Sunday 30 December 2018

2018: The nanny state year in review

It's been another busy year for the nanny state. Here are the lowlights...


After launching their bizarre new 400-600-600 calorie rule over Christmas, Public Health England announce a calorie cap on sweets and chocolate. Citing no evidence whatsoever, the quango decides that 100 calories in a snack is quite enough. 'We are not saying they can never give children a chocolate or biscuit ever again' says PHE’s Orla Hugueniot. 'But it cannot be a daily occurrence.'

The editor of the Lancet leaves no doubt that he is a cretin by claiming that 'liver disease deaths are on a trajectory to overtake deaths from ischaemic heart disease' and that 'liver disease [is] soon to become the biggest killer in England'. A quick glance at the facts shows the absurdity of such claims.

Inevitably, this transparent untruth is accompanied by a call for minimum pricing.

(Dry) January sees the first of many junk studies about alcohol, all of which have 'no safe level, as their theme. The bar was lowered again later in the month.

Over at the Observer, born again teetotaller Nick Cohen writes a truly terrifying article about how he wants 'a society that ruthlessly restricts free choice'. 'Expert authority must engineer their lives from above for their own good and the common good', he reckons. 'Individual choice will be constrained and wisdom of the crowd rejected.' Lovely stuff!

The month comes to an end with a risible study that fretted about the 'implied use' of alcohol in Geordie Shore. (The same researcher returned in August to complain about implied smoking on TV.)


Public Health England's arbitrary calorie advice invites a backlash from people with eating disorders.

So-called health campaigners tell the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to turn away money from Heineken, claiming that the beer company is somehow responsible for HIV.

To no one's great surprise, plain packaging flops in France.

The neo-temperance lobby launches a weird, evidence-free campaign against low alcohol drinks, of all things.
Meanwhile, it is revealed that the neo-temperance policy of getting shops to stop selling strong cider has no positive impact. Lessons for minimum pricing?

Stanton Glantz's claims about a sugar industry conspiracy are neatly debunked.

I write the first of several articles explaining why childhood obesity statistics are worthless.

Cancer Research UK continues to throw its donors' money down the drain with a risible obesity prediction.

'Good news! Supermarket beer almost 200 PER CENT more affordable than 30 years ago'. The UK Temperance Alliance doesn't quite get the headline it wanted from the Daily Express after it publishes new figures about the affordability of alcohol.


'We were unable to find evidence that any sugar tax actually implemented anywhere in the world has led to improvements in health'. The New Zealand government's evaluation of sugar taxes follows the evidence and therefore disappoints nanny state campaigners. They respond with the usual 'merchants of doubt' rhubarb.

The usual partisan activist-academics get their snouts into the sugar tax evaluation trough (it's a small world), including one who believes that God is in favour of such taxes. Meanwhile, nanny state fanatic Russell Viner gets £5 million of our money to push his agenda.

'Britain needs to go on a diet', announces PHE's Duncan Selbie as his quango goes about degrading the food supply without our permission.

As Sadiq Khan gears up to protect London's incumbent fast food industry, the IEA publishes my report showing that there is previous little evidence that either the number or proximity of fast food outlets has any effect on obesity.  

The temperance lobby demonstrates, for the umpteenth time, that more goods are supplied in areas of high demand. (They do it again in September.)

Meanwhile, tobacco control takes the plunge and commits itself to prohibition. What could go wrong? And I ask what, exactly, is the 'tobacco playbook'?


I got to the bottom of one of 2017's most unintentionally amusing studies.

As the sugar tax begins, it is revealed that reformulated Lucozade is tanking. The company spends the rest of the year advertising the hell of it. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola bosses it.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall becomes the poor man's Jamie Oliver, if such a thing is possible.


Minimum pricing begins in Scotland. Bargain hunters head to Carlisle and Berwick.

It turns out that Australia's black market in tobacco has gone through the roof since the government introduced plain packaging and massive tax hikes. Who could have predicted that? 

An amusing study claims that bland corporate tweets from tobacco companies constitute advertising or something.

Adrian Parkinson comes clean on the campaign against fixed odds betting terminals but it's too late to stop the ban happy government clamping down on them.

Billionaire nanny statist Michael Bloomberg says the regressive impact of sin taxes is 'the good thing about them'.

A year after plain packaging came into effect in the UK, the early evidence suggests that - surprise, surprise - it had no effect.

Action on Sugar publish their latest set of demands.

Activist-academics in Australia call for graphic warnings on food because of course they do.

Even though it's 2018, the gateway hypothesis somehow still exists in the e-cigarette debate.


The global nanny state industry fails to get sugar taxes into the WHO's big report on 'non-communicable diseases'.  The editor of the Lancet goes crazy.

The BBC produces a low quality television programme about carbs.

The Scottish government publishes a list of wacky policies masquerading as a tobacco strategy.

Having halved the sugar consumption guidelines for no good reason, the 'public health' lobby complains that people are eating twice as much sugar as they should. Laws and taxes and obviously required.

Weak as a kitten, as usual, Theresa May capitulates to every one of the extremists' policies on food.

I point out that the government could raise quite a bit of tax revenue if it saw sense and legalised cannabis.


Six people with differing views on everything agree that we should legalise cannabis.

A study claims that a sugar tax has worked, this time in Chile. As usual, it's obvious nonsense.

The IEA publishes my report about why sin taxes are unambiguously regressive no matter what excuses the 'public health' lobby invent.


An advisor to Food Standards Scotland, a quango which is supposed to ensure food safety but which is actually a sockpuppet nanny state group, calls for graphic warnings on food, saying: 'Whilst we cannot ban food...'

Kellogg's reformulate Coco Pops. Consumers react in the usual way.

George Monbiot gets terribly confused about obesity.

The Science and Technology Select Committee publishes a sensible report about e-cigarettes. The usual handful of throwbacks throw what's left of their toys out of the pram.

Thanks to a comical study, the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group prove once and for all that they don't understand economics, business or the industry about which they claim to be experts. (See also here.)

The 'no safe level' meme appears once again as the temperance lobby prepares the ground for a WHO conference (which fortunately came to nothing).

The government capitulates to Mr Jamie Oliver yet again by announcing a ban on the sale of energy drinks (but not coffee or tea) to children.


A bunch of pompous 'public health' windbags threaten to withdraw their invaluable support from Public Health England unless the quango ends a banal partnership with Drinkaware. PHE stands its ground and although the screaming gets louder as the month wears on, only one person resigns.

Australia, the self-appointed world leader in tobacco control, sees its black market in cigarettes flourish like never before.

Unreported by all Western media, Mexico - the home of the sugar tax - sees obesity rates rise sharply.

I was on the Delingpole podcast - you can still listen here.

PHE's Duncan Selbie pays tribute to your truly.

Aseem Malhotra puts PHE on his list of enemies along with almost every other health organisation. By the end of the year the 'leading cardiologist' will be raging against bacon.

Ignored by the neo-temperance lobby, a successful alcohol harm reduction policy surfaces in Walsall.

The increasingly demented WHO pledges to abolish death.


I popped over the Geneva to check out what the WHO has planned for smokers and vapers next.

Stanton Glantz pays $150,000 to settle the first of his sexual harassment lawsuits

Political horse-trading results in a religious fanatic becoming the Netherland's health minister. Naturally, his views are perfectly aligned with the 'public health' agenda.

Early evidence from Scotland, which is confirmed in November, shows that booze sales are up in Scotland in the first months of minimum pricing.


The government agrees to move the clamp-down on fixed-odds betting terminals forward by six months. Anti-FOBT campaigners somehow convince the media that the government has moved it back by six months. Tracey Crouch resigns on the basis of a lie and is described by naive people as 'honorable'.

The inevitable calls for a tax on meat arrive.

The equally inevitable annual campaign against the Christmas Coke truck begins.

Action on Sugar demands that freakshakes be banned.

Cows moo, dogs bark and Action on Smoking Health lies about smoking bans.


The Science and Technology Committee points out that there is no evidence for banning the sale of energy drinks to teenagers. Nanny statists carry on regardless.

Lithuania's total ban on alcohol advertising means workers have to put stickers over thousands of newspapers magazines.

Having seen how well the policy of appeasement has worked over the years, the big betting companies agree to stop advertising at times when people are most likely to want to place a bet.

Long suspected, the final proof arrives that lowering the drink-driving limit in Scotland had no effect on road traffic accidents. But it did lead to pub closures so that's still a 'public health' win, I guess.

Child obesity statistics continue to be fraudulent and 'public health' employees continue to be overpaid.

'Public health' researchers feign surprise that most restaurant meals exceed PHE's arbitrary calorie limits. Two weeks later, we got a peek preview of 2019's mad calorie caps.

I also reviewed the year on the Last Orders podcast.

See you next year. Please drink responsibly!

Saturday 29 December 2018

The BBC murders the ABC Murders

This is a review of the BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders that concluded last night. It contains spoilers.

The ABC Murders is the fourth Agatha Christie story to be adapted for the BBC by Sarah Phelps. There have been irksome aspects of all of them, but the stories survived. This time, the story was overwhelmed. Phelps used to write Eastenders and it shows. She tries to bring the same gritty realism to detective fiction as Daniel Craig tries to bring to James Bond, with similar results. Everybody is troubled. Characters glower at one another in darkened rooms. They are haunted by the past, et cetera.

This is supposed to convey intensity and psychological depth. Actually, it is boring. For all the screenwriter's efforts at social realism, a story set in Britain in which every character is overtly miserable and aggressive is less realistic than one in which the characters are superficially polite and happy. This Eastenderisation is particularly unsuitable device for detective fiction in which one of the characters is going to be unmasked as a murderer. The emotional power of the denouement comes, in part, from the sudden realisation that the likeable chap is a vicious killer.

Nevertheless, I have enjoyed Phelps' previous adaptations. It is hard to go wrong when your source material is as strong as And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Her controversial decision to change the murderer in Ordeal by Innocence worked because the original denouement was not particularly strong. (Ordeal by Innocence could be the perfect book for the Phelps treatment. The plot is not top tier but it has the darkness and depth of character she strives for. If she's going to keep adapting Christie, she should focus on the author's later works, such as Endless Night and The Pale Horse.)

The ABC Murders is comfortably in the top ten of Christie titles. A brilliant idea executed masterfully when the author was at the top of her game in the 1930s. When the solution is explained, the reader sees that it could not have been any other way. It is a story so good that it is almost impossible to mess up, but Phelps managed it by making the crime incidental to some irrelevant hogwash about Poirot being a priest at the start of the First World War. In Phelps' reimagining, Poirot lied about being in the Belgian police force when he came to Britain as a refugee in 1914. His church was burned down by German soldiers (who Phelps seems to have mistaken for Nazis) and Poirot moves to England where he suddenly decides - despite being in his sixties - to become a very good detective. None of this is in the book, of course, and it adds nothing to the story. Too long at three hours, the BBC could have cut at least 30 minutes by editing out this silly subplot.

A further 30 minutes could have happily been lost if it got rid of the equally unnecessary references to Cust's landlady (a mad drunk who pimps out her daughter) and the British Union of Fascists (who have a poster on every wall and are strangely prejudiced against elderly Belgian Catholics). None of this is in the book, but the latter gives Phelps the chance to make some toe-curling allusions to Brexit.

This would be just about tolerable if the story reached a satisfactory conclusion, but when the murderer is unmasked half an hour before the end, Phelps seems barely interested in explaining the five murders that have gone before. (There are only four in the book and the fifth adds nothing to the plot.)

Not every viewer will have guessed the identity of the murderer, but few would have been surprised. I had not read or seen Witness for the Prosecution before I saw Phelps' adaptation a couple of years ago, but I guessed the murderer and method long before the end because there were so few characters that there was only one plausible suspect. The ABC Murders suffers from the same problem. The killings are so violent that they are quite obviously the work of a man. Once you realise that the murderer cannot be the person who has appeared to be the murderer from the start (because Christie wrote whodunits not psychological thrillers), there is really only one candidate. Sure enough, he dun it.

Phelps seems to be aware that a lack of suspects is a problem for a story which is essentially a parlour game. In an effort to broaden the pool of candidates she gets Poirot to insist early on that the letters he is being sent are probably written by a woman. There is nothing about the letters to suggest this and we never hear Poirot's reasoning. Once the killer is revealed to be a man, this inexplicable supposition from the world's greatest detective is quietly forgotten.

The murderer is identified not so much by following clues as by a basic process of elimination. Once Poirot has cleared the obvious suspect, it must be the less obvious suspect. It could not have been anyone else in the story although, crucially, it could easily have been someone else in the country. This is not a satisfying conclusion to three hours of television. There is no sense of loose ends being tied up, no reminders of clues that the viewer should have spotted.

One lingering question is why the murderer sent the letters to Poirot. In Phelps' version, the answer is that the murderer is 'obsessed' with the great detective. This is a lazy justification from a writer at the best of times and the specifics here are particularly weak (the murderer - a grown man - became obsessed with Poirot as a result of a murder mystery night).

In the book, the reason is quite different. He chooses Poirot because he needs to make sure that the letter warning about the all-important third murder is received after it has been committed. To do this, he intends to get the address slightly wrong, and this requires a residential address (as opposed to, say, Scotland Yard). It is a small but important detail and it speaks volumes about Phelps' tin ear for detective fiction that she removes it in favour of some psychological codswallop.

This is the problem with Phelps' adaptations. It is not that they are "gritty" or "dark" (they are murder stories, after all, and Christie was capable of giving her characters more depth than she is often given credit for). It is not even the desperate striving for political relevance and woke points (wince and move on). It is not that she adds unnecessary flourishes, but that she removes essential material in the process.

Take And Then There Were None, for example. Ten people on an island, all of whom have been in some way responsible for someone's death They get bumped off one by one. A perfect story with a perfect denouement, it is the fifth biggest selling book of all time. Phelps added some drugs and swearing to make it more gritty. Fine, whatever. But she also made a crucial change to one of the suspect's back story. He is a policeman who is on the island because he beat a gay man to death in a prison cell. This wasn't in the book and was only in the BBC adaptation because it fits two of Phelps' recurring themes, namely that all coppers are bastards and pre-war Britain was horribly bigoted.

Be that as it may, the whole point of the book is that the people on the island are not guilty of murder. They killed people as a result of accidents, carelessness, neglect and so on. They are people who would be convicted of manslaughter, at most, in a court of law. By adding a character who is unambiguously guilty of murder, Phelps destroys the moral ambiguity at the heart of the story. It strongly suggests that the screenwriter simply does not get the source material with which she is working. The ABC Murders confirmed it.

PS. Niall Gooch has written an excellent review of it here.

Thursday 27 December 2018

Nice work if you can get it

The Taxpayers' Alliance have published their Nanny State Rich List and it will make the blood of any reasonable person boil. There are now 353 people in the 'public health' racket earning more than £100,000 (up from 325 in 2014/15). Of these, 241 work for the vast, unaccountable money-pit that is Public Health England, including 13 who are on more than £150,000. The chief executive - my pal Duncan Selbie - takes home £187,500 but he is only the sixth best paid member of staff.

Most of the other fat cats tireless public servants work at local authorities as Directors of Public Health, including 17 who are on more than £150,000. In Essex, the 'director of wellbeing, public health and communities' was sponging £194,020 from taxpayers (plus pensions and benefits) in 2017/18 while Lesley Mountford in Stoke trousered her salary of £131,836 plus a golden handshake of £209,546.

Worth remembering when you hear about the supposedly savage cuts to the public health budget* and the devastating impact of inequality.

*The public health budget for local authorities will be "only" £3.1 billion in 2019/20 plus Public Health England's sizeable operating budget and many other taxpayer-funded scams, such as statutory funding for ASH. 

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Public Health England jumps the shark

It was around this time last year when Public Health England issued its weird advice to cap breakfast at 400 calories and to limit lunch and dinner to 600 calories.

I said at the time...

The idea of having 'limits' for individual meals is entirely new and I suspect that there is an agenda at work here. The 400-600-600 'rule' will allow PHE and its army of scolds to name and shame every restaurant portion, takeaway and ready meal that contains more than the government-approved quantity of calories. Individual meals will be portrayed as hazardous per se and will become targets for advertising bans, taxes and reformulation. A whole Pandora's Box is being quite deliberately opened.

Two weeks ago, an article in the BMJ got wide news coverage when it found that the vast majority of restaurant meals exceed PHE's miserable guidelines. This, too, was politically motivated. The authors noted that ‘policy levers that result in the food industry reducing the number of kilocalories being sold to consumers are needed’ and ‘measures are now needed to “renormalize” the food environment (for example, by downsizing food product portions)’.

The idea of the government controlling the number of calories in meals is so outlandish that few people have taken it seriously, despite PHE explicitly stating that this is what they are working on. They have been busy setting calorie limits for almost every food product available in shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants. The plan was to publish them in the spring but Laura Donnelly at the Telegraph has got hold of them and has leaked them today.

They are astonishing, not only because they are so low but because they are so comically precise. Sandwiches and main meal salads will be capped at 550 calories, ready meals will be capped at 544 calories and main courses in restaurants will be capped at 951 calories. Vol-au-vents or onion bhajis will be capped at 134 calories and salad dressing capped at 145 calories. The spurious precision of these numbers is presumably meant to imply that they have been worked out scientifically. They haven't, of course (why is OK to have a 900 calorie lunch in a restaurant but not OK to have a 600 calorie microwave dinner?). There is no way of working out how much energy a single meal should contain. The concept is ludicrous.

But the detailed proposals have infuriated manufacturers - who say they are far too complex and confusing to be workable.

No kidding.

These are not legal limits. Not yet. The plan is for the bureaucrats at PHE to 'work with' the food industry to magically remove calories from their products without destroying flavour. PHE have no knowledge to bring to the table so their part in the 'partnership' amounts to setting targets, issuing threats and naming and shaming businesses.

Some of the companies will attempt to play along, mainly by reducing portion sizes, but it is a doomed enterprise. The government initially threatened to use 'other levers', such as advertising restrictions, 'if progress isn't made', but it has already capitulated to the 'public health' lobby on this, so the only thing left is to threaten them with more taxes and mandatory calorie limits. Make no mistake, the industry is being blackmailed.

If mandatory limit are introduced, it will mean an effective prohibition on many of Britain's best loved dishes. Steak and kidney pudding far exceeds the 951 calorie limit for out-of-home food, as does ham, egg and chips, the all day breakfast, fish and chips, and beer and ale pie (based on Wetherspoons' nutritional information). So does a normal Christmas dinner.

As for foreign cuisine, you can kiss goodbye to kebabs, curries, pizzas and Chinese food. But it's a treat, you say! Tough luck. No exceptions.

Public Health England has surely bitten off more than it can chew this time. Chefs, publicans, the food industry and the general public have to come together and tell PHE where to stick their ridiculous calorie caps.

I gave a comment to the Telegraph, saying:

'These demands are worthy of Nero or Caligula. The government needs to bring Public Health England to heel before they ruin the food supply. The calorie caps are arbitrary, unscientific and unrealistic. It is reasonable to offer advice on daily calorie consumption but setting limits on individual meals is insane.' 

Public Health England cannot be reformed. It should be shut down.

Monday 24 December 2018

Last Orders: end of year review

There's a new episode of the Last Orders podcast out so check your devices for an update or click here to listen online.

This month we're joined by Rob Lyons. We discuss minimum pricing, the growing war on gambling and the government's meddling in the food supply.

More about the latter when I return on Boxing Day. For now, I wish you all a very merry Christmas.

Friday 21 December 2018

The Coddling of the American Mind - a review

I've written a short review of The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Check it out.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Fake childhood obesity statistics

I've returned to the issue of fake childhood obesity statistics for Spectator Health...

Given the concerns about childhood obesity in Britain, you might expect organisations such as Public Health England to be thrilled to discover that the condition is far less prevalent than was thought. At the very least, you would expect them to recognise that the official statistics are a laughing stock and put a more robust system of measurement in place.

And yet there is no sign of any action being taken. While financial experts rightly complain about the shoddy methodology behind the Office for National Statistics’ Retail Price Index, there are no such complaints from the ‘public health’ lobby about the ludicrous methodology behind the childhood obesity figures. Week after week, the press, the government and health campaigners trot out the zombie statistic that one in three children is obese or overweight by the time they leave primary school, a claim that any parent or teacher with eyes can see is absurd.

Do have a read.

Monday 17 December 2018

Call for research proposals

I'm on the lookout for original research proposals in the field of lifestyle economics. I'll be commissioning them for the IEA at the start of next year with a view to publishing them in spring/summer. We're paying £7,000 for each one so if you have an idea that encompasses nanny state regulation and the free market, get in touch.

Here's the spec:

Friday 14 December 2018

Calories found in restaurant meals

A study appeared in the BMJ yesterday claiming (correctly, it seems) that sit down restaurant meals tend to have more calories in them than fast food meals. The authors found that the vast majority of meals served in restaurant chains exceed ‘public health recommendations for energy content’. Those recommendations have no scientific basis and were plucked out of the air by Public Health England last December, but they are now being treated like government targets.

I wrote at the time...

The idea of having 'limits' for individual meals is entirely new and I suspect that there is an agenda at work here. The 400-600-600 'rule' will allow PHE and its army of scolds to name and shame every restaurant portion, takeaway and ready meal that contains more than the government-approved quantity of calories. Individual meals will be portrayed as hazardous per se and will become targets for advertising bans, taxes and reformulation. A whole Pandora's Box is being quite deliberately opened.

So it turned out. The next phase of Public Health England's crazy reformulation scheme involves pressuring restaurants and cafés into degrading their businesses.

I've written about this for Spectator Health... 

It is less than a year since Public Health England told us that we should be consuming no more than 1,600 calories a day from meals. Specifically, we must limit breakfast to 400 calories while lunch and dinner should be capped at 600 calories. Since grown men are told by the same quango that they should be consuming 2,500 calories a day, this implies that Public Health England wants us to get through 900 calories a day from sugary drinks, snacks and alcohol. Some realistic health advice at last!

No other country on Earth issues guidelines on how many calories should be in a meal, and there is absolutely no evidence behind PHE’s 400-600-600 rule, but there was method in the agency’s madness. Behind the scenes, it is busy trying to cajole restaurants and cafés into accepting the same policy of shrinkflation and food degradation (AKA ‘reformulation’) that it has foisted on the rest of the food industry.

Do read the rest.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Lowering the drink-drive limit had no effect in Scotland

Drunk driving isn't a very popular cause, and rightly so. It is obviously wrong to risk the lives of others by driving while inebriated. By contrast, driving after consuming a small quantity of alcohol poses no threat to others and is fine, but it is this that the temperance lobby is going after. It's so much easier to hassle normal people for having a pint after work than to clamp down on the dwindling number of habitual drunk-drivers.

Always eager for an easy, feel-good headline, the Scottish government voted unanimously in favour of reducing the drink-driving limit from 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The change came into effect in December 2014. The rest of the UK kept it at the same level.

The new law was announced with the usual smug, patriotic, self-righteous rubbish from the politicians responsible:

Scotland's Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has predicted the lower limit will save lives.

Mr Matheson said: "Scotland is leading the way across the UK. The new limit has backing from experts, road safety campaigners and the majority of the public north and south of the border."

Amongst the "experts" were our old friends at the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group. You may remember them from their game-changing modelling of minimum pricing. Less well known is their modelling on what would happen if the drink-driving limit was reduced from 0·08 g/dL from 0·05 g/dL. Their model was limited to England and Wales but their conclusion should broadly apply to Scotland as well. It predicted that...

...lowering the legal limit would reduce fatalities by 6.4% and injuries by 1.4% in the first year after its implementation.

Evidence has steadily emerged over the last few years showing that the reduction in the limit has had absolutely no effect on road traffic accidents or fatalities. For example...

The study by Strathclyde University found that the lower limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) had not been followed by a statistically significant overall drop in road fatalities, including during the peak accident periods of night-time and weekends.

There was also little change in the death rate for young drivers aged 16-25, who are seen as one of the highest-risk groups for drink-driving.


The introduction of a lower drink-drive limit in Scotland has had virtually no impact on the rates of offending, police statistics have revealed.

None of this has made any difference to policy. Nanny state legislation is never repealed.

What is clear, however, is that the legislation has had a predictably negative effect on rural pubs. The pub trade and the Campaign for Real Ale said that it was hurting trade without bringing about any reduction in road accidents, but they were ignored. The Scottish government paid no attention and the puritans probably considered the damage to the evil booze industry to be a bonus.

Today, the reality has emerged in the Lancet of all places:

Lowering the driving BAC [blood alcohol content] limit to 0·05 g/dL from 0·08 g/dL in Scotland was not associated with a reduction in RTAs [road traffic accidents], but this change was associated with a small reduction in per-capita alcohol consumption from on-trade alcohol sales.

Note the use of the word 'but', as if the total failure of the policy is compensated by the success in reducing pub sales. For the 'public health' lobby, the destruction of pubs counts as a success. It's never really about health.

Not only does the study show no benefit from the change, the authors find that the number of road traffic accidents has increased relative to England and Wales:

...the reduction in BAC limit for drivers was not associated with a significant change in weekly RTA [road traffic accidents] rates in Scotland, after adjustment for seasonality and underlying temporal trend (model c; rate ratio [RR] 1·01, 95% CI 0·94–1·08; p=0·77; table 2).

Further, relative to England and Wales, where the reduction in BAC limit for drivers did not occur, we found no change in weekly RTA rates after this reduction in BAC limit for drivers in Scotland (model c; 1·07, 0·98–1·17; p=0·10).

Further adjustment for the driver characteristics of age, sex, and socioeconomic deprivation produced similar results, showing a significant 7% increase in weekly RTA rates in Scotland relative to England and Wales (model d; 1·07, 1·02–1·13; p=0·007).

The latter finding is based on a counter-factual and is therefore speculative but it is now beyond doubt that there have been no benefits to road safety from the Scottish government's decision to lower the drink-driving limit.

In a desperate attempt to salvage something from this pub-destroying policy, the authors suggest that the failure to reduce drink-driving accidents is due to a lack of enforcement:

One plausible explanation is that the legislative change was not suitably enforced—for example with random breath testing measures. Our findings suggest that changing the legal BAC limit for drivers in isolation does not improve RTA outcomes.

In truth, this is far from 'plausible'. The study itself shows that pub sales fell after the law came into effect, and the pub trade has been complaining about the negative effect on business almost from the outset. Both of these facts suggest that people in Scotland have been abiding by the new law. Enforcement has nothing to do with it.

A more likely explanation is that drink-driving accidents are caused by people who are heavily intoxicated, not by people who have consumed a trivial amount of alcohol. Therefore, clamping down on motorists who are not in the least bit drunk was never likely to tackle the damage done by drunk-driving.

Anyone with a bit of common sense could have told the SNP that in 2014. Instead they chose to believe some expensive guesses from the clowns at Sheffield University (not for the last time).

Will the limit be changed back? Of course not. Was the ban on alcohol discounts repealed when it was shown to have had no effect? No. Will minimum pricing be repealed if it is shown to have no effect? No.

As I have said many times, 'public health' is not a results-driven business.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Science and Technology Committee on e-cigs - the government responds

The government has responded to the Science and Technology committee's report on e-cigarettes and there are some encouraging signs. In particular (emphasis is mine)...

Recommendation 5 The Government, together with the ASA and the MHRA, should review all these regulatory anomalies and, to the extent that EU directives do not present barriers, publish a plan for addressing these in the next annual Tobacco Control Plan.

The Government broadly accepts this recommendation and is committed to reviewing tobacco legislation as and when appropriate. While the UK Government is a member of the EU it will continue to comply with the requirements of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive 2014/40/EU (TPD), transposed into UK legislation through the Tobacco and Related Products Regulation 2016 (TRPR). The Government has made a commitment to review the TRPR by May 2021 to consider its regulatory impact. In addition, as announced in the Tobacco Control Plan the Government will review where the UK’s exit from the EU offers us opportunities to re‐appraise current regulation to ensure this continues to protect the nation’s health. The Government will explore those areas identified by the Committee, such as the 20mg/ml maximum nicotine refill limit, a size restriction of 2ml on the tank, a block on advertising e-cigarettes’ relative harm-reduction potential and the notification scheme for e-cigarette ingredients.

Although there are advertising restrictions on vaping, they are less stringent than those which apply to tobacco products. The Government will of course consider when it reviews the legislation whether these restrictions fully reflect the differing risks of harm arising from tobacco products and e-cigarettes. We would note to the Committee that the Government has issued a direction to Ofcom clarifying that under the current code on television and radio advertising it is permissible for public health campaigns to promote the generic use of e-cigarettes for quitting smoking. This direction will support campaigns such as Stoptober which have promoted the use of e-cigarettes for quitting.


Recommendation 7

The Government should conduct a review of regulations on e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products which are currently applied under EU legislation, to identify scope for change post-Brexit, including an evidence-based review of the case for discontinuing the ban on ‘snus’ oral tobacco. This should be part of a wider shift to a more risk-proportionate regulatory environment; where regulations, advertising rules and tax/duties reflect the evidence on the relative harms of the various e-cigarette and tobacco products available. While an evidence-based approach is important, it also may help bring forward the behaviours that we want as a society—less smoking, and greater use and acceptance of e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products if that serves to reduce smoking rates.

The Government accepts this recommendation. We have committed in the Tobacco Control Plan to review where the UK’s exit from the European Union offers us opportunities to re-appraise current regulation to ensure this continues to protect the nation’s health. We will look to identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health or where current EU regulations limit our ability to deal with tobacco. The Government’s goal will remain to achieve a proportionate approach to managing risk, one which protects the young and non-smokers, whilst giving smokers access to products which will reduce harm. As part of this the Government will consider reviewing the position on snus and whether the introduction of this product onto the UK market would promote that kind of proportionate harm reduction approach.

The report also recommends that heated tobacco products should be taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes (a much lower rate is implied). You can read the response here.

Friday 7 December 2018

The whole population approach doesn't work

The latest stats on alcohol-related mortality were published this week. According to the Whole Population Approach beloved of temperance/'public health' campaigners, a significant decline in alcohol consumption must lead to a commensurate fall in alcohol-related deaths.

It's what the World Health Organisation believes:

... lowering the population mean for alcohol consumption will also predictably reduce the number of people suffering from alcohol abuse.

And it is the official policy in Scotland and Ireland. As Alcohol Focus Scotland say (emphasis in the original):

The specific outcome of the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy is to achieve a reduction in overall alcohol consumption.

Moreover, the theory suggests that reductions in mortality should happen rapidly because the 'lag effect' is minimal. Some benefits are apparent almost immediately, other take no more than a few years.

It is now 14 years since per capita alcohol consumption peaked in the UK. According to the latest BBPA figures, consumption among people aged 15+ fell from 11.6 litres to 9.7 litres between 2004 and 2017. This is a fall of 16.4 per cent.

So how has the biggest decline in drinking since the war impacted alcohol-related mortality?

Age-standardised alcohol-specific death rates per 100,000 people (UK)

2004:  11.5

2017: 12.2

Can we put this myth to bed now?

Thursday 6 December 2018

The gambling industry feeds the crocodile

Farewell, sweet prince

From the BBC...

Gambling firms agree 'whistle-to-whistle' television sport advertising ban

Britain's biggest gambling companies have voluntarily agreed to a "whistle-to-whistle" television advertising ban.

The Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which includes Bet365, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, has struck a deal to stop adverts during live sports broadcasts.

It follows political pressure about the amount of betting advertising on TV.

This is not wholly surprising. In recent months, some of the big players have come out in support of the further restrictions on gambling ads. Why would a business want its commercial speech to be curtailed? There are three possibilities.

Firstly, incumbent businesses tend to benefit from advertising bans because they raise a barrier to entry for new competitors.

Second, advertising does not increase aggregate demand (contrary to what campaigners claim) and is a zero-sum game. There is a large element of game theory to it. Each company advertises because the other companies are advertising. If one company doesn't keep up, it will lose market share, but if all the companies give up at the same time, they save a great deal of money. This is exactly what happened with tobacco.

Thirdly, the industry hopes to fend off further regulation by capitulating on this issue. There is a belief that the bookies could have avoided a £2 stake if they had voluntary reduced the stake below the controversial £100 mark (very few people gambled at £100 a spin anyway). Anti-FOBT campaigners Derek Webb and Matt Zarb-Cousin were probably right when they said in 2017...

“If [the gambling industry] had the ability to understand who we were and accept what the truth is, then they could have come up with [a maximum stake] of £20 a few years ago, and they might have got away with it,” says Mr Webb.
“Not now. It’s too much of an issue now,” adds Mr Zarb-Cousin.

But you only to read the BBC's article today to see that the voluntary ban will encourage, not prevent, further statutory regulation...

Could shirt sponsorship be next?

Matt Zarb-Cousin is a spokesperson for Fairer Gambling, a not-for-profit entity campaigning to reduce gambling-related harm and crime.

It is long overdue, there has been a huge amount of pressure on the sector over the volume of advertising which has increased exponentially year on year.

But for it to be truly effective, it should also include shirt and league sponsorship and digital advertising around a pitch.

Will it make a difference?

Marc Etches is the chief executive of GambleAware, a leading charity committed to minimising gambling-related harm.

We have been saying for a long time now that gambling is being increasingly normalised for children. They are growing up in a very different world than their parents, one where technology and the internet are ever present.

So while we welcome this move by betting companies, it is important to pay attention to analysis that shows the marketing spend online is five times the amount spent on television.

Without missing a beat, these anti-gambling campaigners have moved onto sponsorship and online advertising. What defence is the industry going to put forward for these forms of advertising now that it has implicitly accepted that gambling advertising is an evil?

Businesses should be far more robust in defending their right to free speech. Neither they nor the broadcasters have sold the benefits of advertising to the public.

I have a particular interest in this as a snooker fan. The game suffered terribly when tobacco sponsorship was banned. Prize money fell dramatically, as did the number of events. For a while, the entire sport only had five or six tournaments a year. In recent years, Barry Hearn has done a fine job of reviving the game by selling TV rights and getting new sponsors, most of which seem to be gambling companies. For example, the Betway UK championship is currently being played. In January, the Dafabet Masters will begin.

There are now more tournaments than ever and most of them are shown on Eurosport. Eurosport is a relatively niche channel which largely relies on gambling ads. The ads are shown between frames. A 'whistle to whistle' ban would be ruinous. A fall in advertising revenue would reduce the value of TV rights which would mean less money going into the game. Same applies to a ban on sponsorship.

Note that the proposal is not actually 'whistle to whistle'. According to the BBC, 'no adverts will be broadcast for a defined period before and after a game is broadcast' in addition to during the game.

Note also that a 'whistle to whistle' ban is the policy of the Labour Party, not the government. The fact that the industry has introduced such a ban to prevent the government doing it first tells you where Theresa May gets her policies from. To quote Webb and Zarb-Cousin again...

The campaigners also cite last year’s referendum on UK membership of the EU, which led to Theresa May becoming prime minister, as a key moment.
Mr Zarb-Cousin describes Mrs May as a “Red Tory” — a social conservative less inclined to listen to industry claims that curbs to FOBTs would lead to job losses at betting shops. “It’s one of the most important positives of Brexit,” says Mr Webb.

He adds he may broaden CFG’s focus to target online gambling next. “I want to fight where I can win,” says Mr Webb.

Say what you like about the casino tycoon and his young apprentice but they know what they're doing and who they're dealing with.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Temperance censorship

I'm late to this because I've only just come across it, but print workers in Lithuania are having to cover up alcohol ads in imported magazines to protect people from the sight of booze. A small country of less than three million souls, it imports a lot of foreign magazines, but it's either that or ripping the pages out completely, as Reuters reports...

Print distributors in Lithuania are being forced to tear pages out from magazines such as Vogue and National Geographic after the country introduced an alcohol advertising ban on Jan. 1.

The situation is an unintended consequence of an alcohol control bill signed into law in June by President Dalia Grybauskaite, who herself likened the outcome to medieval times and said it brought shame on the country.

It certainly looks a bit totalitarian when you see the photos of them at work...

Banning advertising is censorship, plain and simple. Needless to say, the Alcohol Health Alliance wants to follow in Lithuania's footsteps with a total ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship.

Bartasevicius said the country’s largest retail chain had refused to stock the altered magazines, deeming them “damaged goods”.

However, he said the publishers of National Geographic had told him they could not create an edition of a magazine free from alcohol ads for a country which only sells up to 500 copies of a title per month.

Politicians do not yet have any solution to a problem they have created.

Sounds familiar.

“It is reminiscent of medieval times and it brings international shame on Lithuania,” Grybauskaite told reporters on Wednesday. “We must have laws without such flaws.”

This is what happens when you let the ignorant zealots of the 'public health' lobby make laws. They neither know nor care about the unintended consequences. To quote H.L. Mencken, their solutions are clear, simple and wrong.

We're going to see this kind of unravelling in the UK where the government has taken naive ideas from fanatics and imported them wholesale into its ludicrous obesity strategy policy.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Energy drinks are safe so let's have minimum pricing!

The Science and Technology Committee published its review of energy drinks today and found no scientific justification for banning their sale to minors.

In our view, there is insufficient evidence as to whether children’s consumption habits are significantly different for energy drinks compared with other caffeinated products such as tea and coffee.

.. On balance, we conclude that the current scientific evidence alone is not sufficient to justify a measure as prohibitive as a statutory ban on the sale of energy drinks to children. Single portions are within the European Food Safety Authority’s suggested limit for caffeine intake by children. This limit may be exceeded if other products containing caffeine are also consumed, or if energy drinks are consumed in excess, but the same can be said for many products available for sale to young people, including other drinks containing caffeine.

Recognising that the government is already committed to this policy, the committee adds that it might still want to introduce a ban 'on the basis of societal concerns and qualitative evidence, such as the experience of school teachers'. If so, the government 'should set out the reasoning for its decision.'

I, for one, look forward to hearing the government explaining why it ignored empirical, scientific evidence in favour of anecdotes from teachers.

The ban on energy drink sales to under-18s has always been a solution looking for a problem. As I said in August, it is arbitrary and illogical. If the issue is caffeine - and if a ban to minors is appropriate - then the logical approach is to ban the sale of caffeinated products to children. If the issue is sugar (the proposed ban is part of the childhood obesity strategy) then it should logically be extended to all products which contain a similar quantity of sugar/calories.

Neither approach would strike the general public as reasonable or proportionate and so the government has to portray energy drinks as being in some way special. But why? A can of Red Bull has less caffeine than a cup of filter coffee and the sugar content of energy drinks is no higher than that of Coca-Cola. I dare say the zealots who pushed this policy on the government would like to ban the sale of sugar and caffeine, but we are not there yet.

So how has the 'public health' lobby reacted to the Science and Technology Committee's evidence-based conclusion?

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said it was "disappointing not to see a recommendation today to ban the sale of these drinks to children.

"We believe that the evidence is already compelling that energy drinks bring no benefits and only harm to children."

Well, Russ, you are wrong.

Prof Viner said the Government should introduce "a minimum price for energy drinks as we know their cheap price tag is a key driver for their purchase".

Talk about doubling-down! On the day that a cross-party committee recognises that these products are safe, Russell Viner demands not only their sale be banned to minors but that the price be hiked up for adults.

If the name Russell Viner rings a bell it's because the government gave him £5 million in 2017 to carry out research and give 'independent advice to policy makers'. This is not the first time he has made statements that fly in the face of evidence. Not very encouraging is it?

Sunday 2 December 2018

Deal or no deal?

"If I were you, I wouldn't start from here" is the punchline to a joke about a tourist asking a local for directions. If you were looking for a satisfactory resolution to Brexit, you certainly wouldn't start from here. Theresa May has made a catastrophic misjudgement in assuming that Leave voters are as obsessed with immigration as she is. The European Commission exploited her weakness and myopia to negotiate a deal that is widely, and accurately, regarded as a national humiliation.

The Conservative Party has inexplicably stuck with a leader who lacks every leadership quality apart from perseverance and who lost a 20 per cent poll lead against an antediluvian Marxist. Meanwhile Momentum (t/a the Labour Party) only cares about rerunning the general election and Stronger In (t/a People's Vote) only cares about re-running the referendum.

Every road now leads to something approximating ruin. A so-called People's Vote might resolve the issue in the short term but it would not resolve the question of whether Britain wants to leave the EU. A second referendum would have to offer a binary choice (the idea of having two Leave options and one Remain option would shamelessly rig the result in favour of the europhiles). The options would be May's version of Brexit versus staying in the EU. Given this Hobson's choice, many people will stay at home. Remain could still lose the referendum, but if it won it would be on a lower turnout and with a blatantly restrictive question. It would not show that the UK had changed its mind about leaving, only that people considered May's deal worse than remaining.

It would also poison politics for a generation and whichever party was seen to be responsible (and this would not necessarily be the Conservatives) would be held in contempt. The same would apply if parliament somehow kept Britain in the EU without a second referendum, perhaps more so.

A general election would solve nothing. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives are likely to get a majority, let alone a sufficient majority to push through a Brexit plan, and Labour doesn't have a Brexit plan anyway.

Given how unsatisfactory these options are, many people are tempted to damn the establishment's eyes and go for no deal, AKA a 'clean Brexit', AKA WTO terms. This is the legal default unless something changes, but it is also a road to ruin. In fact, it is the road to greatest ruin.

Far too many people on the Leave side are complacent about a so-called clean Brexit. They do not take the predictions of the Treasury and the Bank of England seriously because they were laughably wrong about what would happen in 2016. It is true that the pre-referendum predictions were woeful as anything other than propaganda. It is also true that last week's predictions from Mark Carney were based on such implausibly pessimistic assumptions that Paul Krugman scoffed at them from across the water.

Remainers have engaged in so much ridiculous scare-mongering in the past three years that it is tempting to ignore their every warning. This is a mistake. Just because the boy falsely cries wolf does not mean there isn't a wolf. It was never likely that planes would be grounded and EU nationals deported, but these wild claims should not us distract us from the real problems that no deal would entail.

Queues at the border are an obvious example. Interestingly, Krugman is relatively relaxed about this, writing:

Britain is an advanced country with high administrative capacity — the kind of country that history shows can cope well with huge natural disasters, and even wars. Would it really have that much trouble hiring customs inspectors and installing computers to recover from an 8 or 10 percent drop in GDP?

And even in the short run, I wonder why Britain couldn’t follow the old prescription, “When all else fails, lower your standards.” If laxer enforcement, special treatment for trusted shippers, whatever, could clear the bottlenecks at the ports, wouldn’t that be worth it, despite the potential for fraud, as a temporary measure?

I'm not so sure. As the Economist notes...

Small delays add up to large tailbacks. Researchers at Imperial College London have calculated that two minutes more transit time per lorry at Dover and the Channel Tunnel translates into a 47km traffic jam.

This is important because...

Britain’s big supermarket chains hold as little as one-and-a-half days’ worth of fresh food in their supply chain at any given time, and say they have no capacity to hold more.


Consider the plant in Oxford where BMW churns out 1,000 Minis a day. Each is made up of 4,000-5,000 parts. Bringing 4m parts to the factory on 200 lorries every day is a “significant logistical challenge”, says Graham Biggs, the firm’s communications director. Three-fifths of them come through Dover or the Channel Tunnel; their contents are unloaded directly onto the apposite part of the production line. Reconfiguring its supply chains to circumvent hold-ups and tariffs would take years if it were possible at all.

It is true that most of our trade is already with non-EU countries, though it is a slim majority and many of them have trade deals with the EU. It is not beyond the wit of man to invest in customs inspectors and IT projects. We should have started doing it in June 2016, not least because we would have got a better deal if Brussels thought there was a realistic prospect of us walking away (it would have cost money but what's the worst that could have happened - shorter queues?). We didn't. Even now, with less than four months to go, there appears to be very little planning for no deal. In the long run, we could adjust but in the short run we would have supply problems that would make the fuel protests of 2000 look like the lettuce shortage of 2017.

This is not the fault of people who voted to leave the EU. The government has let us down. Still, you wouldn't start from here.

There are plenty of other potential problems with a clean Brexit. Passporting for financial services, the Irish border, the European Exchange Warrant and countless logistical issues which are obscure but important. Some of them may be easier to solve than they first appear. Others may prove almost intractable. We won't find out until March 30th when the government will have to tackle them all at once. Has the government and the civil service done anything in recent years to make you confident that they are up to the job?

The biggest issue is tariffs and we can predict with reasonable certainty what will happen here. As a third country, the EU will put its tariffs on our exports. No ifs, no buts. For example, there will be a 12.8% tariff on lamb, a 13.6% tariff on cauliflowers, a 16% tariff on tractors, a 10% tariff on cars and an 8% tariff on many clothes. For some items, tariffs exceed 20%. Some even exceed 100%.

It is not Project Fear to point out that these tariffs will make our goods unappealing to consumers in the EU; that is kind of the point of them. A large number of British businesses - whole industries - will be affected and many of them will go bust or, if possible, relocate in the event of a no deal Brexit. Industries which cannot relocate, such as Welsh lamb farmers - who depend overwhelmingly on exports - will go to the wall and they will not go quietly (nor should they).

On the other hand, consumers will be free of EU tariffs on imports and will be able to buy New Zealand lamb, for instance, at a lower price. This is an undoubted benefit of leaving the EU properly but under no deal it is debatable whether these benefits outweigh the costs of widespread unemployment, recession and falling incomes that will come from what Michael Gove describes - with some understatement - as the period of 'considerable dislocation and disruption'.

I happen to be in favour of unilateral free trade, but even I would not introduce it overnight. There is no evidence that the government is in favour of it at all. The most likely outcome is that the government will choose to introduce its own tariffs (which Remainers dishonestly portray as 'WTO tariffs') on anything that competes with British industry. It may even impose them on some products that are not made in Britain. These tariffs - which will have to apply to non-EU imports as well - will naturally lead to a higher prices and exacerbate the inflation caused by the inevitable drop in the pound, but they are not as senseless as they may seem. The government will have concluded, with some justification, that the EU will be in no rush to sign a trade deal with a country that has already dropped its tariffs.

None of this is a natural consequence of Brexit as some Remainers will claim. The EU has always been keen to have tariff-free trade with Britain and tariff-free trade is one of the few things that Mrs May has successfully negotiated. It would have been part of a Canada+ deal, a Norway+ deal or any other deal. It is only absent from no deal and it would not be a temporary problem. It would probably take years to negotiate a free trade deal if we walked away from the deal that is currently on the table, especially if we walked away with the £39 billion that the EU considers - rightly or wrongly - to be theirs as a matter of legal fact.

(It has been suggested that we could use the £39 billion to alleviate the problems suffered by the industries that are harmed by tariffs. I have no idea whether this sum would be sufficient - I suspect not, and the EU would certainly pursue some portion of it through the courts - but a system in which our exporters have tariffs imposed on them while consumers pay higher prices and the government spends billions trying to prop up industries that have been screwed by protectionism is not the free trade Brexit I voted for.)

Time is now running very short. It is conceivable that a better deal could yet be negotiated. It is conceivable that EFTA/EEA could be the solution. Conceivable - but it becomes less likely every day. Unless Article 50 is extended, it is a choice between May's deal and remaining in the EU and, as Gove points out, remaining in the EU could be worse than it was before:

Like a guilty partner who had threatened to leave for another and come crawling back, we would be forced to accept far tougher terms than we have now.

Keeping the rebate? Forget about it. Stopping a tide of new EU laws? No way. Halting progress towards a European army? Nope. Guaranteeing we wouldn’t have to pay billions to bail out euro members in the future? I’m afraid not.

You don't need to be a Brexit purist to consider May's deal a betrayal. In a normal political environment, May would resign and the Conservatives would be punished by the electorate for their incompetence. But British politics is in a period of extreme abnormality and the only realistic alternative to the Conservatives is the far-left sect that has taken over the Labour Party who would relish no deal because it would make the winter of discontent look like the summer of love and do to the Tories' long-term electoral prospects what that winter did to Labour's. It would also remove many of the legal and constitutional barriers to the planned economy that John McDonnell has in mind.

There are some who think that Britain needs a short, sharp shock to push the government towards the kind of liberalisation and deregulation that would put a rocket under the economy. A no deal Brexit certainly offers the opportunity to reform the economy but, as Sam Bowman points out, there is no reason to think that the current government - and Mrs May in particular - have any interest in seizing it...

Theresa May is the most illiberal, anti-market Prime Minister the UK has had since at least the 1970s. She seems obsessed with cutting immigration. Her government is pushing through unprecedented new powers to allow the politicians to block or intervene in takeovers of British firms that might come with unpopular job cuts or factory closures. She has brought in price caps in energy instead of doing anything to make the market more competitive or consumer-friendly. Her government cannot stop banning things as trivial as plastic straws, on ludicrously thin evidence that doing so provides any benefit to anyone anywhere.

May would surely be forced to quit under no deal and it is likely that her successor would be more liberal, but it is doubtful whether he/she could bring about sufficient reform in time to outweigh the damage done by tariffs. In any case, no deal would not be a short, sharp shock because it would not be short.

If Brexit is cancelled it will be nauseating to see people like Andrew Adonis gloating but it will be worse to hear them say 'I told you so' when the economy collapses under no deal. The only way for Brexit to end up approximating the Project Fear predictions would be for us to leave without a deal.

There was nothing inevitable about our current predicament and you wouldn't start from here, but now that we're here it would be irresponsible to jump from the frying pan to the fire. The European Commission and the British establishment have won. The Brexiteers have been outmaneuvered. We have lost and it is not worth wrecking the economy and opening the door to socialism to make a point. The only realistic choice now is between remaining in the EU and accepting May's deal. No deal is a no go.

Having said that, I would be delighted to be wrong, so if you disagree with my analysis please leave a comment.