Uncharted Territory

August 5, 2018

UK Heatwaves: What are the Global Warming Risks? (1) A Really Freak Summer

I suggested last time that 2018 could beat 1976 to the title of UK’s hottest summer ever in the whole Central England Temperature (CET) series which goes back to 1659. I now doubt that will happen since a change in the weather is on its way. Here are Weathercast’s projections, albeit a couple of days out of date as their site isn’t updating at the moment (I guess someone will be in the office on Monday morning!):

180805 Change in the weather Weathercast

And here’s what the Met Office have to say:

180805 Change in the weather Met Office

The CET mean for August so far is impressive:
180805 CET to 4th August 2018but a period of average daily mean temperatures (around 16C) will soon drag the monthly mean down below the 18C necessary for the June through August average to be higher than in 1976. Note that, after a cool start, it is now very possible that 2018 as a whole will be hotter than the previous hottest year in the entire CET record, 2014.

2018 has been exceptional, though. The problem is the arbitrary period (June, July and August) defined as the meteorological summer. But for 2018 to break all-time records it’s not even necessary to split months (e.g. by taking a period ending on 7th August). As I pointed out a fortnight ago, 2018 has been easily the hottest “early summer” – May, June and July – as well as easily the hottest for the period April through July. This seems very significant to me, because it illustrates the effect of global warming so starkly, but has been ignored or unnoticed by other commentators, so here again is a graph of mean annual May through July CET (as previously published, but with the final July figure of 19.1C incorporated):

180805 May to July CET

The question is, how much worse could UK heatwaves get, with global warming?

Now, I find statements such as the following from a recent Guardian front-page lead to be extremely unsatisfactory:

“Events worse than the current heatwave are likely to strike every other year by the 2040s, scientists predict.”

Curiously, this sentence does not appear in the online version of the same article.

How can it be possible for summers as hot as 2018’s to occur every other year in less than 30 years?

The planet is warming at “only” somewhere around 0.2C per decade, so by “the 2040s” is unlikely to warm by more than 0.6C. And my patent graph above shows that May through July 2018 has been around 1.5C warmer than the same period has been on average in recent years (and more than 2C warmer than it used to be in the average year).

So it would seem that, even by the 2040s, another summer as hot as 2018 would be quite unusual if average summer temperatures are only 0.6C warmer than at present: the graph above shows few summers – less than 10% – 1C or more warmer than the 21-year running mean (the black line).

It seems the “heatwave every other year” statement refers to temperatures across Europe as a whole. This is problematic for two reasons.

First, as the European Environment Agency reports, land temperatures are rising nearly twice as fast as ocean temperatures:

“According to different observational records of global average annual near-surface (land and ocean) temperature, the last decade (2008–2017) was 0.89 °C to 0.93 °C warmer than the pre-industrial average, which makes it the warmest decade on record.

The average annual temperature for the European land area for the last decade (2008–2017) was between 1.6 °C and 1.7 °C above the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record.”

Second, the “every other year” claim may be based on the average for a large area. As pointed out by King and Karolyi in Nature (“Climate extremes in Europe at 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming” (pdf)):

“The highest changes in frequency are projected for the largest regions as the year-to-year variability is lower on these spatial scales…”

The UK is some islands next to Europe sticking out into the Atlantic at a latitude where weather systems usually move from west to east. Its climate is therefore influenced more by the ocean than the nearby continental landmass. Thus average UK summer temperatures have not been and will not by the 2040s rise as fast as for the land area of Europe as a whole.

The statement in the Guardian should not be taken as applicable to the UK.

Nevertheless, as summer 2018 shows, there are times when the UK is in step with Europe, climate-wise. And that’s when we get those exceptionally hot days and even entire summers.

The simple way to look at the risk of something worse than 2018 is to consider by how much freak UK summers in the past have been warmer than the average contemporaneous summer.

Let’s consider July and August first, since that’s when the heat is most intense. The following chart shows mean summer temperatures since 1659 at the top, with 11- (red) and 21-year (black) running means. At the bottom, in green, it shows the deviation of each year from the 21-year running mean centred on that date (extrapolated at the ends of the graph, by assuming no change from the first or last available year):

180805 July to August deviation

The most exceptional year in the entire 350 year series is 1911, when, as I mentioned in a previous post, the nobility reportedly played tennis in the altogether at their country estates, while riots broke out in the cities. The mean temperature in the CET series for July and August 1911 was 2.73C above the mean for 1901-1921.

If 2018 were to average 18C, as I previously assumed rather bullishly, it would only be 1.97C warmer than the mean nowadays (and maybe even less, since I’ve used the mean for 1998-2018 and not for 2008-2028, which won’t be available for another decade, but may well be higher). For 2018 to be as freakishly hot as 1911, the mean CET for August would have to be 19.6C, that is rather hotter than in the hottest August recorded (1995, at 19.2C), but following the third hottest July on record, at 19.1C. When there’s already a media frenzy about the heat in July, we’d have to experience an even hotter month – moreorless the current uncomfortable weather continuing for nearly another 4 weeks, rather than breaking up in a few days.  Not a pleasant prospect, but apparently possible, on the evidence of 1911.

And I mentioned earlier that May to July 2018 has been the hottest on record. But was it the hottest it could have been? It seems not. Other years were much more exceptional for their period, the record being 1976, which, relative to summers of the time, was more than 0.6C warmer from May to July than 2018:

180805 May to July deviation

So one real risk for the UK is that we could experience a truly freak summer, that is, a summer much hotter than the warmer summers we are experiencing because of global warming. 2018 has been exceptionally hot on some measures, but much of that has been due to global warming. It really hasn’t been a freak.

But has global warming changed what’s possible? Could there be even more serious heatwave risks for the UK than summer temperatures as much above the current norm as they were in 1911 and 1976? These questions will be addressed in the next exciting instalment!

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July 24, 2018

Summer 2018: UK’s Hottest Ever?

Filed under: Effects, Global warming, Media, Science, Science and the media, UK climate trends — Tim Joslin @ 9:52 pm

2018 is already notable (pending final data for July) for the hottest May to July and the hottest April to July in the entire 360 years of the Central England Temperature (CET) record, as the graphs in my previous post show so eloquently. Nevertheless, besides foaming at the mouth that Englishmen are being advised not to go out in the mid-day sun (optional musical interlude), certain sections of the media are speculating rabidly as to whether 2018 could be the hottest summer ever. The Express, for example, announces that “Summer 2018 [is] on track to beat ALL RECORDS as HOTTEST day looms”, though neither the article, nor the accompanying Met Office video, quite say that.

When the media, and especially the Met Office, refer to “summer” they mean June, July and August. So pedantic. It can be nearly as hot in the UK in May and September, so comfortably the hottest May through July recorded in 360 years seems more significant to me than barely the hottest June through August.

Especially as the main feature of this summer is the lack of any significant breaks in the weather as opposed to the sheer heat – unless I’ve not been paying attention we don’t seem to have broken a single daily record for the UK as a whole so far. I went so far as to question in my post reporting on a fairly warm June whether we were experiencing a heatwave or just warm weather. I’ll grant, though, that this week, with peaks consistently over 30C here in London, does feel unpleasantly like a “heatwave”. And at least one daily record high may be anticipated.

So what are the chances of June to August, “summer”, being the hottest ever in the CET? Simple: the CET mean for August needs to be 18C or higher. I’ve put 18C in the data for August and produced this graph:
180724 June to August CET graph to 2018 border
This shows that if the CET mean for August is 18C, summer 2018 will average 17.8C in that series, just pipping 1976’s 17.77C and the 17.6C recorded in 1826.

There are a couple of assumptions. First, I still have 19.3C as the figure for July. The Met Office page is currently showing 19.4C up to 23rd, so 19.3C should be safe enough, since the next few days are likely to drag up the average for the month, although the figure can change by a few tenths right at the end of the month. I understand this to be because data from remote weather stations comes in late and I’ve noticed that the monthly figure is usually adjusted downwards, at least in winter.  Second, the figure for June was adjusted down significantly (which caught me out somewhat), but that this has been queried. Obviously if that adjustment was erroneous and the June figure is revised upwards (which I don’t expect to happen), then August doesn’t need to be so hot for 2018 to break the summer record.

But how usual is an 18C mean in the CET for August? That presents the opportunity for another graph!:
180724 June to August CET graph to 2018 border
As can be seen, 18C in August was pretty unusual for two or three centuries and not even achieved in 1976, which only managed 17.6C. But in the global warming era 18C is very possible, provided, of course, that current weather patterns continue.  If they don’t everyone will be wishing they’d trumpeted the record spring-into-summer heat!

July 22, 2018

July 2018 UK Weather: CET Records Set

Filed under: Effects, Global warming, Science, UK climate trends — Tim Joslin @ 2:51 pm

Last month I jumped the gun to report the hottest UK June since 1976 in the Central England Temperature (CET) record.  I was slightly undone by a slight downward revision so that in the event June 2018 was only equal with that in 2003 as the warmest since 1976.  Despite that, the forecast for another week of temperatures reaching the 30Cs and the CET for July to date of significantly over 19C prompts me to call July 2018 even earlier as one of the three hottest on record in the CET.  Here’s a graph (the first of many, so be prepared!):
180722 July CET graph to 2018
Only 2006 (19.7C), 1983 (19.5C) and now 2018 (the CET so far this month was 19.3C when I prepared this graph) have exceeded 19C in the CET (thanks, as ever, to the Met Office for the data). In fact, since the next hottest July was in 1783 at 18.8C – which should possibly even be discounted on the grounds that the heat was in part the effect of volcanic smog from the Icelandic volcano Laki – some wintry weather indeed would be necessary for July 2018 to now not be one of the three warmest, justifying my early call (though there’s a huge getting round to it factor in that!).

What is also striking about the July temperature graph is that the three hottest Julys – 2006, 1983 and 2018 – are all in the global warming era. Of course.

I’ve also labelled some notable years in this and subsequent graphs. In particular, I read articles drawing 1955 and 1911 to my attention. Ian Jack wrote nostalgically about 1955, though I do wonder if its impact was magnified by his age at the time. I’d personally rank 1983 – one of the few summers when I played tennis regularly – as up there with 1976. And I’m backed up by the CET data!

A brilliant Weatherwatch column in the Guardian (better even than the one of 2011 on the same topic) reports on the summer of 1911. It’s worth quoting:

“The long hot summer of 1911 is credited with changing fashions, with women shedding whalebone corsets and brassieres becoming the rage. Edwardian [sic, though Edward VII died in 1910] aristocrats are said to have taken up nude tennis at their country estates…

There was record heat in August and the sunshine continued until September, by which time the countryside was also in severe distress and riots had broken out in the cities.”

Time will tell if we’re in for a repeat!

So onto the graph-fest.

I was going to follow up last month’s post with one of the April to June CET, having noticed that the hot June had followed a distinctly mild mid to late spring (despite cold snaps continuing). Anyway, here’s that one, a little belatedly:
180722 Apr to Jun CET graph to 2018
Yep, that’s right, April to June this year has been one of the three warmest such periods in the CET record, exceeded only by 1762 and 1798. Crikey!

Then, of course, a hot June followed by an exceptionally hot July must make the early to mid summer graph (June and July) quite interesting:
180722 June to July CET graph to 2018
It is, but 2018 is still only the third hottest year, after 1976 and 2006 this time (though 2018 could still also fall behind 1826, I suppose).

Surely there must be some measure on which 2018 is (provisionally) the warmest ever?

Yes, you’ve guessed it. A mild late spring and hot early to mid summer makes 2018 a record-breaker for May to July mean CET:
180722 May to July CET graph to 2018

And that’s not it. If we add in April as well, sort of mid-spring to mid-summer, it’s not even close:
180722 April to July CET graph to 2018
Bingo!

June 27, 2018

Hottest UK June Since 1976 (and Weather Reporting Hype)

Filed under: Effects, Global warming, Media, Science, Science and the media, UK climate trends — Tim Joslin @ 2:27 pm

It always baffles me that the Met Office reports notable weather months 2 or 3 days before their end – you’d have thought they’d wait to finalise the “official” data – so this time I’m facetiously reporting before they do (assuming I type fast enough)!

I know it’s only the 27th and CET (that’s the Central England Temperature for any newbies) data has been published only up to the 25th (thanks again to the Met Office for this resource):

180626 Heatwave CET data

but it’s already a nailed-on slam-dunk that the CET mean for June 2018 will exceed the 16.1C recorded in the exceptionally hot summer of 2003, making this June the warmest since the legendary summer of 1976 (17C).

I say this simply because the forecast for the rest of the month is for fairly hot conditions to persist (thanks this time to Weathercast):

180626 Heatwave Weathercast

Simple arithmetic suggests that daily mean temperatures of around 20C (London’s are not atypical of England as a whole, slightly cooler if anything) will drag up the average for the month from 15.9C for the first 25 days to over the 16.1C recorded in 2003.  Here’s a graph showing June CET since 1659, assuming (conservatively) a mean of 16.2C this year:

180626 Heatwave June CET

Having said all that, this June and May (which I’ll come to) have not been notable for exceptional temperatures.  For example, the current “heatwave”, though fairly unpleasant, has come nowhere near breaking daily records for the CET area (though some local records may be broken, in Wales, for example).  Temperatures have so far only edged above 30C in one or two places, with 30.1C at Hampton Water Works on 25th (Monday) not a patch on the 33.5C at East Bergholt on the same date in 1976.  Even the 30.7C at Rostherne No 2 yesterday, 26th, is well below 1976’s 35.4C at North Heath.

I might even go so far as to say it’s a little bit of an exaggeration to call the current conditions a “heatwave” (at least in southern England).  The term is being devalued by tabloid reporting.  It’s an outrage!  (To use another overused word).  It’s just “hot weather”.

Given that we had several days in succession over 35C in June 1976, and we’ve had 42 years of global warming since then, and warming affects extreme events disproportionately, I wonder what temperatures we’d hit if we had similar conditions to 1976?  Presumably then (as in 2003), high pressure didn’t just sit over the UK, but drew in air from the warmest direction in summer, that is from the south-east (or even just from further east).

What has been notable this year has been the persistence of dry, sunny, windless, anticyclonic conditions, with only a small interlude of westerlies in June. That persistent high pressure conditions are fairly unusual in June is presumably the reason why, on average, June CET temperatures have risen less than other months in the global warming era (the black line in the graph above shows that, averaged over 21 years, the recent period has not been exceptional, though global warming will inevitably drag the mean temperature up over the coming decades).  Because the oceans warm only slowly, periods of weather dominated by westerlies are likely to be only a little warmer than before global warming set in.  The 5 year periods in the mid 2000s and most recently (the green line in the graph) show the potential for generally hotter Junes.

And the historical record (check out 1676 and 1846!), suggests that a truly freakish June these days (with global warming) would average well over 18C, possibly even touching 19C.  Much worse than the low 16Cs this year.

At least this June has been reasonably hot.  May was widely reported as the hottest and sunniest on record.  It was exceptionally sunny (as may also be the case for June), but nowhere near the hottest.  Here’s my latest graph of May CET:

180626 Heatwave May CET

In fact, at 13.2C in the CET, May 2018 was only equally as warm as May 2017 and less warm than in 2004 (13.4C), 1992 (13.6C) and quite a few others!

So how can May 2018 be reported as the “hottest on record”?

Well, obviously it might be because statistics are being used for a different region e.g. the UK as a whole, but I don’t think that’s the main reason.  The CET is fairly representative.

No, if you read the small print you’ll find that the “hottest May” claim is based on daily maximum temperatures only.  When you take night-time temperatures into account, as is almost universal practice, May 2018 was not exceptionally warm.  The reason for the difference lies in all that sunny weather, which tends to lead to warm days and cool nights, so that the day-time average temperature is higher than the overall average.

If that weren’t enough, weather record reporting is also afflicted by “Year Zero Syndrome”.  The CET record back to 1659 is not used, or even referred to.  Instead records are based on the period since 1910, when more comparable records begin.  It’s a bit like the way football records in England are now based on the period since the start of the Premier League in 1992, so that we no longer realise that goal-scoring feats comparable (rather than equal, because there are now 2 fewer top-flight teams) to Dixie Dean‘s 60 goals in 1927-28 are still possible.  Clearly, from the chart above, no recent May mean temperature approaches that of 1833, or even 1848.

That leads me to my usual warning.  May 1833 was about 3.5C hotter at 15.1C than the mean for the period (given by the black 21-year running mean on the graph).  Because, in line with global warming, an average May (unlike an average June) is now warmer than at any time since 1659 (the black line again), a similarly freakish May would be somewhere in the mid-15Cs.

Unless the last few years are exceptional, it’s curious that June shows the global warming signal so weakly.  I’ll have to look more closely at the data to see if that for any other months exhibits a similar feature.

June 23, 2017

How Not to Report a Weather Record: 21st June 2017

Filed under: Effects, Global warming, Science, UK climate trends — Tim Joslin @ 5:36 pm

Well, well, well.  Less than a year on from an exceptionally hot mid-September day (at least exceptionally hot for the UK, if not, perhaps, for Kuwait), and it’s only gone and happened again.

Yeap, the presumably less poisonous than mercury red liquid in my re-purposed fridge thermometer has only gone and reached 34.5C this week, on what was widely reported as “the hottest June day for 41 years”, that is, since the summer of 1976.  And curiously I was close to the epicentre of the heatwave back in ’76, in FA Cup-winning Southampton, then the hottest place in the country, just as where I am now, a few miles from Heathrow, has been this time.

And once again the record has been somewhat understated.   I explained in my post on the topic last September that the true significance of the 13th September 2016 was that it was the hottest day that had been recorded in the UK so late in the year.

You’ve guessed it.  The 34.5C recorded at Heathrow this summer solstice was the hottest daily maximum so early in the year.  Back in 1976 the temperatures over 35C (peaking at 35.6C in Southampton on 28th) were later in the month.  In other words, 21st June 2017 saw a new “date record”.

Admittedly, it was not a particularly notable date record, since 34.4C was recorded at Waddington as early as 3rd June during the glorious post-war summer of the baby-boom year of 1947.  And 35.4C at North Heath on 26th June 1976 also seems somewhat more significant than nearly a whole degree less on 21st June.  Furthermore, unlike in 1947, 1976, and, for that matter, 1893, only one “daily record” (the hottest maximum for a particular date) was set in the 2017 June heatwave.

Nevertheless, 21st June 2017 set a new date record for 5 days (21st to 25th June, inclusive) and that is of statistical significance.  The point is that without global warming you would expect there to be approximately the same number of date records each year, or, more practically, decade.  The same is true of daily records, of course – providing a recognised statistical demonstration of global warming – but my innovation of date records provides for a more efficient analysis, since it takes account of the significance of daily records compared to those on neighbouring dates.  It makes use of more information in the data.

Supporting the “hypothesis” of warming temperatures, the 5 day date record set on 21st June 2017 exceeds what you would expect in an average year, given that daily temperature records go back over 150 years.  On average you’d expect less than 3 days of date records in any given year.  But we can’t read too much into one weather event, so how does it look for recent decades?

Last September, I provided a list of UK date records from the hottest day, 10th August, when 38.1C was recorded in Gravesend in 2003 through to October 18th, promising to do some more work next time there was a heatwave.  So, keeping my word, we have the following date records:

34.4C – 3rd June 1947 – 18(!) days

34.5C – 21st June 2017 – 5 days

35.4C – 26th June 1976 – 1 day

35.5C – 27th June 1976 – 1 day

35.6C – 28th June 1976 – 3 days

36.7C – 1st July 2015 – 33(!!) days

37.1C – 3rd August 1990 – 7 days (through 9th August)

Obviously, weighting for how exceptionally hot they were, the 2010s have had way, way over their share of exceptionally hot days for the time of year during the summer months.  I’m timed out for today, but I will definitely have to get round to an analysis of the whole year!  Watch this space.

 

June 12, 2017

The Brexit Logic Trap

Filed under: Brexit, Complex decisions, Economics, Markets, Politics, Reflections, Regulation — Tim Joslin @ 11:52 am

170612 Pic for Brexit post doh

“I think people will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting that referendum.” – John McDonnell

You can’t build a rocket to reach the Moon without understanding the laws of physics.  In politics, as in many other fields of human endeavour, we are most likely to succeed not through raw emotion, but when our goals are aligned with logic and a clear understanding of the real world.  Thus, political projects have for centuries been informed by the carefully crafted logical, evidence-based arguments of thinkers from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.

Somewhat more parochially, the UK will only resolve its Brexit conundrum by finding a solution that works in practice, not just in the fevered imagination of one or other political leader.

Why do I say we’re in a “Brexit conundrum”?  Surely we’ve voted for Brexit and should “just get on with it!”.  Well, no – putting the hard-line “Remoaners” to one side for the moment – it’s not quite as simple as that: the argument now is apparently over whether we have a “soft Brexit” or a “hard Brexit”.  Oh well, I hear from the gallery, we were going to have a “hard Brexit”, but Theresa has put her expensively shod foot in some seriously pungent doo-doo and now we’ll have to have a “soft Brexit”.

Yes, it seems to have turned out that a “hard Brexit” is not a politically viable option, though David Davis and Liam Fox are still in denial.  Nor is a “hard Brexit” economically viable, I might add.  Never mind, “just get on with it!!”, say the great British public: we’re more concerned about the NHS and inequality anyway.

Unfortunately, it’s still not quite as simple as that.

Why?  Because a “soft Brexit” is not a logically viable option.  If it was, Theresa May would probably have proposed it already, since, contrary to popular belief, she and her advisers are not entirely stupid.  No, it turns out that, no sooner have you pulled on one loose thread of the UK’s relationship with the EU, than you’re standing in front of the nation completely starkers, as Theresa May hinted during the election campaign.

For example, if we go “hard” and leave the European customs union, then, for starters, there’s a border problem in Ireland, not to mention with Gibraltar.  Huge bureaucratic costs arise for business, plus we revert to WTO tariffs on all our trade until we can negotiate something different.   Enough!   Let’s stay in the customs union, then, you say.  Oh, but then we wouldn’t be able to negotiate our own trade deals.  We need to do that to offset leaving the single market.  And trade is kind of important because we need to import stuff.  Like food.

OK, then, let’s stay in the single market.  Ah.  But then we’d retain free movement (I know I am on record as thinking that’s a good thing, but I’m trying to be detached and objective here).  And, incidentally, be subject to the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) court, which apparently doesn’t violate our precious sovereignty as much as the European Court of Justice (ECJ), though I’m not sure the great British public would be fully appreciative of the fine distinction.

Hmm, surely we can remain members of uncontroversial European agencies, Euratom, perhaps?  Nope, sorry, not unless we submit to the authority of the ECJ (which Labour don’t happen to feel is worth mentioning in their manifesto, I note), assuming we haven’t already done so by trying to stay in the customs union.

So the dilemma facing the nation’s glorious leadership cadre is to propose either a “hard Brexit” – which might not have got through the Commons even before the General Election and would lead to years of economic chaos and decades of underperformance – or opt for a “soft Brexit”, which would involve remaining in the single market and customs union, but also mean retaining the ECJ and free movement, and (presumably) land us with the same £50-100bn bill as hard Brexit would, as well as no influence over the single market and customs union rules nor the ability to negotiate our own trade deals.

In other words, dare I say it, if we don’t have a “hard Brexit” we may as well stay in the EU.

This is the logic trap in which we find ourselves.

This is why the Labour Manifesto, as David Davis correctly points out, pretty much paraphrases the Tory government’s Brexit White Paper.  Labour write:

“We will scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.”

whereas the Guardian’s commentary notes that:

“The [government’s] white paper [die!, evil capital letters, die!] reiterates that the government aims to secure ‘the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods and services’ with the EU outside the single market and via ‘an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement’.

[The Tory government] also wants to be outside the customs union, so it can negotiate its own trade deals, but would like ‘a new customs agreement’, which should be theoretically possible thanks to new technology. … [No kidding, this really is their argument]

… [T]he UK will not seek to adopt an existing model used by other countries, but try to ‘take in elements’ of the single market in certain areas – in other words, bespoke deals for important business sectors. From the EU perspective, all this is ambitious: it sounds suspiciously like cherry-picking.”

Of course, Labour’s presentation during the election campaign was very different to that of the Tories, emphasising that they’d prioritise the economy over immigration, for example, but in essence both are just nuanced versions of Boris claiming he can simultaneously have his cake and shove it into his stupid gob, spraying crumbs and spittle in all directions.

Reality awaits.

September 22, 2016

After the Brexit Referendum (4) – Why UK-Resident EU Citizens Should Get the Vote

Filed under: Brexit, Migration, Politics, UK — Tim Joslin @ 7:15 pm

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts (Free Movement vs Migration; Free Movement vs Work Permit Schemes and the Mobile Classes vs the Rooted Classes) in this so far fortnightly series that EU citizens living in the UK should be fully enfranchised, that is, able to vote in General Elections as well as local and regional ones, not to mention in any referenda that may be held.  In this post I want to approach the issue from a different angle.

To be crystal clear, my proposal is that anyone – EU citizen or not – who has legally lived and worked in the UK for a qualifying period of let’s say 3 years should be entitled to vote in all elections and any referenda, the same as UK and Commonwealth citizens.  Essentially I agree with the “If you live here, you can vote here” position advocated by Jon Danzig, a man who clearly has more than the one blog.

Simple arithmetic suggests it may well be the case that the Brexit Referendum would not have been lost had EU citizens had the vote.  But I believe the disenfranchisement has had much more insidious effects on our political discourse.  As Danzig notes, we’ve been “talking about them as if they’re not in the room”, during the referendum campaign, even more so afterwards, but also for years before.  Had politicians had to take UK resident EU citizens’ votes into account the tone of election campaigning over the years might well have been very different and we might never have had the Brexit referendum at all.

We’ve become accustomed to talking about EU citizens as separate from our “communities” – thereby undoing half a century of community relations effort, as I’ll explain another time – but exactly how can we justify denying them the vote?

Do EU citizens living in the UK have less of a stake in the country’s future than do UK citizens?  Well, they are living here, paying their taxes and reliant on the rule of British law and the provision of state services exactly the same as UK citizens, though of course the details depend on everyone’s individual situation.

Are they here only temporarily?  Well, they might be, but the 3 year qualifying period for a vote suggests at least some commitment to the UK.  The majority will most likely stay considerably longer, not least because most of them are in work.  On the other hand, some UK citizens may emigrate, maybe to retire abroad.  We don’t deny categories of UK citizens the vote on the basis that they’re statistically more likely to move overseas.  Even if EU citizens are more likely to leave the UK in the 5 years after a General Election, the number leaving will be only a fraction of those who have been here 3 years or more already, many of them for a decade or more, so the possibility hardly seems to justify denying all of them the vote.  Besides, I could even argue that the EU citizens who leave the UK during the 5 years after a General Election in some sense “speak for” the EU citizens who may move to the UK after that election, not having had a vote.

So there doesn’t seem to be a rational justification for denying EU citizens a vote in General Elections (or referenda) on the basis that they have less stake in the outcome – or less responsibility for the decisions taken by the elected government, for example in terms of paying taxes.

What about other responsibilities?  I’m thinking of the Colonel Blimps who “fought for this country” or rather whose parents or grandparents did.  Well, many EU citizens could argue that their parents or grandparents fought on the same side in the same wars.  More fundamentally, do we really want to grant the vote only to those who pass some test as to the contribution of previous generations?

OK, so what about future responsibilities for the defence of the realm?  For the vast majority of us that simply comes down to paying the taxes that pay for professional armed forces, taxes that apply to EU migrant workers as much as to UK citizens.  We don’t have conscription any more, but even if we did, would it even exclude the 18 year old children of EU citizens who’ve settled in the UK, children who may well be British citizens?

So there doesn’t seem to be a case for denying the vote to EU citizens living in the UK on the basis that they have less responsibility towards the country or have done less for it in the past.

What about ancestry, then?  On one talk-show during the referendum campaign I heard a woman suggest that her family had been in the UK for 700 years and that this gave her greater rights than her interlocutor, who, as I recollect, could only claim a century or two.  Well, I rather suspect everyone’s ancestry is more complex than that, judging by my own family history and that of those celebs who’ve explored theirs on some TV programme, the name of which escapes me just now.  The practicality of DNA tests to measure Britishness would be undermined by the mongrel nature of our nation, as well as, perhaps, by the political need to ensure the Royal Family score highly.  The blood-line idea is twaddle, isn’t it?

That leaves us with the idea of citizenship.  But that is undermined on two counts:

First, EU citizens resident in the UK have never had to apply for UK citizenship.  They have been treated equally with UK citizens under EU treaties (incorporated into UK law), for example, in their entitlement to grants and loans for higher education.  They haven’t even had to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILTR) as some foreign residents need to.

And, as I mentioned in previous posts, people don’t change their citizenship unless they have to.  Doing so may involve giving up some rights in their country of origin.  People don’t necessarily make a decision to stay permanently – that is something that just happens.  And they may reason that, depending on how the UK and other economies do, they might need to look for work in another EU country, Germany say, sometime in the future.  It wouldn’t make sense applying for a UK passport.  Besides, it costs around £1000 (for EU citizens) in the UK nowadays (an agenda item for the Brexit discussions, perhaps) and you have to do a stupid test, involving, I understand, the need to memorise the names of the Eastenders and Coronation Street pubs.  If the only advantage is getting a vote, the price is too high for most people.

The right to participate in the democratic process is surely a right, not something you may have to pay for.

Second, and here’s the kicker, other UK residents born overseas do get a vote, even if they’ve been here less time than EU citizens.  In general, non-EU citizens who want to reside in the UK either have to become UK citizens, giving them the right to vote, or apply for ILTR, which doesn’t confer the right to vote but is usually a necessary step to naturalisation.

So an EU citizen may have lived and worked in the UK for 10 years, the same as an American.  But the American has had more incentive to naturalise, since doing so may be necessary to ensure continued residency, for example, if they wish to spend time outside the UK (which could result in ILTR status lapsing).  Though, as I said at the outset, the American should have the right to vote even if they haven’t taken UK citizenship or even obtained ILTR.

And while we’re at it, why should one American living in the UK with ILTR status (or even without such status) not have a vote, while another who has become a UK citizen does have one?  Especially if the American who has become a UK citizen has done so because they wished to spend a few years abroad before returning to the UK?!

It’s absurd that the right to participate in the UK’s democracy depends on the details of the process you have to follow to maintain residency rights.

The big inconsistency, though, is with Commonwealth and Irish citizens.  When I first looked into this I thought Commonwealth citizens needed ILTR status in order to vote.  I now realise when I read the relevant explanation more carefully that they only need to be in the UK legally:

“A qualifying Commonwealth citizen is someone who has leave to enter or remain in the UK, or does not require such leave.”

So, not only are Commonwealth-born UK residents more likely to have become UK citizens – in order to lock-in their right to reside in the UK – than are those from the EU who’ve come to live here under the EU’s free movement provisions and who haven’t needed to lock-in residency rights (at least up until the Brexit referendum), they don’t need to become a citizen to get a vote anyway.

It might be worth pointing out that the Commonwealth now includes some countries – Rwanda and Mozambique – that have no particular historic connection to the UK.  They’ve merely joined the Commonwealth, perhaps out of dissatisfaction with their own former colonial power or simply to enhance their international profile or even just to create more competitive opportunities for their sportspeople!  Of course, in terms of affecting the outcome of elections or referenda, the number of UK resident Rwandan and Mozambique citizens is insignificant.  But it’s the principle that counts.

The franchise for UK general elections and national referenda is not only illogical but also discriminatory.

It should be amended forthwith on the principle of “If you live here, you can vote here”.

Furthermore, carelessness over this one detail may very well have cost us our EU membership, a disaster the scale of which only history will be able to judge, though perhaps they should place the portrait of David Cameron that, following tradition, will soon adorn the walls of No 10, right next to that of Lord North.

September 20, 2016

How Not to Report a Weather Record: 13th September 2016

Filed under: Effects, Global warming, Science, UK climate trends — Tim Joslin @ 11:21 am

Last Sunday, the Guardian website suggested Tuesday 13th September would be jolly warm:

“If the mercury rises above 31.6C, the temperature was [sic] reached at Gatwick on 2 September 1961, it will be the hottest September day for 55 years.”

“No, no, no!!”, I was obliged to point out, adding, by way of explanation that:

“If the temperature rises above 31.6C it will be the hottest September day for more than 55 years, since 1961 was 55 years ago.

For it to be the hottest September day for 55 years it will only have to be hotter on Tuesday than the hottest September day since 1961.”

Good grief.

After that I was hardly surprised – since your average journo seems not even to be an average Joe, but, to be blunt, an innumerate plagiarist – to read in the Evening Standard on the 13th itself:

“If the heat rises above 31.6C, which was reached at Gatwick on September 2, 1961, then it will be the hottest [September] day for 55 years.”

See what they’ve done there?  With a bit of help from Mr Google, of course.

In the event, it reached 34.4C on 13th, making it the hottest September day for 105 years.

Much was also made of the fact that we had 3 days in a row last week when the temperature broke 30C for the first time in September in 87 years.

But the significance of the 34.4C last Tuesday was understated.

The important record was that the temperature last Tuesday was the highest ever recorded so late in the year, since the only higher temperatures – 34.6C on 8th September 1911 (the year of the “Perfect Summer”, with the word “Perfect” used as in “Perfect Storm”) and 35.0C on 1st rising to 35.6C on 2nd during the Great Heatwave of 1906 – all occurred earlier in the month.  By the way, in 1906 it also reached 34.2C on 3rd September.  That’s 3 days in a row over 34C.  Take that 2016.  They recorded 34.9C on 31st August 1906 to boot, as they might well have put it back then.

No, what’s really significant this year is that we now know it’s possible for the temperature to reach 34.4C as late as 13th September which we didn’t know before.

I’m going to call this a “date record”, for want of a better term.  Any date record suggests either a once in 140 years freak event (since daily temperature records go back that far, according to my trusty copy of The Wrong Kind of Snow) or that it’s getting warmer.

One way to demonstrate global warming statistically is to analyse the distribution of record daily temperatures, i.e. the hottest 1st Jan, 2nd Jan and so on.  Now, if the climate has remained stable, you’d expect these daily records to be evenly distributed over time, a similar number each decade, for example, since 1875 when the records were first properly kept.  But if the climate is warming you’d expect more such records in recent decades.  I haven’t carried out the exercise, but I’d be surprised if we haven’t had more daily records per decade since 1990, say, than in the previous 115 years.

It occurs to me that another, perhaps quicker, way to carry out a similar exercise would be to look at the date records.  You’d score these based on how many days they apply for.  For example, the 34.4C on 13th September 2016 is also higher than the record daily temperatures for 12th, 11th, 10th and 9th September, back to that 34.6C on 8th September 1911.  So 13th September 2016 “scores” 5 days.

Here’s a list of date records starting with the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK:

38.1C – 10th August 2003 – counts for 1 day, since, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we have to assume 10th August is the day when it “should” be hottest

36.1C – 19th August 1932 – 9 days

35.6C – 2nd September 1906 – 14 days

34.6C – 8th September 1911 – 6 days

34.4C – 13th September 2016 – 5 days

31.9C – 17th September 1898 – 4 days

31.7C – 19th September 1926 – 2 days

30.6C – 25th September 1895 – 6 days

30.6C – 27th September 1895 – 2 days

29.9C – 1st October 2011 – 4 days

29.3C – 2nd October 2011 – 1 day

28.9C – 5th October 1921 – 3 days

28.9C – 6th October 1921 – 1 day

27.8C – 9th October 1921 – 3 days

25.9C – 18th October 1997 – 9 days

And you could also compile a list of date records going back from 10th August, i.e. the earliest in the year given temperatures have been reached.

The list above covers a late summer/early autumn sample of just 70 days, but you can see already that the current decade accounts for 10 of those days, that is, around 14%, during 5% of the years.  The 2000s equal and the 1990s exceed expectations in this very unscientific exercise.

Obviously I need to analyse the whole year to draw firmer conclusions.  Maybe I’ll do that and report back, next time a heatwave grabs my attention.

It’s also interesting to note that the “freakiest” day in the series was 2nd September 1906, with a daily record temperature hotter than for any of the previous 13 days.  2nd freakiest was 19th August 1932 – suggesting (together with 2nd September 1906) that perhaps the real story is an absence of late August heatwaves in the global warming era – joint with 18th October 1997, a hot day perhaps made more extreme by climate change.

Am I just playing with numbers?  Or is there a serious reason for this exercise?

You bet there is.

I strongly suspect that there’s now the potential for a sustained UK summer heatwave with many days in the high 30Cs.  A “Perfect Summer” turbocharged by global warming could be seriously problematic.  I breathe a sigh of relief every year we dodge the bullet.

 

 

 

September 9, 2016

After the Brexit Referendum (3) – the Mobile Classes vs the Rooted Classes

Filed under: Brexit, Migration, Politics, Reflections, UK — Tim Joslin @ 9:53 pm

I’ve worked out why I’m overcome with rage whenever I hear Frank Field championing the needs of the “ordinary white working class”, in the Guardian’s words (it’s not clear whether Field actually said “white”), besides, that is, his uncanny resemblance to Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart in the original UK early 1990s House of Cards series.  I suspect that Field and I see the world quite differently.  Hence my irritation.

The contrast between Field and, for example, Gordon Brown could not be more stark.  It seems to me that Brown, and Blair for that matter, both share my view that, when in power, whilst they represented the British people – and they are patriotic – their concerns were not limited to the welfare of the British.  Others, Poles and Romanians, say, deserve no more or less than us Brits.  You could say that Brown, Blair and the many others who supported the Remain side, including myself, are internationalists, but there may be a more fundamental distinction – between open and closed thinking.  An example of closed system thinking is to carefully conduct a laboratory experiment, varying only one factor at a time; but the real world is an open system, with numerous uncontrollable variables.  Closed thinkers only want to worry about their own area of concern; open system thinkers grapple with complexity.  I’m sure Frank Field believes Poles deserve a good life just as much as Brits do.  I presume he just doesn’t think it’s his problem.

But that means Field has to ignore many of the people who make up today’s British society.  And it seems to me that the specific closed way in which he is thinking is to consider only what I will term the “rooted” classes, the people Labour has historically represented.  Perhaps this form of closed thinking explains in part why there’s not only a divide down the middle of the Conservative Party, but also a damaging – because the issue is so fundamental – schism in the Labour Party, the majority enthusiastic for Remain on one side and Field, Gisela Stuart, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Dennis Skinner, to name the most high-profile Brexiteers – assuming we take Corbyn’s Remain stance at face value – on the other.

Just because the Tories are divided over Europe doesn’t mean Labour has to be.  The vocal minority of Labour Brexiteers (4% of their MPs said Field) have done untold damage to the Party, as well as skewed the referendum debate by portraying Labour as more evenly split on the issue than it in fact is.  I expect many enthusiastic Remainers will transfer their allegiance to the Lib Dems, especially if Corbyn stays on as Labour leader.

So, to the point I wanted to make in this post.  It seems to me that we have to begin with the observation that within each social class, in the UK specifically, but also elsewhere – however many classes you want to define – we have a significant subdivision that I would describe as “mobile”.  For simplicity’s sake, I contrast these people with those we might term “rooted”.  So we have skilled and unskilled or “blue collar” and “white collar” working class who will seek employment only near where they live, which is most likely where their parents live.  “Community” – a term which I find to be another source of irritation, since it is far too often glibly used to refer to all those living in an area, whether they ever talk to their neighbours or not – is all important to them.  But we also have skilled and unskilled, “blue collar” and “white collar” working class, however you want to divide them, who are prepared to travel across continents for employment.

Many of the uber-rich are extremely mobile, seemingly basing themselves in multiple global centres or even, to rub in the point, on £200m yachts, though some are undoubtedly more rooted than others.  Though having said that, it occurs to me that it’s not unknown for even royal families to spend a generation or two in exile.

For large numbers of professionals – the middle classes, if you like – the employment market is national, if not international or even global.  In fact, given the custom in the UK of leaving home to attend university, many of us relocate, at least temporarily, while still in education.

Some industries are so concentrated in small numbers of geographical clusters – consider Hollywood, the City of London, the English Premier League – that, if you want work, you’re pretty much obliged to relocate.  Great cities, such as London and New York, are magnets for the aspirational. Companies increasingly require employees to relocate, often across borders – I’ve been told myself that “international experience” may be necessary for career progression.

Of course, not everyone, not even a majority, move to another country, but mobility has been a feature of the last few decades of globalisation.

Although many have emigrated for centuries, in particular to the New World, to some extent renewed mobility has recently trickled down to what Frank Field would call the working classes.  Or let’s put it another way.  Many families have become rooted over the last century or so, particularly in those former industrial heartlands we hear about that voted Brexit so strongly.  Their ancestors, several generations ago, left the countryside during the era of urbanisation ushered in by the Industrial Revolution.

Other families, such as my own, have moved intermittently for generations, around the country and around the world.  For many, moving for work, or for personal reasons, is just something you do.  You make a life where you find yourself.  I have never had any expectation of remaining in the same locality for my whole life.

Here’s my proposition.  At the present time there is a conflict of interests, at least in the UK, between the rooted classes and the mobile classes.  This was a critical divide between Remainers and Leavers in the Brexit referendum.  The rooted classes see the mobile classes as a threat.  This is particularly the case amongst Field’s “ordinary white working class”.  And, indeed, in some ways they are a threat, since as a society we have allowed rights and privileges to accrue to the rooted classes, in particular entitlement to housing.  But, as in the Industrial Revolution, as in the urbanisation of modern China, economic growth and development has always thrived on mobility.  And the economy never stands still.  You can’t make a decision to freeze the economy as it is – you’ll be destroyed by competition.  The mobile classes are essential to the process of economic renewal, to support technological change.  That’s why it’s a mistake for policy to be determined solely by the needs of the rooted classes.

A large part of the reason for the schism in the Labour Party, then, is that the Brexiteers, particularly the likes of Frank Field, see themselves as representing the rooted “ordinary white working class”.  And, to be honest, they have a point, if they take the narrow view that they represent those who vote for them.  Because we – the UK and the EU – have shamefully allowed the mobile classes to become disenfranchised.  Not only were citizens of other EU countries living, working and paying taxes in the UK denied a vote in the Brexit referendum, so, ludicrously, were UK citizens living overseas, even in Europe, if they’d left this country more than the arbitrary number of 15 years ago.

In part this disenfranchisement has occurred because the rooted classes are seen as privileged.  And see themselves that way too, no doubt – I’m sure there is a certain kind of Brit who would be apoplectic at the idea of giving the vote to “EU migrant workers”.  It’s this idea of the “nation” as a people, rather than a place, of course – an idea which perhaps another time I will argue is unsustainable, though I doubt I have anything new to say on such a longstanding and tediously emotive question – together with the idea of citizenship, which rather ignores the fact that a large part of the point of free movement of labour in the EU was to avoid the bureaucracy and emotional hurdle of the citizenship process.  The aim of course was to create a mobile workforce, with individuals perhaps working in the UK today and Germany tomorrow – something Brexit will no doubt make a more common experience!

But citizenship is only a piece of paper (or a bit in a Home Office computer these days, I suppose).  Granting citizenship to immigrants doesn’t necessarily reflect either commitment on the part of the new arrival, though of course it may often do so, nor assimilation into British society.  People become citizens in large part because they need to or perceive that they need to, especially given the significant cost involved to apply in the UK nowadays.  And EU citizens living in the UK under free movement provisions in EU treaties haven’t needed to become citizens, even though they may be just as committed to the UK and integrated into our society than arrivals from elsewhere who have taken citizenship.  In fact, EU citizens have not up to now had to apply for “indefinite leave to remain” in the UK, a status which gives citizens of Commonwealth countries the right to vote in General Elections and referenda.

Thus recent immigrants to the UK from non-EU countries who became UK citizens soon after arrival in this country were able to vote in the Brexit referendum, whereas citizens of EU countries who’d lived here for decades were not.  Compounding the problem, citizens of Commonwealth countries with UK residency status were also allowed to vote, even from those Commonwealth countries which were never British colonies, as in the case of francophone Rwanda and Mozambique, who seemingly joined the Commonwealth out of dissatisfaction with their own former colonial power.  And the status of citizens of Zimbabwe, suspended from the Commonwealth, was so unclear, I had considerable trouble finding out whether or not they were allowed a vote (for the record, I’m pretty sure they were)!  Most of these enfranchised non-UK citizens were also non-EU citizens, but there is in fact overlap between the Commonwealth and the EU, so citizens of Malta and Cyprus could vote.  As could many hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens living the in the UK, for separate historical reasons.  You could hardly make it up.

The electoral bias against the mobile classes arises not just from the electoral franchise, though.  Even when they have the vote, people may not know who to vote for.  They are likely to be unfamiliar with the UK’s political parties.  And our political structures are geographically based, favouring the rooted classes.  Those who have lived in an area for many years are much more likely to join political parties.  Not only will they have an understanding of local issues, they are also much more likely to see their involvement as a worthwhile investment of time.  The political agenda is consequently driven by the rooted classes.

The idea of the Brexit referendum, indeed, any electoral process, was to weigh the views of all those affected by the decision – in this case all those with a direct stake in the UK’s membership of the EU.  Excluding large numbers of the mobile classes simply biased the vote.  For the mobile classes the opportunities provided by the EU may outweigh any downsides, whereas for the rooted classes aspects of the EU may seem a threat, perhaps one not sufficiently counterbalanced by the benefits to the UK economy.  To reach the right decision all these individual experiences need to be taken into account.  And since the outcome was 52% plays 48% – a difference of a bit over a million votes – somewhat less than the number of EU citizens living in the UK but denied a vote, let alone the total if we also took into account the UK citizens who’ve been living abroad for more than 15 years, it’s very likely that we’ve actually reached the wrong answer as to what is best for the UK.

August 23, 2016

After the Brexit Referendum (2) – Free Movement vs Work Permit Schemes

Filed under: Brexit, Economics, Migration, Politics — Tim Joslin @ 3:22 pm

In my previous post, I argued that free movement is the best way to organise migration.  During the referendum campaign we heard Boris Johnson parrot the phrase “Australian-style points system” with nauseating regularity.  Putting to one side the inconvenient fact that even Australia doesn’t have an Australian-style points system, since a large majority of migrants to Australia are brought in through company sponsorship schemes, I nevertheless assumed that the UK would, after Brexit, attempt to implement some kind of points-based system.

I argued that a points-based system was misguided, in part because it’s bound to reduce social mobility within the UK.  Nevertheless, as the Guardian reports, a survey by ICM on behalf of a think-tank, albeit one I’d never previously heard of, called British Future, found that “[o]nly 12% [of the sample] want to cut the number of highly skilled workers migrating to Britain; nearly half (46%) would like to see an increase, with 42% saying that it should stay the same.”  Baffling.  Why exactly are we leaving the EU?

But, part way through my previous post, it became clear that a pure points-based system might not be what all the Brexiteers have in mind.  I quoted David Goodhart writing in Prospect magazine in favour of “guest citizenship”.  According to Goodhart, free movement has led to many EU citizens coming to the UK who “do not want or need to become British”, causing an “integration problem”.  He claims that “unnecessary resentment” has been created by “the lack of a distinction between full and guest citizenship”.  Utter poppycock.  The problem is the reverse.  Voters are afraid, so they tell us, of their communities being changed by immigration.  If they thought migrant workers were here only temporarily one might reasonably suppose they’d be less, not more, concerned.  In a Wonderland Alice-like leap of logic, Goodhart somehow argues that because many migrants don’t stay forever they should be prevented from doing so, ignoring the common-sense argument that people don’t usually make a decision to stay forever in advance.  Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.  Roots are put down over a long period of time.  Moss gathers only slowly on stones.  And so on.

To put my cards on the table, I find Goodhart’s views fairly, well, abhorrent is the word that comes to mind.  He notes in passing, for example, that “the right of people to bring in dependents should be reviewed.”  It seems to me that if you’re working somewhere, you should be able to make your life there.  Not every migrant worker will choose to do so, of course, and some jobs necessarily involve spending time away from one’s family, but settling where you work is the norm, and I don’t see what right the UK has to prevent it.  Doing so is exploitation, pure and simple, taking advantage of the weaker economic circumstances in some other parts of the world.

So I was a bit disappointed to read Alistair Campbell’s musings in The New European (“My memo to Mrs May…”, issue 2, July 15-21 2016) drifting towards Goodhart’s position:

“…in addition to discussing terms of exit, you would like [sic] to explore the possible terms on which we might stay, including another look at immigration… Might freedom of movement become freedom of labour, for example?”

No, Alistair, we should simply be asking for what the EU failed to accept first time round when Cameron asked, which is renewed transition controls with those countries from which there is a large net flow to the UK.  Clearly, 7 years has not proved to be anything like enough for the economies of Eastern Europe to converge with those in the West.  This would save the principle of free movement by amending the rules, rather than sacrificing the principle to rigid, ill-thought-out rules that were drafted on the basis of no experience whatsoever.

The bizarre situation we find ourselves in is that we’ve voted to leave the EU in part because of the number of migrants into rural areas – Boston, Lincolnshire, had the highest Brexit vote – but, judging by the frequent dire warnings from food producers, supposedly we are going to have to create (presumably time-limited) work-permit schemes to maintain the migrant work-force in those very same areas!  Yeap, we need temporary migrants to replace people who, according to David Goodhart, were treating “our national home… as a transit camp and a temporary inconvenience.”

We’ve got a big problem here.  On many levels, not just that of how society values different jobs, an aspect Peter Fleming emphasises.

According to the food producers, we have to produce as much food in the UK as possible.  Even though farming less intensively and leaving more land fallow would surely reduce soil depletion and enhance our ability to feed ourselves in the long-term.  Do we really think our national security is at risk if we have to buy cucumbers from Poland or Romania, rather than employ Poles and Romanians to pick cucumbers grown in East Anglia?  Of course it isn’t.

And apparently migrants on low wages are essential to our food production.  Yet those communities ultimately sustained by farming – Boston, Lincolnshire and its ilk – don’t want East European shops and voices on their high street. I guess Goodhart envisages migrant permits forcing workers to stay on the farm 24/7 – how else to prevent them shopping or speaking in Boston High Street? – and, I presume, traveling in blacked out vehicles to and from Stansted for their Wizzair flights.

But what bothers me most is the general attitude that it is acceptable for non-UK citizens to live in conditions that the locals aren’t expected to put up with.  The fact that only migrant workers will do certain jobs should not be a reason for ensuring a continual flow of migrant workers under schemes denying them rights to make a life in the UK.  Rather, it should be a warning that working conditions in those jobs are exploitative.  Pay – that is, the minimum wage – needs to be increased.  Only when British workers apply for such jobs should we employ migrant workers with a clear conscience.

And I seem to recollect that seasonal fruit-picking jobs were advertised in local newspapers back in the day (I’m talking ’70s and ’80s).  I read such ads as a kid and wondered if I could get some pocket-money that way.  Students, I recall, habitually supplemented their grants by helping bring in the harvest – grape-picking in France being the coolest gig.

The government should simply  face down the farming lobby.  Tell them they’ll simply have to pay more after Brexit.  Put the minimum wage up faster than currently planned to give them a clue as to what they should be paying.  Don’t give them an exploitative migrant-worker scheme.  And don’t give one either to any of the many other industries that are also no doubt lobbying ferociously behind the scenes.  If some jobs move overseas and we have to import cucumbers, so be it.  It makes no economic sense for the UK to do everything – the theory of comparative advantage and all that.

The tragic thing is that if we hadn’t accepted over the last decade that it was OK to employ migrants on lower pay than Brits would accept for the same work and conditions we might not be Brexiting in the first place.

 

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