London is turning into an oversized private members’ club

For the millenial with no money, no umbrella and no hope of ever owning a house, it's time to look elsewhere.

“Boop.”

I’m on a bus. I’ve just scanned my Oyster Card and I’m getting the “insufficient funds” Red Dot Of Doom. Outside, great watery clumps are falling out of the sky.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I say to both the driver and myself.

I don’t have any cash. I try giving the driver big, wounded puppy eyes. Nothing. He shrugs, I slump off the bus. I could’ve sworn I topped up my Oyster with a tenner about an hour ago. But London is like a sweaty magician in a snazzy waistcoat, who makes money disappear.

This isn’t fun anymore. With no money, no umbrella and no hope of ever owning a house, I wrestle my way through the rush hour on foot, back to my parents’. Maybe I’ll move out again one day, or maybe rent prices will continue to soar Shard-high.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve realised that, for so many millennials, living in London is a form of masochism. Last week, I saw a friend from Brighton wince as she paid four quid for a pint. Jaded by London prices, I looked on, dead-eyed and handed over an even heftier purse of monies for a G&T.

As the city I love turns into an oversized private members’ club, not a day goes by now where I don’t ask myself, “What am I doing here?”

The other day, I was paying some of the highest prices in Europe to be unceremoniously jammed into an armpit, on the tube, when it hit me: let’s all move to Londonderry.

According to a piece in the Telegraph, earlier this year, Londonderry is the most affordable city to live in, in the UK. Please note, I’m not referring to the Northern Irish city by its unionist name for any political reasons. I just like that I could live there and still claim that I live in London. Ish.

Within a couple of minutes of researching rental prices in Londonderry, I find a six bedroom mansion, with land (actual land), that’s on the market for £525 PCM. House-sharers, that’s £20 per person, per week. Even when I lived in Brighton, I was (at one point) paying £90 per week to live in a slightly upmarket squat.

In Londonderry, the budget mansion is only a very slight anomaly. I soon find non-methy, spacious terraced houses in central locations for around £30 PPPW. The average rental price in London is over £1,200 per month. To contextualise this even further, a grave plot and burial in the capital can now reach around £5,000. So, in the short term, it’s cheaper to be alive in Londonderry than dead in London.

Millennials, hear me out – in Londonderry, we would live like a slightly plumper Henry VIII. Gout-ridden and fat on roast swan, we’d slap our thighs and guffaw heartily over the years we spent paying hundreds of pounds a month for the pleasure of living in ungodly dirt shacks. And in Londonderry, there are cool things like this and this. And I’m pretty certain that this is in Bavaria, but it still came up when I Google-imaged “Londonderry”.

So, what’s shackling me to London? One of the obvious fetters is the gay scene – one of the most vibrant in the world. But, according to my research, it’s not as if Londonderry is completely devoid of rainbows and Lady Gaga. In 2010, the city had its first ever Gay Pride and I bet you pints don’t cost £4 in this gay bar. Plus, my fellow London-weary homos, if we all emigrated there at the same time, we could make Londonderry, like, really fucking gay. There’s always room in a socially conservative Catholic stronghold for a Jewish lesbian on a mission.

Living in London is a form of masochism. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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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.