Category Archives: India ExPat living

Recent Indian Media I’ve been Consuming

I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the local media and it’s an easy way of familiarising myself with India.  Luckily loads of material is available in English, making it very easy. Here are the things I’ve stumbled across to help me get acquainted.


I’m not a big consumer of Indian movies so I’ve gone for two recent box office hits which are streaming so easy to locate.

RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) – was India’s top-grossing film in 2022. It’s basically a team-up of two badasses, one a tribal villager avenging the abduction of a young girl by the British governor’s wife. The other, seemingly a local British police officer, is revealed to be another irate Indian wanting to avenge the genocide of his village by the evil Brits. It was apparently inspired by Inglorious Basterds and is if anything even more violent.

Pathaan – a Mission Impossible-style vehicle for the ubiquitous Shah Rukh Khan who plays a disgraced RAW agent (India’s CIA). There is an unlikely partnership/relationship between a Khan and an ISS agent (Deepika Padukone) to fight off a smallpox armageddon from the bad guy. Great fun.

TV shows

There are some really good Indian shows streaming on Netflix and Prime. My two favourites touch the vast gulf between the urban elite and the rural majority.

Panchayat: A bitter-sweet comedy about a metropolitan engineering graduate who takes a job as an official in a remote village while studying for entry to a prestigious university. It’s a gentle satire on rural politics. He works for the local Pradhan (village mayor) and feuds with the imperious MLA to pull resources into the village to build latrines, pave the road and sort out trifling disputes.

Decoupled: is a hilarious account of a collapsing marriage between two Delhi hi-flyers, writer Arya and his financier wife Shruti, who decide to continue living together for their daughter. Arya’s arrogance and outspokenness constantly get him into trouble, and Shruti delights in deflating his massive ego. In one episode, their disgruntled driver tired of their condescension abandons them and returns to his village. When our couple goes to the sticks to retrieve him, they are so unknowing of local customs, they almost get lynched. The finale episode was shot in Goa just a short walk from where we live.


The Elephant Whisperers is an Oscar-winning documentary about two south Indian tribals in Tamil Nadu who foster orphaned elephants Raghu and then Ammukuttu raising them from infancy. The outdoor photography is beautiful, and the bond between humans and elephants is so strong it’s impossible not to feel the wrench when the elephants are rehoused by the forestry service (their employer). The film gives some idea of the resources the national and state forestry service pours into Indian nature conservation – around a fifth of India is designated as forest including reserves for tigers, desert species, and mangroves.

Saxtticho Koddo (The Granary of Salcete) is a short film about Goa’s rice farming culture chronicling the ceremonies, songs and dances that predate the arrival of the Portuguese. High rice yields were maintained for many generations by the collectively organised creation of canals and terraces, which represent human endeavour equivalent to building the Grand Pyramid many times over. Farmers had a repertoire of rice cultivars for local palates and to combat pests and disease. Now few young Goans, especially once educated, wish to remain in the fields. The film mentions intermediate technology inventions to semi-automate the back-breaking planting and harvesting of rice seedlings in the tiny plots, and the arrival of more middle-class lifestyle farmers into the countryside.


I liked Chetan Bhagat’s Nick Hornby-esque One night @ the call centre (2005). The title’s a bit of a giveaway. Still, if you’ve ever wondered about the lives and ambitions of Hari and Sacha on the other end of the helpline, this book gives a cheerful account of the five staff taking advantage of a computer hitch during their shift to motivate one another to pursue their real passions.  Bhagat’s first novel, which covered the stresses of India’s famously competitive but creativity-destroying Indian Institute of Management course, was adapted into the famous movie 3 Idiots.

A complete antidote to Bhagat’s slushy silliness is Deepti Kapoor recent crime saga Age of Vice (2023). This literary state-of the-nation is set in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Goa has a cast of mafia, journalists, politicians and idealists. The accounts of the character’s dissolute destruction are painful to read, especially since much of the suffering is dished out on princeling hero Sonny by his crime-overlord father. His crime was plotting to redeploy the family’s ill-gotten wealth to transform Delhi rather than just accumulate. Netflix has bought the rights to the book.


Given the amount of Indian Youtubers, I’ve found it hard to find a good local Indian podcast. Maybe it’s the clampdown on independent journalists. Both my picks are supported by USA endowments but hosted by Indian journalists.

Grand Tamasha (big fuss in English) is hosted by Milan Vaishnav (based out of George Town) and supported by the Carnegie Foundation. Every week it spends an hour interviewing authors of major new books or creatives. I picked up a lot of book suggestions from this.

Ideas of India is hosted by economist George Mason University-based economist Shruti Rajagopalan. As the title suggests every two weeks, she interviews some of the smartest thinkers usually, but not exclusively from India, ranging from central bank governors (Dr C. Rangarajan) to spatial planners (French World Bank consultant Alain Bertaud). These aren’t interviews, these are proper discussions with Shruti debating their evidence and offering her own libertine insights.


I’ve picked up a lot of non-fiction books about recent Indian affairs but there’s only one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha is a 944-page political and social treatise. The third edition covers the period between Independence and finishes with Prime Minister Modi’s handling of COVID. It’s a wonderful book, with warts and all, treatments of the major political figures and their major pollical challenges, religious and linguistic schisms. Reading it you start to appreciate the formidable challenge Nehru and his able deputy Vallabhbhai Patel faced creating a secular, democratic country from the bloody disintegration of the sub-continent and the integration of the nominally independent princely states (which accounted for a third of India’s area). It’s hard living in the West to appreciate how fractious relationships have been with neighbours (four wars with Pakistan including one to create Bangladesh, two with China) a skirmish with Portugal to liberate Goa. The economy has switched from a highly nationalised ‘socialistic’ state, a deliberately ambiguous term adopted by Nehru, which his daughter Indira Gandhi extended to the slow economic liberalisation started by Naramsimha Rao which continued under Congress and BJP to this day.

I’d love to hear further suggestions in the comments.

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Establishing my Indian identity

Who am I?

Don’t worry, this article isn’t going to go all jingoistic or introspective. It tackles the knotty issue Indian returnees face accessing numerous online and offline services – proving they are, who they claim. Authentication of IDs hinges on a handful of critical documents – PAN cards to prove their (financial) existence, Aadhaar Card to prove their address, a driving licence and an Indian mobile number which provides traders an entry point to unending marketing texts. (I am not joking; some cash registers need a valid phone mobile number to complete a sale.)

India has fused its obsession with tech with its love of needless bureaucratic complexity to make life with these documents less predatory, and life without like an episode of Black Mirror.

So, what are these documents, why were they developed, and how easy are they to get hold of. And what happens to those on the wrong side of the ID face-off?

The Permanent Account Number (PAN) is a ten-digit alphanumeric number, issued by two private companies – NSDL for online applicants, and UTI-TSL for paper-based applications – on behalf of the Income Tax Department. The UK equivalent is a National Insurance Number. (An interesting aside is that the code’s fourth character identifies the class of the applicant. ‘H’ signifies Hindu Undivided Family, and ‘J’ an Artificial Juridical Person, gratifying ChatGPT but leaving fractious, non-Hindu families beleaguered). You need a PAN to open a bank or savings account, purchase a car, insurance, jewellery, or property, apply for a phone number, and pay more than Rs 50,000 (£500) at a hotel or restaurant. The rationale for demanding PAN numbers is that India has a big problem with black money, and making buyers disclose PAN numbers cracks-down on crooks’ efforts to clean their loot.

On paper, all that’s needed to acquire a PAN card are two photos, proof of address (PoA) and proof of identity (PoI). In February, I first tried the online method but got stuck finding an acceptable PoA. I went to the UTI-TSL office to see if my bank account statement or tenancy agreement worked. The scrum of people outside the office would have terrified the All Blacks. I couldn’t get close enough to the counter even to pick up an application form. Reluctantly, I did what I had vowed not to do – got an agent. She deemed my bank account statement and tenancy agreement were useless. Only government-issued documents could be used, or affidavits by elected politicians. The agent instructed me to use a relative’s address as proof of an Indian address. My application got rejected twice before the resolution of my relative’s Aadhaar card satisfied the NSDL. After ten weeks, I was a proud owner of a PAN card enabling me to pay income tax.

The Aadhaar card (a twelve-digit number and small booklet) started in 2009 as a voluntary scheme of rationalising government citizen databases. UIDAI administers it. Enrolment has been a wild success, and 99.9% of Indians have a card. Name, address, gender and date of birth are included alongside photos, fingerprints and iris scan biometric identifiers. Routine use of the card has reduced parasitic intermediaries from inserting themselves between Indian citizens and their entitlements to welfare benefits, work schemes like MG-REGA, food rations, and subsidised fuel (LPG). The government is linking Aadhaar to PAN cards and India’s electronic payment systems allowing millions of unbanked Indians with a secure payment system. It was used 2. 31 billion times in March 2023 alone. In the UK, HMRC and DWP maintain separate and unlinked databases of taxpayers and claimants.

Increasingly the private sector demands an Aadhaar card, with its reliable biometric identifiers, to prove ID. Employers are said to use the card to track employee workplace attendance.

So how do I get one? The success of the enrolment programme meant that most Aadhaar centres were closed just before we arrived, and the rules governing new applications were quietly removed. I travelled twenty miles to the nearest remaining centre in Goa and was told (at 11 am) that the officer had gone for lunch, and to come back after lunch. I bullied the receptionist into showing me the latest staff circular, which essentially said to come back in March, maybe April when the new rules would be revealed. It turns out, foreigners can apply for an Aadhaar card once they have lived in India for 182 days. So now I wait.

Indian mobile phone numbers are another must-have. All sorts of online and offline transactions require you to submit one-time passwords (OTPs) to complete the sale. Officials use texts to communicate time-critical information. For my sleeper train ticket to Delhi, carriage and seat number were delivered via text. So too updates about my PAN application. No wonder India has 1.2 billion active mobile phone numbers, a higher penetration rate than Europe. The competition between Indian mobile providers is ferocious, with four major suppliers. Two were set up by the warring Ambani brothers Airtel (Anil till bankruptcy in 2019) and Jio (Mukesh), Vodafone-Idea (now divested from Vodafone UK) and one other no-ones heard of.

Getting an Indian SIM card is less straightforward than in the UK, but not hard. You quickly hit the familiar chicken-and-egg issue of supplying an Indian address and PAN card which many foreigners won’t possess. Luckily the telephone service providers were happy with my wife’s PAN card and property documents, and I got in on her shirttail. This paved the way for localised (and vastly cheaper) versions of Spotify, Apple Store and Google Pay.

I can legally drive in India for a year using an international license. I hope this will give me enough time to obtain an Indian license. This should be issued to holders of a valid international license. The online application took five-minutes and I got a reassuring email saying I should “visit the concerned office with required forms and documents along with this receipt”. Again an acceptable Proof of (Indian) Address will be needed, which sometimes gums up the process. An American neighbour who moved to India a year ago needed an ‘agent’, assisted by a Rs 14,000 under-the-counter payment, which overnight sorted out the mysterious obstacle holding up his nonconforming address. Such under-the-table payments to agents are all too often needed to access public services and licenses. According to a 2007 academic article by IFC staffers, which included a fascinating behavioural experiment, the likelihood of passing a driving test was unrelated to the ability to drive. The arbitrary failing of test candidates was simply to steer them towards ‘agents’. Sadly, for the bureaucrats, much of the bribe went to the agent rather than the bent bureaucrats.

Life without valid ID documents is possible, but awkward.  At a car showroom, I asked what I needed to buy and register a car: PAN number to pay the road tax…fair enough, but the Aadhaar card was needed to prove my ID. I have plenty of other identification documents I protested. The salesman said he’d give his permitting contact in the RTO (regional transport office of which Goa has ten employing 350 staff!) a call. He got back a few days later, saying a small fee could be paid to smooth the way for such an irregular application. He was being blunt, that’s how things work here.

The diktats about better regulation and plain English which swept over UK and the EU public sectors haven’t made it to India yet. It carries on with its pre-Independence mindset. These processes are a throwback to the Raj, when the bureaucracy was a weapon of subjugation and rent extraction, rather than a service provider. IT permits India’s bureaucracy to become more streamlined, but it faces resistance from the vast army of people employed (and sometimes profiting) from the old license Raj. David Graeber would have developed a more textured and nuanced Bullshit Jobs thesis had he done his fieldwork in India. This sort of makework, a term commonly used in India, but I’d not heard before, is frustrating for us and often for many public-minded officials too.

And therein lies the conundrum for India, the obstacle to better public services isn’t technology but what to do with the army of bureaucrats and agents that evolved before the streamlining provided by the technology. And this is before ChatGPT sends another shock wave of redundancy to many of the pen-pushing rigmaroles of obtaining ID documents. 

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First impressions of India six weeks after arriving

I last lived in India in 1977 as a schoolboy in Nagpur, famous for oranges and not much else. With a few months left before their ‘indefinite leave to remain’ visas lapsed; my parents called time on their two-year sojourn in India. Sure, I’ve since visited for work or family occasions, but India was just a backdrop for something else. Usually, I was reeling with jetlag, amidst a crush of half-remembered relatives at a wedding, or too overdosed on sight-seeing to pay attention to the changes that had occurred while I was gone. In any case, I wasn’t living in India I was breezing through its manicured hotels or couch surfing in relatives’ spare rooms.

The India I experienced half a lifetime ago was through ten-year-old eyes. I noticed beggars clustered around the temples my grandmother made me go to. Many of whom missed limbs, as India was home to around five million lepers. I remembered health-and-safety concern devoid Diwali fireworks in our backyard when my cousins and uncles packed kilotons of rockets under a steel bucket to despatch it into orbit. I loved holiday fairs with gaudy lights and charcoal flames, stalls selling peanuts boiled in brine, and Ferris wheels powered by steam-aged engines. My brother and I would travel back and forth to school in a cycle rickshaw and play in streets where cows walked freely, and cars were few.

Since moving here in February, I have seen no lepers, in fact, no beggars at all, though downtown Mumbai and Goa might only partially represent India. India’s efforts at space exploration have come on since my family’s pioneering efforts; its space agency has had success with its reusable launch vehicle programme, reducing the costs of deploying satellites. Maybe one day rivalling SpaceX. Cycle rickshaws have been replaced by CNG-fuelled three-wheeler autos or taxis. An ambitious but painfully slow build-out of Metros is being implemented in Mumbai and Nagpur. To date, Mumbai’s consists of three partial lines, which will one day rival those in Chinese cities. A couple of weekends ago, we took a forty-minute trip from Andheri to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park to see the 10th-century Buddhist Kanheri caves.

The biggest change I see is that my Indian family has died or migrated. Few people are left in Nagpur. Many of my cousins have joined their parents and flowed into the huge Indian diaspora looking for better-paid jobs in Dubai, US, Australia, and Canada.

I’ve met many people who spent a few years overseas returning after a foreign degree and a few years of professional life in tech or Wall Street. Those that come back find the country’s plentiful domestic staff and cheap cost of living eclipse the obvious disadvantages. I write this having just chased the Devonian-era-sized cockroach across our spotless flat and spent a fitful night praying the sporadic power cuts would not deprive me of AC-induced sleep.

We’ve had to buy lots of things quickly. India is cheap, except for imports. Our broadband costs ₹799/month (£8/month), our 4G mobile monthly charge is around ₹500/mn, a pizza at our nearest 5-star hotel ₹900. Quality is comparable, if not better than UK. Streaming companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify charge Indian customers hardly a tenth of UK prices. But to subscribe you need an Indian phone number, bank account perhaps IP location to prevent foreign free loaders. This implicit subsidy to the middle-class Indians (some £300 per person) dwarfs aid flows to the country!

India’s best-selling car, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno, costs ₹800,000 and has decent AC, sound system, sat-nav and rearview cameras.  India used to be the last place in the world still making the Oxford Morris (twenty years after production ceased in UK), by contrast the 2015 iteration of the Baleno was launched in India a year ahead of its launch in the UK. Maruti-Suzuki now sells around two million cars annually, comprising two-thirds of its parent Suzuki’s global production. India has become a net exporter of cars, with a trade surplus in vehicles of $5.2bn.

The grown-up me is aware of many other changes in India over the last forty years. The Indian exchange rate dropped from 15₹/£ to around 100₹/£. The population has doubled from 650 million to 1.3 billion. GDP per head in purchasing power parity and constant 2017 USD has increased from $1,800/capita in 1990 to $6,600 in 2021. Over the same period, the global average increased by 70 per cent to $17,000. India’s cheapness is crucial; if you don’t adjust for the purchasing power parity, today’s per capita GDP is just $2000 / capita. The low prices for non-tradable goods like mobile phone tariffs and services like bus fares make life in India tolerable for Indians.

The steady fall in the exchange rate is puzzling. Much of it occurred between 1990 and 2000 and after 2007 and is despite India now being a significant exporter of services, manufacturing and even some food items. I’ll cover this in a future blog.

The other thing the grown-up me notices is the G20 summit. It’s hard to ignore. Omnipresent billboards declare One Earth, One Family, One Future, and the Prime Minister’s big brotherly face looks down on you constantly. Unlike the UK, India does not have much of a seat at the big boy’s table. Despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, it’s not a member of the G7, the UN’s security council, OECD, the EU, NATO, or any other place the big economies talk. Chairing the G20 is a big deal for the political classes. When I left India in 1977, the country was almost a pariah. Indira Gandhi had declared an Emergency, suspended the constitution, imprisoned political rivals, and postponed the general election. In September, Narendra Modi will welcome Biden, Xi Jinping, and the other heads of state. Goa is in a state of continuous reconstruction, awash with ‘Smart city’ and G20 funds to impress officials and second division ministers attending the eight meetings scheduled for the state.

Many have asked why Maya and I upped sticks and relocated to India. India is changing fast, and we wanted to be here to watch, and help make its development more sustainable.  We come armed with our OCI card, allowing us to work, and some savings. Goa is also an incredibly beautiful place to live and write. More on that in the next post.


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Financing the war on climate change

On 12 April 1912 the Titanic set sail. Two days later, while in the Arctic seas Captain Edward Smith received 7 iceberg warnings over the course of the day. But he followed standard procedure which was to proceed at full speed on the basis that the lookout would provide sufficient warning and the ship could steer or smash its way through. Based on backward looking historic data this was smart thinking. He had a schedule to keep, he was expected in New York in three days, and he was after all captain of the largest and newest boat in the world.

At 11.40 pm the lookout spotted an iceberg dead ahead. The engines were stopped and the ship attempted to evade. At 11.50 it struck the iceberg.  At 12.05 the order was given to abandon ship. At 2.05 am the last life boat departed. 700 people were saved 1500 died. There were still plenty of space on the lifeboats but there hadn’t been enough time to get off.

The financial sectors response to climate change is alarmingly similar. Full speed ahead finding and exploiting new fossil fuel assets even though the atmosphere doesn’t have the capacity to safely absorb what we already know about. 30% of bonds and equity is in sectors vulnerable to stranding: natural resources and extraction, power utilities, chemicals, construction and industrial goods.

People in this room all know that these companies are going to have to take massive write-down at some time over the next 15-20 years. They are praying to God they’ll reach the lifeboat before the ship hits the fan. (Forgive my bad taste in jokes)

I am going to talk about the role financial regulators and central government need to play to avert catastrophe to turn the billions into trillions? I make three key points.

Embedding the TCFD’s [Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures] recommendations is a good foundational step. This report has yielded some important benefits: the financial regulators largely accept systemic risks to the banking and insurance sector and agree something needs to be done. TCFD provides a language for talking and thinking about them: transition risks, climate risks. It asks institutions to establish governance and strategy around climate and undertake scenario analysis which is disclosed to stakeholders.

Central Banks’ Network for Greening Financial Systems is the most important international forum. It shares experiences and best practice. The Network’s three work streams are: sizing the impacts of climate on the economy (including low probability tail risks), mapping how current supervisory practices should be changed, scaling up of green finance.

Finance ministries also have a major role to play, both as direct issuers of green bonds, and also in providing financial incentives for others to issue. The largest sovereign issuer is currently the French OAT with 5 billion Euro new issuance last year some 1% of French Government spending. Singapore and Hong Kong governments provide subsidies to cover some of the costs associated with issuing green bonds.

But that’s not what truly ambitious looks like. We need to look back to the war to see real intervention. Between 1942 and 1945 the US government debt rose from around 50% of GDP to 106% of GDP. Unlike climate change the war was commonly perceived as a clear and present existentialist threat and the country’s financial systems got behind it.

Was debt incurred to fight the war wasted? Of course not. As well as allowing the Allied countries to maintain their freedom this expenditure created a raft of technological benefits that transformed the 20thcentury at least as much as the war itself: the Manhattan Project created fissile materials used in nuclear power and bombs, Bletchley Park produced the first pre-semiconductor computers and cryptographic algorithms. Then there was RADAR, jet engine aircraft.  What marvels will a green New Deal unlock? And without the body bags.

A month ago today a small number of left-leaning Democrat representatives signed a resolution to fund a Green New Deal to transform US energy, transport and buildings stock. In their resolution they say US wildfires would be twice as bad as now by 2050, and by 2100 US climate related losses would be $500 billion/yr ($2000 /person). Its opponents say the cost of implementing the Deal would be $5 to 9 trillion a year.

Turning to the Central banks. What are they doing? The ECB’s and BoE asset purchase programmes, which purchase some green bonds, are nothing to brag about. They are just business as usual. If anything they are biased against green bonds since so many fossil fuel issuers have high credit ratings based on their financial histories. But implementing TCFD is a useful first step.

What does an audacious supervisor look like? In China the central bank PBoC is intervening to allow green bonds to serve as collateral for medium term lending facility; there’s also discussion about using preferential risk weighting for green assets including green bonds and green loans. In India the Priority Sector Lending rules oblige banks to lend minimum volumes of money to agriculture, SMEs and renewable energy. These are out of step with OECD countries light-touch supervision, but are they really less bad than bank capital being poured into another asset bubble.

But supervisors could do even more. During the second world war the Fed was an agent for change, not a supervisor. The second world war was debt financed and the Fed purchased the equivalent to 3.2% of GDP in bonds to keep the yield low. Inflation coupled with high nominal rates of GDP growth in the 1950s allowed the then unprecedented levels of debt to erode away back down to pre-war levels.

But a properly audacious financial regulation would focus on the Tragedy of the horizon – the fact that that finance markets are still myopically rewarding yesterday’s business models. Finance should not be funding new fossil fuel infrastructure because of the halo effect of yesterday’s strong balance sheets. The market’s time myopia means the future stops mattering after 5-7 years once climate-misaligned assets are safely on some-one else’s balance sheet. We need to massively raise the cost of capital for brown assets so they are never built in the first place; and redirect this to green infrastructure. And we need to do this yesterday.

Audacious policy means large Green and brown adjustments to capital weights and bank lending targets set at a level sufficient for an orderly exit out of fossil fuels in the next decade or two. This is what many countries have signed up to, and what we need.

The Titanic had plenty of warning about the hazard it faced, if it’d had slowed down as had other nearby ships that fateful night, the momentum of its terrible coal engines might have been tamed. Spaceship Earth doesn’t have any lifeboats.

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Why I finally voted leave

I posted my “Leave” vote on Tuesday. Thanks for the tens of responses to my earlier post people sent me either by email,  posted on Facebook or on this website. All but three counselled Remain. I was, in fact, going to vote “Remain” right until Monday evening. This was a mainly through reading the anti-smoking campaigner Clive Bates’ cogent article . His basic case is: no matter how much you despise the EU (and does he despise it!), leaving it you remain exposed to its idiocies without any ability to improve it. Also the style of Brexit that Boris Johnson will adopt, should be become PM in a few months’ time, would – pandering to CBI and other powerful interests – be the Norwegian option. So Clive’s solution is to Remain and be the permanent grumpy sod that stops any further craziness taking place. Trouble is, that’s exactly what UK officials have been trying to do for five or six years, and it hasn’t worked.

And I don’t think the Norwegian option is going to fly with UK voters. I have no idea what the UK settlement with the EU will be like, should we leave. But I doubt if it’ll be like Norway’s. Like Tolstoy says: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” We have to negotiate our own divorce terms. Even if Boris personally might have no problem with uncontrolled flows of workers from other EU countries the people that voted for Brexit won’t be able to accept it. I hope the accommodation on trade in goods looks a lot like now, for  a few years. Firms in the EU and the UK will want to maintain trade links. So yes, many in the EU might want to give us a good pistol-whipping – but devising a harsh pistol-whipping takes more effort and skill the the EU Commission can realistically muster.

So what made me change back to “Leave” at the last minute? Three things:

I enjoyed reading The Labour Case for Brexit. (Incidentally if you never experienced a political vacuum then take a look at the Liberal Leave website: remarkable not in what it says, but in that it exists at all.) The Labour Case has good essays by Gisela Stuart who was involved in negotiating the Lisbon Treaty back in the day, and Bryan Gould a New Zealander and former UK politician. Stuart argues that a vote to Remain will be interpreted as endorsement of the EU’s current agenda for deeper political and diplomatic union and that a remain vote is actually a vote for a much expanded role of the EU. Gould argues that the EU through focussing so much at the internal market, has neglected outside commercial opportunities – a dumb tactic given the Asiatic shift of the world economy. There’s also an interesting article by Roger Godsiff about how the rules on workers’ rights in the UK and how with the exception of rights for part-time workers all were initiated in the UK before the EU, or there is no EU requirement for them.

Second source was the Vote Leave site. This isn’t the most edifying of resources for the undecided but there are some interesting stats on the shrinking share of the EU in terms of global GDP and its faltering efforts to conclude trade deals.

The third source was nothing to do with the Leave campaign but a depressing email I received on the Consumers International mailing list about the anti-democratic capitulation of the EU in its deals with big business. The issue is endocrine-disrupting chemicals; these substances are found in pesticides and are added to plastics to make them soft. They are linked to low sperm count, and certain cancers. There has been an agreement since 2013 to ban EDCs and the Commission was tasked with creating the list of banned substances. And then it stalled. Industry has provided a sacrificial list of “low potency” molecules it is prepared to see banned which excludes endocrine disruptors it wants to continue selling. They’ve hired fake experts to make their case. The same tactics the tobacco lobby used to halt regulation of cigarettes. The impact assessment containing the evidence is secret, even member state Governments aren’t allowed to see it. At the moment we have the unedifying site of the unelected EU Commission being taken to court by France, Sweden and the EU Parliament for failing in its duty to openly debate with stakeholders and regulate business in the public interests.

In a way this episode illustrates what’s good about Europeans, and what’s wrong with Europe. I am glad that France and the Scandinavian countries have been so active on this issue within the EU. Their behaviour shows the readiness of progressive Governments to react swiftly to challenges thrown up by science and politics. But equally it’s dismaying to see the slowness and complacency of the EU institutions in responding to the needs of its people, and the larger failure of democracy and civil society to engage with Brussels. We are not sufficiently European in our identities to be governed at the EU level. And in my opinion, until that changes, the EU should remain just a free trade area and limit its activities to setting EU wide standards.


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