Leave Campaign takes a four-point lead
Good news as the Observer headlines “Young hold key to Brexit as Leave takes lead – poll”. Quoting an Opinium/Observer poll, the paper reports a four-point lead for Leave (43 to 39, with the rest undecided) and also reports that only a half of 18 to 34s are “certain to vote”. The Guardian carries the same story. Support for Remain is stronger amongst younger people, so turnout could determine the result – but the trend seems to be moving the right way. Let’s hope we don’t peak too early.
I wish I could get hold of the student I heard yesterday on the BBC saying he’s vote Remain because of the opportunities to study abroad in Europe, and the Erasmus grants from the EU. Yes, he can study in Strasbourg or the Sorbonne. But he can also study in Sydney or Singapore or San Francisco. There’s nothing unique about studying in the EU. And as every pound we get back in EU funding costs the UK economy around £3, we’ll be better able to support students – and academic research, and farm support, and all the other good things we want to do – when we leave.
Brexit row over the NHS hots up
The rumbling dispute between the Leave and Remain camps over the NHS is really catching fire. Lord Howard and Priti Patel have been prominent in arguing that uncontrolled mass immigration is putting intolerable pressures on the NHS, and that Brexit would relieve those pressures. It would also free up more government funding, some of which could go to the NHS.
Meantime on the other side Jeremy Hunt has warned of “deep cuts” to NHS funding when we leave the EU, and has also issued dark hints about employment of foreign nationals. Hunt doesn’t explain the deep cuts, though if pushed I daresay he would argue that Brexit would be economically damaging and therefore impact on NHS funding. Vague, generalised – and wrong. Nor is there any basis for suggesting a threat to the employment of foreign nationals in the NHS, whether EU citizens or not. In this debate, I have the Leave side ahead on points.
Foreign aid overspend
The Mail devotes the whole of its front page to a claim that despite the massively bloated scale of the UK’s £12.2 billion foreign aid budget, the government managed to overspend, by mistake, by a further £172 million last year. This formed part of an eye-watering £513 million increase in foreign aid spending in 2015.
The Mail’s e-petition: Perhaps not surprisingly, the Mail is running an e-petition against this massive spending (which, remember, is paid for by borrowed money which our children and grandchildren will be burdened with for decades). Sign here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125692. The paper claims that this is one of the most successful e-petitions ever – fastest to reach 100,000, and now standing at over 150,000. Please consider signing. I have. The Mail argues that foreign aid should be handled on a case-by-case basis. UKIP agrees.
Aid for Tanzania questioned: The UK spends £200 million a year in Tanzania, where a recent election was widely regarded as fraudulent. Now former Defence Secretary Liam Fox has demanded that this spending be reviewed. The USA has already cut aid to Tanzania in the wake of the rigged election. But apparently the UK government has no plans to review the spending. After all, they have £11.2 billion to spray around, and that’s a tough call. They can’t afford to turn off any of the taps.
PM criticised for too little aid to Libya: Despite the absurdly high level of the UK’s foreign aid budget, the Prime Minister comes in for criticism from the UN for spending too little on humanitarian aid for Libya, which is facing a crisis of food and medicine shortages. I recall many years ago stopping briefly to look at a temple in Vietnam, on the way to the airport. On a whim, I gave a few small coins to a hungry child – and was astonished as dozens of children appeared from nowhere, rushing towards me, hands outstretched. Perhaps not surprising that the UK gets these further demands for funding when we’re already throwing foreign aid money around indiscriminately.
One almost feels sorry for David Cameron. But perhaps in Libya, it’s a case of “You broke it – you’d better fix it”.
Port Talbot: Clutching at straws?
Yesterday we had the disturbing news that Tata not only proposed to sell its UK steel assets, but was also in advanced talks with German steel producer ThyssenKrupp about forming a major new European steel business based in Germany. That would make commercial sense, because Germany has much lower energy prices than the UK, and is therefore a better place to make steel, in economic terms (thank you George Osborne). The Guardian and other papers now report the rumour that part of the Tata/ThyssenKrupp deal could include a rescue for Port Talbot. Let’s hope it materialises. But given the commercial logic, I find it difficult to credit.
Public bodies advised to buy British steel
Well that headline is shorthand. In fact the government has advised public bodies like the NHS and local authorities to “consider the social and economic impact on the UK” when selecting steel for infrastructure projects. Oh, and also to consider the environmental implications. I wonder if the government has considered EU procurement policies? It is illegal under EU law to favour any EU supplier on grounds of nationality, and it seems to me that the government’s advice is sailing very close to the wind.
But there is another point that the green lobby might like to bear in mind. Steel industry sources tell me that a ton of steel made in Shanghai implies twice the CO2 emissions as against a ton of steel made in Sheffield. Maybe a good reason to choose British Steel over Chinese. And a report commissioned by DECC from a reputable economic consultancy says that imported refined petroleum products (petrol & diesel) imply 35% higher CO2 emissions than similar products refined in the UK. Yet we have been applying green taxes in the UK to “save the planet”, when by driving imports we are having the reverse effect.
Cameron warns of terrorists and nuclear drones
Following the nuclear security summit in Washington, David Cameron has warned of the danger of terrorist groups like ISIS using commercially available drones to spray nuclear material over Western cities. The response is primarily to increase security on nuclear materials. In this context, it is disquieting to read that ISIS may already be sitting on a stockpile of nuclear material.
Greece to start returning migrants
Greece is reportedly planning to return 750 migrants to Turkey between April 4th and 6th. as part of the EU/Turkey migrant deal. But the project faces difficulties on a number of fronts. The UN and humanitarian agencies are criticising the programme on human rights grounds. Local residents in Turkey are up in arms about the creation of new detention centres. And most of all, the migrants currently in Greece are frustrated and angry. There has been rioting and several stabbings in and around the holding centres in Lesbos and Chios.