Independence and military co-operation

The main  continental EU countries are out to strengthen their military collaboration. Over the years they have worked away at joint exercises, common weapons procurement, common standards, exchange of personnel, unified commands and shared missions. There are now military interventions undertaken by EU directed troops or naval vessels. The UK has been particularly concerned about being pulled into a European army, owing to the legal constraints that operate on a  member state once it has accepted the competence of the EU in any given area. Some think the UK has already consented to more collaboration than is desirable and is now entrapped. Others accept that as we leave the EU we cannot be forced to co-operate or to participate against our will.

The UK has been keener on joint working through NATO, including our US allies. NATO too has a long tradition of common action, shared defence procurement programmes, common standards and procedures, exchanges of personnel and unified commands for given tasks, exercises and missions. It is clear under the NATO  charter that whilst we and the other members sign a mutual pledge to defend each other, a NATO member is free to determine their own commitment to any resulting NATO action. NATO is a coalition of the willing, that makes up missions from members in  the light of the needs based on consent.

Under President Trump the USA would like the continental countries to make a bigger contribution to NATO defence. The USA points out that European members of NATO rely on US engagement and the common security guarantee for their ultimate protection. Surely, the US asks, the Europeans could at least meet the minimum funding requirement for NATO membership so they are making a bit better contribution to the collective defence?

The UK does meet the minimum requirement, and does possess military capability to join NATO engagements around the world, contributing naval vessels, aircraft and mobile soldiers. UK forces have worked  hard to ensure they can co-operate with US forces, as well as undertaking training and exercises with European forces.

Setting our armed services in the context of collaboration and assistance with others does bring a downside. It might mean that we lack particular capabilities where we rely on others, which would limit our own ability to undertake a mission for ourselves. The UK needs to ensure it has sufficient capability to go to the assistance of our own territories or allies, and to defend ourselves at home, whoever the aggressor and whatever our principal allies might think.

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The world’s oil balance

The USA has increased her output of oil and gas substantially under President Trump, and seems set to expand it further. As a result OPEC wields less power than it used to. The Cartel has had to limit output to try to keep prices up in the face of large increases in US supply. US output has risen from under 9 million barrels a day under Obama to over 12 million under Mr Trump. Oil using industries have been getting a boost from more and cheaper feedstock and energy.

Meanwhile Germany and the continental Europeans are busy making themselves ever more dependent on Russian gas, much to the consternation of the USA pledged to protect them through NATO. At a time when western countries say they  are concerned about Russia’s backing for Iran, her provocative cyber challenges and her special disruptive missions it is an odd idea to make the continent more dependent on Russian goodwill and supplies.

The present tensions in the Gulf over Iran threaten the supplies moving through the Straits which are largely bound for Asia and are not needed in the USA. This leads the US President to seek allies and help when dealing with rights of passage through the Gulf, pointing out that other countries need that open waterway more than the USA herself.

I was interested to see Mr Hunt offering to release the Iranian oil tanker from Gibraltar in return for promises from Iran that the cargo will not be delivered to Syria as that would break EU sanctions. Iran has in response declined any such assurances and demands the release of the tanker without any conditions. It is difficult to see how Gibraltar could ensure the oil did not end up in Syria if they let the tanker go.So far the Captain and senior crew of the tanker have not been charged with any offences. Meanwhile the UK is sending a destroyer to the region a little ahead of schedule to strengthen the UK’s naval presence there. Mr Hunt says he wants to reduce tension with Iran, who dislike the western naval build up.

What is the UK’s national interest in all this? How should the UK make itself secure over energy?

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Progress and new products

For most of my life so far I have been used to the great advances that have come from better technology and from the competitive choices free enterprise has offered us. I was an early adopter of an office computer, the mobile phone, home computer, better cars and a range of new home products to make the chores easier and to improve the look and efficiency of the household.

Today we are witnessing a number of new products pushed upon us by government. Some of these top down products do not offer the same improved performance that we are used to in each new generation of device. I have recently looked at the way the electric car does not offer anything like the same flexibility and performance as a modern diesel or petrol car when it comes to range and to refuelling. As a result manufacturers are finding it difficult to sell large numbers.

There is then the curious case of the digital radio. My FM radios were good. They gave good reception. They were easy to operate, with an on off switch and a tuning knob with display that meant you could get quickly and easily to your chosen station. The BBC and the government then told us we had to move over to digital radio. To make us do so the quality of the FM gradually deteriorated, forcing us to buy a product we otherwise did not want. I have two digital radios, I dislike them both. Their reception quality is not as good as my FM used to be before they started the changes. I frequently have to redirect the wire aerial to try to get a better signal.When a plane goes over there is interference. It does not work in my study at all. When I unplug the radio it loses all its tuning. It takes for ever to re set the tuning which has to be done digitally by constant pressing down on a button whilst it moves slowly through the ranges.

I am the constant recipient of calls telling me I need to have a smart meter fitted. No-one ever tells me why this is a good thing for me. I am well aware of my electric bills, and have a way of managing my use of power. If I want to see how much I am using I can see that from the current meter, but it is commonsense based on knowing how many appliances you are running at any given time. The best way to persuade people to take on something new is to explain why it will improve their lives, not by badgering them.

Some of the freely chosen new private sector products also fail to impress. At home I have a conventional electric cooker. I switch it on and turn a knob to the desired heat level, and get instant results. The oven has a temperature control and a knob to choose how hot you want it to be. It is easy and clear. In my flat someone before I bought it had fitted a glass hob with digital control. When you switch on the power you get a flashing set of displays. You then have to hold your thumb on the right part of the hob and hope it will then switch itself on. Often it does not want to and it can take time to catch it in the right way before it bothers to switch on. Then you have to grapple with the same defective system to try to get the individual hot plate to go on, with frequent attention to the right spot on the hob to try to get the plate up to a hot enough setting. If you are tired and hungry and want to heat something up it is frustrating and often fails to work promptly.

I was recently told I had to accept a new phone in my Parliamentary office. I said I did not want one and thought it a waste of money, but they switched phones when I was out of the office anyway. The new one blots out part of my computer screen when I am working if the phone rings which is annoying.It requires pressing buttons to hear a call as well as picking the hand set up. Why?

Those who innovate need to test out how people will use their products, and ask if their innovation does really make something better. To sell us electric cars governments and manufacturers need to get them closer to the specifications we enjoy in our current vehicles. To make us happy with many ordinary domestic products rediscovering the simplicity of the physical switch and knob would make life better. Digital is great for word processing, communications and electronic transactions, but that does not mean everything has to be done by touch screen and digi numbers.

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Well done England

What an amazing game of cricket! It was a roller coaster ride for players and fans, with great drama down to the last ball of the final super over. England showed great resource and determination against a brilliant New Zealand team who were so close to victory themselves.
Congratulations to an England team who have provided so much good entertainment over the last four years making their way to become world champions.

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Good fortune to the English cricket team

The English cricket team has played brilliantly in their last three games, winning each of them in style. They have earned their place in the final, and they are quite capable of winning the title of world champions.

Their comprehensive defeat of Australia displayed great hostile bowling and flamboyant and powerful batting. Jason Roy was fantastic, hitting 85 very quickly at the start of the innings and making the most successful pace bowler of the competition look ordinary. It was a travesty that he was given out when he missed by a big margin a high rising ball going well down the leg side, only to be judged out caught behind. He looked set for a big hundred in super fast time.

Today we will witness the most important cricket game of this year, at Lord’s,the home of cricket. It is a fabulous ground and the eyes of the cricketing world will be on the two teams left to battle it out. New Zealand has a hostile and impressive pace attack who will want to test out the English batting might.

It is sad that this biggest of events for England’s summer sport will not appear on BBC tv. Once again our national broadcaster lets England down and sets its face against our great traditions. There is much more passion and support for this sport in India and Pakistan than there is at Broadcasting House. Other countries and their national broadcasters would be much prouder if such an event took place in their country, especially when the Home team has a chance of lifting the trophy.

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Farewell to Prime Minister May

The legacy interview with Mrs May by the BBC was predictably sympathetic from a BBC who has always been the mouthpiece of Project Fear and who refuses to run Project Opportunity for Brexit. They will not interview those of us with plans for a great future out of the EU cleanly on 31 October. There is no discussion of how we can spend the money, cheer up the economy, change laws, back a UK fishing industry, grow more of our own food and all the other advantages leaving can bring.

Throughout the long wasted months of the May premiership as she allowed delay after delay in proper Brexit preparation I asked myself if she was a very clever Remainer deliberately seeking to dilute, delay and maybe wreck Brexit, or if she was just naive in thinking there was a compromise between Remain and Leave which would unite MPs and the country.

It was true she surrounded herself with Remain in crucial roles. Her main official negotiator, her Chancellor, Business Secretary, Chief of Staff and her Deputy were all staunchly pro Remain. Her Brexit Secretaries were Leave but were marginalised and excluded from helping form what became the disastrous Chequers negotiating policy. Strong Leavers with a history of knowledge and understanding of how to do Brexit were excluded from government. Iain Duncan Smith on borders and migration, Owen Paterson on fishing and farming, Peter Lilley and Marcus Fish on trade, Bernard Jenkin on machinery of government, Theresa Villiers on Northern Ireland, Mark Francois on European politics, Bill Cash on constitution and law and others all had plenty of good advice and commitment but none were allowed to be Ministers. David Jones, a very able and committed Brexit department Minister was sacked, presumably because he was too good.

It was also clear from the beginning the One sided Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by a huge majority of the electorate, uniting Leave and Remain voters in condemnation, yet she ground on with it. It violated the Manifesto which said future relationship and Withdrawal issues had to be negotiated at the same tine and wrapped up in the two years allotted. Her eventual decision to delay exit also implies a wish to damage Brexit, overturning her stance that No deal is better than a bad deal. As the government limped on more and more Leave Ministers felt they had to resign, so the government became more and more Remain, cut off from the growing Leave and Brexit vote in the country. It was the decision to delay the exit which meant the Conservatives under Mrs May collapsed from a creditable 43% in February 2019 in expectation of a No Withdrawal Agreement departure to just 9% in the European election which followed the ignominy of giving in over departure. Much of the collapsed Conservative vote went to the Brexit party who campaigned for a No deal exit.

She says in her valedictory interview she underestimated the resolve on both sides against her compromise. So she claims she was trying to find a compromise between Leave and Remain. It is amazing she thought she could do this when both sides endlessly explained to her their positions. The Agreement was nothing like Brexit and quite unsaleable to Leave. To Remain it was obviously worse than staying in properly with voice and vote.

The May premiership fell into three phases. The first short one with the inherited majority was fine, with the PM laying out a sensible and firm approach to Brexit. The second phase after the election losses was also fine, with Mrs May working closely with the 110 strongly Leave MPs in the Conservative party to get the EU Withdrawal Act through. We did so despite the concerted opposition of up to a dozen or so Remain Conservative MPs. The third phase was when she decided to stop working with the 110 Leave MPs and side more with the minority of Remain MPs, including those in the Cabinet. That was the phase which led inevitably to her departure with no Brexit result. It was characterised by a blitz of negative publicity about a so called NO Deal Brexit, with Ministers fuelling the gloom and helping some of the misleading scare stories. It was unusual to see a government trying to talk down everything instead of being sensibly optimistic about prospects.

I reached the point where I decided it did not matter if it was a Remain plot or a massive well intended misjudgement. Either way it was enormously sad for our country that we wasted three years looking weak and foolish internationally because we would not just leave as required by voters. It has left both Remain and Leave voters unhappy. The country says get on with it. We voted to leave, not to stay in for another 21 to 45 months three years on, and certainly not to sign a Future Partnership Treaty which might well be much like staying in without voice or vote.

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Gulf tensions

Mr Hunt tells us we need more warships. He needs to concentrate on our relationship with Iran. UK forces helped the Gibraltar authorities seize an Iranian tanker on the grounds that it was taking oil to Syria against EU sanctions. In response Iran threatened to take a UK tanker. Iran or associated groups had already made unprovoked attacks on other tankers in the area. This week we saw a possible threat to a UK tanker in the Straits of Hormuz, repelled by HMS Montrose.

The first thing we need is the evidence from the Iranian tanker to demonstrate the legitimacy of the seizure, with appropriate treatment of the Captain and crew members who have been detained. Presumably a case will be brought against them. The second thing we need is confirmation of the arrangements for future UK tanker security near to Iran. The US is indicating their forces might be part of a general response to any Iranian threats. The UK normally has four minesweepers and an amphibious landing ship based at Bahrain, and clearly the frigate HMS Montrose is also available. All these ships have weaponry that could warn off smaller Iranian naval vessels of the types being deployed. If the UK works with other allies led by the USA, then there is the Abraham Lincoln carrier group in the area as well.

As the USA and the UK says, defending the rights of all to passage in international shipping lanes is important to world trade and to peaceful co existence between countries. Oil sanctions have helped drive up the price of oil internationally, but not excessively. The rapid expansion of US oil and gas output continues to offset the losses of OPEC production through sanctions against Iran and through governmental incompetence in Venezuela. We need to hear more from Mr Hunt of how the UK is going to seek resolution of this conflict in the context of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the division between the EU and the USA on this matter.

The US strategy is to force policy change on Iran by sanctions. Iran responds with military provocation. The UK should do what it needs to do to defend our shipping, seeking to avoid being drawn into any wider military conflict.

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Wokingham works on 11 green areas

I am strongly in favour of keeping as many green areas of woodland, meadow and nature reserve as possible in our hard pressed area.
Wokingham Borough points out the following eleven areas as part of their green plans:

Keep Hatch woods, Binfield Road
Kentwood Meadows Warren House Road
Old Forest Road Meadows
Eldridge Park, Bell Foundry Lane
Keep Hatch Meadows Binfield Road
Buckhurst Meadows William Heelas Way
Langley Mead, Hyde End Road Shinfield
Mays Farm Meadows Hyde End Lane Shinfield
Five Acres Field Shinfield
Clare’s Green field Ryeish Lane
Hazebrook Meadows Arborfield

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Easy money but not in the UK

On Wednesday the Fed chairman Jerome Powell signalled that US interest rates are likely to fall at the next Fed meeting. Whilst he was able to report continuing good growth in jobs and wages, he pointed to trade uncertainties and a slowdown in the rest of the world as a reason the Fed might want to ease a bit more.

Meanwhile the Germans have just issued a government bond with no coupon, to the delight of their fans in the market who dutifully bought it. You might have thought the only reason you would want to own a government bond is to enjoy a secure income on it, yet here we have one which guarantees you no income whatsoever. Presumably the people who bought it expect a further fall in interest rates and more buyers willing to pay more for it in due course. They will need to sell it again before maturity. If you think buying a bond with a guarantee of no income return is foolish, then the only justification is to find someone more foolish to sell it on to at a profit before the reality of the no return bond is confirmed by repayment at par. There is speculation in markets that the arrival of Christine Lagarde as President of the European Central Bank will herald looser money and rates going negative.

Why have interest rates stayed so low for so long? How much longer will this apparent madness continue? The great banking crash on both sides of the Atlantic impaired the ability of commercial banks to generate cash and provide enough loans to propel good rates of economic growth. Intense global competition, large reserves of unemployed and underemployed labour and the advent of digital commerce all reinforced the trend to keep prices down. Many people responded to the ultra low rates by saving more. Japan shows this situation can persist for several decades, where a worse banking crash ushered in a long period of zero rates and no inflation. The position in the west should not last as long, given the less intense crash and the higher propensity to price rises in some places. Indeed, the USA did get its interest rates up to 2.25-2.5%, high levels for an advanced country in current conditions.

The Bank of England looks increasingly isolated and cut off from central banking trends elsewhere. The tight UK money squeeze has slowed the UK economic markedly, yet still the Bank presses on with it. If the Fed thinks the US needs more stimulus after a first quarter growing at 3.1%, surely the UK economy now scarcely growing at all needs a boost?

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Clamping down on animal cruelty

I participated in the debate on the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill yesterday.

Several constituents contacted me to support it. I intended to, as I have long thought we need to do more to protect animals in our care and to punish those who think cruel abuse of animals is acceptable. We were told some harrowing stories of what cruel people have done to dogs in their care, deliberately injuring them for the warped amusement of the owner.

The Bill reinforces the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 giving the courts the right to impose a prison sentence of up to one year for a summary conviction and up to five years for a conviction on indictment. The aim is to provide a stronger deterrent to those thinking of being cruel to animals, and a more appropriate punishment to those who do serious and sustained harm to an animal.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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