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The EU is not "punishing" the UK for Brexit

By vowing to leave the single market, Britain has chosen to punish itself. 

Philip Hammond is usually denounced by Brexiteers as the cabinet's "remoaner" in chief. But during his trip to Berlin, the Chancellor embraced one of Leave's central narratives: that the EU is seeking to "punish" the UK

According to this argument, Britain is being made to suffer in order to deter other member states from leaving. The EU is certainly mindful of this risk. Should Britain's position appear unchanged (or even improved), eurosceptic movements in other countries would be dramatically empowered. 

But the notion that Britain is therefore being "punished" does not bear scrutiny. The EU has long made it clear that the UK cannot expect to retain the benefits of EU membership without the costs. Indeed, the UK pre-emptively acknowledged this by ruling out membership of the single market in order to restrict free movement (and membership of the customs union in order to sign independent trade deals). There will be an economic price to pay for this choice (indeed, far from gaining £350m a week,. the UK is forecast to lose nearly £300m a week). But it is one most Conservatives are prepared to accept. 

The "Norway option", the EU has long emphasised, is still available to the UK. But if Britain insists on leaving the single market, it will have to settle for something closer to the limited free trade deal struck with Canada. The EU is not punishing Britain: it is merely upholding its rules. If you're not a member of the club, you can't expect access to the best facilities. 

There is, however, a third way. Germany will reportedly demand that the UK pay in return for a financial services deal (which would not be covered by a basic trade agreement). Despite Theresa May's hardline rhetoric, the Conservatives' 2017 manifesto did not rule out this possibility (and nor did Hammond in Germany). 

To view the Brexit negotiation through the prism of "punishment" is to misunderstand it. Far from the EU inflicting harm on Britain, Britain is voluntarily harming itself. But lest they undercut their political masterplan, the Brexiteers dare not acknowledge this economic reality. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.