Theocracy in the UK

Today something rather interesting happened. The Archbishop of Canterbury suspended the Bishop of Lincoln due to a “safeguarding issue”. I know nothing and care little about the specifics of what grubby activities were being covered up, the point is that the decision to suspend was in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may have been a well considered decision taken entirely properly and I am going to assume it was.

The Bishop of Lincoln is one of the Spiritual Lords. The established Anglican church has 26 places reserved for senior bishops in the house of Lords. They can turn up, claim their £305 a day and vote on laws that affect us. These 26 places in the legislature used to require the holder to be in possession of a penis, but the general synod of the church changed that rule in 2014 on the second attempt. There are now five Lords Spiritual who are women. They might be a nice bunch of folk, but they are appointed to the legislature by their religious order, which is what a theocracy does. The Prime Minister is mildly involved in the appointment process of Anglican bishops and is given a symbolic choice of two names. The PM must pick the first one on the list of two.

The problematic upshot of this, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is also Lord Spiritual) has got the power to suspend another Lord Spiritual from the upper chamber without any consultation or process. I am quite astonished that the media do not appear to have even noticed that the Bishop of Lincoln is a Lord.

Indicating a way forward

A while back I wrote to my MP Jeremy Hunt (even though I have left the UK I can still write to my MP for my old address) when the indicative votes were being talked about.

Friday 22 March 2019

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

It seems you are going to put forward some alternative propositions for
the house to consider. The best way to do this is to pass a motion
suspending standing orders 38 to 41 and to use the lobbys for a
different voting method.

The options to be presented should each be supported by a number of
members, perhaps between 12 and 15 in line with standing order 1B3b.
There should be no limit to the number of options.

Members will submit a single ballot on which they will rank all options
in order of preference.

The ballots will be counted using the method of the Marquis of
Condorcet
, which simulates a pairwise comparison of every possible
pairing. This will result in the winning option being the one that
beats all others, unless a Condorcet cycle is found.

It should be decided in advance how to proceed in the event that a
Condorcet cycle is the outcome.

It is completely consistent with the standing orders of the house to
use the lobby for alternative voting procedures, standing orders 1 and
2 do this with secret ballots using single transferable votes. This is
achievable, would be fair and popular – people want to know what the
house would like to actually do.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Bell

I did get a reply – to be fair to the chap, Jeremy Hunt is pretty good at replying and taking action from time to time. I try to say things that don’t get put into a pile for a canned answer, and it does work.

Dear Mr Bell

Thank you for your email regarding your thoughts on alternate voting methods in the House of Commons.

I have written to the Leader of the House Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, forwarding your suggestions for her attention, and I will let you know when I receive a response.

Best wishes

Jeremy Hunt

Of course we know they didn’t do anything about it at the time and the indicative votes were rather inconclusive and pointless as they were not ranked order choices. Apparently there might be a new round of “definitive votes” and these ones could have options placed in ranked order, which is possibly going to give some kind of result or at least expose what the Condorcet cycle is.

A series of tubes

Our house is not on the state owned mains water grid, like many rural houses. Some people are totally off-grid and have a private borehole, but ours is somewhere inbetween, we are part of a group water scheme, specifically the Kilmaley Inagh Group Water Scheme so we have no pumps or purification and it works just like being on mains, but it is more interesting. Our water comes from Lough NaMinna where it is extracted, purified and mostly gravity fed the 16km it travels to us.

There is a government subsidy of the scheme which is used to give domestic customers a free allocation of 160m³ which means that most domestic customers have totally free water. Only commercial and agricultural users pay for water.

As it was a nice day, I thought I would make like a MAMIL and go on a little expedition to find the source of our tap water.

I took a bottle of tap water with me to compare (and to drink).

There is a building housing the treatment plant that purifies the water to bring it up to meet all regulatory standards. Hiding behind some trees I found a sign indicating that when that treatment plant was installed it was part funded by the EU which is nice.

The EU works as a big kitty, 80% of import duties of the common external tariff go into a pot which buys nice things across the area. This means that when goods are circulated all countries have had a taste of the import duties, so it doesn’t matter where the goods were imported. If there is no common pot for the import duties then there is no free circulation of goods. The customs union enthusiasts don’t seem to ever explain whether or not the UK would remit 80% of collected tariffs. If that is the plan and there is no expenditure from the kitty for nice things in the UK then that seems a bit of a poor deal. On the other hand, if the UK doesn’t intend to remit duties, why would the EU be expected to allow free circulation of goods? Simple questions that the mainstream media are not asking the politicians to answer.

Some time later I got back to the other end of the tube, with nothing broken on me or the bike, which was a bit of a relief as neither of us have cycled a decent distance for some years.

The Freedom of the open road

As part of the move to Ireland I have been learning a heap about the rules around cars and driving that I didn’t really know in detail. There are fundamentally two parts, the driver and the car. As an EU citizen I can by right swap my UK driving license for an Irish driving license. Costs €55 and you can do it at a local NDLS centre. You fill out a form and it takes 20 minutes or so. Relatively easy as long as you already have a PPS number which you probably already needed for something else.

If you have a pre-2000 ish UK license then you have a few categories for big vans – bigger than a transit, like a luton box van, but not a full lorry, and transit sized minibuses. You will lose these unless you get a medical certificate from a doctor. I didn’t do this so lost those categories. I figure I am now unlikely to use them (I have in the past) and if I do want to drive a minibus or big van again then I probably should do training and an upgrade test. I basically now have just the full licence that young people have. (update to be precise: If you passed your test for category B or B automatic before 1 January 1997 your licence will already show entitlement to C1, C1E (8.25 tonnes), D1 and D1E (not for hire or reward). – those bits I lost.)

I could swap my license because the UK is a member state of the EU (and EEA). After Brexit that will not automatically be possible. You can still drive on a foreign license for up to a year but then you would have to apply for a learner permit, and as soon as that arrives it supersedes your foreign license. This means you have to drive with an L plate and an accompanying driver until you pass the test.

For various reasons, that didn’t sound like fun. This *really* happens for people moving to Ireland (or returning to Ireland) from places like Australia and the USA. There is a list of recognised states other than the EEA but of course the UK is not on that list. A small statutory instrument could be passed to add the UK to that list, and I have written to my TD to lobby for that to be done. Until it happens (and that won’t be until after Brexit) I have to assume swapping my license after Brexit would involve a learner permit, so I had to swap it before March 29th (which was subsequently delayed). I now officially have my swapped license, and Irish driver number, but the photocard is still being produced. I think they have rather a lot of swaps to process.

The second part of the equation is the car. When a car is imported it is liable for Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT on the “deemed value”. My 12 year old SUV is probably worth about £5,000. The deemed value as far as I can make out is €27,000. The VRT would be 35% of the Open Market Selling Price, so that is €6210 in VAT plus €1750 in VRT. As luck would have it, there is an exemption for transfer of residence. In short, the car has to be really yours. You have to prove that you lived in the UK with the car for 6 months before moving to Ireland, then you have to commit to keeping it for 12 months. You can’t just apply for this very valuable exemption and flog it as soon as you arrive. Getting this exemption was a bit more complicated, I had to visit the revenue offices in Limerick with lots of paperwork including 6 months of bank statements. The good news for Brexit supporters is that this VRT exemption isn’t actually contingent on the UK being a member state. The only change appears to be that you apply for it at the customs office at the port rather than the revenue office within 7 days of the vehicle arriving. I am not so sure of the VAT position after Brexit.

Once you have got the registration exemption it takes a little while to be processed, then you can complete it and get a registration number – but you are not done yet! You need to tax the car, which is *expensive* compared to the UK for big cars. You can’t tax it until it is insured in the state. You can’t get insurance in the state until they have a validated no-claims bonus from your prior insurance company. Admiral won’t reply to emails from other insurance companies asking for validation of no-claims. Many phone calls later (and at double the UK premium) I have insurance with Allianz.ie, once that is done, you can tax the car online. You should be prepared for this step leaving you with a gap between insurance companies of about a week where you can’t drive the car. It also means you need quite a bit of money on hand depending on the size of the car, maybe a couple of grand for insurance and tax on a reasonable family car. You can pay the tax for a full year or half or quarter, but it is quite a bit cheaper to pay a full year at a time. Insurance can be done on a direct debit, but again that is a disguised loan at a high rate of interest. You should also let the insurance know that you have switched to an Irish driving license if you are a named driver on any other UK policy (parents/spouse etc.)

Still not done! The car needs an NCT which is the equivalent of the UK MOT. You can apply to transfer the remainder of your MOT for €15 and another form, but as it is €55 for a full year test it makes more sense to do a new one if there is only a few months left on your MOT. The ability to transfer an MOT between member states is a benefit we lose from Brexit.

I am now the proud owner of an 07 plate car registered in County Clare. It is insured and taxed, I have an appointment to do the NCT. Update: changed my mind, and applied for the MOT transfer, they are waiving the €15 fee until further notice.

Final step is to tell the DVLA that the car is gone. In principle you can do that first, by returning the blue export part of the V5, with your intended export date. I kept mine taxed until I was certain that the Irish process was completed, then sent off the V5 with an accompanying note explaining that I had popped back and forth to get more stuff.

We are where we are

Right now the UK parliament are not going to vote for the deal. If Corbyn pivots and votes for the deal then he is going to be roasted – that pressure is not going down. Both sides of his support want him to whip against the deal, and there is very little cost to him of doing so, he can oppose the Tory Brexit, let them get the blame, and he doesn’t care much about the damage.

The EU will probably offer an extension to 22nd of May and that will cause a row today, Theresa May will probably be tempted to fling it back in their faces as that supports her “blame everyone else” narrative. If she does get an extension to May or end of June it will be contingent on the commons passing the deal – which they are almost certainly not going to do.

This means a possible last minute re-think, where the EU offers a long extension, with MEP elections and subtle suggestion that other democratic events in the UK might help matters. I don’t know if Theresa May would take up that offer, or even if Corbyn would make a statement saying he likes the offer – either way the EU can’t do more than offer it.

After that we are out. The withdrawal agreement is dead, and the legal basis for offering it is gone. I suspect it will be hastily redrafted to be something that can be offered under article 218 which is about relations with third countries – it would probably need to go to all member state parliaments rather than just signed off by leaders – I suspect getting the agreement of some other parliaments might be a struggle at that point.

We could in theory rejoin through article 49 process. There is no speed limit on that and no queue, but I think it would be rather painful. I suspect that taking a reheated withdrawal agreement through article 218 would be more probable.

Debt in Paradise

The stream of statutory instruments trickles onwards, occasionally throwing up the odd nugget of interest. Back in January “The Overseas Association Decision (Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019” was considered for sifting, these instruments come with an explanatory memo that should say in normal language what it was trying to do and it also lists what consultations the government did when writing it. This one is something to do with how the 52% in their ignorance screwed the overseas territories (who didn’t get to vote on being screwed over), but the consultation had something that caught my eye:

a screenshot of the consultation outcome section of the explanatory memo


So there is a document, and if a document exists then a freedom of information request can be used to get it perhaps . . .

a screenshot of the FOI request

After a few delays they finally refused:

a screenshot of the reply to the FOI

However this reveals two things, firstly, I touched a nerve! secondly it was the Cayman Islands that were concerned. What could they be worried about I wonder? Well it turns out that in 2009 the Cayman government issued a rather big bond that has to be repaid in full on 24th November 2019 – they call it a bullet bond. They can’t afford to pay it in full, so will need to refinance it. Roy McTaggart the finance minister explains the plan to refinance the loan but if there are problems with that plan it sounds like the UK taxpayer might need to step in.

a screenshot from the article highlighting the concern that caymen would be put back under UK oversight

Do I know that this refinancing is related to the concerns they have around the overseas decision? Nope, just speculation. Would they rather the UK doesn’t give itself and it’s tax havens a big kick square in the credit ratings just before going to the bond market to refinance this bullet bond? Yeah, I bet they would.

This is the end of the road for my little investigation – an FOI refusal and some cynical speculation is all I can muster. A real journalist might try to approach the other end of the conversation and find out if the Caymen Government would like to share the list of concerns they had, but that exceeds my level of determination.

Exporting food of animal origin to the EU after Brexit

I have been rather concerned for a while that UK exports of food to the EU could come to a crashing halt on the day of Brexit. The way trade works things are generally done on a tit for tat basis, so if one side rejects all shipments of a particular category the other side will do the same until the problem is solved. Given that the UK requires a lot of food imports to feed the population this would mean that the country is many millions of meals per day short of the requirement. I am not sure that things will go that wrong, but it really is the scale of what is being messed about with here.

Why would I think exports are screwed? Well, because the EU don’t keep their rules a secret. If you want to import food of animal origin to the EU your country has to have a competent authority, and that competent authority has to maintain a list of authorised establishments by notifying the EU of changes to the list. 100% of all food imports are given a document check to ensure they come from an authorised establishment and the goods must be presented at a border inspection post (BIP) on entry to the EU. You can read about what goes on at a BIP in the manual. The current UK manual is fine, all member states will have one more or less the same. Note that all of this applies if we have a deal or if we flounce out with no-deal.

So much for the rules. We just follow them and all good right? Well, to get a new competent authority you first have to be evaluated by the DG Health and Food Safety (also known as DG SANTE) they publish their work programme of inspections and the UK isn’t on it. Once the competent authority is approved it can submit lists of authorised establishments. These lists are circulated and if there are no objections within 20 days the list is published and comes into force 10 days later. This means that there is an absolute minimum of 30 days before the UK starts to get any products of animal origin into the EU.

Well maybe the UK has a plan they have been discussing with the EU? Well I asked DEFRA through a freedom of information request back in 2017 to disclose any correspondence relating to post-Brexit food export authorisation. They had none. I asked again at the end of last year and they directed me to the Food Standards Agency. So I asked the FSA, and they revealed that the UK will have three competent authorities (each needing separate evaluation by DG SANTE)

The FSA will be the competent authority for England and Wales, DEARA for Northern Ireland and FSS for Scotland.

They also don’t have a prepared list of establishments on the right form, and they have had no correspondence with DG SANTE on an expedited approval.

This doesn’t look good for the chances of exporting food in April at least. It could take many months longer if the competent authority evaluation is not done fast. If UK exports are stopped will free flowing imports still be permitted? What are our rules actually going to be? Will imports to the UK have to go to a UK BIP? All interesting questions that nobody appears to know the answer to.

Yes, I do know that all of the above relates to restrictions on our exports, which on the face of it doesn’t leave us millions of meals per day short of the requirement, but these things lead to retaliations. Would the government cut off our own food supply just to spite the EU? Possibly.

Update: I have been asked about how long it takes for the competent authority approval, well that is defined in regulation 854/2004 Article 11 and that indicates that it could be done instantly as a desk exercise on the optimistic basis that our current status as a member state means we meet the requirements the EU imposes on third countries. This is optimism at the full “Prosecco producers and BMW will intervene in the negotiations” level, but it appears to be technically plausible. I can’t see a shortcut to the 30 working days after approval before our list of establishments comes into force.

Further update: well this is getting a little more optimistic. The UK is reporting that the EU has approved the listed status application. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-listed-status-application-approved-to-assure-animal-and-animal-product-movements-in-a-no-deal-brexit this would have been done in this meeting for which there are not currently published minutes. I think the meeting would have minuted a “favourable opinion”, which isn’t a decision, but is a big step on the way to one. The UK has also asserted that the commission decided to auto-list all the establishments. That is very good, however I can’t see the decision from the EU side, and I have no idea how it is legal. Someone could challenge that with the CJEU I should think. I won’t obviously because I want it to be OK, but I also want to understand the risk.

Even further update: That listing was done after “No-deal 1 – The Phantom No-Deal” of March 29th or thereabouts and before “No-deal 2 A New Hope” on April 12th. It was withdrawn when that didn’t happen. We are now approaching “No-deal 3 – The Return of the Johnson” and there is no listing in sight and government policy is now that level playing field commitments are for sissies. This may have a material impact on the willingness of the EU to entertain an expedited listing process. Depending on the Benn act, there might be another extension, so we may be looking for a listing prior to “No-deal 4 – The Empire Strikes Back”

Going Emerald

I am now in the process of declaring myself legally resident in Ireland – that is registering for taxes, telling HMRC to wave goodbye to the modest income they got from me etc. etc. There is always more to it than you think there is, but the main problem has been a chicken and egg issue of not having good proof of address. Having the title deeds to our property isn’t on the list of acceptable documents – the bank only wants a utility bill, and the utilities want me to set up a direct debit to open an account which requires a bank account . . .

Eventually with a bit of shopping around these issues can be overcome, for anyone following in my footsteps you can open an account at Bank of Ireland using proof of your UK address (assuming that you have access to the post or it is e.g. forwarded to a friend) so you are a foreign account holder. You can then change your address online once the account is opened. For utilities, Airtricity allow you to set up an electricity account with a €300 deposit instead of a direct debit mandate – they never charge you the deposit, just put it on your account for the first bill, but you can remove it when you have the bank account conundrum sorted.

The Weyand Deal

While the personality politics plays out among the Westminster drama kings, I have been taking a bit of a gander at the draft withdrawal agreement.  People have been calling it Mrs May’s deal, but it isn’t really. Credit is not due to May, this has been thrashed out by Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins plus a team of lawyers on each side. It strikes me that this is the Weyand deal more than anyone else’s.

There has been a lot of histrionics by people who haven’t read it about how much of a vassal state it leaves us in. Frankly they are kinda right. This isn’t a great deal when measured by the level of autonomous dickery that our government would be able to get up to during the duration of the standstill period. We can’t have a bonfire of regulations, we can’t deport EU nationals en-mass, we can’t go full socialist and do masses of state aid (though we can nationalise things, which we always could).

I don’t really want the UK to do any of that, I want things to muddle onwards with the state providing useful infrastructure and getting out of the way. If we measure the deal not by autonomy of government, but by impact on the people we get a somewhat different view.

  • This deal means people in the UK and EU27 have enough food.
  • This deal means people in the UK and EU27 have access to medication.
  • This deal means people working in cross border supply chains have jobs.
  • This deal means that cross border families don’t have their freedom of movement withdrawn.
  • This deal means that Northern Ireland has a solution that can work for a while.

Overall, on a pragmatic level this is a functional withdrawal agreement. We stop taking part in the institutions of the EU, but nobody gets hurt while we negotiate some kind of free trade agreement that allows more autonomy for the government to do whatever it wants in future for reasons that have never been adequately explained.

It is OK. I am not going to be jumping up and down and proclaiming that it is better than being a normal EU member state because it is not. It puts us in a very weak position for future negotiations, but that was always an inevitable feature of Brexit. Given that the leave vote is still pretty strong I don’t think we have a viable Remain option. This isn’t the best way to leave, but it is the way we are leaving. The alternative is a disorderly departure, which could get exceptionally hostile. Nobody wants that.

The real border in the Irish Sea

Yes, they are at it again, with a negative statutory instrument that revokes a heap of regulations that allow member states to do cabotage shipping in other member states. What on earth does this mean? I hear you ask.

Cabotage is going from place to place in a foreign country, it can apply to lorries, buses, aircraft and ships. In this instance we are talking ships. The government is using the Henry VIII powers to no longer expressly guarantee the right of companies established in a member state to go from one UK port to another UK port taking goods and people. They say that there is no current intention to restrict this practice, which I guess is nice, but it is no longer guaranteed – which is rather uncertain.

Does this matter much? Do any ships go from a UK port to another UK port? what would be the point of that? Who cares? Surely that stuff could just go by road or something?

Take a look at the ferries that sail from Belfast. See the Stena Line one going to Cairnryan and that other one going to Liverpool? Those are scheduled cabotage sailings that will no longer have guaranteed rights to operate. If the EU follows it’s own laws and restricts our cabotage rights to the EU then the Northern Ireland routes by an operator established in Sweden are at risk. This is going to present a considerably more inconvenient border within the United Kingdom than any backstop could ever do.

All this is going to happen, and it will happen with no parliamentary scrutiny as it is going through on the negative procedure.

What can you do about this? Well not much really. You can write to the sifting committee and ask them to flip it to the affirmative procedure, which just means that some bored MPs will vote it through without reading or thinking about it. This is fractionally better than letting it go through without a vote, but ultimately this is just a sequence of events unfolding that could only have been stopped by voting to remain in 2016.

UPDATE: Success!

The Lords committee have produced their report on a batch of these instruments and it looks like my feedback got through to them! You can read the full report, the relevant extract is below. 

UPDATE: Failure!

They passed it.