Archive for BrExit

Brexit Day Blues

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on January 31, 2020 by telescoper

Well, here we are then. It’s January 31st 2020. This morning, Facebook reminded me that exactly seven years ago today I left Cardiff University to take up a new job at Sussex University. What a strange 7 years followed! I moved to Sussex, then back to Cardiff, and then here to Maynooth in Ireland. It seems impossible, looking back, that all that happened in just seven years.

Today’s date has a much wider significance, of course. After 11pm (Irish Time) today, the United Kingdom will no longer be a member state of the European Union. Some people seem, for some reason, to think this is a good idea. I don’t, but that’s irrelevant now. It’s happening. And I don’t live in the United Kingdom any more anyway.

It has taken three and a half years since the Brexit referendum for the UK to leave. I’ve heard it said that’s been too long, but historically it usually takes a lot longer to get the British to leave. Just ask Ireland or India, for example.

Anyway, yesterday I planned how to mark the event, and came up with the following.

Dinner will comprise Irish, Spanish, Greek, Dutch, Danish and French ingredients, with Italian wine and afterwards a glass of (Portuguese) port. That’s not all the EU countries, of course, but it’s the best I could do with the available shopping time!

Musical accompaniment will be provided by Beethoven (courtesy of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra live from the National Concert Hall in Dublin on RTÉ Lyric FM). I was hoping to go to the concert, but I left it too late to buy a ticket and it’s sold out!

And at the appointed hour I’ll raise a glass to the EU, to everyone in the UK who is being dragged out of it against their will, to my colleagues in the UK who hate what’s happening as much as I do but haven’t had the opportunity to escape, and to all the EU citizens in the UK who have been treated so shabbily by the British Government.

Living in a country that has chosen to define itself by its contempt for foreigners is not going to be easy, and is certain to get worse when Brexit fails to deliver the `sunlit uplands’ that were promised. There are very good reasons to fear for the future.

I wrote back in 2017, when it seemed that the madness of Brexit might still be halted, but I’d decided to leave Britain anyway:

The damage has already been done. The referendum campaign, followed by the callous and contemptuous attitude of the current UK Government towards EU nationals living in Britain, unleashed a sickening level of xenophobia that has made me feel like a stranger in my own country. Not everyone who voted `Leave’ is a bigot, of course, but every bigot voted for Brexit and the bigots are now calling all the shots. There are many on the far right of UK politics who won’t be satisfied until we have ethnic cleansing. Even if Brexit is stopped the genie of intolerance is out of the bottle and I don’t think it well ever be put back. Brexit will also doom the National Health Service and the UK university system, and clear the way for the destruction of workers’ rights and environmental protection. The poor and the sick will suffer, while only the rich swindlers who bought the referendum result will prosper. The country in which I was born, and in which I have lived for the best part of 54 years, is no longer something of which I want to be a part.

The Me of 2020 thinks the Me of 2017 was absolutely right.

I got this today from a friend. Posted on the front door of an EU resident.

The Brexit Visa

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2020 by telescoper

I noticed yesterday a news item about a new fast-track ‘global talent visa’ to be launched days after Brexit. The Tory press have been jumping up and down touting this as a way to attract the best scientific talent from around the world to the United Kingdom. Global Britain and all that.

Given the very short timescale involved, it seems very likely to me that this new visa is likely to be just a slight re-branding of the existing `Exceptional Talent’ Tier 1 visa. There is at present a cap of 2000 on the number of such visas that the Home Office will issue per year but this has never been reached. The proposal to remove the cap would be of no practical consequence were it not for the fact that when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, freedom of movement of EU and EEA citizens will be brought to an end so such citizens will also have to apply.

Currently, for most applicants the total cost of a visa application under the Exceptional Talent scheme is £608 per person (and dependent thereof). It seems likely to me that extra staff will be needed to process the larger number of applications expected under the new scheme, so I infer that additional charges will be imposed to pay for them. Remember that, currently, a scientist (or anyone else) from the EU does not need a visa to work in the UK.

In addition, EU citizens will almost certainly have to pay the so-called Healthcare Surcharge of £400 per person per year from which they are currently exempt. I’ve always felt this charge was grossly unfair to all immigrants. The National Health Service is paid for out of income tax and national insurance. If an immigrant pays tax and national insurance anyway, what possible justification can there be for a health surcharge? If you ask me it’s just another manifestation of the Tory Government’s intrinsic hostility to anyone foreign. This visceral xenophobia is now perceived across the world to be the defining characteristic of Brexit Britain. You don’t need to be a budding Einstein to see what is going on. Everyone knows the language routinely used by the Government and Tory press to demean and humiliate immigrants.

Given this hostile environment, and the fact that scientists who are EU citizens still have freedom of movement within the EU (along with everyone else), why would such a person come to the UK instead of a country with a more civilized attitude?

It is true that the science base of the United Kingdom is generally pretty strong, but that is at least in part due to the influx of EU scientists thanks to freedom of movement. I’m not saying that all the wonderful Italian, Danish, French, German and other scientists currently in the UK are going to leave immediately because many have deep roots in the United Kingdom. In the long run, however, Britain’s self-imposed loss will be Europe’s gain, and no amount of cosmetic tinkering with the visa system will change that.

Not Really Irish?

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on October 23, 2019 by telescoper

I’m taking a quick break for coffee and remembered an article I saw in the Irish Times at the weekend about British immigrants in Ireland. Being one such myself I find a lot of it rings true. You can read the article here (I don’t think it’s behind a paywall). I think it’s well worth a look.

I found quite a few things in it resonate quite strongly with my experiences since I arrived here a couple of years ago. Top of these was the realization of just how ignorant I was about Irish history, thanks to the almost total neglect of this topic in British schools. Lack of education inevitably leads to lack of understanding and more often than not leads to prejudice and one finds a lot of that in the attitude of British people, even senior figures (many of them “educated” at Oxford) who are supposed to know better.

Another point I recognize is how many people ask me to explain Brexit, as if being British means that I should be able to do that. I don’t understand the madness that has descended on Britain but I feel it in my bones that the United Kingdom is headed for very dark times indeed.

I was also struck by the “Not Really Irish” tag, which I think about rather a lot. It’s not really just a question of whether or not you have Irish citizenship or an Irish passport, it’s about the extent to which you belong. I spent over fifty years living in England and Wales so I’m missing a huge amount of cultural background. I won’t ever be able to catch up so I don’t suppose I’ll ever feel `really Irish’. Of course people speak English here but I’m very conscious that I have a funny accent. I suppose that means I’ll always feel like a stranger in Ireland. If there is predominant attitude towards the British over here, however, in my experience it is one of sympathy rather than hostility. And the general friendliness of the locals means that this isn’t a bad place at all to be a stranger.

One final comment: it was mentioned in the Irish Times piece that there are a lot of British TV programmes on Irish television. I do not regard that as a positive at all! In fact I stopped watching UK television long before leaving the UK and have not started again since I moved here.

I wonder how different it feels to be an Irish person living in Britain right now? That might make for an interesting complementary article for a future edition of the Irish Times?

A Strange Day

Posted in Politics, Rugby with tags , , , , on October 19, 2019 by telescoper

Being in Maynooth getting some work done this afternoon, I wasn’t in London for today’s People’s Vote March, which seems to have been a big one. So big, in fact, that even the BBC felt compelled to mention it. Well done to everyone who took part!

Inside the House of Commons, Members of Parliament voted for an Amendment, the upshot of which is that the Government is now required to seek an extension of the October 31st deadline for leaving the European Union to allow Boris Johnson’s so-called `deal’ with the European Union and the associated legislation to be properly scrutinized.

The `deal’ finalized with the EU last week is a remarkable achievement, in that it is even stupider than the already extremely stupid deal negotiated by Theresa May. The one good thing about it is that it is a big step on the road to a United Ireland, which I personally hope I live long enough to enjoy. Loyalists – especially the Democratic Unionist Party – don’t see things the same way of course. The latter party’s public humiliation by Johnson in was a huge gamble that backfired spectacularly on him ,as their ten votes in favour of the Letwin Amendment led to the Government’s defeat, which lost by 322 to 308.

And then there’s Scotland which, like Northern Ireland, voted to remain in the European Union in the referendum that seemed to take place decades ago. While special customs arrangements to facilitate frictionless trade have been proposed for NI, there’s nothing at all in the Withdrawal Agreement for Scotland. In fact Scotland isn’t mentioned once in the text. Faced with such contemptuous treatment from Westminster, the likelihood of Scottish independence must now be greater than at any point in recent memory.

Anyway, Johnson is presumably now back at home in Downing Street with his crayons,writing a letter to the European Union asking for an extension as the law requires him. Or will he? Will he instead do what he usually does and try to bluster his way out of trouble? Will he end up going to prison for contempt of court? Or perhaps he’ll just go and die quietly in a ditch somewhere?

UPDATE: In an astonishing act of petulance, the UK Prime Minister sent not just one but three letters. The first – an unsigned photocopy of the letter contained in the Benn Act. It’s a wonder he didn’t wipe his bottom on it for further effect. The second letter was a covering note from the UK Ambassador to the EU explaining what the first letter was for, and the third was a rambling and incoherent missive from Bozo himself trying to explain in poor grammar why he didn’t think it was a good idea to grant an extension. If Johnson had been planning to make himself like a complete imbecile he could hardly have done a better job. Meanwhile Donald Tusk did exactly the right thing and took the first letter as a request for an extension. Johnson’s pathetic bluster had no effect on the EU, but in any case that was all for Tory party consumption anyway. Stupidity goes down very well with the Conservative Party these days.

P.S. For diary purposes I’ll note that today in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, England beat Australia 40-16 while New Zealand beat Ireland 46-14. That means my accumulator bet is still on…

P.P.S.  Wales beat France by the narrowest of margins (an elbow) and South Africa beat hosts Japan in the other two quarter-finals, bringing my quad bet home in style.  Who will win the competition overall? I’ll go for New Zealand, but I’m not going to bet on it. Always quit while you’re ahead.

 

Diversity, Inclusion, Rain and Brexit

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on October 11, 2019 by telescoper

So here I am in a very rainy London. I arrived yesterday for a meeting of the IOP Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which was an interesting occasion with many new things about to unfold, tempered by a bit of sadness that the wonderful Head of Diversity at the IOP, Jenni Dyer, is leaving shortly to take up a new job. However will we manage?

Anyway, instead of flying back to Ireland last night after the meeting, I stayed in London last night because today there is an ordinary meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society at Burlington House, to be followed by a Club Dinner. I’ll be going home to Ireland tomorrow.

Unfortunately the weather has put a dampener on my plans to spend a bit of time wandering around London because it is raining quite heavily and is forecast to do so for the rest of the day. Still, at least the hotel I’m in has WIFI so I can get a few things done this morning before venturing out into the inclement conditions.

Meanwhile the pound is rising against the euro on optimism that there may be a Brexit deal on the horizon after yesterday’s meeting between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar. Nobody knows the details but it seems likely that it’s basically the same as Theresa May’s `deal’ except that the `backstop’ is to be replaced by what is effectively a  customs border in the Irish Sea.  My personal preference would be Boris Johnson thrown in the Irish Sea.

I doubt the Democratic Unionists will be happy with this, but Johnson is probably gambling that enough Labour quitlings will vote for it that he no longer needs their support. Of course, that all depends on whether what was discussed yesterday turns into a concrete legally-binding agreement signed off by the EU.

P.S. Bookies’ odds on a No-Deal Brexit on October 31st have drifted out from 4/1 to 5/1.

 

Johnson Close To Deal

Posted in Politics with tags , on September 25, 2019 by telescoper

Thank you, Google, but that isn’t really the information I was looking for.

Across the Border

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , on September 5, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve got a bit of time to spare between breakfast and the start of a new day of talks at INAM2019 so I thought I’d rattle off a short travelblog.

I went straight to Armagh Observatory and Planetarium from the bus station when I arrived yesterday so had to check in to my hotel after the end of the day’s session. I had reserved a room online (and brought the confirmation with me) so I thought that would just take a few minutes. Unfortunately the hotel had lost the booking so had to start again, which took quite a while. However, to make up for the inconvenience they put me in an `Executive Room’ with a balcony. It is indeed quite luxurious and I now wish I were staying for more than one night. Sadly, however, I have to get the bus back to Dublin this evening as I have lots to do tomorrow.

On the trip up here the main thing I noticed after crossing the border into Northern Ireland was the number of Union flags on display on telegraph poles, lampposts and buildings. I learned from a booklet in the conference pack that the Orange Order was founded in County Armagh and there are obviously strong unionist sentiments around. Flags and sashes and regalia as symbols of national and/or religious identity seem to mean a lot to some people. I find it all rather baffling.

Among the more trivial things I noticed were a change in typeface for the road signs, the fact that roads are numbered as in Great Britain (e.g. `A28′) rather than in Ireland, and that post boxes here are red rather than green. Oh, and Tayto crisps are different here too..

Of course yesterday was a big day in the United Kingdom Parliament, with Boris Johnson suffering yet another humiliation as a cross-party bill was put through the House of Commons attempting to stop a `No Deal’ Brexit. Johnson then attempted to call a General Election but failed to secure sufficient votes, Jeremy Corbyn refusing to support the motion unless and until the No-Deal Bill becomes law.

I don’t know where these shenanigans will lead, but it seems to me that humiliating Boris Johnson is a good thing in itself so I watched the events last night in my hotel room with some satisfaction. Of course if there is a General Election, a new Parliament could repeal the `No Deal’ Act anyway, so in the long run this could all amount to very little.

I’m still eligible to vote in a UK General Election but there is one soon I really don’t know what I’ll do.

ERC Starting (and Finishing) Grants

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , on September 3, 2019 by telescoper

Just time for a quick note to announce that the European Research Council has announced the winners of the latest round of `Starting Grants’ (which are intended to further the research plans of early career researchers). Full details are here. Congratulations to all the winners, and especially  Erminia Calabrese in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University!

In all, 408 applicants were selected for funding, hosted in 24 different countries. The split by nationality and discipline is as follows:

I’ll make two comments on the numbers.

First, the United Kingdom is host to a total of 64 awards. It is however very unclear what will happen in the case of a `No Deal’ Brexit in which the British Government refuses to honour its existing financial commitments. Hopefully even in this case these grants will go ahead in some form (perhaps funded directly by the UK).

Second, note that there is only one award for Ireland and nothing in either Physical Sciences or Life Sciences. This is very disappointing, but is probably a fair reflection of the Irish governments ongoing failure to invest in basic science.

It’s not that the Irish aren’t good at research. Here is another graphic that shows that 7 Irish researchers were actually awarded grants under this scheme, but none of them chose to hold their awards in Ireland:

 

 

That tells you something about the environment for early career researchers in this country.

The imminent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union makes its future participation in such schemes unlikely. Brexit could be a great opportunity for the research community in Ireland, if only the Irish Government would seize it, but it would first need to recognize the benefits of increasing investment in research. Sadly I don’t think it will.

 

Brexit and the British Border in Ireland

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on August 31, 2019 by telescoper

The events of the past week have given me even more reason than usual to rant about Brexit, and the damage it is causing even to those who voted for it. So let me take as the subject for this one the absolute claptrap that brexiters are talking about the so-called `Backstop’ which is part of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) negotiated between the United Kingdom and the European Union but voted down three times by the House of Commons. This part of the agreement is designed to allow the free flow of goods and people across the British* Border in Ireland by keeping the United Kingdom in the Customs Union and some parts of the Single Market if no free trade agreement is negotiated between the UK and EU that comes up with alternative ways of achieving this during the transition period allowed for in the WA (which extends at least until December 2020, but could in principle be extended further).

*Note: I consider the term `Irish Border’ to be misleading, so I use the more accurate `British Border in Ireland’.

The first thing to say – and this is blindingly obvious if you have actually read the WA – is that the backstop does not come into play at all if an alternative solution to the Border issue can be found. The fact that leading Brexiters are so exercised by the backstop therefore betrays their belief that no such alternative arrangements exist or can be put in place in the foreseeable future. If such arrangements existed the Brexiters would not be in the slightest bit bothered by the Backstop as it would be irrelevant. The fact that they are opposed to the backstop is an obvious signal that they know there is no technological or other solution consistent with the position into which the UK Government has trapped itself.

So why the constant demand from the ERG et al for the backstop to be removed? And why all the lying about its purpose?

To answer that I think you have to consider the true motivation of the Leave campaign. The purpose of Brexit was not just about the UK leaving the European Union. That was merely intended to be a step along the path to destroying the EU and so destabilizing Europe. The original theory was that Brexit would lead to a parade of other EU nations wanting to leave. That didn’t happen. Indeed the solidarity of the EU in the face of the attacks on it has been quite remarkable.

So now it is Plan B, which is based on the premise that the Achilles Heel of the EU is Ireland. By creating economic and political chaos – and possibly a return to violence, sparked by Britain’s intentional violation of the Good Friday Agreement – in Ireland they will force the EU to offer the UK favourable terms on access to the Single Market. To do so, however, would open the floodgates to other governments who might want to reap the benefits of EU membership without the responsibility that goes with it (as Britain does).

And even if this doesn’t work, Leave supporters will still have to find someone to blame when the cake-and-eat-it Brexit they promised – the `easiest trade deal in history’, `no downside only a considerable upside’, `because we hold all the cards’ Brexit – will never actually materialize. The alternative would be for the whole gang of them to admit they were lying (which we know they were). No prizes for guessing who the scapegoat will be…

The strategy of setting up Ireland as a target for economic aggression may well cause a great deal of pain in the short-term, but I hope and believe that it won’t succeed. For one thing, I don’t think the Irish economy is as vulnerable as the UK government thinks. for another, it may quickly lead to a United Ireland. That, at any rate, is far more likely than Ireland becoming a British colony again, which is what some Brexiters want.

More importantly, however, although Ireland and Britain differ substantially in size, the former will a great advantage over the latter in the world after Brexit: Ireland will still have friends, and Britain won’t.

A Very British Coup

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , on August 28, 2019 by telescoper

Known liar, charlatan and tinpot dictator Boris Johnson.

Got back to Ireland this morning to find that the UK Government has decided to suspend Parliament. The deed is already done:

Prorogue

Remind me, what was all that stuff about the European Union being undemocratic?

Any lingering doubts anyone might have had about the direction in which the United Kingdom might go after known liar Boris Johnson became Prime Minister will have been dispelled this morning by the decision (by a small group within the Cabinet) to prorogue Parliament. There can be no doubt that this is a coup d’état. The parallels with 1930s Germany are chilling. If you ever wondered what you would have done in then, as the Nazis took over, that’s what you’re doing now.

This may allow the populist charlatans behind this manoeuvre to force through their chaotic `no deal’ Brexit, but they cannot be allowed to get away with this. I live in hope that one day they will be brought to book for this scandalous act. When that happens the retribution will be a joy to watch.

This disgraceful episode has made much easier a decision I have been putting off for almost two years. I’m putting my house in Wales up for sale and cutting the last of my ties with the United Kingdom. Enough is enough.