Some History

In his second Faith Column, David Skitt gives us a brief history of Krishnamurti

Born in 1895 in a small town west of Madras, Krishnamurti was the eighth child of Brahmin parents. Against his express wishes, the house where he was born has since been declared a national monument by the Indian Government.

In 1909 his father, a minor government official, moved to the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society of Madras. For some years the Society had been looking for the coming of Maitreya, the next ‘World Teacher’ after Krishna, the Buddha, and Jesus.

Charles Leadbeater, a senior figure in the Theosophical Society, who claimed to be clairvoyant, picked out the boy Krishnamurti as ‘the Vehicle for the Lord Maitreya’ and in 1911 an organisation was formed by Annie Besant and Leadbeater called the Order of the Star in the East, of which Krishnamurti was made the head. Years later, in 1922, Krishnamurti was said to undergo a profound spiritual experience in Ojai, California, and in April 1927 was finally declared by Mrs Besant to be ‘The World Teacher’.

It then came as a severe shock to most of his followers when in August 1929 Krishnamurti publicly dissolved the Order of the Star, declaring that no organisation could lead to the discovery of truth. His only concern would be ‘to set man free.’ He was to dismiss the title of ‘World Teacher’ as a ‘flimsy label,’ belief or disbelief in it being irrelevant. He then went on for the rest of his life to give talks around the world when invited to do so, and probably spoke with more human beings than anyone has ever done on the deeper issues of life. As time went on Foundations were set up in India, America, England and Spain to preserve and make available his works, and schools were also established in India, America and England.

Krishnamurti’s life was by any standard remarkable. For some people the aura of ‘The World Teacher’, of a twentieth century Maitreya or Messiah, always clung to him, while others saw him as a fallible, if extraordinary, human being. Most people were deeply impressed, overwhelmed even, but it is of course difficult to know how much of that was in the eye of the beholder. Certainly anything that smacked of worship or personality cult was anathema to him. What nobody would dispute is that for more than sixty years Krishnamurti argued passionately that the problems facing us demand a radical change in human consciousness.

David Skitt was educated at Cambridge. From 1955 to 1985 he worked as a translation revisereditor for the OECD and the European Space Agency in Paris. He is a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, Hampshire.
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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.