“a dim and stifling place that anyone with imagination would want to escape”

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New York Times – from Great Britain to Little England (16 June 2016). The New York Times rings all the right alarm bells on why Brexit would be so bad for Britain.

It was Queen Elizabeth’s official 90th birthday celebration last Sunday, and tables for 10,000 guests were set along the Mall in central London. Steadily the rain fell, dripping out of the tubas of the bands and softening the sandwiches, but Her Majesty’s subjects munched on with stoic British spirit, standing up to cheer as she passed.

In her fuchsia coat and matching hat, she waved and grinned as if nothing had changed and never would. But next week, a very great change may come.

On Thursday, Britons will vote in a referendum on whether their country should stay in the European Union or leave it. If a majority opts for “Brexit,” a long earthquake begins. It will topple the old facade of Britishness. It will disrupt, perhaps mortally, the foundations of European unity. The sense of a fateful moment suddenly peaked on Thursday, when, the police say, a young Labour member of Parliament named Jo Cox was shot to death in her West Yorkshire district by a man who is said to have shouted, “Put Britain first!” and to have been involved in the white-supremacist National Alliance in the United States.

All campaigning was suspended for a day of appalled mourning, amid fears that widespread anxiety about European immigration was being inflamed into violent racialism. Ms. Cox was a rising star, admired in and outside Parliament for her selfless energy on behalf of refugees and the poor. Her friends hope her death may cool referendum passions, reminding sullen voters that “not all politicians are in it for themselves.”

Royal ceremonies offer a brief, reassuring illusion of continuity, but at the back of many minds on the Mall was this thought: Could we be saying goodbye not just to this beloved old lady, but to a certain idea of nationhood? An outward-looking, world-involved Great Britain may soon shrink into a Little England.

As the queen’s guests finished their tea in sight of the familiar gray mass of Buckingham Palace, opinion polls showed the Brexit vote surging. The early lead for the Remain campaign has melted away. In less than a week, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could be tearing up its European treaties and backing into Atlantic isolation.

The slogan “Take back control!” has been showing up everywhere in the last two weeks. It’s about sovereignty: the idea that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, not the Westminster Parliament, make the laws of England. Above all, it means taking control of the country’s frontiers. This would break decisively with a sacred principle of the European Union: the free movement of people, which, for more than 20 years under the Schengen Agreement, has allowed Europeans to travel among member states without passport checks, and live and work in those countries with no visa requirements.

With fateful timing, the latest official figures for net migration to Britain, published at the end of May, showed the second-highest annual number on record, 333,000 in 2015; European Union nations accounted for more than half of that figure. This was far higher than government targets, and played directly into the Leave campaign’s refrain about “uncontrolled immigration.”

Is it a baseless panic? Many European countries tolerate far higher levels of immigration. Scotland, with a new community of some 55,000 Poles, actively encourages it. In England, support for Brexit and for the xenophobic U.K. Independence Party is often in inverse proportion to the scale of the problem: The fewer immigrants there are in a town, the louder the outcry against foreigners. In contrast, polling in inner London, where about four out of 10 inhabitants are now foreign-born, shows a clear preference for staying in Europe. By chance, Ms. Cox’s killing fell on the same day that UKIP unveiled a poster titled “Breaking Point?” It shows a mass of black and brown refugees pouring toward a frontier. With grief still raw, there has been widespread revulsion at the poster, now reported to the police on grounds of “incitement to racial hatred.”

The English, normally skeptical about politics, have grown gullible. Both sides pelt the voters with forecasts of doom should the other side win. None are reliable, and the Leave figures have been especially deceitful. Remainers predict an economic armageddon of lost growth, a devalued pound and withered City of London. The Leavers’ Conservative leaders, assuming the mantle of a government in waiting, promise that “their” Britain could cover all the lost European subsidies and grants to farmers, poor regions, universities and schools. Evidence that they could find these additional billions is scant.

But there are deeper motives here than anxiety about the exchange rate or banks in London decamping to Frankfurt. Behind Brexit stalks the ghost of imperial exception, the feeling that Great Britain can never be just another nation to be outvoted by France or Slovakia. There’s still a providential feeling about Shakespeare’s “sceptred isle” as “this fortress built by Nature.” Or as an old Royal Marines veteran said to me, “God dug the bloody Channel for us, so why do we keep trying to fill it in?”

But in a Britain after Brexit, there will be internal border issues to worry about. London politicians look nervously north toward Scotland. Home to less than 10 percent of Britain’s population, Scotland has enjoyed a high degree of self-government since 1999. The pro-independence Scottish National Party dominates the country’s politics, consolidating its grip after losing a close-fought independence referendum in 2014.

Most Scots insist that they want to stay in the European Union. So what happens if a British majority says Leave and Scotland is dragged out of Europe against its will?

Many nationalists will demand an immediate new independence referendum. But Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s shrewd and popular first minister, will want to wait until polls show a settled majority of Scottish voters in favor of leaving the British state. It’s Ms. Sturgeon’s gamble that an economic downturn following Brexit, combined with the loss of European Union guarantees for workers’ rights and European subsidies for Scotland’s farmers and infrastructure projects, will deliver that support soon enough.

If Ms. Sturgeon’s strategy works out, Brexit could hasten the breakup of Britain. The constitutional fallout extends to Northern Ireland. A Leave vote would turn the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic into a guarded frontier with Europe, since Ireland would remain a member in the union. This would undermine a major provision of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the peace deal that ended three decades of the Troubles.

Her Britannic Majesty would then be left with a simmering Ulster, the potential for resurgent nationalism in Wales, and a dominant population of 54 million English people. There is a logic to that, for Brexit is overwhelmingly an English, not a British, idea.

English nationalism, though inchoate, is spreading. For older generations, it was cloaked in British patriotism. But now, having watched the Scots and the Welsh win their own parliaments, England — with no less than 84 percent of Britain’s population — feels aggrieved and unrepresented. And so the English have gone in search of their own identity politics, finding common cause with the general impatience with old political elites that is flaming up all over Europe.

For now, their angry sense of powerlessness is aimed at the European Union. But the truth is that it’s from bloated, privileged London, not Brussels, that the English need to take back control. The Brexit campaign orators, themselves members of that metropolitan elite, have carefully diverted English fury into empty foreigner-baiting. In France this month, English soccer hooligans’ chant was “We’re all voting Out!” as they beat up fans from other nations.


A rump Britain that quits the European Union would not be the same country back in its old familiar place. It would be a new, strange country in an unfamiliar place.

For foreigners, it would be less easygoing, more suspicious and more bureaucratic for work and travel. For its own citizens, it would become a less regulated, more unequal society. For the young, as European color drained away, it could come to seem a dim and stifling place that anyone with imagination would want to escape.

A Leave victory in the referendum is expected to topple Prime Minister David Cameron, and replace him with a radically right-wing Conservative team, which the impetuous former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is eager to lead. The new government would immediately have to face the problems of disengaging from Europe, and possibly from Scotland. Negotiating new treaties with European trading partners would take many years. And Germany is warning that Britain will no longer have access to the European Union’s single market.

That would knock the bottom out of the Leave campaign’s central promise: that Britain could have its cake and eat it, too — retaining full access to 500 million European customers while clamping controls on immigration from the union. Cynics predict that Britain will spend five years trying to get out, and the next five trying to get back in.

Then come the constitutional nightmares. Most lawmakers in Britain’s Parliament are pro-Europe. Can they be forced to vote for legislation to leave the union? What happens if the government loses an election and a pro-European administration — say, a Labour-led coalition — takes power?

And who is supreme here, anyway? The British people, who will have expressed their will in a binding referendum? Or Parliament, which by convention is sovereign and cannot be overruled? In a kingdom with no written constitution, nobody knows the answer.

It is certain that Brexit would do gross damage to both Europe and America. For the United States, it would mean the failure of many years of diplomacy. Britain would become at once less useful as an ally and less predictable. Washington would turn increasingly from London to Berlin.

For Europe, Britain’s departure would be like a first brick pulled from a flimsy wall. The union is already fragile. Its mismanagement of the eurozone debt crisis after the 2008 crash was followed by its mismanagement of the refugee crisis. No wonder a recent Pew Research Center poll showed plummeting approval ratings for the union in key European countries.

British withdrawal isn’t likely to be followed instantly by that of other member states. But nationalist governments like those in Poland and Hungary, and others besides, will be encouraged to defy European rules from trade regulations to human rights, until the whole structure disintegrates. Disputes once soothed by multinational bargaining in Strasbourg or Brussels may grow toxic.

And Europe, though often vexed by London’s halfheartedness, will miss the sheer negotiating skill of British diplomacy: its genius for avoiding confrontations and inventing compromises. As more countries strike mutinous attitudes, those skills have never been more needed.

“For 70 years, my Foreign Service has been Britain’s rear guard,” a British ambassador told me. “We have prevented its orderly retreat from world greatness turning into a rout.” But Brexit now seems to propose a final retreat across the English Channel to the white cliffs of Dover.

Isolation brings out the worst in Britain. And it never works. In the 1930s, a complacent Britain refused to help Spain fight fascism, appeased Hitler and Mussolini, and for too long turned away refugees fleeing persecution. As Czechoslovakia cried out for help, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain dismissed “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” Will a British leader soon speak again about faraway Europe in the same tones?

When Britain did admit that it belonged to Europe, after all, it was at the 11th hour. In 1940, isolation ended in a fight for survival, and complacency gave way to five years of grim determination. During those war years, the Continent was devastated and its nation-states discredited.

Thanks to that harsh experience, the British after the war recognized their share of responsibility by supporting the vision of a united Europe. Must Britain learn that painful, costly lesson all over again?

The New York Times calls for Britains to shun the hatemakers

A New York Times oped calls for Britains to shun the hatemongers, and vote to remain in the European Union.

It may be that Ms Cox’s awful killing is enough to bring out enough don’t know voters onto the remain side to make a significant difference. But how sad it is that her death may swing the campaign; and it may do so by as much as 5% of the vote.

So here is the New York Times exercising a voice of reason:

“In politics, as in life, there is the question of the company you keep.

Reasonable people, some friends of mine, make reasonable arguments for Britain to leave the European Union. They say it lacks transparency. They say a union containing an inner club of nations with a common currency, but outliers without it, constitutes a set-up that defrauds voters because it is intellectually dishonest. The euro nations require a political union that is ever closer for the euro to be sustainable. Other nations, like Britain, do not want that.

They argue that the E.U. is undemocratic, run by unaccountable bureaucrats, and that Britain can somehow reinvent itself, overcome geography, and defy several authoritative predictions of economic disaster — most recently from the International Monetary Fund — by linking with fast-growing parts of the emergent world after it turns its back on a stagnant Europe.

I am prepared to lend half an ear to such notions, even if they are paltry quibbles when set against the wonder of a borderless Europe at peace, access to a market of half-a-billion people, decades of growing prosperity since Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and the British capacity to count in the world as a leader within a united Europe rather than become an insular minnow adrift in the English Channel.

The European Union has been through a tough decade. It has been beset by the structural flaws of the euro and a weak response to the financial meltdown of 2008. It has faced the ongoing difficulties of absorbing former Communist bloc nations and the challenge of mass immigration. It needs reinvigoration — of a kind Britain could lead.

But none of this is what the British referendum has been about. It has been about jingoistic bigotry of the “take-Britain-back” variety; anti-European rants dished up by the Daily Mail (often on the basis of claims so flimsy they would make Donald Trump blush); the vileness of the U.K. Independence Party whose latest poster screams “Breaking Point” next to a crowd of dark-skinned refugees; the outrageous diatribes of the former London mayor, Boris Johnson, who has compared the union’s designs to Hitler’s; the dim anger of a Little England troubled by globalization and choosing to focus that ire on Brussels (of all places) and on the desperate survivors of the Syrian civil war (of all people).

In other words, it has been about poison. That poison led — not directly but still — to the murder last week of Jo Cox, a representative of the opposition Labour Party, and a mother of two, by a man shouting “Britain First!”

Cox, a rising political star, had campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union. She had declared in her maiden speech to Parliament that the Yorkshire towns and villages she represented had been “deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir.” What struck her, she said, was that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” In her last article for the Yorkshire Post this month she had written: “Please don’t fall for the spin prior to June 23 that the only way to deal with concerns about immigration is by voting to leave.”

The suspect charged with her murder, Thomas Mair, gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” in his first court appearance. Prosecutors said he had also shouted “Keep Britain independent” as he attacked Cox. Pamphlets about extreme rightist and white supremacist organizations were found at his house.

Yes, in politics there is also the question of the company you keep.

Those who have called for Britain to quit the E.U. have been prepared to get into bed with the likes of xenophobic fanatics like Mair. They have countenanced the fabrication of gross slurs about Europe and foreigners to further a campaign to lead Britain out of its neighborhood (and the greatest political invention of the second half of the 20th century) into some fantasyland of bygone glory.

This is not the Britain I know. This is not the Britain that accepted my South African Jewish immigrant parents and allowed them to prosper. This is not the Britain whose own union — of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — has been an exercise in successful mingling. This is not the Britain whose capital, London, is perhaps the world’s greatest city because of the openness that has made it the home to every tongue.

“Jo, get up,” pleaded Cox’s assistant, Fazila Aswat, as the politician lay dying. “No, my pain is too much,” Cox replied, her last words.

Come on, Britain! For Cox, for her two children, for Fazila Aswat, for the proud British history of openness, get up! Get up, shun the hatemongers, and vote to remain in the European Union.

The Economist – our vote goes to remain

Very relevant commentary from The Economist

“The peevishness of the campaigning has obscured the importance of what is at stake. A vote to quit the European Union on June 23rd, which polls say is a growing possibility, would do grave and lasting harm to the politics and economy of Britain. The loss of one of the EU’s biggest members would gouge a deep wound in the rest of Europe. And, with the likes of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen fuelling economic nationalism and xenophobia, it would mark a defeat for the liberal order that has underpinned the West’s prosperity.

That, clearly, is not the argument of the voices calling to leave. As with Eurosceptics across the EU, their story is about liberation and history. Quitting the sclerotic, undemocratic EU, the Brexiteers say, would set Britain free to reclaim its sovereign destiny as an outward-looking power. Many of these people claim the mantle of liberalism—the creed that this newspaper has long championed. They sign up to the argument that free trade leads to prosperity. They make the right noises about small government and red tape. They say that their rejection of unlimited EU migration stems not from xenophobia so much as a desire to pick people with the most to offer.

The liberal Leavers are peddling an illusion. On contact with the reality of Brexit, their plans will fall apart. If Britain leaves the EU, it is likely to end up poorer, less open and less innovative. Far from reclaiming its global outlook, it will become less influential and more parochial. And without Britain, all of Europe would be worse off.

Start with the economy. Even those voting Leave accept that there will be short-term damage (see article). More important, Britain is unlikely to thrive in the longer run either. Almost half of its exports go to Europe. Access to the single market is vital for the City and to attract foreign direct investment. Yet to maintain that access, Britain will have to observe EU regulations, contribute to the budget and accept the free movement of people—the very things that Leave says it must avoid. To pretend otherwise is to mislead.

Those who advocate leaving make much of the chance to trade more easily with the rest of the world. That, too, is uncertain. Europe has dozens of trade pacts that Britain would need to replace. It would be a smaller, weaker negotiating partner. The timetable would not be under its control, and the slow, grinding history of trade liberalisation shows that mercantilists tend to have the upper hand.

Nor is unshackling Britain from the EU likely to release a spate of liberal reforms at home. As the campaign has run its course, the Brexit side has stoked voters’ prejudices and pandered to a Little England mentality (see article). Despite Leave’s free-market rhetoric, when a loss-making steelworks at Port Talbot in Wales was in danger of closing, Brexiteers clamoured for state aid and tariff protection that even the supposedly protectionist EU would never allow.

The pandering has been still more shameless over immigration. Leave has warned that millions of Turks are about to invade Britain, which is blatantly false. It has blamed strains on public services like health care and education on immigration, when immigrants, who are net contributors to the exchequer, help Britain foot the bill. It suggests that Britain cannot keep out murderers, rapists and terrorists when, in fact, it can.

Britons like to think of themselves as bracingly free-market. They are quick to blame their woes on red tape from Brussels. In reality, though, they are as addicted to regulation as anyone else. Many of the biggest obstacles to growth—too few new houses, poor infrastructure and a skills gap—stem from British-made regulations. In six years of government, the Tories have failed to dismantle them. Leaving the EU would not make it any easier.

All this should lead to victory for Remain. Indeed, economists, businesspeople and statesmen from around the world have queued up to warn Britain that leaving would be a mistake (though Mr Trump is a fan). Yet in the post-truth politics that is rocking Western democracies, illusions are more alluring than authority.

Thus the Leave campaign scorns the almost universally gloomy economic forecasts of Britain’s prospects outside the EU as the work of “experts” (as if knowledge was a hindrance to understanding). And it dismisses the Remain camp for representing the elite (as if Boris Johnson, its figurehead and an Oxford-educated old Etonian, personified the common man).

The most corrosive of these illusions is that the EU is run by unaccountable bureaucrats who trample on Britain’s sovereignty as they plot a superstate. As our essay explains, the EU is too often seen through the prism of a short period of intense integration in the 1980s—which laid down plans for, among other things, the single market and the euro. In reality, Brussels is dominated by governments who guard their power jealously. Making them more accountable is an argument about democracy, not sovereignty. The answer is not to storm out but to stay and work to create the Europe that Britain wants.

Some Britons despair of their country’s ability to affect what happens in Brussels. Yet Britain has played a decisive role in Europe—ask the French, who spent the 1960s keeping it out of the club. Competition policy, the single market and enlargement to the east were all championed by Britain, and are profoundly in its interests. So long as Britain does not run away and hide, it has every reason to think that it will continue to have a powerful influence, even over the vexed subject of immigration.

True, David Cameron, the prime minister, failed to win deep reform of Britain’s relations with the EU before the referendum. But he put himself in a weak position by asking for help at the last minute, when governments were at loggerheads over the single currency and refugees.

Some Britons see this as a reason to get out, before the doomed edifice comes tumbling down. Yet the idea that quitting would spare Britain is the greatest illusion of all. Even if Britain can leave the EU it cannot leave Europe. The lesson going back centuries is that, because Britain is affected by what happens in Europe, it needs influence there. If Germany is too powerful, Britain should work with France to counterbalance it. If France wants the EU to be less liberal, Britain should work with the Dutch and the Nordics to stop it. If the EU is prospering, Britain needs to share in the good times. If the EU is failing, it has an interest in seeing the pieces land in the right place.

Over the years this newspaper has found much to criticise in the EU. It is an imperfect, at times maddening club. But it is far better than the alternative. We believe that leaving would be a terrible error. It would weaken Europe and it would impoverish and diminish Britain. Our vote goes to Remain.”

More background in the New York Times

The potential demise of the A380?


Forbes magazine had an opinion piece yesterday foretelling the coming demise of the Airbus A380.

Airbus A380: The Death Watch Begins

Now Forbes is USA based and a consistent Boeing advocate but it is hard to argue with some of the details and maybe also the conclusion.

The first point is irrefutable. At the IATA AGM last week Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates, told Bloomberg that not only had discussions on a new re-engined A380neo version of Airbus’s 525-seat jet “kind of lapsed,” but that his “main concern is that they stop producing the plane.”

He is right to be concerned. Emirates has taken 78 of the 142 A380s that it has on order.

At slot and space constrained Dubai International Airport the A380 has been critical to Emirates continued expansion.

But this was the first intimation that a sudden death is a possibility for whale-jet.

Other than from Emirates there is no new demand for the A380. In April, Airbus executives admitted that output in 2017 could be as low as 20 aircraft.

Forbes notes that “this is far below the 30 aircraft needed for annual recurring breakeven (this excludes program nonrecurring costs; there is no way to even begin to recover the $25-30 billion or so invested in the development of this aircraft).”

Other airlines including Virgin and Qantas have postponed or cancelled deliveries of their A380 orders. Emirates has already taken the three A380s that were originally ordered by Japan’s Skymark.

Other operators have a handful of the big jets – Korean, Air France, Lufthansa, British, Singapore (a few more), Qatar, Etihad. It is telling that the North American airlines have not made a single order. The airplane would in theory fit well onto a route between major hubs such as ORD-LHR and JFK-LHR.

Emirates took its first A380 in 2008, with 78 now delivered it is taking an average of 10 new A380s a year. But as demand elsewhere has vanished, Emirates has ramped up its intake. In 2015, Emirates took 14 of the 27 A380s delivered. That works for Emirates – adding capacity where an A380 can replace a Boeing 772 or 773.

Can EK maintain its flow of new aircraft. The airline is limited by its DXB based operations and it will be a decade before EK can move to the new Dubai World Central airport. How long can this keep up?

More problematically global air travel is slowing down. Emirates recently reported a fall in its 2015/2016 load factor of 3.1 points to 76.5%. Its yield fell 10%.

Sit Tim Clark has noted the drop off in premium yields. To this end more two class A380s with their 615 passenger capacity seems like a smart way forward.

For Emirates at this time the A380 makes sense. Passengers love the airplane. The space. The greater seat width. The quiet cabin. Passengers will seek out A380 flights as a preference.

The big airliner also suits EK’s hub-based route network. EK is not a point to point airline – it flies you from A to C via D(ubai). As a hub it needs to maximise the number of passengers connecting at peak times. The A380 allows this to happen.

But EK has also ordered 150 Boeing 777-9Xs, with deliveries starting in 2020. This jet has the same range as the A380, carries fewer passengers but more freight. These planes will obviously replace many of the older 777s as they leave the fleet but may also replace older A380s as they leave the fleet and as the airline moves to the new airfield at DWC.

It is not good news at Boeing either. The 747-8 has around two dozen orders, with a few unwanted aircraft parked too, and they have cut production to 6 per year. The demand for ultra-large four-engine airliners is poor and may never recover.

Airbus is losing money on its A380s. But is it willing to cancel its flagship? Sir Tim Clark is correct to worry that Airbus could simply end the program; but probably not until after the EK orders have been fulfilled.

Referendum blues

I have got the referendum blues.

This EU referendum is one of the most serious decisions that the British people will be asked to make in their lifetimes, but many people simply do not know enough about the EU to make a properly informed decision.

So instead people are mislead by a mixture of vested interests making random speculations while having to campaign alongside people that they would traditionally disdain.

Cameron and Corbyn on the same STAY side. Bizarre. Boris – who made London a European capital leading the LEAVE campaign. It makes no sense.

The more the STAY campaign postures the more it must tempt people to want to see what might happen if BREXIT wins.

Would property prices really fall 18%? And if you are not a home owner and would like to be, then that might just be good news.

Would the UK enter recession? Who knows. The trouble with this whole referendum is that no one knows what will change and what will not.

Both sides roll out everyone from corporate business to minor celebrities in their cause. The heavy hitters have been out as well – the governor of the Bank of England, US President Barack Obama, the World Trade Organisation – even today the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, have said that Brexit is going to be bad.

But we really do not know – it is just speculation. The arguments are often irrational and polarised.

There is a part of my that is curious to see what would happen. Would the great European experiment come to an end. Would BREXIT lead to a Bigger-Exit?

After all this is a referendum that should never have happened. In 1975 the UK voted to sign the Treaty of Rome and to enter the EEC as it was then.

But Cameron thought he needed to appease the pro UKIP faction in his party before the last election so committed to this referendum.

So the Brits are stuck with a referendum in which it’s almost impossible to sort fact from fiction, which is based on incredibly complicated economic and geopolitical arguments, and which most people have little hope of making a fully informed judgement on.

What a waste. And what a risk.

It may be that Cameron is a natural Brexiteer, but as PM he is now talking of the disaster than will befall the nation if it votes for Brexit. Political expediency.

On the other side Boris Johnson leads the LEAVE campaign not so much because he believes in it but as a leadership challange. Winner takes all in what will be a desperately fractured Tory party. I cannot imagine that Jeremy Corbyn is really pro Europe but he is the Labour leader. His version of the campaign is therefore not to say much about anything.

The debate then, such as it is, has become political posturing between a group of middle-aged men.

Like a school debating society where you have to argue the opposite case to the one you actually believe in.

The latest polls suggest that the LEAVE group have a slight lead – with a likely turnout of about 60%.

So in lieu of an informed debate on the merits or otherwise of Britain’s role in the EU the debate has become mainly about immigration and little else. The Express readers will be out in force.

Despite my curiosity for what would happen if we leave the fact is that something this important should never have got this far.

If we leave, then Cameron will go down in history as the Prime Minister who ruined Britain for a generation or more.

As a nation Britain has always taken a keen interest in what is happening on our continent. Britain has fought on behalf of a free Europe. Britain has always sought to retain our seat at Europe’s top table. Our trade, culture, security political interests have always been closely allied to Europe. It makes no sense to think otherwise. It is a small little island on the edge of a large, mainly prosperous, forward-looking continent.

So why would Britain want to vacate our seat at Europe’s top table. Britain would lose its voice by leaving an empty chair. Irrelevant Britain. Once mighty – now a closed nation of bitter people living off past glories. How sad.

Worse now the debate has started there really is no good outcome to this referendum. Either way it won’t stop the arguments.

The right answer is to stay and play. There will be more to say before June 23rd.



South Africa – lots of questions – few answers

The last week was my first ever visit to South Africa.

I had never wanted to visit through the apartheid years. I was upset when my parents went there for a visit and never really forgave them for that.

But apartheid is past; reconciliation has been led by many who were oppressed.

It is a fascinating country to visit – but the problems are clear to see.

The first problem is simply image. I received countless messages telling me to stay safe, be careful etc.

Yet, everyone we met was unfailingly friendly and welcoming; from the car watchers to the business owners.

But did I feel truly safe? That is a hard question when everywhere that you visit or stay has such obvious security. Homes are like fortresses; protected by walls, electric fences, electronic access gates, cctv and alarms threatening armed response. There are security guards everywhere you go in Cape Town. And of course there are the guys who will watch your car for a small tip.

Yet we walked around most towns without any difficulty or intimidation. That said, we were on the tourist trail and there are some places where it would clearly have been less than wise to stop and explore. We did most of our exploring by day rather than by night.

This was out itinerary for the week – we flew into Johannesberg and connected on a domestic British Airways/Comair flight down to Port Elizabeth. Picking up a car in Port Elizabeth we drove for one night in each of Jeffreys Bay, Knysna, Swellendam, Hermanus and Franschhoek before spending two nights in Cape Town and then back to Dubai.

Total driving distance was 1,100kms.

But that does not do the trip justice so some more details are needed.

Overnight flight before we landed in JNB – easy through immigration and a longer walk to the domestic terminal. Checked in. No queue at security – it was early on a Sunday morning – and then rested for an hour in the Bidvest lounge. The lounge was excellent. Great collection of food and drink and lots of places to rest.

Comair is a British Airways franchisee and it is strange to fly domestic in South Africa on a BA airplane – a nice 737-800. Not very busy.

Port Elizabeth is a very small, quiet airfield. A bit like flying into Phitsanulok in Thailand. It really was that quiet.

Picked up the car and drove to down to Jeffreys Bay. Checked in to our Stone Olive guest house. Next to the golf course. Nice room. Ocean View. Quiet.

Then out to a late lunch. One of the best meals of the week. Kitchen Windows beach restaurant. Great service. Friendly people. Excellent fresh seafood. Bottle of decent chardonnay.

We were asleep by 8pm!

Monday morning we set off for Knysna. Basically a drive down the N2. We had booked a trip around the Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve. Lovely sunny day. Animals out in the wild. Hippo. Rhino. Giraffe. Cheetah. Lion. Crocodile. Wildebeest. Zebra. All sorts of deer.

An open truck – 8 passengers including four Saudis who were trying to ruin the trip for everyone. No respect for the tour guide. Noisy. Rude. The guide got angry with them and they behaved a little better.

At Knysna we stayed in the quirky Turbine Hotel – a conversion of an old power plant on Thesen Island. Lots of clever touches in the hotel. Rooms are small but very comfortable.

Dinner at nearby Sirocco was disappointing. The restaurant has a good view of the lagoon and is alleged to be the fanciest restaurant on Thesen Island. It was cold. The food was dull. And the restaurant near empty. OK; it was a Monday in the quiet season but that is no reason to give up on quality.

A long drive on Tuesday from Knysna to Swellendam via Wilderness and a lunch stop in George so that Tai could go to Ocean Basket. We had our only rain of the week in George and it was cold and windy there.

Again the driving was easy and some of the scenery spectacular.

Swellendam is inland. About half way from Cape Town to George and is the third oldest town in South Africa. Our guest house – Schoone Oordt Country House – was fabulous. We were greeted with drinks and home made cake. The room was large. The pets were friendly. Breakfast was classy. And our car was cleaned and waxed in the morning. It was a rental – it had never been treated that well! Thrifty should be grateful.

Lovely people – nice place to stay. We ate out on Tuesday night at the recommended Drostdy restaurant. Modern South African cooking. Tai ate Springbok and Ostrich. Warm restaurant in a traditional, old building.

Wednesday was sunny again – and it was time for a quick nine holes of gold on the course overlooking Swellendam and beneath the mountains. We almost had the course to ourselves. The scenery was stunning. The golf less so. Rental clubs! Loved the walk and the fresh air.

Then a shorter drive back to the Whale Coast at Hermanus. La Fontaine Guest House. Huge room. Right on the sea front drive. Short walk to town and teh restaurants. Dinner at the Fisherman’s Cottage restaurant. The folks at the next table were from Gstaad and knew all about Le Rosey and I suspect know many of the staff and parents. Dinner was good.

A really scenic Thursday morning drive back inland to Franschhoek; the smalles and prettiest of the wine district towns. We were able to check in early to Maison Chablis – the French influence is everywhere in the village. James made us very welcome.

A very short walk into the village to catch the 11.15 wine tram – one of four wine tram routes that tour around the large and small vineyards around the town. Tasting rooms in each vineyard and many of them have attached restaurants although many were closed midweek in the winter season. It was a lovely sunny, blue – sky day. Some wine, some sunshine. Tai was asleep by 7pm. No dinner for me. But it was a fun day.

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And on Friday we were out early to drive to CapeTown. But we avoided the fast route and instead took the coastal road. And it was a really fun drive.

We drove through Stellenbosch, and joined the coast near the township of Khayelitsha. Past Muizenberg and down the Indian Coast of the peninsular south of Cape Town through Kalk Bay and SimonsTown down to Boulders Beach – where we stopped to see the penguin colony gathered there.

ABC_3466 ABC_3464 ABC_3440Then we crossed over to the Atlantic side and drove the spectacular Chapmans Peak Road through Hout Bay to finish at 2pm when we checked into the Vetho Villa on Camps Bay. We had the Honeymoon Suite. Huge. Nice balcony. Ocean and 12 Apostles view.


We had to be at the V&A Waterfront by 4pm as Tai had booked us onto CapeTown Helicopters for their 24 minute two oceans flight. Way too much fun.

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Pictures from Cape Town Helicopters

We took off and flew down the Atlantic Coast – and crossed the peninsular to fly up the Indian Ocean coast and back into the City. Views that you could never be bored with.

And I got to sit up front with our pilot – Stephen. Flying helicopters is fun! My next hobby!

It was my birthday and Tai had booked dinner in Camps Bay – on the beachfront a short walk from our hotel. The food at ZenZero was a bit uninspiring. But it was a nice evening. Though why leave the restaurant doors open when it is falling to 12C outside.

Saturday was explore Cape Town day. The city centre on Long Street, the cable car to Table Mountain and back downtown through Camps Bay to the V&A.

Dinner was poor Italian at the end of our street. Col’Cacchio Pizzeria – honestly I have seen better looking staff canteens.

And so back to Dubai on Sunday. Cape Town airport is not busy and is very user friendly. Long flight back to Dubai.

So it sounds ideal. However the “but” is big. South Africa has so much potential. But all is not growth and harmony.

The following comments are going to be simplistic; it takes more than a few paragraphs to address the issues faced by this nation. So forgive the simplicity —  this is really just meant as an overview and some observations.

It is only 22 years since the first post apartheid government was formed in 1994.

Wikipedia simply states that South Africa today is a developed country and a newly industrialized country.Its economy is the second-largest in Africa (Nigeria is first – oil), and the 34th-largest in the world. In terms of purchasing power parity, South Africa has the seventh-highest per capita income in Africa.
Poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day.

And the disparity between those who have and those who have not is very obvious and visible. Simplistically, it was not until we reached Cape Town that we saw black people eating in the same restaurant as us.

It also became quickly clear that anyone who might regard themselves as a home or business owner is taking remarkable measures to ensure their security. Homes and business are in gated, secure communities or behind walls and fences; often electrified and always with an alarm system. The private security industry in South Africa is the largest in the world, with nearly 9,000 registered companies and 400,000 registered active private security guards, more than the South African police and army combined.

Nearly 50 murders are committed each day in South Africa. In the year ended March 2014 there were 17,068 murders and the murder rate was 32.2 per 100,000 – about five times higher than the global average.

Violence is less obvious in the tourist areas with serious crime more likely in the townships. But caution is necessary.

Many emigrants from South Africa also state that crime was a big motivator for them to leave; a quick poll of the many South Africans working in Dubai would confirm this.

The Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver has some data on South Africa that is alarming. The good news is that over the next thirty years there will be significant progress and that feels right – the potential is huge:

Infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births – Deaths per Thousand Infants
2016: 51.64
2030: 41.03
2060: 16.07
Life expectancy – Total – Years
2016: 51.45
2030: 57.23
2060: 71.86
HIV infection, rate, percentage of adult population – Percent
2016: 10.78
2030: 8.787
2060: 2.877
Population, aged more than 65 years – Million People (an ageing population will put pressure on health care systems)
2016: 3.141
2030: 4.322
2060: 8.501
Population in urban areas – Million People
2016: 35.01
2030: 43.23
2060: 53.28
Population with income less than $1.25 per day, log normal computation (using 2005 ICP based survey data) – Million People
2016: 5.354
2030: 4.332
2060: 2.234
Population with income less than $2 per day, log normal computation (using 2005 ICP based survey data) – Million People
2016: 13.87
2030: 11.82
2060: 6.812
Of a total population of: Million People
2016: 52.82
2030: 55.26
2060: 60.86

South Africa needs time. After decades of discrimination and apartheid economic and social growth needs to educate and employ the majority black population. It needs to visibly make them richer and safer. But growth has not been fast enough and the wealth has not spread widely enough. And that is all too visible – townships; people sitting around town with nothing to do and no where to go.

The 2008 recession hit South Africa hard. More jobs were lost. But the problems lie deeper than simply racial redistribution. The education system needs to produce more skilled people. The country has instead been importing skilled labour from other African nations. In 2007 four of every five maths teachers in South Africa were from Zimbabwe (source: Africa- Richard Dowden).

AIDS has also taken its toll on the young population. 11% of the adult population are infected with HIV. The low life expectancy is driven by this figure and those that are sick cannot (mostly) afford the retroviral drugs necessary for life.

South Africa is caught in a race between expectation and economic growth. To date economic growth has been too slow; further measures are needed to improve infrastructure, strengthen the business environment, improve labour markets and ensure future spending needs can be financed.

Opening up state monopolies to competition is a starting point to secure additional electricity generation capacity and investment in all forms of transport.

How to finance public spending is an issue. Tax reforms that solidify public finances and make the tax system fairer are required. Encouraging private and foreign investment; creating an SME friendly entrepreneurial environment.

South Africa is in many ways remarkable. A stunning looking country. Rich in resources. Rich in history and culture. Vibrant. Possibly a genuine rainbow nation.

Its transition from apartheid to a modern, liberal constitutional democracy was remarkable; conducted face to face by brave men with a vision and with compassion. Mandela built bridges between peoples. He became the guiding spirit for his nation and the continent.

The current government has lost that vision behind their own individual ambitions and greed. It needs to revisit the 1994 constitution that governs the nation and promotes “the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism.”

With so much at stake it would be a tragedy to lose Mandela’s vision and faith.

I am happy that I last I have visited this remarkable country; but I am happy I left it until now.





The Economist on “The breakdown of Arab states”

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Dubai’s defense roundabout – in 2002 and 2011. The UAE has benefited hugely from an early realization that it’s economy was unsustainable if solely dependent upon oil.

The Economist marked the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot mapping of the Middle East with this provocative editorial. It is a worthy read.

Europe and America made mistakes, but the misery of the Arab world is caused mainly by its own failures. (The Economist – 14 May 2016)

When Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot secretly drew their lines on the map of the Levant to carve up the Ottoman empire in May 1916, at the height of the first world war, they could scarcely have imagined the mess they would set in train: a century of imperial betrayal and Arab resentment; instability and coups; wars, displacement, occupation and failed peacemaking in Palestine; and almost everywhere oppression, radicalism and terrorism.

In the euphoria of the uprisings in 2011, when one awful Arab autocrat after another was toppled, it seemed as if the Arabs were at last turning towards democracy. Instead their condition is more benighted than ever. Under Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt is even more wretched than under the ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The state has broken down in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Civil wars rage and sectarianism is rampant, fed by the contest between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The jihadist “caliphate” of Islamic State (IS), the grotesque outgrowth of Sunni rage, is metastasising to other parts of the Arab world.

Bleak as all this may seem, it could become worse still. If the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90 is any gauge, the Syrian one has many years to run. Other places may turn ugly. Algeria faces a leadership crisis; the insurgency in Sinai could spread to Egypt proper; chaos threatens to overwhelm Jordan; Israel could be drawn into the fights on its borders; low oil prices are destabilising Gulf states; and the proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran might lead to direct fighting.

All this is not so much a clash of civilisations as a war within Arab civilisation. Outsiders cannot fix it—though their actions could help make things a bit better, or a lot worse. First and foremost, a settlement must come from Arabs themselves.

Arab states are suffering a crisis of legitimacy. In a way, they have never got over the fall of the Ottoman empire. The prominent ideologies—Arabism, Islamism and now jihadism—have all sought some greater statehood beyond the frontiers left by the colonisers. Now that states are collapsing, Arabs are reverting to ethnic and religious identities. To some the bloodletting resembles the wars of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Others find parallels with the religious strife of Europe’s Thirty Years War in the 17th century. Whatever the comparison, the crisis of the Arab world is deep and complex. Facile solutions are dangerous. Four ideas, in particular, need to be repudiated.

First, many blame the mayhem on Western powers—from Sykes-Picot to the creation of Israel, the Franco-British takeover of the Suez Canal in 1956 and repeated American interventions. Foreigners have often made things worse; America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 released its sectarian demons. But the idea that America should turn away from the region—which Barack Obama seems to embrace—can be as destabilising as intervention, as the catastrophe in Syria shows.

Lots of countries have blossomed despite traumatic histories: South Korea and Poland—not to mention Israel. As our special report sets out, the Arab world has suffered from many failures of its own making. Many leaders were despots who masked their autocracy with the rhetoric of Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine (and realised neither). Oil money and other rents allowed rulers to buy loyalty, pay for oppressive security agencies and preserve failing state-led economic models long abandoned by the rest of the world.

A second wrong-headed notion is that redrawing the borders of Arab countries will create more stable states that match the ethnic and religious contours of the population. Not so: there are no neat lines in a region where ethnic groups and sects can change from one village or one street to the next. A new Sykes-Picot risks creating as many injustices as it resolves, and may provoke more bloodshed as all try to grab land and expel rivals. Perhaps the Kurds in Iraq and Syria will go their own way: denied statehood by the colonisers and oppressed by later regimes, they have proved doughty fighters against IS. For the most part, though, decentralisation and federalism offer better answers, and might convince the Kurds to remain within the Arab system. Reducing the powers of the central government should not be seen as further dividing a land that has been unjustly divided. It should instead be seen as the means to reunite states that have already been splintered; the alternative to a looser structure is permanent break-up.

A third ill-advised idea is that Arab autocracy is the way to hold back extremism and chaos. In Egypt Mr Sisi’s rule is proving as oppressive as it is arbitrary and economically incompetent. Popular discontent is growing. In Syria Bashar al-Assad and his allies would like to portray his regime as the only force that can control disorder. The contrary is true: Mr Assad’s violence is the primary cause of the turmoil. Arab authoritarianism is no basis for stability. That much, at least, should have become clear from the uprisings of 2011.

The fourth bad argument is that the disarray is the fault of Islam. Naming the problem as Islam, as Donald Trump and some American conservatives seek to do, is akin to naming Christianity as the cause of Europe’s wars and murderous anti-Semitism: partly true, but of little practical help. Which Islam would that be? The head-chopping sort espoused by IS, the revolutionary-state variety that is decaying in Iran or the political version advocated by the besuited leaders of Ennahda in Tunisia, who now call themselves “Muslim democrats”? To demonise Islam is to strengthen the Manichean vision of IS. The world should instead recognise the variety of thought within Islam, support moderate trends and challenge extremists. Without Islam, no solution is likely to endure.

All this means that resolving the crisis of the Arab world will be slow and hard. Efforts to contain and bring wars to an end are important. This will require the defeat of IS, a political settlement to enfranchise Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, and an accommodation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is just as vital to promote reform in countries that have survived the uprisings. Their rulers must change or risk being cast aside. The old tools of power are weaker: oil will remain cheap for a long time and secret policemen cannot stop dissent in a networked world.

Kings and presidents thus have to regain the trust of their people. They will need “input” legitimacy: giving space to critics, whether liberals or Islamists, and ultimately establishing democracy. And they need more of the “output” variety, too: strengthening the rule of law and building productive economies able to thrive in a globalised world. That means getting away from the rentier system and keeping cronies at bay.

America and Europe cannot impose such a transformation. But the West has influence. It can cajole and encourage Arab rulers to enact reforms. And it can help contain the worst forces, such as IS. It should start by supporting the new democracy of Tunisia and political reforms in Morocco—the European Union should, for example, open its markets to north African products. It is important, too, that Saudi Arabia opens its society and succeeds in its reforms to wean itself off oil. The big prize is Egypt. Right now, Mr Sisi is leading the country to disaster, which would be felt across the Arab world and beyond; by contrast, successful liberalisation would lift the whole region.

Without reform, the next backlash is only a matter of time. But there is also a great opportunity. The Arabs could flourish again: they have great rivers, oil, beaches, archaeology, youthful populations, a position astride trade routes and near European markets, and rich intellectual and scientific traditions. If only their leaders and militiamen would see it.