Benefits of Brexit

I’ve recently been challenged by a constituent to name one clear, tangible benefit to local people of leaving the European Union. It reminded me of the need to write this article: to talk not just about implementing the referendum result, or sovereignty, or democracy – but also about practical benefits to local people and businesses. I’ve split these benefits up into different categories.

This is a ‘work in progress’ – lots to add later.

A: Benefits of not having to fully comply with European Union legislation

 

1. The EU Procurement Directive won’t be able to force us to give State contracts to overseas businesses

At present, we have to put contracts out to tender – often awarded on the basis of price. This means that local businesses often lose out on getting contracts, and creating jobs.

Of course, there may be times when it’s actually in our best interests to award a contract to an overseas firm. But in a lot of marginal cases, the advantages to jobs and the local economy will far outweigh the disadvantage of an additional (say) 1-2% on cost.

2. We won’t have to comply with the VATMOSS legislation, boosting jobs

I’ve had various businesses in my constituency contact me, explaining that the legislation makes it very difficult for them to trade with other European Union countries. This requires businesses (even if they’re below the VAT threshold) to charge VAT at the applicable rate in the country they’re selling to within the European Union.

One North East business owner, who sells low-cost technology (e.g. mobile phone apps) told me they were likely to have to stop selling to the EU because compliance costs outweighed the benefit of low-volume sales to other EU countries. Instead, they now trade more with America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (English-speaking nations make it easier to sell their products).

Another North East business, below the UK VAT threshold in the UK, told me that by the time they’d added 25% Swedish VAT to their products and postage, they could no longer sell to other EU countries competitively. They had to downsize as a result.

These examples aren’t unusual; I received quite a number of letters and emails from businesses in the North East about the same issue.

Even the EU’s biggest fan, Guy Verhofstadt, has criticised VATMOSS.

3. Compliance costs will be lower outside the European Union…

…and I’m not referring to workers’ rights, etc.

Take,  for example, the new GDPR legislation. I spoke recently to the principal of an accountancy firm which has had to spend substantial amounts of money on consultancy, take employees out of the office for training on the new legislation, and make substantial changes to the way they deal with clients. None of this has made the slightest tangible difference, but the overall cost of compliance is a substantial portion of the annual turnover of the business.

4. We won’t have threats like the Copyright Directive to the free functioning of the Internet

….and no, I’m not against copyright enforcement.

However, requiring ISPs, search engines, and social media platforms to use automated crawlers to delete content suspected of being copyrighted will result in the removal of substantial amounts of legitimate content as well.

5. We won’t have to comply with EU State Aid regulations…

Sometimes it’s necessary to take rapid action to protect local businesses. When SSI in Redcar closed, there were many reasons: the strong pound (at the time), China dumping steel below cost price on world markets, high energy prices, etc.

In such situations, it’s often appropriate to give State Aid to allow a business which should be profitable to survive a tough time (and when the State Aid is less than the redundancy/unemployment payments the State would have to make if it didn’t).

However, Articles 107 and 108 of the TFEU prevent the UK from giving such State Aid without the EU Commission’s approval. The UK government could hide behind that, didn’t ask for Commission approval, and SSI went under – costing thousands of jobs both directly and in the supply chain.

The blame here should be attached both to the UK government, and to the EU institutions.

With Brexit, the UK will also regain the power to enforce its own trade defence mechanisms, which would have avoided the delay whilst 28 countries all negotiate what to do. Different countries took different approaches; the result was paralysis at a time when we couldn’t afford it.

6. Brexit should finally end the madness of double-testing products

I visited a business in the North East which lost a significant proportion of its turnover once the EU’s Biocidal Products Regulation had kicked in. The problem: products which had already been fully tested to some of the highest standards in the world required re-testing because of new EU legislation requiring testing to take place at EU level. This led to the disappearance of some products from the market which could not justify huge fees being paid. This was exacerbated by an inability to receive the supposed ‘discounted’ rates.

Jobs were lost as a result in the North East.

This is nothing new; the REACH Directive had a similar impact on chemicals. Products which had already been tested to British standards required re-testing to EU standards, even when the EU standards were lower than the UK ones. This led to products disappearing from the market (Cutlass, for example).

7. Brexit means we don’t have to comply with rules restricting ‘natural monopolies’

There are certain ‘natural monopolies’ in the country – the postal system, for example: it’s inefficient to have competitors duplicating the same work. In these situations, privatisation basically doesn’t work well and national ownership makes sense.

EU legislation has watered this down. There are many examples of this, for example:

i) Postal Services Directives 97/67/EC and 2002/39/EC leading to Post Office closures

ii) Directive 2002/77/EC required the splitting up of the Directory Enquiries service, which has led to consumers being ripped off for £11+ for a 90-second phone call

iii) Directive 91/440/EC impacts upon the UK’s ability to organise the railways, leading to the current mess of a system. (With this benefit of Brexit, there are caveats: it’s very much also the UK’s fault through underinvestment and mismanagement)

B: Areas where the UK will be free to act differently

 

1. The North East is a strong fishing region. Outside the EU, our fisheries will recover through reclaiming our 200-mile limit

Since joining the EU, our fisheries have been decimated. EU quotas have proven to be completely ineffective, leading to the ‘discards problem’ amongst other issues – where dead fish are thrown back into the sea to avoid breaching quotas. The various attempts at EU level to resolve this problem have failed.

In the meantime, EU-flagged vessels have the right to a majority of the value of fish in UK waters. Furthermore, the system of sales means that much of the ‘British’ quota in our own waters still goes to foreign vessels.

Outside the European Union, conservation can be managed more effectively (Australia, for example, does this much better than the EU) – for example limiting time at sea rather than type of catch – whilst also giving North East fishermen more work because EU nations won’t be allowed to overfish our waters.

Defenders of the EU point out that fish don’t respect national boundaries. This is a red herring; they don’t respect EU boundaries either, and much of our boundaries are with non-EU nations (Norway, Iceland).

2. We can negotiate our own bespoke trade deals with third countries

This should be an obvious benefit, but one question often asked by people who are pro-EU is this:

Why would we get better deals as one nation than the whole EU27 put together?

The answer is that the issue isn’t about ‘better’ deals but ‘more appropriate’ deals for the UK. Let’s remember that:

i) The EU27 economy is the world’s second-largest; the UK economy (treating the EU as one) is the world’s fifth-largest

ii) The EU27 economy is only around 5 times the size of the UK economy

iii) Therefore, there aren’t many bigger trading opportunities available for third countries; the ‘bulk buy’ argument rarely applies

iv) The EU27 is incredibly slow at negotiating trade deals; getting in there first provides huge opportunities

v) The EU27 has to negotiate its own negotiating position with the Member States; therefore, individual national interests often conflict – the negotiating position itself is often a compromise

vi) The UK would be able to negotiate far quicker and realise the benefits of trade deals before the EU27 does (noting that the European Union is likely to be only the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050 according to Commission figures)

3. The net EU membership fee

The UK will, ultimately, save the net (not gross) membership fee paid to the European Union. The ‘Boris bus’ £350 million per week figure should not have been used (as I pointed out during the referendum campaign). The £180 million per week (or so) net fee is a genuine saving once any ‘divorce bill’ has been paid for the first couple of years.

Pro-EU advocates in the North East claim that the North East is a ‘net beneficiary’ of EU funds. Whilst this is not actually true, even if it were true, it would be irrelevant: the UK could replace every penny of EU funds and still have the £180 million left over.

This is actual cash; whether GDP rises (as I believe) or falls (as Remain adherents suggest) the £180 million per week would still be there.

I also believe that EU funding could be better spent directly by the UK rather than on EU-determined projects, as I argued in more detail in Britain Beyond Brexit.

4. VAT

The EU-mandated VAT is one of the most inefficient forms of indirect taxation on the planet, costing billions every year to businesses and the Treasury through costs of compliance, fraud, etc.

Outside the European Union, the UK will be free to choose a fairer and simpler form of indirect taxation.

 

C: I disagree with the premise that immigration control isn’t a benefit of Brexit

 

One of the key problems with uncontrolled immigration from the EU is that an oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour drives down wages. Even if there existed a reasonable mechanism by which the UK might enforce the permitted restrictions on those who do not find work in the UK, uncontrolled immigration does lead to lower wages (hence, why it tends to be supported by big business).

By prioritising skilled immigration over unskilled, this downward pressure on wages will be reversed – whilst developing the skills base within the economy.

 

The internet isn’t ‘owned’ by any government, but a tool which we can all use for whatever lawful means we wish.

Being in my late thirties, I’m part of the neither-here-nor-there generation: as a young child, the ‘internet’ was just a word to me – something vague, nothing I understood or knew anything about. As a teenager, the door to a whole new world was opened up to me. For that reason, I grew to value the freedom that the internet offers. The internet isn’t ‘owned’ by any government, but a tool which we can all use for whatever lawful means we wish.

The thought of being able to compete against anyone around the world – whether at a board game like chess or Stratego, or even in massive online multiplayer games with literally millions of participants – was a new world to me. Having information available at my fingertips, the ability to contact people across the world about any common interest, to research anything that takes my fancy, is something I appreciate all the more because it wasn’t available to me as a child with a bulky TRS-80 computer which could be used for little more than practice for programming in BASIC.

When I hear about governmental plans to regulate the internet, then (if they go beyond what is necessary to keep people safe from criminal activity) it fills me with a special kind of dread because it threatens not just our freedom of speech, but our freedom of thought.

As a member of the European Parliament, I’m now being bombarded by emails, tweets and phone calls demanding that I vote against the vaguely-worded Articles 11 and 13 of the European Copyright Directive. Some of the comments over-egg the danger slightly, but even so, it’s a pernicious piece of legislation which could completely change the way the internet works. The founder of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has written an open letter describing it as “an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users”.

Article 13 would require internet platforms, such as Microsoft or Google, to install automated filters to remove copyrighted content. Such filters will by definition end up removing content erroneously; the law provides for ‘fair use’ and certain exemptions including parody. Things which are legal will be removed from the internet by such crawling filters – they’ll err on the side of caution, deleting more than necessary. It’s just not possible to write an algorithm which distinguishes one from the other. Whilst ‘appeal’ mechanisms will exist, they’ll be too slow and cumbersome to be of any use. Memes, for example, could virtually disappear from the internet altogether. A law requiring providers to install such ‘censorship machines’ is chilling; there will be little or no accountability in practice. In fact, it’ll become a typical EU ‘closed shop’ stitch-up: the tech giants will be able to comply with ease; smaller companies and tech start-ups will be in big trouble. As ever, the EU ‘looks after’ big business by introducing legislation which hammers small business competitors. Then, in return, those same big businesses reciprocate by supporting the EU (like Airbus, for example, where the World Trade Organisation recently ruled that the EU Commission had offered billions in unfair subsidies – yet Airbus’ pro-EU utterances went almost unchallenged). But of course, small business can be destroyed because it can’t afford to pay huge sums to lobbyists.

Article 11 isn’t much better; the so-called ‘link tax’ regurgitates failed laws in Spain and Germany aimed at creating a new copyright rule for linking to, or quoting, news stories. In so doing, they’ll create a commercial incentive for spreading ‘fake news’ whilst disincentivising and taxing accurate information.

The EU is planning a Directive, not a Regulation, meaning that it’s not preparing a standard one-size-fits-all law. Consequently, it invalidates any argument that EU-wide action is necessary. And yet, because European politics is so remote from the people, this threat is going virtually unnoticed. When the internet was threatened (albeit in a different context) in the USA, it led to huge news and high profile opposition.

The Copyright Directive is an unnecessary intrusion. The language is so vague that we don’t know exactly how bad the damage will be, but when the founder of the internet is sufficiently concerned to speak out, it suggests that utmost caution is needed. I will, of course, be opposing this vigorously in the European Parliament. The Brexit referendum notwithstanding, whilst we’re still in the EU, its legislation remains capable of causing serious damage.

As a former teacher I support suggestions by the Culture Secretary that mobile phones should be banned in classrooms.

Dear Editor,

As a former teacher I support suggestions by the Culture Secretary that mobile phones should be banned in classrooms.

Some head teachers have wisely already introduced such a ban, and there’s substantial evidence that others should follow that lead in the interests of their pupils.

A 2015 study by the London School of Economics stated that ‘where schools banned smartphones from the premises, or required them to be handed in at the start of the day, pupils’ chances of getting five good GCSEs increased by an average of two per cent.’

As cyber-bullying has risen, contributing to some children being anxious about going to school and even suicides, and as the range of uses of smartphones has increased (and therefore the potential for disruption of the learning environment), this issue has become more pressing in recent years.

Speaking as an ex-teacher, I always found one of the best ways to hold the attention of a class was to be prepared to be spontaneous: to use humour, to relate to students in a variety of ways. When a teacher is concerned that parts of a lesson might be filmed without their knowledge, edited and placed online to ridicule them, they’re likely to teach in a much more sedate style. This benefits nobody, least of all the students.

Nevertheless, it is not a matter for the government to wade in with both feet; it should be a decision for schools to make, with the backing of parents. It should not surprise readers to learn that I don’t believe government intervention should be the default response to every situation.

Yours sincerely

Jonathan Arnott,

The European Union seems to take umbrage whenever anyone dares to suggest that the UK shouldn’t simply accept the EU’s opening negotiating position on every issue

Dear Editor,

The European Union seems to take umbrage whenever anyone dares to suggest that the UK shouldn’t simply accept the EU’s opening negotiating position on every issue.   Michel Barnier’s latest complaint concerns defence and security.

Our Armed Forces are a key cornerstone of NATO’s defence of Europe and UK policing, security and intelligence (on a bilateral basis with every nation in Europe and through additional platforms such as the Five Eyes alliance) play a key role in policing, security and counter-terrorism operations.  None of this will change after we leave the EU, but Mr Barnier is said to be furious that the UK expects “better treatment” than some EU member states – many of whom contribute significantly less to European defence and security than we do.

Considering what the UK contributes, perhaps a better question would be ‘why shouldn’t the EU value the UK’s contribution to European defence and security’? Negotiation is about give and take; sometimes it seems the European Union expects all ‘give’ from the United Kingdom and all ‘take’ for them.

Regards,

Jonathan Arnott MEP

Euro-MP blasts telephone ‘scam’ hitting pensioners the hardest

With consumers in the North East being ripped-off to the tune of over £11 for a 90-second call to Directory Enquiries services, local Independent Euro-MP Jonathan Arnott has called it a ‘scam’ and demanded immediate action – together with some contrition from those who caused this situation in the first place.
Twice as many over-65s (4%) use 118 services as all adults (2%), leading to suggestions that some of our poorest pensioners are being victimised most by the current situation.
Jonathan Arnott said: “It is utterly morally despicable for companies to be allowed to hike their prices so much without it being made clear to consumers that they’ve done so. They seem to think that fleecing local pensioners is a licence to print money, but it isn’t. This is an appalling situation for those who get a massive shock when their phone bill arrives. Ofcom have been monitoring this situation for over a year now; it’s time for less monitoring and more action.
“I’m sure many of us remember that before the switch over to the 118 services, a phone call to Directory Enquiries used to cost a flat-rate 40p. They may have forgotten, but I have not, that the European Union forced this situation upon us through Directive 2002/77/EC. The European Commission arrogantly seek to pull the wool over our eyes by denying on their website that they ‘demand the use of 118’, in the full knowledge that they actually demanded the change – they just would have allowed us to use a different number if we’d wanted to.
“This is yet another example of just how far the European Union reaches into our daily lives: forget rip-off Britain, this is rip-off Brussels. The European Union created this mess; it’s high time that Ofcom got on with fixing it.”
Notes to Editors:
2 – See, for example, footnote 15 on p19 of this document from the National Audit Office
3 – Directive 2002/77/EC required (article 8) the removal of this public service from BT and placing in the hands of various companies, causing confusion and huge price hikes: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32002L0077&from=EN
4 – The Commission, however, state misleadingly that “the UK was not forced to adopt the 118 directory enquiries prefix as a result of EU law”. Indeed  it was not; the UK could have chosen 117, 119 or any other three digits – but the Commission mandated the change. See: https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/commission-to-blame-for-new-118-enquiry-number/

It’s not rocket science to work out that an increase in crime in Cleveland and Durham is inevitably related to a reduction in the police force

Dear Editor,

It’s not rocket science to work out that an increase in crime in Cleveland and Durham is inevitably related to a reduction in the police force. Frighteningly, official figures have just revealed that violent crime is up in all but one police force area in the country and the biggest surge is in the Durham region.

This particular force had lost approximately 25% of their police officers since 2010 and as these figures demonstrate these cuts should not have been allowed to happen. Some organisations such as the police and NHS should be ring-fenced from austerity cuts, though money could still be spent more efficiently with less paperwork, more front-line professionals, and more scrutiny of massive salaries paid to those at the top of the tree.

Three straightforward elements are required to cut crime: criminals must fear detection, and fear tough deterrent sentences being handed out by the courts. Within such a framework, rehabilitation ‘with teeth’ is far more successful.

Appallingly our government’s actions have reduced the chance of detection, ignored the need for no-nonsense sentences and merely paid lip service to rehabilitation.

Urgent action is needed to halt and reverse this shocking increase in crime, particularly violent offences. Let us hope the government takes the appropriate actions – and soon.

Yours sincerely

Yours sincerely

Jonathan Arnott MEP

Freedom of religion threatened in the UK – why it matters

This morning, I’m at a cross-party conference in the European Parliament on freedom of religion in Europe. Hearing this morning first from Hendrik Storm, the CEO of the Barnabas Fund. Other speakers include representatives of the office of the Bishop in Europe (Church of England), evangelical street preachers and the British Pakistani Christian Association.

Christians do indeed face intolerance and intrusion for religious beliefs; I don’t decry the more-documented struggles faced by adherents to other religions – but issues relating to Christians are often ignored, and it’s absolutely right that these issues should be raised.

The problem is that nobody is really talking about (for example) arrests of street preachers, or the hostile level of questioning aimed at Christian politicians in the UK where a similar level of scrutiny isn’t applied to other faiths (or even to atheists).

Tertullian, in the year 189, said “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that every man should worship according to his own convictions”.

The very first article in Magna Carta relates to freedom of religion. The Act of Toleration (1689) further guarantees the freedom of worship and the freedom to choose or to change one’s beliefs.

There’s a strong overlap between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Neither permits the commission of crimes, or to interfere with other people’s actions.

Freedom of speech does not, for example, entitle you to:

• Incite violence, terrorism, rioting, or murder
• Commit perjury in court
• Shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre
• Commit treason by giving national secrets to an enemy
• Demand that someone else must assist you by publishing your ‘free speech’
• Verbally abuse medical professionals, police officers, or others merely doing their jobs in the service of the public

That’s why we have legislation such as the Official Secrets Act: to clarify what freedom of speech means in practice. It is not an absolute, inalienable right – but rather, something which is permitted to the maximum extent possible without interfering with other people’s quiet enjoyment of their own lives.

George Orwell, incorrectly, said in 1984 that ‘freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4’. He was wrong; it entails the freedom to be wrong – to say that 2+2=5. The argument ‘you’re wrong; therefore you must be silenced’ is far more pernicious because it requires someone – usually the speaker, or even the State – to become the arbiter of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Conversely, the European Convention on Human Rights does not stick to the appropriate limits for ensuring that one person’s freedoms do not impact upon others. Article 9(2) states: “2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Those limits including vague phrases such as ‘public morals’ provides for a coach and horses to be driven through this supposed protection. The protection is so watered down as to be worthless.

I’m reminded that, for example, in 2004 the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee rejected the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione because of his theological belief. The same ‘European’ machinations which had underpinned the setting up of the EU, now excluded those who hold to a clearly-held religious belief. By that standard, they would have excluded also Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

If someone’s personal religious beliefs do not prevent them from doing a job, they should not be excluded from that job for the same reason. That is the definition, surely, of religious discrimination.

Nor is it applied equally: I have not heard such questions asked of other religions. Here, though, I differ from the alt-right view: I would rather protect the freedom of belief of Christians than seek to utilise this as a stick with which to beat others. I don’t ask ‘why don’t you also attack other faiths?’; I ask ‘why do you single out Christians?’.

There is a substantive difference between the two: one seeks to meet a wrong by implicitly proposing a second wrong; the other speaks of fundamental freedom.

There appears to be little in the way of protection of conscientious objection. Belgian and Swiss medical professionals have been, effectively, told that they must perform assisted suicide. Midwives in Sweden have been told they cannot hold to their religious beliefs preventing them from carrying out abortions; in March this year Sweden’s social democrats sought to ban all religious schools.

In France, legislation is effectively making criticism of abortion illegal. German and Austrian churches and religious sites have been attacked, like in Rome in 2016. In Spain, the criticism of modern ‘gender ideology’ landed even cardinals in trouble.

Now, as regards some of the above, I don’t necessarily hold to all of the principles described.

That doesn’t matter: people should be entitled to hold to their religious views and to live their lives free from discrimination! I don’t have to agree with your conscience to support your freedom of conscience.

This isn’t a political football with which to beat left-wingers, or those who hold to other faiths. It is about the defence of the freedom of religion of Christians, even those who interpret their faith differently to I.

So here’s the test: is the response one of love, or is it one of hatred?

I worry – a LOT – when people utilise the word ‘Christianity’ in the tribal way that someone might support a football club; the labels ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ having been used in the past (e.g. in Northern Ireland) to justify actions antithetical to Christianity.

As Jesus said (John 13v34-35), the appropriate response is one of love not hatred: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Likewise, in the letter to the Romans, Christians are commanded to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Those whose actions are born out of such love, such care for humanity, have my unequivocal support. Those who see it as a proxy war for something else do not.

For honesty about mental health, try 2am

At the time of writing it’s 2am, sometime during Mental Health Awareness Week, and nobody understands me. I see the world differently to most people; if you want, you can stick a label on it and call it Aspergers. Some people don’t like labels, and others don’t like that particular label; for me it’s merely a convenient shorthand. I’m writing this article not from some desire to have a rant, but to help people understand the silent struggles people face with mental health on a daily basis, or at least to explain different perspectives for seeing the world. (Being in politics doesn’t make anything any easier; I receive unsolicited hostile and abusive messages on an almost-daily basis. It is what it is; I often respond, and engage – one person recently went from calling me every name under the sun to thinking I should be Prime Minister. He’s wrong about that, too, but it’s more affirming.)

This afternoon I was at the gym, keeping fit and keeping the 4 stone I’ve lost well and truly off. My personal trainer, a former champion boxer, made me fire jabs, hooks and uppercuts into the pads. My foot movement needs work. Mainly, I just don’t ‘relax’ enough whilst training. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me. Later, he decides to showcase my mathematical skills to another client. He asks me 79×82. Caught off guard, it takes me too many seconds to fire back 6478. The thought process comes naturally to me, in a way it wouldn’t to most people. I know 79×81 must be one less than 80×80, so that must be 6399. I add another 79 in my head to get to 6478. A brief check on a calculator shows I’m correct. That’s the good part, the ability to calculate, to concentrate, to work incredibly fast on things that others would find more difficult. There’s an enormous flip side. Every time I meet a new person, or have a new social situation that most people would take in their stride, it exhausts me in the way that a Maths exam would exhaust most people.

These mental health issues are all around us; my trainer has his own struggles with depression but they don’t define him. Awareness is often just the understanding that, in any group of people, there are different perspectives, genuinely different reactions and ways of seeing the world. This evening I was out for a steak with a dozen or so people, some new. That’s when the hard work started: an unfamiliar environment, some unfamiliar people, and a table large enough that there’s no simple social ‘rule’ to tell me when to talk to the people to my left, to my right, and opposite me. I think I did okay, but I can’t be certain. One new person at the table was from Spain; I exchanged a couple of minutes’ conversation in Spanish before switching back to English: did I get the balance right, being welcoming without excluding others at the table from conversation for too long? No time to think about that, as conversation and food orders continued: such questions fell to the back of my mind, but they always come back later. At 2am. Sooner or later, I have to ‘process’ these questions.

I chatted to someone who had an interview booked in on local radio; knowing the presenter, I gave a little advice. It seemed sensible, but I volunteered the information without being asked: that, too, gets processed in the early hours of the morning. I wouldn’t sleep otherwise. Throughout the evening it’s more of the same: standard banter amongst same-sex company, questions of when to speak and when to remain silent, trying to decide whether to utter every pun or joke that comes into my head. Each decision has its own ‘action replay’ in my mind hours later. Did I speak too much, or too little, tonight? Perhaps every other person at the table would know the answer to that question; to me, it’s a puzzle.

When I was teaching, simple affirming phrases (which can sound patronising if you’re not very careful) like ‘that’s okay’ could be very useful: nothing’s wrong, no unwritten social etiquette has been ignored, and the student can relax about whatever’s just happened.

It’s just a different way of looking at the world. Earlier this week, someone abruptly told me that I don’t ‘suffer’ with Aspergers. There are positives and negatives, that’s true, but the negatives have a habit of closing in at 2am. Even that word is now controversial; it’s a precise enough label but it’s still a label. Frankly, semantics bothers me less. Who I am matters far more.

I wouldn’t change what I’ve done today: whether it’s going to the gym or socialising, I have to keep stretching myself. Mental health issues are about that: wherever possible, not giving in to the overwhelming urges to stay at home or to eschew social situations. Struggles both visible and invisible; some days, it’s enough to just stay on the pitch.