reform on the ground in Punjab.

Even if these stories are untrue, and are themselves myths designed to undermine DFID’s important work in trying to help deliver better education in the Punjab, they are indeed damaging to DFID’s reputation.  I would love to know more about the reality of these claims, but as was pointed out to me during my time in Pakistan, it is not easy for a white European to spend time in villages, especially overnight, in the parts of Punjab where such things might be happening.

The main thing that persuaded me to write this piece was a Facebook message I received this morning, that then suddenly disappeared.  It read:

“It is true though Tim Unwin.  What is really pathetic is that neither Dfid nor Sindh/Punjab government are made accountable for those children whose education will discontinue after this debacle. Education Fund for Sindh boasted enrolling 100 thousand out of school kids. Overnight the project and project management has vanished, website dysfunctional…Poof and all is gone. There is no way to track those children and see what’s happening to their education”

This is so very sad.  We need to know the truth about educational reform in Pakistan – and indeed the role of donors, the private sector and richly paid consultants – in helping to shape this.   I cannot claim that what I have been told is actually happening on the ground, but I can claim that this is a faithful record of what I was told.

 

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Sexual harassment at international ICT events: a call for action


I have become increasingly saddened and dismayed in recent years at the level of sexual harassment, and what I see as inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by a surprising number of men at the ICT conferences and exhibitions convened by some international organisations.  This ranges from generally loutish actions by some groups of young men, to what can only be called predatory behaviour by some older and more senior figures in the sector.  Until the last couple of years, I had thought that such behaviour had largely disappeared, but from what I have witnessed myself, from what I have heard from women in the sector, and from what I have read, it is clear that action needs to be taken urgently by all those in the sector, and particularly those who are organising conferences and events.

ITU maleThe ICT industry has for far too long been dominated by men, much to its disadvantage, and it is good that an increasing amount of publicity is being shed on the sexism that has come to dominate the sector more widely.  In 2014, the Guardian newspaper ran an interesting series of reports on the subject, one of which was entitled “Women ‘belittled, underappreciated and underpaid’ in tech industry“, and in 2015, the BBC also featured a report on “Sexism in Silicon Valley and beyond: tech wake-up call” following the case brought by Reddit boss Ellen Pao against her former employer, venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins.  However, this is the tip of the iceberg.

UN Women Watch has defined sexual harassment as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”, and has provided an excellent detailed document describing this in more detail and giving example of verbal, non-verbal and physical sexual harassment.  Such behaviour can certainly be by both men and women, but the vast majority of perpetrators are men, and it is high time that concerted action is taken to stop it.

ZTE.jpgAs a first step, I am issuing this call for all international organisations in the field of ICTs to issues guidelines on expected behaviour at their events.  I prefer guidelines to codes, because codes generally require policing, and the imposition of penalties or sanctions should anyone be found guilty.  In practice, this is extremely difficult to implement and enforce.  Guidelines, instead, reflect expected norms, and should be acted upon by everyone participating in an event.  If someone witnesses inappropriate behaviour, it should be their responsibility to take action to ensure that the perpetrator stops.  In far too many cases, though, people at present do not take enough action, especially when the harassment is by someone senior in the sector.  This has to change.  We must all take collective responsibility for bringing an end to such behaviour, so that everyone can participate equally at international ICT events without fear of being harassed because of their gender or sexuality.

DohaTo be sure, there are very complex cultural issues to be considered in any such discussion, but the fundamental aspect of harassment is that it is any behaviour that someone else considers to be unacceptable.  Hence, we must all consider the other person’s cultural context in our actions and behaviours, rather than our own cultural norms.  Just because something might be acceptable in our own culture, does not mean that it is acceptable in another person’s culture.  Despite such complexities, some international organisations have indeed produced documents that can provide the basis for good practices in this area.  Some of the most useful are:

  • The UN’s Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service, which has a useful paragraph (21) on harassment: “Harassment in any shape or form is an affront to human dignity and international civil servants must not engage in any form of harassment. International civil servants have the right to a workplace environment free of harassment or abuse. All organizations must prohibit any kind of harassment. Organizations have a duty to establish rules and provide guidance on what constitutes harassment and abuse of authority and how unacceptable behaviour will be addressed”
  • The Internet Governance Forum, has a short and straightforward code of conduct, which begins by stating that participants must “Treat all members of the IGF community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation; all stakeholders of the IGF community should treat each other with civility, both face to face and online”.  This could be more explicit with respect to harassment, but it is at least a start.
  • One of the clearest and most detailed documents is the conference anti-harassment policy template, developed by the Geek Feminism Wiki.  This has useful suggested texts of different lengths, with the  shortest being “$CONFERENCE is dedicated to a harassment-free conference experience for everyone. Our anti-harassment policy can be found at: [URL for full anti-harassment policy]”.  It goes on to give medium and full length policy templates, as well as suggestions for actions that participants and staff should take.

I look forward to the day when all international ICT conferences do indeed have such guidelines on sexual harassment, and hope that this will begin to create a better, safer and happier environment where we can all work together more effectively to reach appropriate decisions about these important technologies and their use.

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On the representation of the poor in international ICT4D forums


I found myself writing today about the ways through which the poor and marginalised are represented in major global ICT4D forums.  What I wrote, shocked me, and I fear that when published it will shock most of the readers of my new book as well! I am therefore sharing it here to try to garner some feedback beforehand that can help me recraft and improve the chapter.  This short piece is only the beginning of the section, and it does go on to suggest ways through which the voices of poor people can indeed be articulated and listened to,  not least through innovative uses of ICTs.  However, I would be fascinated to receive any feedback, preferably polite, on my thoughts below:

WSIS+10 HL Panorama small

“… the voices of the poorest and most marginalised are rarely if ever directly present in international ICT4D forums.  There is therefore a very real challenge of representation in such meetings.  Few participants have anything other than a relatively shallow understanding of what poverty is really like, or have ever engaged deeply trying to understand the needs of the poor, and how these might be delivered through ICTs.  To be sure, much research has been undertaken on ICTs and poverty, and some policy makers may have read a little of this literature, but global ICT4D forums remain forums of the elite and the powerful.  Some civil society representatives, with their supposedly strong involvement with community groups, are most likely to be closest to understanding the needs of the poorest and the most marginalised, but even then their senior representatives at international meetings are often far removed from the grounded reality of poverty.  Theoretically, government officials, with their responsibility for all of their citizens, should be mindful of the needs of their poorest and most marginalised citizens, but all too often government representatives are drawn from ruling elites, in both rich and poor countries alike, and again do not necessarily understand how ICTs might be able to empower poor people.  Their interests are often primarily in being re-elected. Moreover, the increasingly close relationship between governments and the private sector mean that all too often governments favour the interests of the private sector over those of the most marginalised, in the mistaken belief that economic growth will necessarily eliminate poverty.  Additionally, many of the most capable young ICT Ministers in poor countries are themselves drawn from the private sector, thereby reinforcing this private sector view of how to reduce poverty through the use of ICTs.   The private sector itself, including the supposedly munificent founders of Foundations, is primarily interested in driving economic growth and profits, and tends to see the poor and the marginalised largely as customers or an enhanced market. Few representative of the private sector at international ICT4D forums can lay claim to being poor.  To be sure, it is inevitable that international forums are populated by elites, and many people who attend them do like to think that they have the interests of the marginalised at heart.  Nevertheless, it is important that further consideration is given to this issue, and innovative ways are indeed sought through which the balance of conversation and debate is changed.  This short section highlights challenges with three particular areas: the involvement of young people, the highly sexist male-dominated character of the ICT sector itself, and the voices of those with disabilities.”

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On Britain and Europe: why we must stay “in”


I have held off writing about the referendum being held on 23rd June on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU), in part because it is such a complex issue and difficult to write about succinctly.  However, recent conversations with taxi drivers here in the south-east of England have convinced me that I should indeed respond to my friends across the world who keep asking me what my own thoughts are.  I very much fear that the referendum may indeed result in a majority vote to leave the EU, and this frightens me.

I have many concerns over the way in which the European Union ‘functions’, about the costs of this additional tier of European wide government, about the excesses of its bureaucracy and the lifestyles of its bureaucrats, and the attempts by some politicians to make it a truly federal centralised state.  However, I have absolutely no doubt that we have to remain within the EU and I have great difficulty in understanding the overly simplistic statements, many of which are erroneous, that are being promulgated by those advocating that we should leave the EU.  Quite simply, the UK is part of Europe, and whatever happens in the EU will affect all aspects of our lives whether we remain in or leave.  We must therefore remain ‘on the inside’ where we are able to influence the EU’s decision-making processes.  Britain has much to contribute to the EU, and much to gain from it.  Yes, I voted against our membership of the European Community in 1975, but the conditions were very different then, and more than 40 years of membership have so changed the context that I feel very strongly that we must remain in.

My taxi conversations shocked me because they revealed that many people are going to vote about a single issue that they think is true, and yet that in my view is quite simply wrong.  One taxi driver complained, for example, that we are paying £55 million a day to the EU, and that we could better use this money to support our health services and other government expenditure.  Whilst it is very difficult to measure the precise financial inputs and benefits of EU membership, it is worth noting that in 2015 the UK would have been liable for £18 billion in contributions if it did not have rebate of almost £5 billion.  In practice, the UK therefore paid about £13 billion to the EU last year, but it must be remembered that the EU also provided support for the UK of some £4.5 billion, mainly through payments to farmers and poorer regions in the UK.  Britain’s net contribution was therefore in the region of only £8.5 billion, or  just over £23 million a day, for which we also get many other intangible benefits that it is difficult to measure in precise financial terms.  Moreover, there is no guarantee that any savings  would actually be spent on relevant public services or social welfare, even if the UK were to make a net financial saving by leaving the EU.

Another taxi driver claimed that migrants were mainly living in ghettos and that large numbers were simply here to sponge off the generous British benefits system.  The impact of migrants on the British economy and society is indeed a highly charged subject, with much contrasting evidence being adduced to support particular ideological positions.  My own view is unquestionably that Britain has benefited hugely over many centuries from immigration.  From the arrival of Celtic people, through the Roman occupation (1st century BC – 5th century AD), and then the Anglo-Saxon (5th-7th centuries AD) and Norse (8th-11th centuries) invasions, Britain was born through immigration.  More recently in the 20th century, immigration from South Asia, the Caribbean and Africa has vastly enhanced our cultural diversity, economic vitality, and social distinctiveness.  Immigration from other European countries is but a new dimension of an old tradition.  To be sure, the UK (263 people/sq. km.), and particularly England (410 people/sq. km.), is more densely populated than many other European countries such as Germany (229 people/sq. km.) and France (121 people/sq. km.) (Figures from 2012), and there is undoubtedly pressure on housing as well as urban encroachment in rural areas in the UK.  However, recent migrants from the EU, about whom there has tended to be most criticism, appear to contribute £1.34 to the British economy for every £1 that they have taken out.  While those who migrated before 2000 contributed less, at £1.05, this is still a net financial benefit to the UK.  The bottom line, even if only financial figures are considered and all of their social and cultural contributions are ignored, is that EU migrants contribute more to Britain than they take out.  I very much prefer living in a country to which people want to come than in one from which people want to leave.

These were the conversations that precipitated my desire to write, but I also want to comment briefly on some of the other things that are being said about many of the political, social, economic and cultural dimensions of EU membership.

Political

  • I am amazed that so many people are saying that by leaving the EU we will regain our sovereignty.  Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has made numerous statements about this, claiming that Britain will inevitably be led into a superstate if we remain in the EU and would lose its sovereignty yet further as a result.  Much depends on precisely how sovereignty is defined, but few states actually have absolute sovereignty because the world is already so inter-connected.  Not least, countries that sign UN treaties have to abide by them, and numerous trade and other international agreements limit the real freedom of national governments to take truly independent, sovereign decisions.  Moreover, whilst in the past some European politicians have indeed had a vision to create a politically united centralised European state, and I have no doubt that the creation of the Euro was one means of trying to do this through the back door, my judgement is that there is now much less appetite for a centralised vision of Europe than was once the case. Indeed, the voice of Britain in Europe has been one of the factors that has tended to limit some of the wilder tendencies of the centralists.
  • Others argue that Britain can be ‘great’ again only if we leave Europe.  This is complete and utter nonsense!  Whether Britain ever was ‘great’ can be debated (much of our ‘greatness’ was gained at the expense of others, thus belying our claim to greatness), but we are now a post-imperial, small and largely insignificant country on the edge of Europe!  It is amazing that we still retain some respect in the world.  In terms of population we are ranked the 21st largest country in the world, and in terms of size we are the 79th largest country.  We are dwarfed by China and India, which themselves dwarf the USA!  The future lies with countries such as these, and we need to learn to play by the rules that they will determine if we wish to play at the table.  Being part of Europe enables us to have a greater voice than we would otherwise have.  We should also not believe that by leaving Europe we will somehow be able to rekindle other special relationships.  Those who think that it might bring us closer to the USA miss the point that the USA is itself a failing state, and will soon have to grapple with just the same post-imperial trauma that Britain has come to grips with since the middle of the 20th century.

Economic

  • The most important point to note here is that European countries, and especially those in the EU, are Britain’s biggest trading partner as a bloc.  Again, it is possible to choose various trade figures to make different arguments, but I am persuaded by the argument that the EU is the “UK’s major trading-partner, accounting for 45% of exports and 53% of imports of goods and services in 2014”.  Were Britain to leave the EU, there is no guarantee that we would continue to retain a special relationship economically with the EU bloc.  Indeed, I would imagine that governments of other European countries would be so infuriated that they would probably seek to isolate Britain as much as possible in terms of any beneficial trade agreements!
  • I know that bankers are not the most popular people in Britain, and rightly so given their past misdemeanors!  However, the past battles between London and Frankfurt over which city should play the central role in Europe’s banking system testify to what will happen if Britain were to leave the EU.  Frankfurt would undoubtedly become the financial captial of the EU, and would therefore become much stronger in its competitiveness with London.  This is not to say that London’s financial roles would overnight become defunct, but it is to say that it will become very much tougher for London to maintain its strong position in the global financial markets, which would be to the detriment of Britain as a whole.
  • The UK attracts substantial inward investment because foreign investors have traditionally seen us as a strong and stable economy within Europe, and therefor a safe means of accessing wider European markets.  If we were to leave Europe, this incentive for foreign investment would vanish overnight, and we would have difficulty in attracting the further investment that has recently played such an important part in fueling our economy.
  • Further evidence of the likely economic impact of leaving the EU is the effect that the uncertainty has had on the Sterling-Euro exchange rate, which was around € 1.38 to the pound in early December 2015 and had fallen to just over € 1.26 by the end of February 2016.  Although it is very difficult to predict financial markets, most analysts suggest that the pound would fall considerably in value were the referendum to result in a vote to leave the EU.  Goldman Sachs, for example, suggests that “if the UK voted to leave the EU, the UK’s current account deficit would still be a source of vulnerability despite some recent improvement. An abrupt and total interruption to incoming capital flows in response to a ‘Brexit’ could see the pound decline by as much as 15-20%.”

Social

  • The social impact on the UK of  leaving the EU would also be very considerable, not least in terms of social diversity.  Whilst some people undoubtedly see an increase in diversity as being negative, I suggest that the greater social mobility and inter-mixing between European people that has resulted from the existence of the EU over the last half century has unquestionably been positive.  Understanding different societies better through meeting and socialising with different people is of great importance for reducing tensions and misunderstandings between countries, and this still remain of very great importance even though, hopefully, the devastating 19th and 20th century wars across the continent are now a thing of the past.
  • The European Union has also done much to try to ensure a fairer society across Europe, and acts as an important factor in seeking to promote a more communal and less individualistic society than, for example, exists in the USA.  I fundamentally disagree with the European human rights agenda as well as some aspects of European social legislation, but I have no doubt that the tempering social effect of the EU has been beneficial in reducing some of the excesses of rampant capitalism.
  • Another important aspect of social impact has been reflected in comments that I have received from friends across Europe, who simply cannot believe that people in the UK would be selfish enough, and foolish enough, to leave the EU.  This has two particular manifestations: first, the overwhelming reaction of my friends is along the lines of “if people in the UK choose to leave Europe, then we will have little sympathy for them in the future when life gets difficult”; but second, there is a genuine belief that the UK also has much to contribute to Europe, and it will be to Europe’s disadvantage as well if the vote is indeed to leave.  The British would be very much missed from Europe, but our truculence in having a referendum has already seriously dented our reputation.

Cultural

  • Finally, there are clear cultural implications of any decision to leave the EU.  While cultural exchange, and the ebb and flow of ideas, will undoubtedly continue if the UK was outside the EU, the amount of such exchange at many different levels would decline without the support and encouragement provided by the EU.  Not least, the implications for tourist visits are very substantial.  According to the Office for National Statistics, UK residents made 43.8 million visit to the EU in 2014, and EU citizens made just over 23 million visits to the UK in the same year.  For those who like visiting Europe, the thought of possible new visa requirements, and additional border checks, especially if European governments did not take kindly to the UK’s departure, is hardly a pleasant one!

These are just some of the more important reasons I believe without a shadow of doubt that despite problems with the European Union, we should unquestionably vote to stay in, and continue to play a very active role in reformulating the Union so that it better serves all of the people of Europe.  Yes, there are problems with the European bureaucracy, its legal system, and its many excesses, but the people of the UK would be far worse off outside it than remaining within it.  The UK is a small, relatively insignificant island off the north-west coast of Europe.  In a world increasingly dominated by large powerful states who do not necessarily share our values and interests, we need to continue to work together with people and governments from similar minded countries in Europe if we wish our cultural values, our social system, our economic vitality and our political structure to continue to represent the interests of the people of the UK and Europe more widely.

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World Interfaith Harmony Week, 1-7 February


A chance posting by a friend on Facebook asking if anyone knew of good examples to celebrate the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony week, made me reflect on two interesting recent examples that I would just like to post here, both in acknowledgement of the importance of this issue, but also to encourage others to seek out and celebrate inter-faith dialogue.

shah-jahan-mosque-gallery_12I know that it is just a tiny drop in the ocean, but last week in the town of Woking in the UK there was a meeting of the Christian deanery synod which had invited leaders of the nearby local Shah Jahan mosque, Britain’s first purpose built mosque, to speak about their faith and what it means to be a Muslim in the UK today. The meeting was not without its challenges – I was saddened to see the Muslim speakers initially sitting at the back of the church before being invited to the platform – but if such local initiatives could be replicated and built on much more widely, we might just create a world where people can live together in greater understanding and peace.  Having lived in Woking for much of my early life, I always remember passing the mosque and being fascinated by the nearby cemetery, now thankfully restored and renovated.

Second, I was privileged recently to be invited by a group of former Commonwealth Scholars now back home living in Pakistan to dinner at Des Pardes in the village of Saidpur on the edge of Islamabad.  It is a very different and physical representation of what peaceful co-existence could be like. I know it has been reconstructed as a model village, in large part to attract tourists, but visiting there  I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the reconstructed Hindu Temple and a Sikh Gurdwara (until quite recently a post office) with nearby Islamic architectures, indicative not only of a past where peoples of different faiths did live (relatively) peacefully together, but also of a will to instill such understandings in the present day.  It made me think again about all of the horrors of partition in 1947, and indeed afterwards.  I hope that my pictures below capture just a bit of this very special place, shared with some brilliant people.

 

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