Britain’s nuclear future: Doomed by its own contractors and skill shortages

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Britain’s  £70 billion nuclear programme is in serious trouble. Contractors have either started or are threatening to pull out of four planned nuclear power stations.

There is also huge recruitment crisis to get enough trained  staff to build them in the first place.

The country could literally be on the blink as 14 out of the 15 existing nuclear power stations  are due to close by 2030 – drastically reducing the current 21 per cent share of  electricity generated by nuclear power.

They were due to be replaced by eight new nuclear power stations – but only one is currently under construction by the French nationalised energy firm EDF  – at Hinckley Point in Somerset. And that may well miss its 2025 opening deadline.

In the last two months  while Brexit dominated the news three unrelated announcements have drastically changed the situation for the worse.

Plans for a new nuclear plant at Sellafield in Cumbria – called Moorside – have been scrapped by Toshiba which has decided to pull out of the UK development. The company failed to find a buyer for the project.

And meetings are being held by Hitachi to consider abandoning its plans to build a £16 billion nuclear power station at Wylfa in Anglesey – only six months after the UK agreed to pump £5 billion of taxpayer’s money into the project to keep it going. Hitachi’s share price went up on the announcement of a possible pull out.

The decision also puts at risk two other projects by Hitachi in Oldbury, Gloucestershire leaving Britain mainly relying on the Chinese to build a new power station in Bradwell, Essex and help develop a new power station at Sizewell.

Huge recruitment crisis

Meanwhile a damning report has been produced by the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group, an employer led organisation, which includes representatives of government, the unions and a representative from China. It shows that the UK has an enormous skill shortage of available engineers and could face an “age related cliff-edge loss of current skills and experience” as well qualified staff reach retirement. Many of the current experienced staff are in their 50s and 60s.

Although written up in an upbeat way the strategy also signed off by three government ministers in the business, defence and education departments makes grim reading. The link to the report is here.

 It says to recruit the 100,000 skilled people to build the new power stations it will be required to double existing recruitment as it has a 50 per cent shortfall.

Among shortfalls are electrical and civil engineers, safety experts, emergency planners, control and instrumentation experts,project planners and regulators. In basic construction there is a shortage of scaffolders and concrete experts.

 The report says: “Even where there is a large national pool from which new staff and trainees can be drawn, recruitment, attraction, and retention factor heavily in determining available supply. Remote locations, competing industries, and the lack of practical training opportunities can all affect workforce availability.”

 The problem is also being made worse by Britain leaving the EU which could hit skilled people from other EU countries taking up work and also affect nuclear research.

The report reveals that the shortage also extends to the military. The UK is committed to replacing Trident.  Yet will it have the people to do it.

There is growing collaboration between the military and civil nuclear industry with new initiatives set up in Cumbria and  at Hinckley Point and they are even desperate enough to want to shorten security checks to attract new staff.

Will nuclear survive?

 Britain’s civil and military nuclear expansion and modernisation has been under attack by Greenpeace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for decades. It would be the ultimate irony if the programme closed down because the contractors walked and Whitehall ran out of the money it needed to subsidise them. There is a real danger of this happening now.

Exclusive: Amber Rudd faces new challenge over maladministration of the raising of pension age from 50s Women

amber rudd

Amber Rudd- the new work and pensions secretary and MP for Hastings

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Two supporters of the BackTo60 campaign have got professional legal support to challenge the government for maladministration over the failure to notify them over the raising of the pension age.

The fresh challenge is in addition to the hearing next Friday at the High court to decide whether BackTo60 can challenge the government through a judicial review.

Pensions Litigation lawyer Mr Ivan Walker (Principal of Walkers Solicitors based in Kent) has agreed to advise Fran Martin and Ros Pain-Tolin  who, are two of the lead cases of 1950s Women. They have got to the final stage of presenting their case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Mr Walker recently represented the members of the Lloyds Bank pension schemes in a landmark High Court claim regarding sex discrimination in the system for contracting out of the State Earnings-related Pension Scheme.

The move is significant because professional legal advice is essential in bringing such a  case. The women are launching a crowd funding appeal  to help finance the move.

The link is here. Go onto the crowdfunder site here:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/search/projects?filter%5Bc%5D=&filter%5Bt%5D=pending&filter%5Bs%5D=

Search live projects and put in 50swomen and then you will get to the site. For some reason this direct link does not work

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/maladministration–legal-advice-for-1950swomen

Both women have faced enormous and heart rending struggles to cope since the government pushed back the right to claim a pension from 60 to 65 and it is going up to 66 by 2020. Their struggle is typical of many others who have commented on this blog and have been left with virtually nothing to live on.

Fran Martin told me :

“I received a letter in 2013 from DWP – which indicated that I had a 6 yr hike added to my SP age – This was received 2 years before my 60th birthday in 2015. I was totally shocked and still am.

“I have gone from an optimistic cheerful forward thinking person to a virtual recluse with all the incumbent stresses and strains that this places on other family members. Health has deteriorated too, with high blood pressure, diabetes and anxiety being I feel part and parcel of the result of being misled at what is a vulnerable time in anyone’s life..”

Sleepless nights have become the new norm and even whilst now prescribed sleeping tablets I can still be wide awake at 4 or 5am with worry for a very bleak future if even that exists, I’m not convinced it does.”

She became redundant in 2015 and then saw her plans for a happy retirement ruined.

” I had purchased a retirement cottage in 2008 in Aberdeenshire completely unaware of any state pension Legislation. and which DWP treated as capital – Forced in Dec 2015 to put the cottage up for sale – but with no work and no one coming into Aberdeen to rent, to date the cottage is still on the market. and have costs for the upkeep of same and the flat that I live in Aberdeen.

” I am ineligible for any benefits as the DWP class the cottage as capital. I was also forced to draw down a small private pension in 2015 at the worst possible times for annuities, and use this and small savings to eek out a bleak existence – Dependant to on a mother in her mid 80’s which quite frankly I never thought I would have to be and obviously places stress and worry on her too.”

Ros told me: “I always expected my State Pension to be at 60 in 2015. I never received a letter. ICE  ( who handle pension complaints)say that one was ‘probably’ sent in Feb 2012, but they did not keep any ‘case specific’ records so cannot confirm.”

“I only have a small works pension that I had taken early. I also a degenerative back condition which causes me pain most days and I  suffer from Asthma.

I really don’t know how I would manage at all, if I didn’t have my husband and his Pension to rely on as well. He is now 70 with his own health issues. My Mother almost 95 has also given financial support over the last few years.”

Both women are determined to fight the system so Amber Rudd in her new role  as work and pensions secretary better look out as a storm is gathering not only from them but from millions of other people who feel they have been robbed of their state pension when they should have had it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day the women fighting for their pensions brought Westminster to a standstill

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50s women reclaiming the street outside Parliament

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A decade ago this would have made headline news. Hundreds of  50s women deprived of their pensions until they reach 65 or 66 blocked the road in Parliament Square for over an hour yesterday. The police – just five of them – had to divert traffic away from Parliament as they sang slogans deriding Theresa May  from ” We paid In,  U Pay Out ” to ”  Hey, Hey, Theresa May, Theresa May, how many women who have you robbed today ” in an extraordinary display of anger at successive governments decisions to raise the women’s pension age from 60 to 66.

The noise  from the vibrant  demo drowned out irritated van drivers, bus drivers and motorists tooting their horns as they were stuck on the one way system round the Square. But the women were more than a match for the motorists, the police and certainly are making an impact on MPs.

The decision to block the road was not planned  and taken spontaneously by some of the protesters and led to a traffic jams right up Whitehall. Even Fiona Bruce, the BBC newscaster had to flag down a passing police car to get to Millbank to present the six o’clock news.

The protest  began with a 1000 strong rally in Hyde Park bringing together Backto60, Waspi and the ” We Paid In, U Pay Out” groups under a #One Voice and ” shoulder to Shoulder ” banner. Groups from as far away as Aberdeen, Cornwall, Wales, Tyne and Wear and Derby came to London to voice their anger.

It has got the backing of the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Equality Party and the SOS Initiatives  who have highlighted the desperate plight of the women , some of whom have contemplated suicide or self harm.

What was  clear at Westminster is that it is attracting support from senior people in the leadership of both the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party, the two biggest opposition groups in Westminster. John McDonnell’s office sent over a senior researcher and unless I was mistaken, Laura Alvarez, wife of Jeremy Corbyn, who keeps a low profile but I would bet will be telling the Labour leader about the strength of feeling there.

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Chris Williamson examines the Derby Waspi banner

Other Labour MPs there included Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for  Derby North;Laura Smith, shadow Cabinet Office minister and MP for Crewe and Nantwich; Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova; and a number from Scotland and the Midlands. Two prominent Scottish Nationalists, the Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Mhairi Black also pledged support. Tory MPs were noticeable by their absence.

What is clear is this issue which I fully support – I did address the rally myself on the key issues- is now going places. This weekend it made the mainstream media, the next stage must be inside the courts and Parliament itself.

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The protesters arrive at Westminster 

 

Boycott this mean Treasury National Savings ISA account that is slashing interest rates for pensioners and the poor

treasury

HM Treasury: Slashing your savings in National Savings

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Over a month ago bank rate rose for only the second time in a decade – promising a bit more money for people who have savings and are seeing their money eroded by inflation.

They would probably hope to get an extra paltry 0.25 per cent interest on their already diminishing  savings – lucky to get just over one per cent on an instant access cash ISA when inflation is running at 2.7 per cent.

However the well paid top mandarins and ministers at the Treasury and National Savings ( their chief exec, ex Barclays banker Ian Ackerley is on a pittance of £185,000 a year plus an annual £69,000 payment into his pension) had other ideas. Why not use the cover of the bank rate rise to slash the interest we already pay out to people who use National Savings as a safe haven but need to access money to meet unexpected bills for a broken boiler or fridge. Everybody will think interest rates will go up, they wouldn’t think anyone would slash them now

So in July when both the Treasury and National Savings knew a bank rate rise was imminent they agreed not to put up the rate of their cash isa but CUT it by 0.25 per cent to just 0.75 per cent. It was though Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England was about to announce a bank rate cut not a bank rate rise.

Today the new cut came into effect – just at the point when other banks and building societies are putting their rates on equivalent cash isas UP.

You would think from the blurb on their website that National Savings would do the opposite. Their comment on interest rate changes reads:

 “Can NS&I change the interest rate?

Yes – the rate is variable so we can change it up or down from time to time, for example when the Bank of England base rate changes or when rates in the general savings market change. See the customer agreement (terms and conditions) for more details.”

So we know now  in this case when the bank interest rate goes UP,  the National Savings rate will go DOWN.

And as for other providers- Metro Bank for example, has an equivalent instant access cash isa which was paying less than National Savings at 0.75 per cent. But since the bank rate rise it is now paying more. Its new rate is 0.90 per cent -UP 0.15 per cent while National Savings are DOWN 0.25 per cent to 0.75 per cent. Which Money? has other recommended providers paying more.

So what’s their explanation?

A spokesperson said today :”The decision to reduce the interest rate on Direct ISA was taken in order to deliver positive value for taxpayers. NS&I sets its interest rates to balance the interests of its savers, taxpayers and the stability of the broader financial services sector.

“In order to take this decision, we made a proposal to HM Treasury which was approved. We review the rates on all of our products regularly and recommend changes to HM Treasury when we believe they are appropriate, to ensure that we continue to balance the interests of our savers, taxpayers and the stability of the broader financial services sector.

“We announced the change on 16 July 2018. It is NS&I policy to give customers at least two months’ notice of any detrimental variable rate change on our variable rate accounts, so the rate change will be effective from today, 24 September 2018.”

So basically National Savings are paying lower rates to small savers ( the maximum you can put in the isa is £20,000, the minimum £1) to make sure high rate taxpayers are not having to bear such a burden to fund other public services. No doubt it is linked to the Treasury regretting it has to pay people’s pensions anyway.

 My view is the National Savings Direct ISA should be boycotted because the people who run it appear to  have the Treasury’s interests than yours at heart. The decision also helps other big banks not to increase rates if the state rival is cutting rates – and will boost profits for the major banks.

I took all my money out of this particular National Savings account today. I would not blame other people doing the same – now you can get higher isa rates elsewhere. Your only restriction is that if took out an isa this financial year ( from April) you can’t take out another tax free cash account. But if you did it last year you can and should – rather than leave the Treasury to profit from you.

 

 

 

Exposed: The worldwide hypocritical stance by successive UK ministers on women’s rights and their pensions

CEDAW-logo

The logo of the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women

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A damning academic expert opinion on successive UK government’s failure to meet its international obligations to  1950s women hit by the rise in the pension age is to be presented in court soon as part of an application for a judicial review of the decision

Jackie Jones, a law professor at the University of the West England , has produced the report,  which shows that this group of women have suffered discrimination contrary to an international  convention signed by successive UK governments. It is not a legal document but it is an expert opinion.

The full brief  can be clicked on  here. AMICUS BRIEF 10 September 2018

The reports conclusion’s are stark :

 “The effect of the mechanisms in issue in this case have a discriminatory effect on women born in the 50s, adversely impacting on older women’s health, economic and social life in that the voluntary use of the mechanisms have the effect of failing to provide adequate access to pensions for women and therefore must be removed and full restitution substituted. “

Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986 took the decision to sign up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (known as CEDAW)  – an international treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and now recognised by 189 countries. In 2004 Tony Blair’s government went a step further and accepted an optional protocol and  UK ministers of all parties have played an active role in its international work for many years.

The UK’s treaty obligations mean that we are signed up, as the report says, to “women’s equality within society, in both the public and private spheres, obligating States to formulate policies, laws and programmes to advance women and promote substantive equality (equality in outcome, not only equality of opportunity) as well as from refraining from actions that will put women in a worse position.

“It includes alleviating economic disadvantage as a result of persistent structural inequality and remedying past injustices that had and continue to put women in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis men. ”

The report argues that the UK is in breach of its international treaty obligations in three main areas over the treatment of 50s women.

The rise in the pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 for women was far more drastic than for men who  faced a one year rise in 2020 compared to a six year rise for women. The implementation of the taper which meant women had to wait longer and longer for their pension  and it was made worse by the failure of the government to inform individuals how the decision would affect them. And finally the decision targeted one particular group – those born in the 1950s in a much more drastic way than anybody else – and successive governments have failed to even consider reviewing its effects.

The report says : “The imposition of the mechanisms resulted in women born in the 50s’ access to pensions being postponed, in some cases for years, despite the fact that women born in the 50s had a life-long expectation and had been repeatedly told that they would be entitled to their State pension at 60.

“The effect of the State measures of delay in being able to access State-sponsored pensions has meant a decrease in income for women born in the 50s as well as obligating women born in the 50s to continue to work or to find employment in order to make up any shortfall in pensions. This has led to substantial financial insecurity for the women so affected.

By their actions, the State has discriminated against these women because they are women as the measures only seriously adversely affect women born in the 50s, made the economic and health position of women born in the 50s significantly worse and thereby have infringed their human rights and fundamental freedoms as proscribed by CEDAW. “

In my view the ministers involved are hypocrites. Margaret Thatcher,as Britain’s first women prime minister, deserves praise  for signing the country up to the new convention.

But then her social security secretary, John Moore, within two years started undermining the position of  women  – first by withdrawing Treasury money to the  National Insurance Fund – leading eventually to  a shortfall  of  £271 billion – this included not only pensions but the funding of maternity allowances.

Then John Major’s government took the decision to raise the pension age rather than start paying money again into the fund which would have more than covered the current £77 billion to restore pensions for the 50s women. Successive governments  including Theresa May’s either did nothing or made matters worse by raising the pension age further claiming there was no money.

Meanwhile on the international stage Britain was portraying itself as a world leader in women’s rights with ministers attending the international convention meetings.

Since 1997 when Tony Blair created the position of minister for women in the Cabinet – the following prominent women politicians have held this job. which they combine with other duties. The Labour politicians are Harriet Harman, Baroness Jay,  Patricia Hewitt,the late Tessa Jowell and  Ruth Kelly.

The Tories are Theresa May, Maria Miller, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening,Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt , the current minister who is also international development secretary.

These women should be backing the case for 50s women if they have a shred  of integrity and want to live up to the ideals of a convention signed by Margaret Thatcher which commits the country to the advancement of women.

CEDAR is already planning to hold the UK to account in February for breaching its commitment to women over austerity – 86 per cent of benefits cuts fall on women.

With the judicial review of the raising of the pension age and this international pressure over the UK’s discrimination against women over benefit cuts the scene is set for a perfect storm for the UK government.

 

A No Deal Brexit could leave nearly 500,000 expatriate Brits with frozen pensions like those living in Canada and Australia

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Last year  it looked like the 474,000 expatriates who retired to 27 European  Union countries had their pension increases protected forever and a day. A deal which meant the UK would sign up to the EU Social Security Convention  guaranteeing pension payments both to British expatriates abroad and EU citizens remaining in the UK.

There was only one caveat “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” which would prevent this happening and  the  government’s aim is the commitment would be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was emphasised in the White Paper on Brexit in July.

But now the spectre of a No Deal Brexit is again being raised everything is being thrown into the air. Supporters like Liam Fox talk of a country thriving on new free trade but what about the social cost? What is clear is that without a signed withdrawal treaty Britain appears to fall out of the social security convention – and as EU arrangements superseded most national arrangements the automatic rise in pensions goes as well.

The House of Commons library have just produced two new reports on the issue. One published in July on Brexit and state pensions provides an accurate summary of the present situation. You can download it here. Another published this week provides the latest analysis of frozen pensions overseas. You can get it here.

There is a current official breakdown of the situation for both  unfrozen pensions in EU countries and the Channel Islands and frozen pensions elsewhere at the end of this blog.It shows that EU  countries make up the vast majority of uprated pensions.

The government has only limited agreements with overseas countries to allow Brits who settle there to get uprated pensions. Outside the EU  the UK has agreements with Barbados; Bermuda; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Guernsey; Isle of Man; Israel; Jamaica; Jersey; Mauritius; Montenegro; the Philippines; Serbia; Turkey; the United States of America; and, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The rest of Europe includes Switzerland and Norway. The US agreement also covers American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

For those who could be confined to a frozen pension the results can be dire. And they get worse the longer you live. An expatriate living to the age of 90 in Canada would have to live on just £41.15 a week while someone who went to live in Canada in 2015 would be on just over £110.15 a week.

Ian Andexser, chairman of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, said:

“The UK continue to adopt a 70 year old policy which makes no sense, is unfair and in violation of the Commonwealth charter. If you are British and live in Niagara Falls USA, you get a fully indexed pension. If you live 400 yards away in Niagara Falls , Canada, you do not!”

An even more complex situation exists in Australia where they have a means tested pension and even getting Britain to pay up part of your state pension if you have already left the country is problematic.

The latest Commons guide on frozen pensions shows campaigners – once they have lost their case for any uprating – are unlikely to get it back. Successive British governments have refused to change the rules on grounds of costs and the spurious claim that the rises caused by  British inflation rates should not apply to other countries which had different rates of inflation. If that were the case the same would apply to people living in the European Union or Mauritius where people do benefit from British inflation.

The cost to do this is about £500 million a year and opposition parties – notably the Liberal Democrats – have backed the change only to renege on it once they got into office. Indeed the only change that followed the Pensions Act that  created the new pensions system was a minute extension of the uprating to pensioners who had retired to Sark in the Channel Islands.

So Brits in the EU better keep abreast of what does happen in the EU negotiations. They need to ensure that there is an agreement with the EU. The expatriates in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Jamaica, to name   few of the frozen pension  states can only  get redress by either pressurising British politicians or by pressuring their newly adopted country to demand Britain fulfils its obligations by refusing to sign a trade deal until it does.

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Brexit Bombshell: All Northern Ireland people would be better off in a new united Ireland says new report

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Will this be the new prosperous Ireland? Pic credit: Istock

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It has received virtually no publicity in the mass media in the United Kingdom, But it is a question that was begging to be asked in the current impasse over whether there should be a soft or hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. And until now no one has weighed up the facts and figures of a united Ireland versus a divided Ireland. Indeed there was pressure from the Irish government to keep this report secret because of the Brexit negotiations.

But this week the the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have published a highly controversial report ‘Brexit & the Future
of Ireland Uniting Ireland & its People in Peace & Prosperity’ which basically says the British taxpayer will be better off if it let Northern Ireland unite with the Republic and remain in the European Union.

The author is a German economist, Gunther Thumann who worked as a senior economist at the German desk of the International Monetary Fund at the time of German reunification.This provided him with the analytical understanding of the complex economic developments as they happened.

He is backed by Senator Mark Daly, Deputy Leader of the Fianna Fail Senate Group
Senate Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, the Irish Overseas and Diaspora, who yesterday lambasted officials at the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs  after he was told officials  said that they did not want the research released until ‘after Brexit’. ‘
‘This is unacceptable interference by the department of Foreign Affairs in the work of the Dail and Senate. …The fact that officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs do not want this information released and the motivation behind it need to be answered’ “.

In one sense this is not surprising. Theresa May  only stays in power because the Democratic Unionist Party  backs her government and they want to stay in the UK. But the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and this report’s findings are dynamite

And Theresa May has had to lavish gifts on the DUP increasing the bill for mainland taxpayers while depriving  the rest of the UK of money for other public services like free school meals.

The central point of this report is that Northern Ireland would no longer require any taxpayer’s subsidy and could have a balanced budget – saving over £9 billion a year. Big savings could be made in administration and the UK would be left with a £2.8 billion pension bill for pensions already accrued while Northern Ireland was part of the UK.

The findings in the report which you can download here are:

– Non-identifiable expenditure of £2.9billion includes Northern Ireland’s share of UK Defence Expenditure, UK Debt Interest, International service, UK contribution to the EU, British Royal family etc. These would not be a liability of a new agreed Ireland.
– Thumann in his research explains that not all the accounting adjustments figure attributed by Westminster to Northern Ireland of £1.1billion would be applicable in a reunification scenario either.
– Also the convergence of the public service numbers between the north and the south would bring a saving of £1.7billion per annum in the current budget expenditure of Northern Ireland.

“Taking the above adjustments and savings into account the cumulative figure is £8.5 billion. With the reported deficit for Northern Ireland is at £9.2 billion therefore the current income and expenditure figure for Northern Ireland Thumann & Daly concludes comes near a balanced budget in a reunification scenario.

This is of course, before taking into account the likely potential for growth in Northern Ireland following unification as happened in East Germany following its reunification. ”

The big problem adopting such a change is political not economic. Supporters of the DUP would resist the idea of Northern Ireland not being part of Britain’s armed forces and be furious that they would no longer financially support the Queen.

But the changing demographics mean eventually the Catholics not the Protestants will form the majority adding to pressure for a united Ireland. Tensions are already growing over proposed boundary changes for the Westminster Parliament which mean that Sinn Fein are likely to gain more seats at the expense of the DUP.

The report is one of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit. Whether  Theresa May and Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, like it or not Brexit will put a united Ireland on the agenda ,particularly if we crash out and there has to be a new border. No wonder the Irish republic’s Whitehall did not want this published.

There was a debate on the report on Newstalk Breakfast in the Republic. with one economist challenging the report because he said N Ireland would have to contribute more to the Republic’s finances.The link to the podcast is here .