CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The Pope, the Prophet and the religious support for evil (Independent)

Johann Hari discusses the Danish Prophet Muhammad cartoons and the revelations about the Catholic Church's cover-up of paedophilia -- religion should not be above the law, or protected from uncomfortable debate or scrutiny.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

2. Darling's Budget could point the way for Britain's renewal (Guardian)

A vision for post-banking-crisis capitalism should be at the top of the agenda, says Martin Kettle, but no party has yet created one. Next week the Chancellor, now his own master, can do so.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. Lawyers have no place on the battlefield (Times)

The Court of Appeal's judgment shows no understanding of what soldiers do, says Richard Kemp. In the heat of battle, a commander can't worry about the Human Rights Act -- it would make war impossible.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. It really won't be the internet that wins it (Independent)

Talk of the e-election, the Twitter election, or the Facebook election proliferates. But, Mary Dejevsky argues, e-editors are mirrors, not creators, of the negative political climate.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

5. The Lib Dems are talking tough on debt -- but where's the beef? (Daily Telegraph)

Where are the details of the Lib Dems' planned tax cuts, asks Jeff Randall. Politicians won't tell the truth because voters have been infantilised by Labour to believe that it can keep demanding more and more.

6. Like all drugs, miaow-miaow should be legal (Times)

All drugs should be legally available to anyone over the age of 21, says Antonia Senior. Attempting to scare teenagers about the dangers is pointless because their brains are wired to take risks.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

7. Obama should table a Middle East peace plan (Financial Times)

Binyamin Netanyahu is not interested in two-state solutions, says Philip Stephens. What is needed is open recognition in Washington that US interests -- and in the long term those of peace in the region -- would be better served by an even-handed approach.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

8. Europe should rethink its aid to Palestine (Financial Times)

In the same paper, Richard Youngs argues that it is time to stop funding feckless elites -- the way in which such funds have been delivered has deepened the debilitating lack of Palestinian unity.

8. Therapeutic retribution (Guardian)

Libby Brooks looks at a model of restorative justice that holds the offender directly accountable to the people he has harmed. Justice is a public health concern, too: offenders meeting victims can cut the trauma that crime causes.

10. Living and dying (Times)

The leading article applauds Debbie Purdy for bringing courage and optimism to the assisted suicide debate with her struggle to clarify the law, and her articulation of the case for changing it.

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.