Tom Arms World Review – 11 April 2021

Northern Ireland was a key part of Britain’s Brexit referendum. Remainers claimed that withdrawal from the EU risked undermining the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and a return to The Troubles which raged through the province for 30 years. “Fear Factor” retorted the Brexiteers. “It won’t happen.” But after a week of sectarian violence it looks as if there was something to fear. The Troubles began in 1968 because the Protestant-controlled Stormont government insisted on anti-Catholic legislation. The Catholics saw their only hope in unification with the Republic of Ireland in the South. The Good Friday Agreement kept the dream alive for the Catholics and kicked it into the long grass for the Protestants. The north/south border was to stay open. Why not? Both countries were members of the EU. The aspiration of Irish unification was allowed to remain on the table, but no date or form was agreed. Perhaps the two EU members would gradually move towards some sort of federation under the auspices of an overarching European Union. After all, the EU was a guarantor of the peace along with the US, Britain and Ireland. Then came Boris Johnson’s easy-peasy-oven-ready-you-can-have-your-cake-and-eat-too deal. In a major concession to Brussels, Washington and Dublin, Johnson stabbed the Protestant Union Democratic Party in the back and agreed to keep open the north/south border and draw a new customs border down the Irish Sea, separating mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. This is the Northern Ireland Protocol. It immediately complicated trade between the Ulster provinces and Britain and it moved the aspiration of Irish unification from the long to the short grass. The result is that this time the Protestants are taking the lead in violence and they can be even more stubborn than and just as nasty as the IRA.

Ukraine again appears on the edge of the abyss and threatening to drag others in behind her. Russian tanks and armoured vehicles have this week been rushed to Russian/ Ukrainian border. 4,000 airborne assault troops have been rushed to annexed Crimea. Nato ministers have met in emergency session. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy has visited the front line. Joe Biden has promised him “unwavering support” and Moscow has threatened to “protect” Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine from “Nato aggression” (a nationalistic ploy used in 1938 and 1939 by Hitler to justify attacks on Czechoslovakia). We should not, however, be wholly surprised by events. Ukraine has been piggy in the middle between Russia and the West for centuries. In the 18th century it was divided by the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. In the middle of the 19th century Britain, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire fought a war to keep the Russian navy out of the Black Sea. In World War I Western Ukraine sided with Austria-Hungary and Germany. Eastern Ukraine went with Tsarist Russia. During World War II the western half sided with Hitler and the East with Stalin. After World War II all of Ukraine was absorbed into the new Soviet empire. As a reward for its acquiescence, the state government was given Crimea, which explains why the strategic peninsula became part of an independent Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The longer history explains why a nationalistic Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent “volunteers” to regain the Eastern region. In the meantime, an independent Ukraine was has become a “Red Line” for Nato. Putin, in desperate need of a foreign policy success, is betting on the line being more of a washed out pink.

Good and possibly bad news on the Iranian front. The good news is that Washington and Tehran are talking about the US re-joining the Iran Nuclear Accord. Actually they are not talking to each other. They are holding what are called “proximity talks” in Vienna which means the two delegations sit in separate rooms while diplomats from third party countries run back and forth. This rather clumsy procedure has not been helped by the news that China and Iran signed a 25-year Cooperation Agreement which will undermine US sanctions against Iran. The economic blacklisting of Tehran was a key part of the Trump Administration’s strategy to force Iran to abandon any nuclear ambitions. Biden has said he would lift his predecessor’s sanctions if Tehran makes moves to disengage from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen; and pulls back on its nuclear plans and development of long-range missiles. The Iranians say: lift sanctions first. China’s priority is not undermining US negotiators. After all, they too are signatories of the Iran Nuclear Accord. Their main concern is strengthening their Belt/Road initiative and securing an energy source. But the deal, as Iran has made clear, gives Tehran some economic breathing space and strengthens their negotiating position in Vienna.

It is being called “sofagate”. Turkey’s protocol blunder in failing to supply an armchair for European Commission president at this week’s EU-Turkish summit. In the rarefied upper reaches of European diplomacy image counts. And Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was clearly miffed that her position and image suffered over seating arrangements that left her first standing and then relegated to a distant sofa. So what could be the impact? For a start, the diplomatic gaffe will be damage Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reputation with feminists, especially as it came only a few days after he pulled Turkey out of the International Convention on Violence Against Women. Neither does it help his half-hearted efforts to keep alive Turkish dreams of eventual membership of the EU. From Brussels’ point of view, it makes it more difficult for the EU to renew the vital EU-Turkey deal whereby the EU paid billions to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey. Finally, it damages Ms van der Leyen already tarnished reputation. A number of EU figures feel that the former German defence minister was forced on them by Chancellor Angela Merkel and she is perceived as done a poor job rolling out the coronavirus vaccine and dealing with post-Brexit Britain.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and News.


  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '21 - 9:54am

    “Northern Ireland was a key part of Britain’s Brexit referendum. Remainers claimed that withdrawal from the EU risked undermining the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and a return to The Troubles which raged through the province for 30 years. ”

    Probably, it should have been, but it was barely mentioned. I do remember Tony Blair raising the issue but I’m struggling to think of anyone else.

    Leavers didn’t want to raise the difficulty of a future border, for obvious reasons.

    Remainers were also reluctant, because they didn’t want to say that our membership of the EU was based on anything other than our free choice. We weren’t trapped, we hadn’t lost any sovereignty and we could leave any time we liked.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Apr '21 - 10:11am

    Peter Martin

    Indeed. The real problem with NI was building agreements on a casual assumption that EU membership was permanent.

    It was clear in the 1990s what a constitutional deficit there was.

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '21 - 10:13am

    I’ve just had a look at what LDV was saying about the Irish border before the referendum. There isn’t much but Tom Aris does mention it in the article below. The title of the posting itself contradicts Tom Arm’s assertion.

    Nevertheless you do have to get it right. Tom Aris seems to be unaware that there has always been free movement between the Republic , which isn’t a part of Schengen, and the UK. All the talk about passports being needed to cross from Belfast was way off.

  • As a witness to the affects of the troubles in Ulster after many years travelling through the country on our way to wife’s family in beautiful County Donegal, it is so sad too see the same violent hatred beginning all over again, bought about by mindless blabber mouth, selfish politicians of the oven ready type. A leader to be proud of, how does he get away with it??

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Apr '21 - 10:40am

    Peter Martin

    I remember that I was at a conference about workforce planning in 2010. I was very literally laughed out of the room when I said that it was wrong and arguably dangerous to assume the EU as permanent.

    The complacency has been staggering. One wonders what some people thought was the purpose of A50.

  • Peter Martin, there were articles like this one from William Hague

    It’s not that people weren’t saying this, it is just that the public discourse stayed well away from people who knew what they were talking about.

  • Common sense is lacking whatever side of the argument you stand on regarding NI, a border so wild and remote is impossible to control, along with the ingenuity of the Irish. It is a shame religion gets in the way once again!

  • Brad Barrows 11th Apr '21 - 11:17am

    @Barry Lofty
    Let us be honest and make clear that the trouble in Northern Ireland is not about rival religious groups – that is just a visible symptom of the underlying issue which is national identity. Most of those taking part in any trouble have probable little by way of personal religious faith themselves but wear their ‘religion’ as a marker for their national identity. A better way to characterise the trouble is between British Unionists and Irish Nationalists.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Apr '21 - 11:19am

    Joe Otten

    Serious question – not having a dig.

    What do you think is the purpose of A50?

    If the face of Treaty contains an explicit exit clause then surely no one has any reasonable expectation of permanence. I don’t even think that is a contentious statement.

  • Whether it contributes anything to the argument or not it maybe of interest to say that my in-laws in the the Republic were Protestants and in my view had a good working relationship with their Catholic farming neighbours and were very proud of Ireland. What does that say?

  • Whilst some of the rioting is the outcome of inaction against Nationalists by police for ignoring Covid rules, the rest is undoubtedly the kick back against the protocol. The EU decided to weaponize NI and now we have the result.

    EU’s Michael Barnier secretly filmed plotting to use Ireland as … › watch
    8 Aug 2019 — A secret recording confirms that the EU are using Ireland as a pawn; intending to keep it isolated and use … Your browser can’t play this video.

  • Of course the British Government are entirely innocent of any miscalculations in their dealings over NI?

  • John Marriott 11th Apr '21 - 12:25pm

    Northern Ireland
    I could be flippant and say that if ever they solved ‘the Irish Question’, someone would just change ‘the Question’.

    Of course the Unionists have been sold down the river by the Johnson government; but Brexit is the pretext not the real reason. However, what do the youngsters currently throwing petrol bombs to the police, egged on no doubt by older more cynical elements really know about ‘The Troubles’? Perhaps we should start the blame with Cromwell for encouraging so many Scots Protestants to cross the Irish Sea to settle in Ulster. Or how about James II for making his last stand there? Then there’s the reaction of the British Government to the 1916 Easter Rising, or the bowing to Sir Edward Carson and his followers during and after WW1?

    As the Unionist population is overtaken by the Nationalist population of Northern Ireland perhaps this will provide an answer. Who knows? What I do know is that, around the world in general and in our own back yard in particular, religion has much to answer for, although, in many instances, criminality masquerading behind its veneer of justification plays an equally significant part.

    Oh please, NATO, don’t let Ukraine become a member. Putin is paranoid enough at the moment, having seen the Baltic States, which, as Tim Farron famously said, used to house Soviet missiles pointing west, now have Western missiles pointing east. Don’t let’s make matters even worse. How would we in England feel if, after going full independence, Scotland were to become a Jihadist state (not very likely, I admit, but my aged brain couldn’t come up with a more appropriate simile)?

    I reckon that Turkey is rapidly losing faith with the West, and the EU in particular. As a vital piece of the Nato jigsaw (didn’t the promise by JFK to withdraw certain Soviet Union pointing missiles in Turkey act as a quid pro quo with Khrushchev during the Cuban Missiles Crisis?) can we really afford it put its back up. Mind you, talking of quid pro quo, perhaps NATO might prefer to exchange Turkey for Ukraine? Either way, we in the west are clearly playing with fire, while China continues to expand its influence and power.

  • Barry Lofty 11th Apr ’21 – 11:00am………… It is a shame religion gets in the way once again!…………….

    Many, if not most, of those leaders of independent Ireland movements have been protestant..From Wolfe Tone to Erskine Childers.. Childers resigned as a Liberal MP and left the party in protest at its duplicity over a united Ireland..

    It was this party that, by deceit, agreed the partition of Ireland..The Irish Party (Home Rule) party was promised that Ulster was to be given just a ‘temporary exclusion’ whilst, at the same time the Unionists were given a written promise that their exclusion was permanent..

    What a start; no wonder the extreme views have become more entrenched with the passing of time…

  • Northern Island has come a long way since the Good Friday agreement, although sectarian divides continue to bedevil communities in deprived areas. The PSNI has a large catholic complement now although it remains dominated by protestant officers. It is these officers that rioting youths are attacking in Derry/Londonderry and elsewhere.
    It is unclear at this stage to what extent paramilitary organisations are involved, but Naomi Long has accused unionist politicians of helping to “fan the flames”
    She also says the police have been “politicised” in Northern Ireland & describes that as “very worrying”.

  • David Evans 11th Apr '21 - 2:51pm

    Joe Bourke, It is clear you have never heard the joke going around Liverpool at the time of the Toxteth Riots.

    A police constable was in the front line facing petrol bombers during the Toxteth Riots, when his nerve broke and he ran away from the turmoil. Eventually he ran into a couple of officers who stopped him and when he had calmed down, he said “Sergeant, It’s terrible there. The petrol bombs are coming at us from all directions. We need more men”. The reply came back “Constable, I’m a Chief Inspector. Don’t you recognise my insignia?” To which the constable said “Blimey, have I run that far?”

    It will be constables and sergeants re attacking in Derry/Londonderry and elsewhere, not senior officers, and everyone knows that.

  • First of all, I would not consider a border dotted with military checkpoints to be an open border. That was the situation during The Troubles. I know, I was there covering it as a young journalist. Secondly, I was not stating the Lib Dem position or understanding about the role of Northern Ireland in the Brexit referendum debate. My blog reflects my beliefs which may or may not coincide with the official party position. Like most people I was probably guilty of echo chamber politics during the debate. My main concern was the contribution the EU has made towards the maintenance of peace in Europe. I saw things such as economic prosperity and free movement of people as a consequence of that peace rather than as stand alone issues. Because that view is important to me I appear to have wrongly assumed that it is important to others. A touch naive, perhaps?
    Speaking of ignoring important topics, I am surprised that no one has commented on my references to Ukraine.

  • Yeovil Yokel 11th Apr '21 - 3:32pm

    Erdogan’s snub towards von der Leyen may have damaged his reputation with feminists, but it has elevated her reputation with me. Her reaction was a model of calm composure, and I was disappointed that Michel took the proffered chair rather than remain standing as an act of solidarity until von der Leyen had been given a chair as well. Although unlikely, It wouldn’t surprise me if Putin hadn’t put Erdogan up to this as a way of putting the female Commission President in her place. This was no ‘gaffe’, this was deliberate, outrageous, and calculated to demean.

  • Barry Lofty 11th Apr '21 - 3:47pm

    My own controversial view on hot spots like Ukraine is that the West takes it eyes off these power hungry nationalistic leaders at our peril or the world will find itself in a far greater dilemma than global warming, I speak as someone who lived through the cold war and realised how close we came then to inhalation.

  • Barry Lofty 11th Apr '21 - 4:00pm

    Sorry Annihilation!!!!

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '21 - 4:10pm

    @ Brad Burrows,

    “Let us be honest and make clear that the trouble in Northern Ireland is not about rival religious groups ……… A better way to characterise the trouble is between British Unionists and Irish Nationalists.”

    You’re absolutely right. But it’s rare to find a correct understanding of the problem in England.

    Concepts of the left, centre and right don’t have so much relevance in Northern Ireland. If you’re a Unionist you’ll vote one way and if you’re an Irish Nationalist you’ll vote the other. There used to be a widespread misconception England that Sinn Fein/IRA was only supported by a small minority of Nationalists. Which is why many think it is amusing that Sinn Fein is now calling for rioters to be prosecuted.

    Clearly they don’t understand what is going on there. This includes Boris Johnson who is clearly at fault for breaking his pledge on the Irish Sea border.

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '21 - 4:37pm

    The Troubles began in 1968 because the Protestant-controlled Stormont government insisted on anti-Catholic legislation. The Catholics saw their only hope in unification with the Republic of Ireland in the South.

    Again this isn’t right. There was discriminatory Stormont legislation in place long before 1968. It was like this right from the get-go in the 20s. The Nationalist population was always in favour of a united Ireland. This didn’t start in 1968.

    The problem simply worsened in ’68 and was largely caused by that pet love of Lib Dems, devolution. Laws that are made in Westminster don’t necessarily apply in Northern Ireland. So we had the odd situation that those who were most in favour of the Union with Britain were allowed to pick and choose which laws would and wouldn’t apply. If the excesses of the NI Unionists had been controlled much earlier then we wouldn’t have had 30 years of Troubles.

    Now, we shouldn’t mind anyone such as those in the Falklands, Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man etc wanting to be British. We should support them. But they shouldn’t be allowed quite so much choice over which laws they will accept. This includes all social laws on such matters as racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination. Oh, I almost forgot! It should include tax law too. If there is 20% VAT, for example, in the UK then there should be 20% VAT in Gibraltar too.

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '21 - 4:59pm

    @ Martin,

    “Brexiters in the 2016 campaign vowed that leaving the Single Market was unthinkable.”

    Not Quite.

    In an interview with Andrew Marr on 8 May 2016, Michael Gove said: “We should be outside the single market. We should have access to the single market, but we should not be governed by the rules that the European Court of Justice imposes on us.”

    Vote Leave said: Britain will have access to the Single Market after we vote leave but not membership.

    It can be reasonably argued that there was an element of “cakeism” about the Leave position. Leavers wanted access for Free Trade but they didn’t want to accept that the price of this was a loss of sovereignty over matters like immigration and fishing rights.

    Remainers well understood what was going on but were reluctant to highlight the loss of sovereignty in the first place, and so failed to expose the level of wishful thinking in the Leave position.

  • NATO should state that if Ukraine invites them in they will deploy the Rapid Reaction Force and send more troops to the Baltic. Britain can and should contribute.

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '21 - 8:34pm

    @ Martin,

    I’m touched you think I have such influence, but there were a few others too!

    Look, I’m not anti European. I would like to see another European Union that worked in the interests of its peoples. There then would be very little ‘Euroscepticism’.

    If you’re looking for single individuals to blame you might want to consider the following candidates: Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Nick Clegg, and Jo Swinson. As VC put it himself:

    “But the thing that did harm was the big cutbacks in investment and that’s what has caused many of these northern communities to continue to decay.”

    That decay was a huge factor in the decision of the majority of voters to opt for Leave.

    Up until 2015 I would probably have voted Remain but the punitive treatment of the Greek Syriza govt pushed me firmly into the Leave camp. I know that wasn’t a huge factor nationally, but it was a clincher as far as I was concerned.

  • John Marriott 11th Apr '21 - 9:09pm

    ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland may have kicked off in earnest around 1968, but discrimination against Catholics had been a ticking time bomb for decades. The two people, who come to mind as the main catalysts, were Civil Rights MP Bernadette Devlin and Loyalist Ian Paisley Snr. Devlin, I believe, actually attempted to attack Tory minister, Reginald Maudlin, on the floor of the House of Commons. Having lit the fuse, Ms Devlin then appeared to walk away. We all know what happened to the Rev Paisley.

    I would go back to WW1 to find the real beginning of the present problem, for which the Tory Party can carry much of the blame. The party, which provided Lloyd George with his majority after the ‘Coupon Election’ of 1918 had for a number of years given its backing to Sir Edward Carson and his campaign for the retention of the Six Counties within the U.K. The Liberal Party Policy of Home Rule for the island of Ireland died in tge aftermath of the 1916 Easter Uprising and the split between Lloyd George and Asquith, taking their supporters with them. The open wound left by the ensuing civil war never really healed, especially north of the border.

    Secondly, unlike Tim Rogers, I do hope that we do not allow Ukraine to join NATO. With the former Warsaw Pact Baltic States switching sides, this move would be guaranteed to increase Putin’s paranoia. There are enough hot spots around the world already without adding another one.

  • Jayne mansfield 11th Apr '21 - 11:46pm

    @ Martin,

    Well said. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  • The Ukraine does look like it will continue as a hotspot for the foreseaable future. Unlike the case of the Czechs and Slovaks in the former Czechoslovakia, the divide between what is “Eastern Ukraine” and what is “Western Ukraine” is unclear. This makes any effort at partitioning Ukraine into precise “East” and “West” halves impossible, thus ruling out any sort of “Velvet Divorce” Czechoslovak-style breakup. It also makes the overall situation in Ukraine potentially more dangerous, especially since the government in Kiev is dominated by mostly West Ukrainian activists.
    The United Nations was created to try and get away from Great Power spheres of influence, but realpolitik makes that difficult to apply in practice.
    Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Serhiy Kyslytsya has called on the United Nations to deprive Russia of its veto right at UN Security Council meetings, as it is an aggressor country that continues waging a war against Ukraine.
    “As a party to the conflict, non-elected member of the UN Security Council that is not even mentioned in Article 23 of the UN Charter on the composition of the Council, Russia should not be allowed to use veto power,”
    “Repetitive statements by Russian officials about Russia’s alleged ‘mediation’ role in the Donbas peace process are outrageous. Russia has not been and cannot, in principle, be a mediator in the conflict it has started and continues to take part in since the first day of aggression,”.

  • Peter Martin 12th Apr '21 - 3:23am

    @ Martin,

    On a point of information: The 2015 dispute between the EU and Greece wasn’t about immigration. It was about the ability of a democratically elected government to do what it had promised to do in order to win an election.

    That’s absolutely fundamental and trumps anything else such as socialism or liberalism. I shouldn’t have to explain this to anyone who is a member of a party with the word ‘Democrats’ in their name.

    Not that my own party was any better. Their silence over what was happening in the EU was embarrassing. If there had been any real criticism of the actions of the Troika then it would have made me at least consider the possibility that the EU might be democratically reformable.

  • Andrew Tampion 12th Apr '21 - 6:56am

    As far as Northern Ireland is concerned the Conservative Party have to accept blame for the deal they negotiated and the way that they negotiated it. But they European Union are also at fault. The EU could have choosen to interpret Article 50 to allow parallel negotiations of the “Divorce” and “Future Relationship” agreements, as the British Government wanted, in which case many of problems, including the Irish border, could have been reduced if not avoided. Also the pro EU lobby could have choosen to campaign for a closer EU relationship, which would have had a similar result, instead of trying to overturn the Referendum result.

  • @ John Marriott You couldn’t make it up – but it’s true…… about the Tories.

    Pre-WW1in March, 1914 Bonar Law’s chum Carson was importing guns into Ulster from Germany, and British Army officers at the Curragh near Dublin were threatening to resign rather than intervene. Asquith had to sort it all out and took over at the War Office as well as being PM (and telling Churchill not to use the Royal Navy to bombard Belfast).

    Today we hear Cameron saying, “there are ‘lessons to be learned’ about lobbying the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Health Secretary for a private business that employs him…… and at the same time, Boris, yes Boris, the master of personal responsibility is telling everybody ‘to be responsible’.

    And to think the Lib Dems thought they could go into a Coalition with that bunch of flag wagging garagistas and trust them shows an incredible level of naivety . You just couldn’t make it up. As they saying goes, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Apr '21 - 8:09am

    David Raw.

    At the risk of saying something stupid. What’s a ‘garagista?’

  • And just to confirm it, here’s today’s Guardian :

    “Union in peril as PM ‘speaks for England alone’, former civil servant warns. Sir Philip Rycroft says PM’s ‘muscular brand of unionism’ has deepened divisions between four nations”.

    By way of explanation, Sir Philip was the Director-General of Nick Clegg’s Deputy Prime Minister’s Office in the Cabinet Office in 2012. He was the Second Permanent Secretary and Head of the newly-formed UK Governance Group. Earlier he had been principle policy adviser to the new devolved Lib-Lab Scottish Executive

    In 2016, Rycroft moved to the new Department for Exiting the European Union as its Second Permanent Secretary, whilst retaining his role heading the UK Governance Group before becoming the Permanent Secretary in 2017.

  • Peter Martin 12th Apr '21 - 10:14am

    @ David Raw,

    I can think of better words to describe both David Cameron and Lex Greensill!

    So what were they both up to? The idea, as I understand it, was to persuade the Govt to issue NHS bonds which would be guaranteed against future revenues to the NHS provided by government and offer Greensill pole position in the purchase queue. Of course, they would spin this as providing the money to give a pay rise to nurses and help out with the extra expenses involved with the Covid pandemic etc.

    The real motivation was, of course, to line their own pockets. Greensill could then use the collateral of what are effectively risk free government backed bonds to borrow even more money at a much lower interest than they were lending it back to the NHS via their purchases of newer bonds. It was a perpetual money making scam!

    There is no need for the NHS to borrow money from Greensill, or anyone else, at a high rate of interest when the Government which owns it can borrow just about cost free.

    The criticism so far has been that David Cameron has been lobbying the government. There is nothing wrong with that, per se, providing he isn’t doing it for any personal gain and there demonstrably is a public purpose or benefit in such lobbying. But this is just lobbying to enable a couple of shysters to take money from us all to use for their own private use. That this failed doesn’t change their intent. At a time when our courageous NHS professionals have been putting their own lives on the line to save their patients, they both deserve to spend jail time for attempted fraud.

  • Re Sofagate, I don’t agree with Tom’s view that it was a protocol blunder by Erdogan to fail to give Ms van der Leyen a chair. I don’t have any respect for the lady because of the disastrous aftermath she has made as head of the EU Bureucracy in her attempts to deflect blame onto the Brits for the EU vaccine fiasco.

    However, Erdogan is an authoritarian populist, and his treatment of her will go down very well with his core support. Deliberate plan – pure and simple.

  • The Unionists in N. Ireland are central to solving this issue. What will they accept and when? It is only by placing them in this position that violence can be avoided and some hope for a United Kingdom be maintained.

  • DEFLECT BLAME: We have the arch proponents of that art abiding in No10 at this present moment!

  • Well spoken by Ian Sanderson,

    The NI protocol has the potential to give Northern Island businesses the best of both worlds, if handled properly
    This is where LibDems should be focusing attention. Brexit is done. We have to make the best of the arrangements that have been put in place and work for the benefit of all.

  • Peter Kenny 12th Apr '21 - 7:21pm

    John Marriot’s description of Bernadette Devlin is rather deficient.

    She slapped Reginald Maudling, then Tory Home Secretary, in the House of Commons after he described the Parachute Regiment’s behaviour on Bloody Sunday as ‘self defence’.

    The day before she had been repeatedly not called in the debate about Bloody Sunday, despite the long standing convention that MPs who were present at an incident under discussion should be called.

    She was right about Bloody Sunday.

    The idea that she ‘lit the fuse and walked away’ is nonsense. She stood for Parliament on the basis of rejecting the long standing Republican Policy of abstention, which is how come she was in the HoC in 1972 to slap Maudling.

    She represented a view in Parliament that had not been heard for many years, if it had been heard perhaps the Troubles wouldn’t have happened.

    She remained a staunch Republican and stood for election again.

    She was the victim of an attempted assassination by the UFF, which she survived.

    Whatever else you think of her she could not be reasonably described as someone who ‘walked away’.

  • Renata Jackson 12th Apr '21 - 8:54pm

    Disgusting comment by John Marriott, but typical of the many small-minded ignorant types that post and moderate on this site.

  • John Marriott 12th Apr '21 - 8:58pm

    @Peter Kenny
    You obviously know much more about Ms Devlin than I do. All I know is that, a bit like a firework, she erupted briefly but spectacularly, something that seemed to coincide with an escalation of ‘the troubles’. You argue that, had she been given a chance, the troubles might have been avoided. Some might equally argue that it was her being around that played its part in making sure that the troubles did take place.

  • John Marriott 12th Apr '21 - 10:18pm

    @Renata Jackson
    It never ceases to amaze me how people latch on to one remark, when clearly I am no defender of the injustices perpetrated against the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. However, it does take two to tango. “Disgusting comment”? That’s your opinion; although you appear to be easily “disgusted”. I am just trying to recall events and personalities of almost a lifetime ago as I seem to remember them. Sorry if it offends. Call it “small minded” if it makes you feel better. I can’t help feeling the way I do.

  • Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is still around. She recently appeared in an interview on UTV/ITV in Northern Ireland
    She ended up with six A levels before attending Queens University. The first three – Physics, Maths and Chemistry. Then English Lit, Irish and French in her 2nd year of sixth form. She says she was drawn to the civil rights movement through her own experience of poverty and inequality growing up.
    She talks about her meeting with the Rev Ian Paisley and says he was the winner in the political battle between himself and republicans in Northern Ireland.

  • She was 21 when she was elected in 1969, having been a student organiser for the Civil Rights movement. If you look at what the Civil Rights movement was asking for, you’ll see demands for basic civil liberties and human rights.

    Things like an end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, the abolition of extra votes for business owners, an end to sectarian discrimination.

    So, in the ‘dance’, the ‘tango’ as you call it, one side wanted those things, the others did their level best to stop them happening, by the direct use of state violence via the ‘B’ specials and vigilante groups.

    Bernadette Devlin was a heroic figure in those years, breaking the abstentionism of traditional republicanism to go to the UK Parliament, young and alone, to speak for her people. As I said, if those voices had been heard, the history of Northern Ireland might well have been different.

    There was a window of hope in the late sixties/ early 70s – pre Bloody Sunday and Internment – when a thorough reform of NI could have stopped the slide into what was a low level war.

    I profoundly disagree with some of her choices in that later period, but the disrespect and lack of knowledge about her, and her context, directly reflects the condescension and malign press she faced at the time.

    Despite her clear mandate, her direct experience, eloquence and energy she was ignored, mocked and, in the early eighties, targeted for assassination, likely with the collusion of the Security Services.

    You might be interested to note that the Home Secretary she slapped, Reginald Maudling, was later implicated in the corruption around Poulson, severely criticised by the House Standards Committee and saved by his fellow MPs, across Parties, from any direct consequences.

  • Here are the six demands of ‘People’s Democracy’, a key Civil Rights organisation, of which Bernadette Devlin was a key activist: one person, one vote; a fair drawing of electoral boundaries; freedom of speech and assembly; repeal of the Special Powers Act; and a fair allocation of jobs and social housing.

    This was the political programme which the Northern Ireland state tried to crush by violence, a programme which, if implemented, would have radically altered the history of NI. For the better, in my view.

  • In the same period, Ian Paisley’s political message was: ‘no popery’ and ‘keep Ulster Protestant’.

    In 1970 Bernadette Devlin was the representative of Civil Rights for all and Paisley was the representative of sectarianism.

    If there was a dance, it wasn’t the Tango!

  • John Marriott is right to say “The open wound left by the ensuing civil war never really healed, especially north of the border.” The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (based around Martin Luther Kings movement in the USA) did begin to make some progress in the late sixties/early seventies until the start of internment and the events of Bloody Sunday. But it was never likely to achieve its aims without the wholehearted backing of the Westminster government.
    The Sunningdale agreement of 1974 might have succeeded if it has been enforced by the Heath and Wilson governments. Harold Wilson, on a visit to NI at the time, had said that there was no alternative to the Sunningdale Agreement. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement closely resembles the original Sunningdale Agreement. But it was not to be, and it was not until Margaret Thatcher entered into the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985 that there was any further progress towards a political resolution of the troubles.
    It is troubling to think that, despite power-sharing, much of the underlying economic issues that gave rise to the Civil rights movement and troubles of the 1960s seem to be still present in both Nationalist and Loyalist communities today. Lack of decent paying job opportunities; inadequate educational system for working class boys; social housing shortages and urban deprivation.

  • John Marriott 13th Apr '21 - 8:34am

    I cannot possibly compete with ‘Professor’ Bourke when it comes to detailed knowledge of many subjects, including why we are where we are in Northern Ireland. I’ve always been more of a ‘broad brush’ merchant. However, I do thank him on this occasion for providing that link to an interview Ms Devlin, or rather Mrs Devlin McAliskey, gave on TV not that long ago. I watched much of it and, at the risk of causing more ire, one remark she made struck me as showing the kind of insensitivity of which I have been accused in certain quarters. It was when she seemed to dismiss the ‘killings’ that occurred in ‘The Troubles’ as being of far less importance than the state of play in Northern Ireland over fifty years ago which brought them about. It is also interesting to note from the interview that it was probably a British Army surgeon, who saved her life when she and her husband were shot.

    I am reminded of the words of Churchill after WW2 when he said words to the effect that his hatred of the Germans ended with their defeat. It would seem that forgiveness and reconciliation is harder to achieve elsewhere.

  • Peter Kenny 13th Apr '21 - 9:46am

    The tragedy of the failure of UK Governments to wholehearted back the demands of the Civil Rights movement is deep and multi-faceted.

    Internment and Bloody Sunday, and the Ballymurphy massacre that preceded it, convinced a huge swath of the Nationalist/Republican population that their only hope lay in a United Ireland as quickly as possible. The history of political violence in Ireland meant the seeds of armed insurgency were there already.

    We could go back to the failures of UK Governments to enact Home Rule in the period up to 1914, or the disasters of 1916, but here we are, nearly a hundred years after Partition, and the Dragon’s Teeth still bear fruit.

    My point about Bernadette Devlin, the NI Civil Rights movement, and Paisley is that drawing false equivalence between them is simply repeating the mistakes of the past, with hindsight, which supposedly gives us a clearer view.

    UK Politicians were willing for too many years to accept the sectarian ascendancy of the Unionist Parties, whose dominance was based on gerrymandering, overt discrimination in jobs and housing, unbridled state violence and demonisation of the minority.

    I find words like ‘grievances’ too weak to describe how it was, the minority population experienced decade upon decade of state sponsored and organised oppression, then state violence when they organised peacefully in the sixties to demand basic rights. There is a ‘side’ to be chosen, and it it Paisley.

    We needed a De Gaulle, who ended the dominance of the Pied Noirs in Algeria, to ‘whole heartedly’, as Joe Bourke says, back the wholesale reform of the NI state so that aspirations for Irish Unity, for example, could be pursued peacefully.

  • Peter Kenny 13th Apr '21 - 9:48am

    ‘It isn’t Paisley’

  • There is a tendency here to think of the divisions and conflicts in NI as being arcane, about mysteriously important symbols and rituals.

    They were, and are, actually about things like jobs, housing and human rights.

    There are too many examples to list here, the discrimination was too systemic to be easily completely enumerated, but, for example, Harland and Woolf was a huge employer and was, essentially, a Protestant closed shop. Many of the small number of Catholic workers were driven out of their jobs in 1970.

    Londonderry had a Nationalist majority for the whole period from Partition, yet had a Unionist council due to Gerrymandering. The allocation of council housing was based on committee decisions, not a points system.

    As the Troubles developed Internment without trial in 1971 included no ‘Loyalists’. Unsurprisingly people concluded the UK Government had picked a side, Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday confirmed this view.

  • Ian Sanderson reminds us “It is sobering to reflect that by the early 1970s, many of justified grievances had been put right, but by the then the dissent had been repurposed to seeking a unified Ireland by force.”
    The arrangements for the NI Ireland protocol need to addressed carefully especially with respect to the agri-food sector. Models such as that between the EU and Switzerland have been suggested
    Tom Arms writes above “… [the protocol] moved the aspiration of Irish unification from the long to the short grass.” Former Taoiseach, John Bruton, is arguing of the dangers of attempting to impose, by a simple majority, a constitutional settlement, and an identity, on a minority who feel they have been overruled A referendum on a United Ireland could be just as divisive as Brexit and potentially undermine the peace process itself. Nor is it guaranteed that voters in the South will necessarily want to take on the responsibility of integrating an unstable Ulster into the republic. As Bruton writes: “Voters would also have to ask themselves if they are ready to take on the financial responsibilities that would flow from their decision on unity. Dublin would have to take over the net subvention to support the Northern Ireland budget that currently is met by London. It comes to a large figure, which would be larger still , if salaries and welfare rates in Northern Ireland had to be brought up to levels south of the border. There are also issues of the national debt and pensions.
    The net costs in increased taxation in the south of Ireland, although substantial, need not be an obstacle to unity, so long as people in the south know about them in advance, and can make an informed decision.
    Let us think this thing through, and avoid precipitate commitments to dates for referendums, before every angle has been figured out.”

  • Peter Kenny 13th Apr '21 - 1:16pm

    There has to be a way, in a democratic country, especially a Union of four countries, for one to secede. That process should be clear and obvious.

    In the Good Friday agreement, its essentially left to the UK government. I would suggest it should be triggered by the electoral process, just as it should be in Scotland.

    In terms of money, the UK Government has been such a large part if the problem that it should help shoulder the cost for a generation, at least 25 to 30 years.

    Of course, in the event of a vote for reunification (Ireland wasn’t partitioned until 1922) there should be a whole range of protections for the ‘loyalist’ population – dual citizenship, ‘parity of esteem’ etc. It would also raise questions about the polity of the new country, constitution etc.

    People can do these things. Otherwise you can have a majority wanting a United Ireland and no way for it to happen.

  • Peter,

    as John Bruton writes “the UK subsidy to public services in Northern Ireland at present, comes to 20% of GDP there.” The NI state has never been a viable independent state. At the time of partition there were 2.5 counties with a Unionist majority and Unionists hoped that by bringing together the six counties of Ulster, a viable economic entity could be created. That has proved elusive.
    Bernadette Devlin always approached the issue from a Marxist analysis and argued that the profits of industry could support state provision if they were not disbursed to private shareholders; but that too was an economically naive approach in a globalised world.
    Both the UK and the Republic are very different countries from what they were in the 1970s, with little appetite for perpetuating a dysfunctional set-up at Stormont.
    I think a United Ireland, within the EU, is probably the inevitable long-term outcome. But it may take many more years of preparing the ground and a new generation of political leadership among the nationalist and loyalist communities in Northern Ireland to get there.

  • Peter Kenny 13th Apr '21 - 3:35pm

    Yes, NI was gerrymandered as a whole, then gerrymandered within.

    I too think a United Ireland is inevitable, but history tells us that change comes when it will. It could be decades or it could be next year! The provision for a border poll in the GFA answers the aspirations of both Nationalists and Unionists, but, by what democratic process is it triggered?

    I imagine Stormont would be gone pretty quickly after reunification.

    In Ireland’s PR system the Unionists might find they are quite powerful.

    I think the key tragedy of Partition is that it led to both South and North being run by sectarians.

  • John Marriott 13th Apr '21 - 3:43pm

    @Joe Bourke
    A United Ireland may end up being down to demography, or, in its case, religion. . Just as it has been forecast that citizens whose first language is Spanish may dominate in the USA of the 2050’s, so those who espouse Catholicism may outnumber those who claim to be Protestant in the Six Counties by the same time.

    As you know I’m no economist; but I would have thought that Northern Ireland would be in an ideal position to benefit from having a border with the EU. With a bit of pragmatism, it could have its cake and eat it.

  • Peter Martin 13th Apr '21 - 5:32pm

    @ Joe Bourke,

    ” The NI state has never been a viable independent state. ”

    If Iceland (pop 300k) is viable, which it obviously is, then so is Northern Ireland (1.9 million) . It does, though, need its own currency. Ireland always struggles when it tries to use, or have a fixed exchange, with someone else’s currency. Whether that be the pound or the euro. On the other hand it did quite well when it used the punt.

    The same goes for Scotland too. You can’t have independence if you are tied to someone else’s currency. Just ask the Greeks about that.

  • Peter Martin 13th Apr '21 - 5:51pm

    @ John Marriott,

    “With a bit of pragmatism, it (Northern Ireland) could have its cake and eat it.”

    Well yes. But this is exactly what both Ireland and the EU doesn’t want to see happen. This is why they aren’t being as co-operative as they might be in wanting to solve the border issues.

  • NI since its creation has never been a viable independent state. As to whether it could be in the future is a somewhat different question.
    Northern Ireland was an artificial construct- which was generated in a hurry, to provide a haven for the Protestants of Ireland- when it was thought that the new found independence in Ireland would result in vast numbers of Protestants would migrate North. It was created in such a manner that it would have a sufficient mass (both in population, land area and economic heft)- to be a viable independent entity in its own right. Towards this end- it encompassed a number of clearly nationalist counties and communities- simply to give it this ‘edge’ in being a viable country in its own right.
    Initially- Northern Ireland was significantly more prosperous than the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland. The province had inherited an industrial base- which it had leveraged to its advantage at the outset- however, over time- it became dated and of less value to the economy. Northern Ireland- as a construct- has been a failed economic experiment- which currently costs the British exchequer in the region of 8 billion pounds sterling per annum- along with up to 2 billion pounds from other sources (including the EU and the Irish government itself- who have invested in the road network north of the border over the last 20 years).
    It took the Republic a long time to get going after partition. It was really only after DeValera stepped back and Sean Lemass began a modernisation program in the 1960s including preparations for entry to the EEC that the 26 counties began to develop economically. From 1922 to 1979 the Irish Punt was pegged to sterling and backed pound for pound by the Bank of England. From 1979, the Irish pound joined the European exchange rate mechanism and stayed within it until becoming a Euro member in 1999.

  • Peter Martin 13th Apr '21 - 7:40pm

    @ Joe,

    Whether it is the Irish Pound or the Punt is a matter of language choice.

    Nevertheless, whatever you want to call it , the Irish currency was freely floating between 1979 and 1999. The rules of the ERM probably meant it wasn’t quite as free floating as it could have been but there was still significant allowable movement. All countries need to adjust their currency levels to suit changing economic conditions. Germany, now, needs a more expensive currency. Italy, Greece and some other EU countries need a cheaper one. But this is not possible in the eurozone and it is a huge problem.

  • Peter Martin 13th Apr '21 - 7:54pm

    “Northern Ireland- as a construct- has been a failed economic experiment- which currently costs the British exchequer in the region of 8 billion pounds sterling per annum”

    This is nonsense. It isn’t an economic failure. You could look at the States of Tennessee and Mississippi in the USA and make similar claims on the basis of what they cost the US Federal government. They would be nonsense too.

    In any common currency zone there are more an less prosperous regions. The less prosperous regions aren’t failures just because central government spends more there than they receive in taxation. They are spending more there because they can do without it causing an inflation problem.

    It’s a lesson that the EU is loathe to learn, but if it doesn’t, the EU and eurozone will continuously remain in a highly dysfunctional state.

  • The core problem for NI after partition was the collapse of the regional economy in the interwar years. The staples were shipbuilding and linen, and both of these enterprises were in crisis. Unionist ministers sought to bolster shipbuilding and other existing businesses through loans guarantees and tried to tempt new enterprises into Northern Ireland with subventions and other inducements. Neither venture was successful, and the level of unemployment remained very high throughout the interwar years. In 1938, the unemployment rate was 29.5 percent (compared with 12.8 percent for the rest of the United Kingdom).
    WW2 provided some relief with the ramping up of munitions production. The civil service grew rapidly in the postwar years, as did the provision of welfare relief. However, high unemployment had not disappeared. Agriculture was a significant feature of the regional economy, but—with the onset of mechanization—was growing more efficient and employing fewer people. Shipbuilding and linen continued on their downward trajectory in the 1950s despite government subventions. By the early 1960s there were massive layoffs in the shipyards, and in the linen industry.
    Terence O’Neil attempted to modernise both the economy and politics of Northern Island. But the new industries tended to establish in the east of the region. Nationalists, concentrated in the impoverished west, saw this as economic discrimination. The drive to build new homes also helped to inflame long-standing Catholic resentments concerning the unfair allocation of public housing. Anger on housing led to the creation the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in 1967. Bernadette Devlin complained that no new public housing could be built in N. Ireland because interest payments on the public loans were more than the rents collected on council housing. The troubles effectively wrote off 30 years of economic development with little investment going into the region. Unemployment peaked at 17.2% in 1986 and the public sector employed 37% of the workforce.
    Since 2017 the unemployment rate in N. Ireland has fallen below the UK average. Tourism and the service sector have grown significantly since the ending of the troubles. However, it is worth noting, while NI has the joint second lowest unemployment rate of all the UK regions, it has the second lowest employment rate and highest inactivity rate

  • Peter Martin 14th Apr '21 - 4:28am

    @ Joe,

    I’m not sure what your point is. On the one hand you are saying that Northern Ireland is a “failed economic experiment”, on the other you’ve just said “Since 2017 the unemployment rate in N. Ireland has fallen below the UK average.” So make up your mind!

    This doesn’t mean that Northern Ireland doesn’t have its problems – just like anywhere else in the UK. However, we don’t use such dismissive language about the North East of England or Scotland which also require net contributions from “the exchequer”. What would you like to see? The SE of England become independent so that it can hold on to all its money?

    The UK is a fiscal transfer union with the pound as its common currency. This is now accepted, at least to some extent, which means the UK now works reasonably well. Although of course it could be better if the concept was more generally accepted . In the 30s this was barely accepted and the feeling was that each part of the UK needed to be financially autonomous. This simply doesn’t work. There is no logical reason why unemployment in NI should have approached 30% in the pre war period.

    Just as there is no reason why unemployment in Greece should have been as high as it was after the 2008 GFC. But the PTB in the EU are making the same mistake in thinking that a currency union can function effectively without the fiscal transfers that are necessary to ensure that.

  • John Marriott 14th Apr '21 - 8:34am

    As regards unemployment in Northern Ireland before and after WW2 was concerned, it couldn’t by any chance have had something to do with Catholics failing to secure the type of well paid jobs available to Protestants? Indeed, wasn’t that one of the discriminatory aspects of what ended up as ‘The Troubles’, which, in view of recent events, appear not to have gone away completely?

  • Peter Martin,

    the Government of Ireland Act 1920 established home rule for Northern Ireland. The institutions set up under this Act for Northern Ireland continued to function until they were suspended by the British parliament in 1972 as a consequence of the Troubles.
    The architects of the partition anticipated that the new constitutional entity to be known as Northern Ireland would prove too small to be viable and would be rapidly absorbed into a united Ireland. However, because the northern Protestants staunchly opposed the idea of being governed from Dublin, the Irish border has persisted into the 21st century.
    The political powers devolved to the new legislature in Belfast by the act of 1920 were considerable (including control of housing, education, and policing), but the new government had little fiscal autonomy and became increasingly reliant upon subsidies from the British government. Under the terms of the partition settlement, London retained control in matters relating to the crown, war and peace, the armed forces, and foreign powers, as well as trade, navigation, and coinage.
    Northern Ireland’s fiscal deficit or ‘subvention’ – the gap between the taxation raised in the region and its public expenditure – is often cited as an indicator of the region’s economic (under)performance) as this article explains
    There has been little progress towards closing the prosperity gap between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. At least, 15 major reports on the state of the Northern Ireland economy, since the 1957 Isles and Cuthbert’s report have reached broadly similar conclusions about the region’s shortcomings. Successive strategies and reviews have collectively failed to close the productivity, innovation and earnings gaps between Northern Ireland and the UK average.
    Northern Ireland as a construct has never been a viable independent state and remains dependent on central subsidies equating to some 20% of its GDP to maintain its level of public service provision.

  • Peter Martin,

    the safety valve in a currency union is mobility of labour. Northern Ireland would not have had such historically high levels of unemployment if workers from the poorer areas of the province had been able to take up jobs in the Belfast region.
    Ulster has been a source of migration for centuries. Half of the Americans that claim Irish descent were Ulster Scots. Ulster Scots formed a large part of early migration to the America’s and of George Washington’s forces in the American War of Independence.
    The Canadian economist, Robert Mundell, in the Mundell-Fleming model explained that counties cannot have mobile capital, control of monetary policy and a currency peg. They must pick two of the three. If capital is mobile, then choosing a fixed exchange rate means the job of keeping the economy stable (not growing – this falls to productivity) falls to fical policy. He also showed that if countries choose floating rates then fiscal policy can become less effective. It strengthens the currency, crimps exports and leaves overall demand unchanged.
    A currency union lowers the cost of trade. But it removes a cushion – the exchange rate – that would otherwise protect its members against localised blows. This need not be a problem if labour mobility is sufficient such that workers can move from depressed areas to thriving ones or fiscal transfers reduce the need for emigration as broadly happens within the EU.
    Fiscal autonomy within a currency union may require fiscal transfers at times. But it is not intended to be a permanent state of affairs. Under Home rule it is incumbent on devolved administrations to seek to attract investment and develop local economies to a level comparable with other administrations within the union and Internationally – as the Republic has done within the EU.

  • Peter Martin 14th Apr '21 - 12:36pm

    @ Joe,

    You keep repeating that “Northern Ireland as a construct has never been a viable independent state”. The implication is that it never will be.

    But if Iceland can be viable as a independent state then so too can Northern Ireland and Scotland. Not that I’m suggesting they should, but they could be if they wanted to be.

    They both would have to be bold enough to cut the fiscal ties with London and not be silly enough to too much get into bed with the EU. Membership would be OK providing they didn’t have to sign up to the euro. They need their own fiscal independence. Otherwise they’ll just end up like Greece with one economic austerity measure after another being imposed on them and their economies will forever stagnate.

    If they have their own currency they will be like Iceland.

    So if either the Scottish, Welsh or Irish people choose to go down that route they need to ask themselves which economy they would like to emulate. Greece, (or maybe Cyprus) or Iceland.

    It should be a no-brainer.

    If either or both choose to remain in the UK, and we want them to remain, we need to give an assurance they won’t be treated in the same way as Greece and Cyprus by the EU. They should look for an assurance that the Westminster government will do what it takes to ensure living standards in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English region are harmonised as far as possible.

  • Greece has had to undertake massive structural reform and has now returned to International capital markets where it can borrow at negative yields. This is Martin Wolf writing on the success of their recovery in 2019
    “The most important positive feature of today is the broad consensus on the correct framework for economic policy: Greece will remain in the euro, will stick to a tight fiscal policy and will, at least in principle, pursue reforms supportive of desperately needed economic growth. Reinforcing the credibility of this consensus is the fact that official creditors hold 76 per cent of central government debt. They can reward the government — and have recently done so, via last June’s debt relief — for delivering reform (and vice versa).”
    “…out of the fire might yet come a new, more modern and more dynamic Greece: Greeks flourish all over the world; so why not at home? Achieving this will demand a long period of self-disciplined and high-quality policymaking. This might now happen. Let us at least hope so.”
    This is precisely what the Greek government plans for its post-pandemic recovery with the aid of significant EU support
    “Athens is to receive approximately 30 billion euros from the European Union’s 750-billion-euro Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and expects another 27 billion euros from inexpensive loans and investors over the next six years.”
    As John Marriott comments above “…Northern Ireland could be in an ideal position to benefit from having a border with the EU. With a bit of pragmatism, it could have its cake and eat it.”

  • Peter Martin 14th Apr '21 - 1:16pm

    @ Joe,

    “the safety valve in a currency union is mobility of labour”

    But it’s not if it’s all one way. We have areas being depopulated at the same time as other areas are struggling to provide the infrastructure to try to cope with an increased population. There’s plenty of room in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and some the English regions. Houses are still relatively affordable. Schools are probably more short of pupils than they are of teachers.

    It doesn’t make any sense to allow such a high economic gradient in the UK that the economic pull is always towards London and the SE . Yes there are jobs but housing is far from affordable. Schools are overcrowded with teachers hard to find. The roads are often jammed up and the trains are overcrowded.

    So, by all means keep freedom of movement but remove the economic gradient in the UK.

    Of course it’s even worse in the EU!

  • Peter Martin 14th Apr '21 - 1:40pm

    “…out of the fire might yet come a new, more modern and more dynamic Greece”

    And pigs might fly!

    “Greeks flourish all over the world; so why not at home?”

    That’s true. They do. I’ve seen it for myself in Australia. Melbourne is sometimes said to be the world’s third largest Greek city.

    Mind you it’s a bit easier in Melbourne! The Aussies don’t use the euro and they don’t allow a foreign government to dictate their fiscal policy.

  • John Marriott 14th Apr '21 - 1:57pm

    This is really a technical point to the editors. Yet again, over a period of less than two hours our resident experts on most things, Messrs Bourke and Martin have succeeding in contributing enough words in their latest exchange to qualify surely for a ‘Flood Alert’ sanction. Or, like a former PM, have they found a way round the house rules that we lesser mortals are forced to obey?

  • The currency serves as a medium of exchange and store of value. Fiscal and monetary policy are policy levers to correct monetary imbalances in the economy, arising primarily from fluctuations in the demand for and supply of bank lending.
    A single currency would normally exist in an area exhibiting similar economic characteristics and with a single government budget to transfer wealth from richer to poorer and – crucially – to ensure protection for any area hit by an economic shock. It would normally have an entirely integrated financial system. While this is the case within the UK; it is only partially present in the EU.
    However, the real economy is dependent on private and public investment; productivity and international competitiveness; innovation and efficient tax collection structures. No amount of fiscal or monetary manipulation can make-up for structural weaknesses in the economy. That takes the hard work of industrial strategy and directed investment over decades.
    There are not often easy answers, but rather as Martin Wolf writes in his piece “In January 2015, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the ostensibly ultra-leftwing Syriza party, came to power, promising to end the austerity that had plunged Greece into one of the deepest depressions in economic history. Today, under his leadership, a recovering Greece stresses its fealty to the eurozone’s policy orthodoxy.”

  • Peter Martin 14th Apr '21 - 3:29pm

    “No amount of fiscal or monetary manipulation can make-up for structural weaknesses in the economy. ”

    How about saying that it is necessary to have the correct fiscal and monetary policies to avoid having structural weaknesses in the first place. But once they are there it is even more important to get them right so they can be corrected. As Yanis Varoufakis puts it, no government can do very much if it is locked in a straitjacket.

    Also, you have to ask if the EU’s major player, Germany, wants them them corrected. To earn the euros to pull their economy out of the mire, Greece has to be a net exporter to Germany. And so do lots of other euro using countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, and even France.

    But that means Germany has to agree to run a trade deficit. It’s a matter of national pride to Germans that they are the ones who do the exporting.

    So the only way the Greeks, the Italians and others can get the euros is borrow them back from the Germans and the Dutch. Everyone pretends that these are repayable loans to keep the books straight. Except everyone really knows they aren’t and will never be repaid. I’m surpised this rotten-to-the-core system has lasted as long as it has. Maybe the Covid pandemic induced problems will finish it off. But we’ll just have to see if it does.

  • Classical sayings like “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” carry within them some timeless truths for voters assessing the promises of populists governments.
    The Greek debt crisis came about due to the government’s fiscal policies. Greece’s financial situation was sound when it entered the EU in the early 1980s, but deteriorated substantially over the next thirty years. While the economy boomed from 2001-2008, higher spending and mounting debt loads accompanied the growth. By the time of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the jig was up and Greece’s debt loads became too big to handle—austerity measures were put in place shortly thereafter.
    In 1981, PASOK came into power on a populist platform. Over the next three decades, PASOK alternated in power with the New Democracy Party. In a continuing bid to keep Greek voters happy, both parties lavished liberal welfare policies on their electorates, creating a bloated, inefficient, and protectionist economy.
    As a result of low productivity, eroding competitiveness, and rampant tax evasion, the government had to resort to a massive debt binge to keep the party going. Greece’s admission into the Eurozone in Jan. 2001 and its adoption of the euro made it much easier for the government to borrow. This was because Greek bond yields and interest rates declined as they converged with those of strong European Union (EU) members like Germany.
    In the end, Alexis Tsipras did what he had to do. He negotiated a large debt relief package (the largest ever) with International creditors and an injection of long-term financial support from the Troika. When it came too a choice between leaving the Euro and reverting to the drachma, he understood the far reaching consequences for the Greek people and their economy. Rhetoric doesn’t put any bread on the table. That is why he chose the former.
    The episode highlights the importance of managerial competence in government and the necessity of maintaining financial stability. The Greek debt crisis had its origins in the fiscal profligacy of previous governments. Ultimately, nations cannot afford to live way beyond their means, whatever currency system they adopt.
    The German trade surplus will erode over time as theirs and other developed economies ages and other countries will younger demographics swing into surplus for a time.

  • Jenny Barnes 14th Apr '21 - 6:06pm

    Joe bourke “Greece’s financial situation was sound when it entered the EU in the early 1980s, but deteriorated substantially over the next thirty years.”

    Well, I’m not so sure. I holidayed in Greece most years around that time. Pre joining the Euro, the drachma would depreciate by 10-20% each year. So you got more drax for your £ each year, but the prices had all gone up to match, so things cost about the same.
    After joining the euro, prices still went up by about 10% a year, but ofc no more euros to the £, so things got more and more expensive. When first going to Greece, eating out was so cheap that you wouldn’t think of cooking for yourself. Towards the end, they were charging London prices – and the food wasn’t usually up to that standard.

  • Jenny,

    I think the time you refer to is when the economic problems began to build. During the 1980s, the Greek government had pursued expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. However, rather than strengthening the economy, the country suffered soaring inflation rates, high fiscal and trade deficits, low growth rates, and exchange rate crises.
    When Greece was accepted to the EMU, suddenly Greece was perceived as a safe place to invest. For most of the 2000s, the interest rates that Greece faced were similar to those faced by Germany.
    These lower interest rates allowed Greece to borrow at a much cheaper rate than before 2001, fueling an increase in spending. While indeed spurring economic growth for a number of years, the country still had not dealt with its deep-seated fiscal problems which stemmed from a lack of revenue as a result of systematic tax evasion.
    The adoption of the euro only highlighted the competitiveness gap as it made German goods and services relatively cheaper than those in Greece. Greece could no longer devalue its currency relative to that of Germany’s. This served to worsen Greece’s trade balance, increasing its current account deficit. German banks, benefited from Greek borrowing to finance cheap imported German goods and services. As long as borrowing costs remained relatively cheap and the Greek economy was still growing, such issues continued to be ignored.
    The global financial crisis exposed the true nature of Greece’s financial strife. The recession weakened Greece’s already paltry tax revenues, which caused the deficit to worsen. As capital began to dry up, Greece faced a liquidity crisis, forcing the government to seek bailout funding, which they eventually received with staunch conditions. While Greece had structural issues in the form of corrupt tax evasion practices, Eurozone membership allowed the country to hide from these problems for a time but ultimately created an economic straitjacket and an insurmountable debt crisis evidenced by the country’s massive default.
    So Euro or Drachma the days of very cheap holidays for Brits changing pounds in Greece do not look to be returning anytime soon. A B&B in Northern Ireland can still be quite good value though.

  • Peter Martin 15th Apr '21 - 2:21pm

    @ Joe @ Jenny,

    “While the {Greek} economy boomed from 2001-2008, higher spending and mounting debt loads accompanied the growth.”

    I’d just make two points about this.

    1) You can’t have growth without higher spending.

    2) When referring to debt, you need to specify what sort of debt. There are no EU rules, as far as I am aware, on the allowable extent of private debt but lots of restrictive rules on what the govt / public sector can borrow. So the EU economists themselves must appreciate there is a difference.

    In the run up to the 2008 GFC many economies , including our own and in the US too were ticking along quite nicely on spending fuelled by private debt. That stopped quite abruptly, so here and in the US governments took up the slack by borrowing more themselves. That’s why the deficits were suddenly much higher than they’d been previously.

    Unfortunately the rules didn’t allow for this in the EU which, coupled with inflexible exchange rates, is why there was such a problem. The lesson to be learned here is that if you don’t want debt levels to be too high in the economy, it’s no good having strict rules about what is allowable in the public sector but then totally ignoring what goes on in the private sector.

  • Peter,

    you are right that it is total debt rather than public debt that matters. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, Northern Rock had expanded aggressively, turning to international money markets to fund its rapid growth. However, when problems in the US sub-prime mortgage market started to spread to Europe in the summer of 2007, this source of financing dried up. Northern Rock was left facing a severe liquidity crisis.
    Since the crisis, international cooperation has increased dramatically. The Financial Stability Board (FSB) is charged with promoting and monitoring global financial stability.
    The FSB comprises senior policy makers from finance ministries, central banks, and supervisory and regulatory authorities, drawn from the G20 countries, other significant financial centres and international bodies.
    This is a piece by Robert Skidelsky
    “Three essential lessons should be, but have so far been only incompletely, learned. The most important is to prevent financial collapses in the first place. Banks have to be stopped from putting the economy in jeopardy by risky lending. This is a big reform agenda that has barely been scratched by telling banks to hold more capital or reserves. It requires breaking up banks into smaller units, and instituting controls over the type and destination of loans they make.
    The second essential step is the revival of proper macroeconomic policy. Monetary policy on its own is too weak to prevent economic collapse, and too weak to bring about economic recovery. Fiscal policy needs to become again a powerful tool for economic management, not by “fine-tuning” the business cycle but by maintaining a steady stream of public investment amounting to at least 20% of total investment, to offset the inherent volatility of the private economy.
    The third essential preventive step is to reverse the rise in inequality. If too much wealth and income is concentrated in too few hands, the consumption base of the economy becomes too weak to support full employment, high or low. “

  • Peter Martin 16th Apr '21 - 2:20pm

    @ JoeB,

    “you are right that it is total debt rather than public debt that matters….”

    This is not quite what I said. It was that the difference between public sector and private sector debt shouldn’t be ignored when discussing the debt question. Neither does it make any sense to add the two together and call it “total debt”. Private sector debt needs to be repaid. The burden of private sector debt repayment can lead to debt deflation, which in turn can lead to a general panic that burdens are becoming too high and that many debts won’t be repaid. Loans are called in at short notice. A panic then turns into a crash.

    The UK Government doesn’t have the same problem. It can always swap type of debt for another. But there could be an inflation problem if it overdoes what it is always free to do if it wishes.

  • Peter Martin,

    total debt is key. Of the most severely impacted countries during the Eurozone crisis,it was those with moderate public debt at the outset that were able to recover relatively quickly – Portugal, Ireland and Spain. The two counties with the highest levels of public debt pre-crisis – Italy and Greece – both found themselves without the fiscal space to effectively meet the crisis.
    Public debt doesn’t grow in a linear fashion. It ramps up during crises and stays there. Post WW2 the debt was reduced by a combination of historically high economic growth and inflation in developed economies. Those historically high growth conditions do not appear on the horizon at present with the aging of populations in the west; and inflation bears down on the poorest in society. More likely there will be a long period of low interest rates and public and private defined benefit pension funds will come under increasing strain needing taxpayer bailouts as is happening with the Illinois pension fund
    “.. the total unfunded liabilities of the state’s five pension systems stood at $317 billion, a 19 percent increase from the prior year. That was largely due to historically low interest rates, which have depressed pension fund earnings throughout the country.”
    Pension savings in defined contribution schemes will be lucky to see returns above inflation. That fall in purchasing power has deflationary effects that offset money supply induced inflation. But the bottom line is lower living standards all round either way.

  • Peter Martin 16th Apr '21 - 3:06pm

    The countries you mention are all in the eurozone. Even there there is no concept of “total debt”. It’s public sector debt that matters and only then because the EU says so. The USA, and even the the UK to a lesser extent, carried on pretty much as normal until the recent Covid emergency. Neither Trump nor Biden seem to concerened about “the deficit”.

    The problems you describe are all essentially the result of private sector debt deflation. Interest rates have been lowered to almost zero to make private sector debt more affordable and stave off another 2008 style crash.

  • Peter,

    we began this discussion recounting the experience of Greece with the Drachma prior to entering the Eurozone. During the 1980s, the Greek government had pursued expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. However, rather than strengthening the economy, the country suffered soaring inflation rates, high fiscal and trade deficits, low growth rates, and exchange rate crises. Italy had a similar experience with the Lira in the 1970s/1980s (Inflation reached nearly 22 percent in 1980) and like Greece is dogged by widespread tax evasion.
    It was hoped that joining the European Monetary Union (EMU) would dampen inflation, help to lower nominal interest rates, encourage private investment, and spur economic growth. Further, the single currency would eliminate many transaction costs, leaving more money for the deficit and debt reduction.However, acceptance into the Eurozone was conditional on compliance with the Maastricht Treaty guidelines on deficits and debt.While Greece was accepted to the EMU in 2001, it did so under false pretenses as its deficit and debt were nowhere near within the Maastricht limits. Greece was hoping that despite its premature entrance, membership to the EMU would boost the economy, allowing the country to deal with its fiscal problems. And it did to some extent until the financial crisis hit but allowed private sector debt to accumulate as a consequence.
    Greece exited the three year EU bail-out plan in 2018 but had only a couple of years to recover before the pandemic hit. However, they are now able to borrow in International markets again and at negative rates for short-term bills (lower than those of the USA).
    In January they issued ten year bonds at a coupon of 0.8% and last month issued 30 year bonds that were heavily over-subscribed.
    The Greek post-pandemic economic recovery plan is supported by €31bn from the EU and another €27bn expected from investors
    The lesson for Greek politicians and economic managers going forward can be found in the biblical parable of the ten virgins – be prepared (have some oil for your lamp)for the next day of Judgement (the next economic crisis), whenever that might come.

  • Peter Martin 17th Apr '21 - 3:56am

    In January they issued ten year bonds at a coupon of 0.8% and last month issued 30 year bonds that were heavily over-subscribed.

    Who is willing to lend to the Greek government at this rate of interest other than the ECB? Who would buy Greek bonds unless they knew the ECB were also buying them? The market for Greek debt is underwritten by the ECB as you well know, so this argument is entirely disingenuous. The support from the ECB comes, of course, at a price. Greek governments have to do as the EU / Troika wishes.

    Look, economists across the political spectrum, from Godley on the left to Friedman on the right have expressed opposition to the one size fits all approach of the EU wrt the euro. Countries like the Netherlands and Germany end up with a currency which is too weak for them and Greece and Italy end up with one that is too strong.

    “The lesson for Greek politicians and economic managers going forward can be found in the biblical parable of the ten virgins – be prepared (have some oil for your lamp)for the next day of Judgement (the next economic crisis), whenever that might come.”

    Neoliberal claptrap.

    Their lesson is clear enough. Don’t step out of line or the EU/ECB pulls the plug!

  • John Marriott 17th Apr '21 - 9:28am

    @Peter Martin
    Is that it? Can we move on? What started with a perfectly sensible discussion about Northern Ireland ended up with a ‘one on one’ with you know who about who is right about the Greek economy. All we need now is for Mr Varoufakis to join in to act as referee!

    Your last contribution was timed at 3.56 THIS MORNING. Don’t you ever sleep?😀

  • Peter Martin 17th Apr '21 - 4:40pm

    @ John,

    I do try to sleep but my dog Millie sometimes has other ideas and she needs me to let her out into the garden! Then I find I can only get back to sleep if I have a go at our resident neoliberal!

    I don’t think he would approve of your choice of ref BTW!

  • John Marriott 17th Apr '21 - 6:45pm

    @Peter Martin
    Control yourself, man. Life is too short. Before you blame your dog, it couldn’t be that “smelly French cheese” you once claimed your wife insists on buying and keeping in your fridge?😀😀 From my experience, Camembert is the worst offender. Oops, there’s me encouraging you to go off at another tangent. Don’t tell Joe. He’s bound to have a wiki quote to fit the occasion! Hope you find a party soon.

  • @ John Marriott Has anybody told Joe and Peter that it’s always advisable to wear footwear in places like communal showers and sports changing rooms – and make sure you use your own towel ?

    If, on the other hand (or foot), they forgot to do that, as expected we in Scotland have the answer,

    Swift Verruca Treatment – Chiropody in Edinburgh 0131 476 9889
    Affected by Verrucae? Swift Verruca Treatment and Wart Removal from a Trusted Podiatrist. Contact Us:

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