Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Last Days Of The Brexiteers

As the UK Parliament begins five days of debate on whether and, if so, how the UK might leave the EU, four things tell you that we are seeing the last days of Theresa May and her merry band of Brexiteers. 

At stake is whether the UK (a) crashes out of the EU with no deal and has to rely on World Trade Organisation tariff rules ("No Deal"); (b) exits on the basis of May's daft draft Withdrawal Agreement and a vague commitment to a future trade deal on uncertain terms that won't cover everything yet binds the UK to follow EU rules with no influence ("May's Deal"); or (c) does not exit at all ("No Brexit").  

Here's why the result should be No Brexit:

How dumb would any Member of Parliament have to be in order to deliberately vote to make the economy smaller?  That can only mean less money for everyone, whether they're workers or benefits recipients. Investors would reduce their investments in the UK because they would see lower returns from a less valuable economy. There'd be less money for both state pensions (because the tax take would be lower) and private pensions (because pension funds would see lower returns like other investors). An ageing population and stricter controls on immigration would mean higher taxes on a declining number of people in work (and fewer carers for the old folks).

Anyone feeling the pinch now will know Brexit Britain would be a far worse place to live.

The UK Can Revoke Article 50 Notice On Its Own, Free of Charge

The government has wasted a fortune on 5 QCs trying in vain to stop the European Court of Justice ruling on whether the UK on its own can cancel or revoke its notice to leave the EU. This morning, the Advocate General filed her opinion which recommends that the court find in favour of that claim. She says the UK can unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notice any time before it expires, by notice to the European Council, following UK parliamentary approval. 

The ECJ usually follows the Advocate General's opinion.

That means it is highly likely that the EU will be bound to accept that the UK Parliament can direct the government to notify the European Council that the Article 50 notice is revoked, in which case Brexit is over, free of charge. Simplez! 

And the Brexiteers' legal problems don't end there...

The Government's Own Legal Advice Does Not Help The Brexiteers

May's draft Withdrawal Agreement says that if the UK and EU can't agree a future trade deal within 2 years, the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU that it can't escape without EU agreement. Brexiteers suspect it might never escape (the 'backstop').

May claims this is just paranoid and the EU also wants the backstop to be temporary. But she's raised suspicions that this is yet another pork pie by refusing to release the legal advice on her daft Withdrawal Agreement, on the basis that disclosure is "not in the public interest". This is tosh. Not only is it perfectly normal to release the full terms of legal advice given to ministers (including the papers requesting that advice), in order to allow their decisions to be challenged by judicial review; but any client can also waive the right to claim legal professional privilege if disclosure of the advice would help it's case.  

So the mere fact that the government has refused to disclose the legal advice allows us to infer that, at the very least, the disclosure would not help the case for accepting May's Brexit plan. 

Huge momentum for a People's Vote, Remainers Are Younger

Even if MPs don't have the cajones to do their job and simply direct the government to revoke the Article 50 notice, they can very likely rely on a referendum to give them a clear mandate to do so. 

The Labour Party says it should first go through the charade process of trying to win a vote of No Confidence in May's government to trigger a General Election, failing which it will seek a People's Vote. But given that a No Confidence motion requires more support, the odds are they'll have to go with a People's Vote.

The support for Remain has likely increased significantly.

Lastly, any referendum tends to be a vote on the government. In 2016, the government of the day was on the Remain side of the debate and it's been suggested that many Leavers voted against the government out of protest at their being 'forgotten' rather than because they really wanted Brexit.  But this government would be on the Leave side of a People's Vote and has been so obsessed by Brexit that it has failed to solve people's problems from 2016 - and, if anything, has made those problems worse. Any 'protest vote' would therefore favour Remain.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Short Tale Of Brexit Britain's First Unicorn!

While UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, the White Queen tours the nation selling jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today, the Brexidiot European Research Group Tweedle brothers added to the general confusion by proudly revealing the first of many often-promised unicorns. 

Tweedlesmug and Tweedlejohnson announced the eagerly awaited development in a hastily convened joint press conference in Looking-Glass World before a crowd of 700,000 people shouting "No Brexit":
"With careful in-bweeding," the brothers read in unison from a prepared script, "an old bwidle and a thingy we found in mater's drawer, we have finally managed it. Behold, Bwitain's fiwst unicawn!!"
With that, the brothers tugged aside a curtain to reveal the product of their efforts.

The End.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Easy As 123: Politicising The BBC

The BBC's Brexit logo speaks volumes

The reason that the BBC finds itself 'politicised' in this way is not because the BBC is 'biased' - at least not in the sense of simply taking one side in any given debate.  It's down to how the BBC frames its coverage of major events in the first place.

The BBC seems to take its editorial course from what the UK government (in this case) has decided to do. It then seeks to maintain 'balance' by covering all sides in the debate about how the UK should do what the government has decided, leaving behind the question whether the UK should be doing the thing at all

Viewing the whole Brexit scenario through the BBC's lens, therefore, means that the numerous investigations into collusion between Leave campaigns, where their funding came from and how they abused people's personal data become irrelevant to the BBC's Brexit coverage. So, too, are marches to secure a 'People's Vote'. Because those things relate to whether the UK should leave the EU, not how the UK should go about leaving - even when stopping the process remains an option.

This is not to say the BBC completely ignores the Electoral Commission fines, Information Commissioner fines and the launch of investigations by the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police and the Financial Conduct Authority into the affairs of Mr Banks and various other members of the Leave Campaign and Brexit community - not to mention all the lies, distortion and gaslighting that was involved. But the BBC treats these as historic issues related to the EU referendum, electoral reform, how personal data might be abused in elections more generally and, perhaps, the role of truth in politics. From the BBC's standpoint, they shouldn't form part of its Brexit coverage because they don't relate to how the UK leaves the EU. 

This is appalling for at least four reasons. 

Primarily, it becomes really easy for the UK government to "get the BBC on side" and use its vast resources as the government's own public address system when attempting something that is likely to prove hugely complex and controversial. The government simply has to decide to do it: invade Iraq, trigger Article 50 without a plan for how to leave the EU, ignore the Good Friday Agreement... 

Secondly, the BBC's editorial choice minimises dissent by removing the oxygen of publicity from those who are sceptical or critical of the government's decision; and diverting it to those who are broadly supportive of the outcome, even if they wish to quibble over how the government achieves that goal. This allows the likes of Andrew Neil to treat the diligent efforts of Carole Cadwalladr and other investigative journalists as irrelevant, at best.

Thirdly, by moving the focus away from how the government made its decision in the first place, the BBC's emphasis risks burying evidence of corruption and so on. The end has justified the means. This encourages the likes of Andrew Neil to declare that continuing to investigate evidence of corruption and other criminality in relation to those means is somehow 'mad'.

Finally, the BBC's approach means that its reputation (and licence-fee payers' investment in that reputation) is horribly exposed to the downside of major events - or the reversal of the government's decision. The bigger the downside, or the more significant the reversal, the greater the damage to the BBC's reputation. 

What should the BBC do?

Avoid setting its editorial policy to simply accord with what the UK government (in this example) wants to do - even if that is, or is presented as, "the will of the people". 

The BBC's role should simply be to educate "the people" about the options, their implications and consequences of decisions taken. This is not about being able to say "I told you so" - it's about the BBC re-establishing and maintaining its role as an apolitical, trusted source of news and information, so that the people aren't so easily hoodwinked.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

UK Govt Gives Consumers and Cross-border Traders a Dose Of #BrexitReality

Friday is never always the best day for the UK government to call people's attention to important issues. And so it proved with the critical alert on the impact of a 'No Deal' Brexit on your consumer rights. But just in case you did happen to be more concerned with wrapping up your week or queuing all day for a phantom train to your weekend destination, here's at least one key paragraph amongst all the gumph pearls of bureaucratic wisdom:
As the UK will no longer be a Member State, there may be an impact on the extent to which UK consumers are protected when buying goods and services in the remaining Member States. The laws of those states are similar but may differ in some areas to UK law both as respective laws evolve over time as well as due to differing levels of harmonisation between Member States in some areas. UK consumers will also no longer be able to use the UK courts effectively to seek redress from EU based traders, and if a UK court does make a judgement [er, judgment for court decisions], the enforcement of that judgement (sic) will be more difficult as we will no longer be part of the EU. In addition, there will no longer be reciprocal obligations on the UK or EU Member States to investigate breaches of consumer laws or take forward enforcement actions... UK consumers would need to seek redress through the courts of that state rather than UK courts.
There's also some fantastic news for consumers and businesses on some specific areas:
  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution;
  2. Package travel;
  3. Timeshare;
  4. Textile labelling; and
  5. Footwear labelling
some of which is in Annex A.

Of course, the paper omits any helpful links to warnings from the governments of the remaining 27 EU member states to their consumers about dealing with UK traders. I guess that information is being held back for another Friday...

Monday, 8 October 2018

In Brexit Britain Retail Will Be Mainly Online

When high street goods retailers call for increased taxes on e-commerce to subsidise their local business rates, you know their business models no longer make sense. Online retail sales now represent 17% of total retail sales in the UK, up from 5% in 2008. E-commerce is steadily taking over and UK consumers cannot afford to resist. Consumer debt is at its highest in history. So, add the rise in zero hours contracts with a Brexit headwind, and the shift to mainly online sales of goods should happen even faster. That in turn should boost the market for online sales more generally.

In typically populist fashion, all the usual suspects are blaming someone else. Tesco’s CEO has dubbed his plea for a 2% tax on any goods sold online an “Amazon tax”. He reckons this would raise a meagre £1.25bn but wants that spent on lowering the business rates for his physical stores. In other words, like newspapers, he doesn't make enough through his own online sales to subsidise his own under-performing bricks-and-mortar. 

Such a small sum will barely touch the sides within Tesco, yet it will increase all consumer prices for the ever-increasing volume of online sales. But the UK's over-indebted consumers simply can't afford that - and even if unemployment remains low, the number of zero hours contracts has tripled to account for a quarter of employment growth, and 2.8% of overall employment.
Similarly flawed is the UK Chancellor's populist "threat" that tech companies face a “digital services tax”.  It sounds good, but will be futile to protect UK offline retailers and simply raise consumer prices that won't be affordable.

The problem is high street retailers' failure to adapt to the long term trend of rising online sales. You can't blame that on the tax system. Taxes are something businesses have to factor into their planning, not the other way round. And taxes should be technology neutral, rather than making consumers and taxpayers subsidise legacy technology over innovative competition.

So, the sale of goods on the UK high street is doomed as we know it. But as they adapt or fade away, e-commerce for goods should boom. That will boost the market for directly related online services, such as point of sale finance, as well as the market for online services more generally.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Brits Look Away Now: Free Movement Of Non-Personal Data In the EU

The EU's "Digital Single Market" strategy has been boosted by an agreement to remove requirements for non-personal data to be stored in any one EU member state. The new law, approved in plenary by 520 votes to 81, with six abstentions, is due to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers on 6 November. It will apply six months after its publication in the EU Official Journal.

Restrictions on the free movement of personal data have long been relaxed under the EU data protection framework. The latest move is expected to double the value of the EU data economy to 4% of GDP by 2020.

In summary, the agreement means that:
  • public authorities cannot impose "unjustified" data localisation restrictions;
  • the data remains accessible for regulatory and supervisory control even when stored or processed across borders within the EU;
  • cloud service providers are encouraged to develop self-regulatory codes of conduct for easier switching of provider and porting data back to in-house servers, by mid-2020;
  • Security requirements on data storage and processing remain applicable when businesses store or process data in another Member State or outsource data processing to cloud service providers;
  • Single points of contact in each Member State will liaise with other Member States’ and the Commission to ensure the effective application of the new rules. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

EU Acts To Cut Fees For Cross-Border Payments In Non-Eurozone Member States

The pesky EU is at it again, this time trying to level the playing field for EU consumers and businesses by putting an end to the high cost of cross-border payments in currencies of Member States outside the Eurozone. Only Sweden took up the option to align the fees charged for those cross-border payments in Swedish krona with fees for krona payments within Sweden. Other non-Euro area countries, like the UK, did not oblige their banks to invest in the systems to do this. So, the European Commission is proposing a regulation to force banks in those Member States to cut their fees.

I've experienced the problems personally, as would anyone doing business across borders, travelling for business or pleasure, or shopping internationally online.

Business payments

Expecting the worst from Brexit (but hoping the whole fiasco will end with the UK remaining in the EU), I've added an Irish side to my business. That means getting paid in Euros and changing into GBP (if the funds are needed in the UK at all). To receive international payments to my GBP business bank account, my bank says I need an extra current account on its commercial banking platform (which I won't be able to see through the online access to my normal business current account). For that extra account, I'll have to pay £20 a month, plus their charge for converting each payment, plus their margin on the foreign exchange rate.

Compare that to £0 for receiving a UK payment in GBP to my existing, fee-free UK current account!

A study by Deloitte revealed other examples that punish small and medium sized businesses, as well as consumers.  It costs €24 to send €500 from Bulgaria to Finland, for instance, but sending €500 from Finland to France is like any normal payment within Finland or France - which is what the Commission wants to see in the non-Euro area.

Travelling or shopping

On a more personal level, you'll also be familiar with the tedious additional "choice" that everyone is forced to make when the currency of their payment card is different to the local currency. It's not so intrusive online, but a real pain for both you and the person serving you in a crowded shop, bar or restaurant. You have to be asked, or indicate on the card terminal whether you want (a) the "dynamic currency conversion" option, to pay in the currency of your card (at an unspecified rate that may include both margin for the local bank service provider and 'spread' for the retailer); or (b) to pay in the local currency, taking the risk that the conversion rate via the card scheme and your own bank's foreign transaction charge (if any) that you eventually see on your card statement will mean you're at least no worse off than whatever the local conversion rate was.

In this case, the Commission is proposing a short term cap on conversion costs, then a new model that shows you the actual cost of those options before you choose one.

After all, it's just data, folks! 

Cost Savings

The Commission found that extending the new rule from Euro transactions in the Eurozone to non-Eurozone Member States will save the affected customers €900m a year. That's because (a) the banks already have access to the modern system required, (b) at least 60% of cross-border transactions in the non-Eurozone Member States occur in Euros and (c) the cost of domestic transactions in those states is already low and couldn't be raised to subsidise the savings on the cross-border Euro transactions under competition rules.

It's worth noting that Eurozone banks did not raise fees when the first controls were imposed on cross-border payments in Euros - and in fact charges steadily decreased. Nor did Swedish service providers suffer when Sweden opted to extend the scheme to the krona.

Personally, I'm going to ignore the bank for my Euro payments until it gets its house in order - which might be never anyway. Even if the Euro/GBP conversion charge drops to zero, I'm sure it will still oblige me to take the commercial account on the more expensive platform and pay £20 a month for the privilege. It will argue that the move to a new current account does not relate to any single payment transaction or conversion, even though that's the only purpose I'd be taking the extra account.

No, what I'm going to do instead is open an account with one of the new foreign currency providers, so that a law firm can pay the provider in Euros, and the provider will pay me in GBP for a small, flat fee. 

FinTech wins again!

Ah, but Brexit...

Of course, all bets are off if the UK leaves the EU and decides to diverge from the EU trade rules relating to financial services.

In that case, banks - like telecoms companies who hate the EU's limit on roaming charges - will heave a sigh of relief.

Big business doesn't refer to the UK as "Treasure Island" for nothing!

Monday, 10 September 2018

The Irony Or The Ecstasy? The UK Centre For Data Ethics And Innovation

You would be forgiven for uttering a very long string of properly ripe expletives on learning that the current UK government has the cheek to create a "Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation"!  Personally, I think they've missed a trick with the name. With a little more thought, the acronym could've been "DECEIT" - and maybe in some languages it would be - so let's go with that.

You might say that it's better to have, rather than not have, an 'independent' policy body focused on the use of data and "artificial intelligence", even if it's set up by a government controlled by those who masterminded and/or benefited from the most egregious abuse of data ethics in UK history.

Or you might be relieved by the notion that it's easier for the dominant political party of the day to control the ethical agenda and results achieve "the best possible outcomes" if the source of policy on data ethics is centralised, especially within a body being hastily set up on the back of a quick and dirty consultation paper released into the febrile, Brexit-dominated summer period before any aspirational statutory governance controls are in place. 

At any rate, we should all note that:
"[DECEIT], in dialogue with government, will need to carefully prioritise and scope the specific projects within its work programme. This should include an assessment of the value generated by the project, in terms of impact on innovation and public trust in the ethical use of data and AI, the rationale for [DECEIT] doing the work (relative to other organisations, inside or outside Government) and urgency of the work, for example in terms of current concerns amongst the public or business."
"In formulating its advice, the Centre will also seek to understand and take into consideration the plurality of views held by the public about the way in which data and AI should be governed. Where these views diverge, as is often the case with any new technology, the Centre will not be able to make recommendations that will satisfy everyone. Instead, it will be guided by the need to take ethically justified positions mindful of public opinion and respecting dissenting views. As part of this process it will seek to clearly articulate the complexities and trade offs involved in any recommendation."
Political point of view is absolutely critical here. This UK government does not accept that the Leave campaign or Cambridge Analytica etc did anything 'wrong' with people's data. Senior Brexiteers say the illegality resulting in fines by the Electoral Commission and further investigation by the ICO and the police are merely politically motivated 'allegations' by do-good Remainers. Ministers have dismissed their own "promises" (which others have called "fake news" outright lies and distortion) as merely "a series of possibilities". There is no contrition. Instead, the emerging majority of people who want Brexit to be subjected to a binding vote by the electorate are regarded as ignoring "public opinion" or "the will of the people" somehow enshrined forever in a single advisory referendum in 2016; and as therefore expressing merely "dissenting views".

Against this gaslit version of reality, the creation of DECEIT is chilling.

Meanwhile, you might ask why there needs to be separate silo for "Data Ethics and Innovation" when we have the Alan Turing Institute and at least a dozen other bodies, as well as the Information Commissioner, Electoral Commission and the police. Surely the responsibility for maintaining ethical behaviour and regulatory compliance are already firmly embedded in their DNA?

I did wonder at the time of its formation whether the ATI was really human-centric and never received an answer. And it's somewhat worrying that the ATI has responded to the consultation with the statement "We agree on the need for a government institution to devote attention to ethics". To be fair, however, one can read that statement as dripping with irony. Elsewhere, too, the ATI's response has the air of being written by someone with clenched teeth wondering if the government really knows what it's doing in this area, anymore than it knows how to successfully exit the EU:
We would encourage clarity around which of these roles and objectives the Centre will be primarily or solely responsible for delivering (and in these cases, to justify the centralisation of these functions), and which will be undertaken alongside other organisations.
... We would encourage more clarity around the Centre’s definitions of AI and emerging technologies, as this will help clarify the areas that the Centre will focus on.
Reinterpreting some of the ATI's other concerns a little more bluntly yields further evidence that the ATI smells the same rat that I do:
  • DECEIT will have such a broad agenda and so many stakeholders to consider that you wonder if it will have adequate resources, and would simply soak up resources from other stakeholders without actually achieving anything [conspiracy theorists: insert inference of Tory intent here, to starve the other stakeholders into submission];
  • the summary of "pressing issues in this field" misses key issues around the accountability and audibility of algorithms, the adequacy of consent in context and whether small innovative players will be able to bear inevitable regulations;
  • also omitted from the consultation paper are the key themes of privacy, identity, transparency in data collection/use and data sharing (all of which are the subject of ongoing investigation by the ICO, the police and others in relation to the Leave campaign);
  • the ATI's suggested "priority projects" imply its concern at the lack of traction in identifying accountability and liability for clearly unethical algorithms;
  • powers given to DECEIT should reinforce its independence and "make its abolition or undermining politically difficult";
  • DECEIT's activities and recommendations should be public;
  • how will the "dialogue with government" be managed to avoid DECEIT being captured by the government of the day?
  • how will "trade offs", "public opinion" and "dissenting views" be defined and handled (see my concerns above)?
I could add to this list concerns about the government's paternalistic outlook instead of a human-centric view of data and technology that goes beyond merely 'privacy by design'. The human condition, not Big Tech/Finance/Politics/Government etc, must benefit from advances in technology.

At any rate, given its parentage, I'm afraid that I shall "remain" utterly sceptical of the need for DECEIT, its machinations and output - unless and until it consistently demonstrates its independence, good sense, not to mention ethics

Monday, 3 September 2018

For Your Personal Brexit Preparations: Which EU Countries Allow Dual Citizenship?

While I hope Brexit will be stopped, I'm expecting and preparing for the worst. So, with only two months before the EU approval process would need to start and Brexidiots in charge on the UK side, I'm expecting the UK to 'crash out' on 29 March 2019, without agreeing the terms of withdrawal (let alone any deal on future trade).

As a self-employed lawyer, there's both the professional and personal angles to consider.

Professionally, my UK legal qualifications will no longer be recognised in the EEA. So, I need to get qualified in an EEA state in order to continue credibly advising my UK clients on their EEA business activities, and advise my EEA clients on their UK activities. The only realistic option is adding an Irish legal practising certificate and consulting through an Irish law firm. Ireland will be the only truly common law jurisdiction left in the EEA, as both Malta and Cyprus have a mix of civil and common law, and it's laws are still very similar to the law in England and Wales.

That rather costly process is well underway, as previously explained.  

But that doesn't mean I personally have the right to live in Ireland, of course. So the question remains whether I could replace my UK right to live and work anywhere in the EEA by means of citizenship in the remaining 27 EU member states or one of the 3 EEA member state (Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein) - without losing my UK and Australian passports? 

As the EU Parliament research reveals, there are differing national approaches to being or becoming a citizen of the various EU member states. But the key issue is whether your favoured country allows you to retain your UK (or other) citizenship. For instance, the following countries would require you to give up your UK citizenship in order to become a citizen there:
  • Austria 
  • Bulgaria 
  • Croatia 
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark 
  • Estonia 
  • Germany
  • Latvia 
  • Lithuania 
  • Netherlands 
  • Slovenia 
  • Spain
So there goes any chance of moving to, say, Barcelona or Mallorca without first becoming a citizen elsewhere in the EEA.

Unfortunately, given the dual nationality of my spouse and children, of the 3 additional EEA countries, only Norway requires you to renounce your other citizenship(s) if you wish to become a citizen there (i.e. rather than automatically having it by birth etc) -  although a change in the law has just been submitted to the Norwegian parliament

Otherwise, the options are as follows (excluding those where the EU research says you can still later lose your citizenship by living somewhere else):
  • Belgium
  • Cyprus 
  • Finland 
  • France 
  • Greece 
  • Hungary 
  • Ireland 
  • Italy 
  • Luxembourg 
  • Malta 
  • Poland 
  • Portugal 
  • Romania 
  • Slovakia 
  • Sweden
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein 
Remember, any port in a storm...

Monday, 20 August 2018

Brexit Britain Has Plenty of Adolf von Kleists But No Hernando Cruz

In his short novel, Galápagos, Kurt Vonnegut looked back a million years from 1986 on the extinction of the human race as we know it, tracing the plight of the passengers and crew on an environmental tour to the famous islands, billed "The Nature Cruise of the Century". Half way through, Vonnegut describes the critical moment when the highly experienced Hernando Cruz, having supervised the delivery and outfitting of the doomed Bahía de Darwin, suddenly abandons the cruise to save his family, leaving the final voyage in the hands of the ignorant, incompetent buffoon, Adolf von Kleist:
"If 'the Nature Cruise of the Century' had come off as planned, the division of duties between the Captain and his first mate would have been typical of the management of so many organizations a million years ago, with the nominal leader specializing in sociable balderdash, and with the supposed second-in-command burdened with the responsibility of understanding how things really worked, and what was really going on.
The best-run nations commonly had such symbiotic pairings at the top. And when I think about the suicidal mistakes nations used to make in olden times, I see that those polities were trying to get along with just an Adolf von Kleist at the top, without an Hernando Curz. Too late, the surviving inhabitants of such a nation would crawl from the ruins of their own creation and realize that, throughout all their self-imposed agony, there had been absolutely nobody at the top who had understood how things really worked, what it as all about, what was really going on."
Sound familiar?

Monday, 30 July 2018

Where Will You Be On 30 March?

You might be hoping for an end to Brexidiocy, but unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll be expecting that the UK will leave the EU without agreeing how to do so in an orderly fashion. 

That means EU trade terms will cease to apply in 8 months' time, as of 30 March.

The European Commission is more advanced in its preparations for Brexit, as the remaining 27 member states ('the EU27') will expect officials to enforce the UK's exclusion from the EU trade bloc and the European Economic Area (the EU, plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland). 

The EU says there are 7 possible steps everyone might need to take, regardless of where they live. The EU has also published its Brexit preparations, including certain "preparedness notices" as well as legislation and other activities, like risk management.

My own preparations involve adding a legal practising certificate for Ireland and signing up with an Irish law firm to keep advising my clients on their EU-facing operations and the EU aspects of cross-border data protection issues. That's step 3 on the EU's top tips for Brexit.

Given that the UK government is planning on the basis of shortages in food and medicine, I'm also inclined to recommend that the family takes advantage of my wife's dual citizenship to relocate for a month or two until things settle down, if indeed they ever really do.

But I think we'll end up toughing it out in London, where I hope the evidence of the UK's continuing decline will be gradual, rather like when the Romans left Britain 1600 years ago. Over the next 40 to 60 years money will cease to circulate widely and the bulk of the population will abandon stone and concrete buildings for wooden huts and tents before they largely succumb to famine and disease...

Inevitably, however, another batch of Europeans will eventually arrive, attracted to the underpopulated wasteland on their frontier. Perhaps they'll bring wine, pasta, hair pins and exotic perfumes, a method for conveying water over long distances and sponges for toiletry use...

Then the whole, sorry cycle will repeat itself, post nauseam.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

If You Need Consent To Process My Personal Data, The Answer Is No

... there are plenty of reasons for businesses and public sector bodies to process the data they hold about you, without needing your consent. These are where the processing is necessary for:
  • performing a contract with you, or to take steps at your request before agreeing a contract; 
  • complying with their own legal obligation(s); 
  • protecting yours or another person's vital interests (to save your life, basically);
  • performing a task in the public interest or in the exercise of their official authority; 
  • their 'legitimate interests' (or someone else's), except where those interests are overridden by your legitimate interests or your fundamental rights which require protection of personal data. 
The General Data Protection Regulation lists other non-consent grounds apply where your personal data is more sensitive: relating to criminal convictions and offences or related security measures; or where it reveals racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership; or it is genetic or biometric data for the purpose of identifying only you; or data concerning health or your sex life or sexual orientation. National parliaments can add other grounds in local laws.

These non-consent grounds for processing are all pretty reasonable - and fairly broad. So, if you don't have the right to process my personal data on one of those grounds, why would I want you doing so?

This would seem to herald a new era in which the Big Data behavioural profiling/targeting/advertising model begins to decline, in favour of personal Apps (or open data spiders) that act as your agent and go looking for items in retailers' systems as you need it, without giving away your personal data unless or until it is necessary to do so...

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Brexit, Syria and The Political Opportunity Donut

There are many ways to draw the political spectrum, but most of the time we talk about "Left" and "Right" as an endless series of tiny but increasing differences stretching in both directions - a political continuum. 

And most of the time that works - especially for "Yes"/"No" issues - since voters' views will be similarly grouped. There's not much pressure on the tiny differences or cracks among the political views on each 'side'.

Then something very complex and uncertain comes along - like Brexit or the latest chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on 'rebels' as well as its own citizens that highlights all the problems in the Middle East in one hit. 

Suddenly those on the "Far Left", like Jeremy Corbyn, find themselves sitting cheek by jowl with those on the "Far Right", like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Nick Griffin

The longer these situations last, the greater the pressure on the usually tiny cracks between politicians and voters on each side. 

And as the pressure increases, those tiny cracks widen to the point that politicians begin to worry about which way they might need to leap for their political survival...

Hardliners toughen their stance, looking for ever more extreme views to hold. This rams home to the more moderate politicians just how far from the centre they've drifted, and causes them to look for ways to move back that way.  So, for example, you have growing numbers of Brexit 'rebels' in both the Labour and Tory parties, with the Liberal Democrats offering to scuttle Brexit altogether...

Here's what a former master of centrist politics, Tony Blair, said today:
"If you leave that vast, uncultivated centre ground,
someone is going to come along and cultivate it."
In other words, don't ignore the other side of the donut.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Two Holy Grails For Cross-border Payments: Access and Interoperability

A new international banking report admits to continuing problems in making payments from one country to another, but points to improvements. The report is based on a detailed analysis of the market, a survey of about 100 service providers and workshops with stakeholders from the supply side and the demand side (end users). Efforts to widen access to online payment accounts and prepare the way for the interoperability of payment systems/networks, closed-loop systems and crypto-currencies would seem the most fertile ground for achieving quicker, cheaper and more transparent cross-border retail payments.

Findings include:

  • Cross-border retail payments are generally slower, less transparent and more expensive than payments within the same country. 
  • Even large corporate users making high-value and/or frequent payments experience a lack of transparency and uncertainty over settlement timing and exchange rates. 
  • Smaller businesses and individuals who typically make smaller, less frequent payments are more concerned about access to services and high costs.
  • Users' priorities depend on their particular circumstances and requirements, so choice of different options and features is critical.
  • Most users have choice as to who provides their payment services but individuals without access to transaction accounts lack access to many initiatives that have improved convenience and speed for other users. So, progress towards providing universal access to (online) transaction accounts is likely to provide more options to those who currently rely on cash.
  • Back-end service providers themselves have problems with messaging, clearing and settlement of cross-border retail payments. There is little choice among back-end clearing and settlement methods, with the only feasible option often being correspondent banking rather than, say, ensuring the linking or interoperability of payment systems/networks, closed-loop systems and peer-to-peer distributed ledger technologies (e.g. crypto-currencies). So, progress towards harmonised messaging standards and simultaneous trading and settlement of different currencies will help solve problems here and could result in quicker, cheaper and more transparent cross-border retail payments. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

#Brexidiot MPs Vote To Strip British Citizens Of Their Fundamental Rights

Is there any limit to how far, or for how long the Brexidiots can mislead their Brexit supporters? Not content with changing the colour of British passports to distract from the loss of the right to move freely across EU borders, Brexidiot MPs have now voted to strip British citizens of their fundamental rights when dealing with the state and each other. 

The Brexidiots claimed that the government was only refusing to apply the Charter of Fundamental Rights if the UK goes ahead with Brexit because the rights would already be covered by "British" law (whatever that is). That is simply untrue - as is the contrary complaint by Brexidiot Fernandes that the Charter "would give UK citizens additional protections on issues such as eugenics, personal data and collective bargaining"! Typically, the Brexidiots want to have their cake and eat it.

The Charter does not create any new rights. It only restated clearly and in one place the rights, freedoms and principles that were already recognised across the EU in 2000.  So, for instance, Article 15 does not create a general 'right to work', but affirms the freedom to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work.

The Charter is important, however, because it (only) applies to member states when they are implementing EU law (Treaties, regulations and directives - not UK law), so they do not mistakenly override their citizens' rights in the process. That is important for the UK both now, and because the Brexidiots have said before that they intend to adopt all EU-derived laws post-Brexit. By stating the rights in one place, the Charter helps interpret what is intended by the EU law, to give the proper interpretation when implementing it in the UK. This stops the government interpreting the law in a way that conflicts with British citizens' fundamental rights. The UK and Poland did opt-out of the Charter in a very limited sense, as a little show for the Europhobes at home. But even in the UK and Poland, the Charter must be applied and interpreted by the government and national courts strictly in accordance with Charter guidance. Critically, the limited opt-out did not reduce the pre-existing rights that are reaffirmed in the Charter.

So, the Brexidiots now want to be able to interpret EU law in a way that conflicts with the fundamental rights in the Charter...

Their problem is that the Charter is part of UK domestic law now (and would remain so even if the Human Rights Act were repealed). So to deny those rights, the Brexidiots need to specifically exclude the Charter from laws imported by the EU Withdrawal Bill. Indeed, the reference to the Human Rights Act 1998 is a red herring. The Charter goes beyond it only because that Act did not incorporate all of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law.  But remember that the Charter did not create any new rights. It only reaffirmed pre-existing rights as at 2000. 

The fundamental rights in the Charter are not just important when dealing with the state, e.g. government departments or the police, however. There are instances where it may be relied on between British citizens or between a citizen and a company or business.

Below is the full list of fundamental rights. Which rights (if any) do you think the Brexidiots or other British citizens should be free to ignore?!

Article 1
Human dignity
Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.

Article 2
Right to life
1. Everyone has the right to life.
2. No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.

Article 3
Right to the integrity of the person
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity.
2. In the fields of medicine and biology, the following must be respected in particular:
(a) the free and informed consent of the person concerned, according to the procedures laid down by law;
(b) the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons;
(c) the prohibition on making the human body and its parts as such a source of financial gain;
(d) the prohibition of the reproductive cloning of human beings.

Article 4
Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 5
Prohibition of slavery and forced labour
1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
3. Trafficking in human beings is prohibited.

Article 6
Right to liberty and security
Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.

Article 7
Respect for private and family life
Everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications.

Article 8
Protection of personal data
1. Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her.
2. Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law. Everyone has the right of access to data which has been collected concerning him or her, and the right to have it rectified.
3. Compliance with these rules shall be subject to control by an independent authority.

Article 9
Right to marry and right to found a family
The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights.

Article 10
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. The right to conscientious objection is recognised, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

Article 11
Freedom of expression and information
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
2. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.

Article 12
Freedom of assembly and of association
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests.
2. Political parties at Union level contribute to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.

Article 13
Freedom of the arts and sciences
The arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected.

Article 14
Right to education
1. Everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training.
2. This right includes the possibility to receive free compulsory education.
3. The freedom to found educational establishments with due respect for democratic principles and the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions shall be respected, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of such freedom and right.

Article 15
Freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work
1. Everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation.
2. Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State.
3. Nationals of third countries who are authorised to work in the territories of the Member States are entitled to working conditions equivalent to those of citizens of the Union.

Article 16
Freedom to conduct a business
The freedom to conduct a business in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices is recognised.

Article 17
Right to property
1. Everyone has the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath his or her lawfully acquired possessions. No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss. The use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest.
2. Intellectual property shall be protected.

Article 18
Right to asylum
The right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Treaties’).
Article 19
Protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition
1. Collective expulsions are prohibited.
2. No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 20
Equality before the law
Everyone is equal before the law.

Article 21
1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.
2. Within the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

Article 22
Cultural, religious and linguistic diversity
The Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

Article 23
Equality between women and men
Equality between women and men must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.
The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex.

Article 24
The rights of the child
1. Children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being. They may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity.
2. In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child's best interests must be a primary consideration.
3. Every child shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis a personal relationship and direct contact with both his or her parents, unless that is contrary to his or her interests.

Article 25
The rights of the elderly
The Union recognises and respects the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life.

Article 26
Integration of persons with disabilities
The Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.

Article 27
Workers' right to information and consultation within the undertaking
Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Union law and national laws and practices.

Article 28
Right of collective bargaining and action
Workers and employers, or their respective organisations, have, in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action.

Article 29
Right of access to placement services
Everyone has the right of access to a free placement service.

Article 30
Protection in the event of unjustified dismissal
Every worker has the right to protection against unjustified dismissal, in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices.

Article 31
Fair and just working conditions
1. Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity.
2. Every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to an annual period of paid leave.

Article 32
Prohibition of child labour and protection of young people at work
The employment of children is prohibited. The minimum age of admission to employment may not be lower than the minimum school-leaving age, without prejudice to such rules as may be more favourable to young people and except for limited derogations.
Young people admitted to work must have working conditions appropriate to their age and be protected against economic exploitation and any work likely to harm their safety, health or physical, mental, moral or social development or to interfere with their education.

Article 33
Family and professional life
1. The family shall enjoy legal, economic and social protection.
2. To reconcile family and professional life, everyone shall have the right to protection from dismissal for a reason connected with maternity and the right to paid maternity leave and to parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

Article 34
Social security and social assistance
1. The Union recognises and respects the entitlement to social security benefits and social services providing protection in cases such as maternity, illness, industrial accidents, dependency or old age, and in the case of loss of employment, in accordance with the rules laid down by Union law and national laws and practices.
2. Everyone residing and moving legally within the European Union is entitled to social security benefits and social advantages in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices.
3. In order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with the rules laid down by Union law and national laws and practices.

Article 35
Health care
Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices. A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all the Union's policies and activities.

Article 36
Access to services of general economic interest
The Union recognises and respects access to services of general economic interest as provided for in national laws and practices, in accordance with the Treaties, in order to promote the social and territorial cohesion of the Union.

Article 37
Environmental protection
A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.

Article 38
Consumer protection
Union policies shall ensure a high level of consumer protection.

Article 39
Right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament
1. Every citizen of the Union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he or she resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State.
2. Members of the European Parliament shall be elected by direct universal suffrage in a free and secret ballot.

Article 40
Right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections
Every citizen of the Union has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the Member State in which he or she resides under the same conditions as nationals of that State.

Article 41
Right to good administration
1. Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union.
2. This right includes:
(a) the right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken;
(b) the right of every person to have access to his or her file, while respecting the legitimate interests of confidentiality and of professional and business secrecy;
(c) the obligation of the administration to give reasons for its decisions.
3. Every person has the right to have the Union make good any damage caused by its institutions or by its servants in the performance of their duties, in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States.
4. Every person may write to the institutions of the Union in one of the languages of the Treaties and must have an answer in the same language.

Article 42
Right of access to documents
Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, has a right of access to documents of the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union, whatever their medium.

Article 43
European Ombudsman
Any citizen of the Union and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State has the right to refer to the European Ombudsman cases of maladministration in the activities of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union, with the exception of the Court of Justice of the European Union acting in its judicial role.

Article 44
Right to petition
Any citizen of the Union and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State has the right to petition the European Parliament.

Article 45
Freedom of movement and of residence
1. Every citizen of the Union has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.
2. Freedom of movement and residence may be granted, in accordance with the Treaties, to nationals of third countries legally resident in the territory of a Member State.

Article 46
Diplomatic and consular protection
Every citizen of the Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he or she is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as the nationals of that Member State.

Article 47
Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article.
Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.
Legal aid shall be made available to those who lack sufficient resources in so far as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.

Article 48
Presumption of innocence and right of defence
1. Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
2. Respect for the rights of the defence of anyone who has been charged shall be guaranteed.

Article 49
Principles of legality and proportionality of criminal offences and penalties
1. No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national law or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed. If, subsequent to the commission of a criminal offence, the law provides for a lighter penalty, that penalty shall be applicable.
2. This Article shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles recognised by the community of nations.
3. The severity of penalties must not be disproportionate to the criminal offence.

Article 50
Right not to be tried or punished twice in criminal proceedings for the same criminal offence
No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings for an offence for which he or she has already been finally acquitted or convicted within the Union in accordance with the law.

Article 51
Field of application
1. The provisions of this Charter are addressed to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law. They shall therefore respect the rights, observe the principles and promote the application thereof in accordance with their respective powers and respecting the limits of the powers of the Union as conferred on it in the Treaties.
2. The Charter does not extend the field of application of Union law beyond the powers of the Union or establish any new power or task for the Union, or modify powers and tasks as defined in the Treaties.

Article 52
Scope and interpretation of rights and principles
1. Any limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by this Charter must be provided for by law and respect the essence of those rights and freedoms. Subject to the principle of proportionality, limitations may be made only if they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
2. Rights recognised by this Charter for which provision is made in the Treaties shall be exercised under the conditions and within the limits defined by those Treaties.
3. In so far as this Charter contains rights which correspond to rights guaranteed by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the meaning and scope of those rights shall be the same as those laid down by the said Convention. This provision shall not prevent Union law providing more extensive protection.
4. In so far as this Charter recognises fundamental rights as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, those rights shall be interpreted in harmony with those traditions.
5. The provisions of this Charter which contain principles may be implemented by legislative and executive acts taken by institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union, and by acts of Member States when they are implementing Union law, in the exercise of their respective powers. They shall be judicially cognisable only in the interpretation of such acts and in the ruling on their legality.
6. Full account shall be taken of national laws and practices as specified in this Charter.
7. The explanations drawn up as a way of providing guidance in the interpretation of this Charter shall be given due regard by the courts of the Union and of the Member States.

Article 53
Level of protection
Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as restricting or adversely affecting human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognised, in their respective fields of application, by Union law and international law and by international agreements to which the Union or all the Member States are party, including the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and by the Member States' constitutions.

Article 54
Prohibition of abuse of rights
Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognised in this Charter or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for herein.

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