I have finished a rough first draft of my second book. It is 80,000w. Parts of it might be good. Message me if you are interested in a pint-for-critique or critique-for-critique exchange or similar.
In the absence of anyone serious stepping up with a plan for UK exit, I have had an idea. It is an idea that satisfies the public’s stated referendum wish to leave the EU, but also acknowledges the political reality that the House of Commons is supreme, and the House of Commons wants continued close cooperation with Brussels. Since Vote Leave made a great show of the importance of Parliament deciding Britain’s future, it is hard to see how they would reject this. After all, Vote Leave repeatedly held up its hands and said that they were not the government, and would not be in charge of crafting a post Brexit future. They said they did not need and still have not offered one. Continue reading
We’ve heard a lot in the EU debate about how European immigration pushes British people out of good jobs in Britain, and how competition with European workers on the ground pushes down British wages. I disagree with this analysis here, but inasmuch as it is true in specific circumstances, it is a general symptom of the globalisation triangle.
Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Ukip are very critical of migration for the reasons above, but tend to be confused when it comes to the other points of the triangle. They promise bigger, faster free trade deals with the world’s developing economies, while keeping free trade with the rest of the EU and retaining London’s position of dominance as a global financial centre. This goes against the idea of protecting British jobs.
In simple terms, as far as free-trade logic goes, British jobs are equally at risk from :
1) competition from immigrants,
2) competition from workers abroad freely trading with Britain, and
3) the free movement of capital allowing British firms to offshore their operations. Continue reading
This is not a popular argument, even among Remainers. It rests on my belief that migration, especially European migration, is good for both the donor and the host countries. Cynics will read this blog as an argument that we should stay in the EU so poor Europeans can come to Britain. That is not what I’m arguing. I am arguing that the ability to move abroad and work or study is important for Britons, particularly those with low skills or education.
Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain have been having a terrible time since 2007, and few in the EU debate would deny the euro currency had a major role. Youth unemployment soared in these ‘PIGS’ nations, peaking at 55.5% in Spain and 58.3% in Greece. In Ireland it was 33%, while Britain weathered the recession relatively well at 21%.
Tens of thousands of young PIGS citizens sought work abroad: in America, Australia, Germany, Holland and Britain. The first two of these have tight restrictions on unskilled migration. But under free movement that rules, the EU member states were open to young workers from the afflicted countries, whether they were lucky enough to have master’s degrees in engineering, experience in construction, or just gumption and a willingness to serve coffee.
At least 400,000 Western Europeans left their recession-torn home states to work abroad in the last decade, some for just a few months, others longer. It is much cheaper and easier to move to a country an hour or two away than to Canada stop Imagine how much worse Spain or Greece’s unemployment figures would have looked, had only skilled & wealthy emigrants been accepted in neighbouring states. If the least educated, least experienced young people had been forced to stay home, youth unemployment figures could easily have exceeded 70%, with the attendant extra strain on those countries’ buckling welfare systems, national psyche, even civil stability. Movements like Golden Dawn thrive in such conditions.
For those fleeing Mediterranean depression, free movement was a lifeline. Rather than spend long years living with parents, dependant on welfare, competing with all their old classmates for each rock-bottom job, they could go to Denmark or Sweden, get jobs, build up their language skills, make contacts, and return home more experienced people when the worst was over. Long-term unemployment affects workers’ earnings decades in the future. The ability to find a job, even a job you’d rather not do, in a stable neighbouring country, is key.
Vote Leave say they would introduce an Australian-style migration system for EU migrants that let in only those with high skills. The Spanish and Dutch prime ministers, Mariano Rajoy and Mark Rutte, have already said that if the UK adopts a points-based regime against EU citizens, Holland and Spain will have to do the same for Brits. This is implicitly all of Western Europe’s stance: Chancellor Merkel of Germany noted that countries outside the EU ‘will never get a really good result in negotiations’ with the bloc.
After Brexit this would not hurt elites like Boris Johnson, or those close to him. If Britain suffers a downturn, the best-educated and wealthiest Britons will always be able to travel. They will pass the hurdles to get visa for Australia, Canada, America – and they will be able to compete best for jobs at home. This is equally true of myself and many leading Remainers: thanks to globalisation, the world’s elite is already privileged with de facto free movement.
However, ending free movement cuts out the safety valve for mid-low skilled young Britons who cannot pass such skills demands.
That is fine while the economy is stable, but in a recession, it could be appalling. The elite would be least affected, while those not in employment, education or training (‘NEETs’) would suffer most. They cannot all go to Ireland. A recent Economist article suggests that British NEETS have the grimmest prospects and worst educational achievement among developed nations, with the lowest numeracy and literacy rates. Uniquely, British youths ‘have worse literacy and numeracy rates than those aged between 30 and 54, a pattern not seen in any other country in the European Union.’ Without the free movement option, British NEETS would be effectively trapped in Britain if it suffered a recession. (This piece is not predicting a recession, either as a result of Brexit or from other later factors, but it is an important possibility to consider. )
Low and medium skilled Britons would find their options constrained if Vote Leave and Europe’s leaders keep their word after a Brexit. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet would not be an option. School leavers and graduates could be trapped in a jobless mire. Brexit supporters often note that after exit, visa-free travel could be negotiated and university-swapping schemes like Erasmus continued: that’s all very well for wealthy teens inter-railing or taking a year at the Sorbonne, but leavers the less fortunate no better off.
It is callous of Leave leaders, who claim to fight for the working people of the country, not to consider the most vulnerable young Britons’ life chances in their campaign. It is extraordinary to propose a border policy that arouses hostility in our closest neighbours.
Many supporters of Leave have challenged me to explain in what situations I would advocate exit. This is a good question: someone who was truly an EU fanatic would presumably see no situations in which leaving was best for Britain. I see plenty of situations in which leaving would be best for Britain, the differences that I firmly predict they will not arise any time soon. If they do arise I will be comfortable campaigning for a new referendum and vote to Leave.
(If I did so I would also push for the out campaign to have a much more comprehensive explanation of how they would safeguard the economy from Brexit fallout, but that is another story.)
The first threat, beloved of Eurosceptics, is Britain being forced into the euro currency. Even before David Cameron’s renegotiation this spring, this was impossible. There is no way the EU could force a new currency on Britain, either in terms of diplomatic pressure or EU law. We already had an opt out. From the British perspective, euro currency has been such a disaster that is impossible to see even a very pro-EU Labour government supporting joining in the next 15 years.
The second threat is an EU army being built with mandatory inclusion of British forces, without the express consent of the British government. A combined fear is that this force would be used in interventions without the British wielding a veto. Both of these futures are completely preposterous. Were an EU army ever to exist, it would rely almost entirely on French and British military assets, and they would always be able to stop action taking place. As it is, Britain has a veto on the creation of such an army or force, and is unlikely to approve of its creation any time soon. Recent policy has been to pursue bilateral cooperation with France, as seen in Libya.
A new treaty that saw centralising powers for the euro currency area and a reduction in the veto powers of individual member states would be worrying, and I would hope to look over it in a lot of detail. I like to think that the greater attention we have been paying to EU thanks to this referendum means that we would also scrutinise future treaties properly. A new treaty in itself would not be reason to Leave the EU, especially since we would have a referendum on accepting that treaty (see below). However, if the treaty was in some way forced on Britain (something I cannot imagine happening) then that probably would be grounds to Leave.
The EU accepting Turkish membership over a British veto, or ignoring the British veto in other important matters such as taxation, external trade policy, or changes to migration law, would be grounds for divorce. This would be the case even if I approve of the changes themselves. My hypothetical scenario is simply that if the EU overrode what was clearly a veto in the Lisbon Treaty, then the system would be broken beyond acceptable limits. Note: this is not what happened in Greece, Portugal or Ireland. Those states were forced to accept troika rules in return for bailouts, i.e. they were creditor requirements, they were not strictly speaking requirements of the EU treaties. (Of course, this does not mean I remotely approved of the handling of the euro crisis.)
Voters who fear that any of the above could happen with the expressed okay of the British government undermine their own arguments. Because Britain can, and probably would, veto any of those developments, it stands to reason that if it approved them, that approval would be an expression of British sovereignty. It would be just the same as, after Brexit, a British government choosing to grant free movement to the people of Turkey unilaterally, or to join an EU army from the outside, or to join the euro from the outside.
Of course, all these things are unlikely in the near term. Inasmuch as they are likely, I am comforted by the referendum lock in UK law, which means that Britain would have another referendum on any of these issues. We would have a vote on the creation of an EU army. We would have a vote on joining the euro. We would have a vote on any new treaty.
I’m amazed the Remain campaign hasn’t made more of this referendum lock, which means that any transfer of powers to Brussels in the future must be a plebiscite decision. This effectively means that the threat of “ever closer union” is blunted, since Britain cannot be pushed into deeper integration without public approval.
As a woolly sort of lefty, I suppose I would also be concerned that the EU would constrain the ability of the left-wing government to fulfil its program. This has often been overstated: the EU does not stop states nationalising industries, and there are ways to give struggling industries stated or procurement support that Britain simply does not explore. (I’m not sure I would want them to but the point is that the EU does not stop them.) I suppose another situation in which I would advocate Brexit, then, is one in which the EU constrains a radical social democratic or socialist agenda. This is quite hard to imagine really, since Britain is quite far to the right of most Scandinavian and many continental or Eastern European states. In a scenario in which the EU and left this platform clearly did clash, then I suspect another referendum would be very likely and may well pass since the government of the day would be supporting it: and would have a clear agenda (and possibly a manifesto mandate) for doing so. This would avoid many of the pitfalls centre and left wing commentators have identified in the Vote Leave campaign.
I oppose the mantra that this vote is necessarily once in a generation. If you believe in accountable parliamentary sovereignty and the strengths of the Westminster system, as many in Vote Leave do, then you should be confident that if the EU gets really bad, bad enough for me and other active Remain campaigners to consider leaving, the British government will be forced to offer a new referendum. If it does not, it may face a vote of no confidence or be voted out at the next general election.
Contrary to the claims of Leave supporters, the EU is not a prison or empire. Nations do not tend to join empires by their own governments’ initiative. Nations do not tend to choose to remain in empires by the ballot. There are very few prisons which include in the Prison Rules a clear article explaining how a prisoner can vote himself out of the prison. This is precisely what the Lisbon Treaty does in Article 50.
The mere fact that the EU has a mechanism for countries leaving it without recourse to arms shows it is far less evil than its critics would claim. Its critics see it as a prison mainly because of the last 40 years the British people have supported governments which themselves support membership. We are not prisoners because we never saw it as a prison.
Reports from the BBC, Times and Guardian indicate that Parliament may use its power after Brexit to keep Britain in the single market by joining the EEA (European Economic Area). This option is often known as the Norwegian option, and in my opinion is the least traumatic version of Brexit. However, it would still be worse than retaining EU membership, and is not laid out as comprehensively as its proponents claim.
A few years ago I wrote a long paper on the strengths of the Norwegian option for a prominent think tank. Here I will set out why I do not think it is appropriate for Britain, and the flaws in the arguments of those who support it. [However, it would not be cataclysmic, and if we do vote to leave, I very much hope this is the way Britain goes and the problems I indentify below are addressed.)
This article will assume a basic understanding of the EU debate and the Norwegian model (‘Flexit’/Flexcit, EEA) case and go into some detail. Unlike the more spectacular WTO option, many of the drawbacks of the Norwegian model are rather technical…
Roland Smith, who is possibly the most persuasive champion of this exit ideal (and who outlined the deal on Newsnight), frames Britain achieving the EEA option as a near certainty, if it wanted to. It would be easier to win EEA membership from the EU than a Swiss style deal or souped-up EU-UK free trade agreement, for sure. (Gove’s argument that German car manufacturers would force the whole EU to give Britain a good deal is ludicrous.) Indeed, an EEA offer is also the prediction of some pro-remain commentators. Anonymous pro-remain MPs have given stories to the BBC and Guardian that they would keep Britain in the single market by opting for a Norwegian option if the country votes to leave. Whether this would be acceptable or likely, and how this aligns with the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, is outlined by Jonathan Portes here. and Charles Grant here.
However, it is far from assured that the option is open: every remaining EU nation and the four EFTA states (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein) would each be able to veto it. That’s 31 vetoes.
There’s a serious chance that one or more of these countries will hold up the deal for their own ends. It is dishonest for either side to propose the Norway option as if it were easily attainable. At the very least, the other EU and EFTA countries will try to stop Britain gaining the kind of power that could muck up the EU. This means there will be alterations to what we think of as the EEA option.
The most obvious new conditions forced upon Britain in the event of attempting to join the EEA are:
1) continued budget contributions at current levels, and
2) a removal of the EEA clause that allows an ‘emergency brake’ on the free movement of people, and
3) a moratorium on Britain using the ‘Right of Reservation’ veto power in the EEA treaty for a number of years, or without the other EFTA-EEA states’ support
These requirements would not be fatal to the deal, but would bring the EEA option even closer to Britain’s current situation, so less attractive to Leavers concerned with migration controls or absolute sovereignty.
It should also be noted that every single current piece of single market legislation would stay in place in the UK. Not only would there be no red tape bonfire, there would be not even a candle burning, while the Brussels pipeline would continue to pump out rules that we would be legally obliged to adopt. Again, this would help economic continuity.
The Norway option is supported by group of eurosceptics bound together as the Leave Alliance (LA) whose members are united behind a distinct plan for leaving the EU. The full-length version of this is known as Flexcit (Flexible Exit and Continuous Development), is over 400 pages, while the 48 page short version is entitled ‘The Market Solution’.
Prominent in this group are Dr Richard North of EUReferendum.com and Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group. The group is not closely affiliated with the prominent Eurosceptic campaigns (Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Grassroots Out) and indeed frequently criticises members of each of them for poor performances, tactical failures or factual error.
I don’t summarise the plan itself here, so a look at The Market Solution would be useful for readers new to the topic. This note does not cover the obvious political drawbacks such as continued free movement of people, or the largest negative economic and diplomatic consequences, detailed by John Springford here.
- The most basic concern is simply that Flexcit does not give a convincing account explaining how Britain would gain EEA-EFTA membership. As I set out in The Norwegian Way pp.11-12 there is considerable difficulty in this happening, since any EU member or EFTA member could veto it. It is possible, certainly, but suspect the A8+2 countries would push for UK budget contributions to stay at the level they are now, rather than the per capita level Norway pays them, before accepting the deal.
I also expect the EFTA states would push for a mechanism meaning Britain’s influence on EFTA’s direction was strictly limited, lest her size change the whole bloc’s dynamic.
- Failing EEA membership, Flexcit sets out the ‘Shadow EEA’, which sees Britain unilaterally adopting all EEA single market legislation (including the free movement of peoples). The hope is that this would force the EU to continue offering single market access on current terms. Flexcit treats this disappointingly breezily: it assumes that with regulatory equivalence the WTO would force the EU to keep single market access open. This is mildly convincing in terms of NTBs and TBTs, but not in terms of tariffs or quotas, or the rights of UK citizens in the EEA. If the UK left the EU without a formal agreement, the EU would be obliged to apply the common external tariff (CET) to it regardless of the UK’s regulatory equivalence efforts.
If one or more EEA member had formally blocked UK EEA membership, it is difficult to see the Area’s members all accepting a de facto continuation (especially as, if Britain were not a formal EEA member, it would not be paying EEA-style contributions).
- The Flexcit solution, despite being extremely well researched regarding the working and importance of global/international standards bodies, overstates their importance; and it overstates an independent Britain’s possible influence within them. While Flexcit and the EUReferendum blog et cetera show many examples of Norway or other small states influencing global rules, and thus influencing America and the EU, this is very selective sampling. It usually has to do with one of Norway’s few key sectors such as fisheries or oil: the UK is a much more mixed economy with far more important sectors.
No attempt is made to see in which cases Norway (or whichever state) is powerless or sidelined, and there is little discussion of the fact that the EU itself dominates many international bodies, and would be on guard against Britain directly opposing it.
- In any case, because most of these international bodies rely on consensus or soft law (industry best practice, codes of conduct), or the private sector, or a multi-layered procedure, it is hard to see how even a titanic effort of diplomacy in global bodies will compensate Britain’s lack of a vote in the EU institutions, except just possibly in the long term (beyond 10 years).
As we’ve seen from the failure of the WTO Doha Round and the re-emergence of bilateral and plurilateral deals, multilateralism has a large number of limitations and it is unclear whether the UK’s enthusiasm alone could revitalise such a process.
- It is likewise unclear whether other countries will be willing to take up the British offer of Partial Scope Agreements if multilateralism and FTA attempts fail. They could be excellent in some cases, but in many, states will wish to keep a sector protected as a bargaining chip in return for the liberalisation of a protected British sector, in a more comprehensive FTA. It is particularly hard to see Britain winning a slew of PSAs from America without making large concessions elsewhere.
Flexcit fails to demonstrate why other countries would be willing to look at ‘Unbundling’ issues with Britain alone.
- Flexcit feels especially weak when it moves beyond the EEA stepping stone and tries to show the potential of further ‘stones’. The idea of a free trading Europe orchestrated by UNECE (the United Nations economic commission on Europe), with Britain a principal architect, is very hard to swallow. Why would the EU agree to being superseded (phase three)? What is in it for France and Germany?
How does a role in UNECE, while Britain remains an EEA member, protect Britain from the EU passing EEA-relevant laws that are not inspired by international standards, or have damaging gold plating? It does not.
Bodies like the G20, OECD and WTO are indeed influential on trading rules and product standards, but influence within them often relies on blocs/alliances/groupings (e.g. G10, ACP, Cairns), which Britain would be new to. Britain will probably end up either aligning with the EU in virtually all cases, or aligning with the United States and being dominated space even more.Flexit needs far more detail on how an overall leadership/influential position could be developed, rather than just impressive case studies. P401 attempts this but without much conviction.
- How could Britain lead the whole developed world to adopt a migration & asylum approach that addresses push and pull factors?
The analysis of push factors in Flexit is excellent, but we are seeing how hard it is for the (centralised) Schengen area to coordinate on relatively unambitious migration measures. Post Brexit, the UK would be a lone voice annoyingly telling other states what to do to address their problems – unlikely to go down well. UK is already leading on funding refugee camps near Syria, for example, and no one is following us.
Britain alone adapting its fisheries, foreign, foreign aid, agricultural and trade policies will not have an impact on push factors adequate to solve migration and asylum movement into Europe (and towards Calais).
(On a side note, addressing many of the Pull factors Flexcit identifies would take decades if not generations to bear results, so do little to satisfy voters whose primary concern is current migration levels.)
- There is a serious danger in overstating the Veto and Emergency Brake powers of EEA members. Using the veto (reservation) might, as I argue in TNW, be fine in limited product areas, but using it to stop an important EU law that the EU considers EEA relevant would trigger a political crisis. Likewise using the Emergency Brake on migration soon after exit would cause a crisis and probable suspension of the EEA system, and the EFTA EEA members would not allow Britain to join if it suspected the UK Government of entertaining such plans.
- Flexcit recognises the ‘Brussels effect’ on p.187 but seems to ignore it almost everywhere else: often it’s the EU that leads the global bodies. The Brussels effect essentially notes that even superpowers (America) follow EU product regulations in areas where the EU has legislated first due to the size of its market. This applied to important sectors such as aeronautics and monopoly law.
This would be far more noticeable for the UK than for America (as the Bradford paper discusses), especially following the conclusions of TPP and TTIP, after which the UK will be ‘sandwiched’ between three blocs with converging regulations.
- It should not be overlooked that the EEA option does require tariffs on agriculture and fish products. Overall this may not be too bad, but it implies a serious hit to the trade along the Irish border. Presumably beef and potato imports from the Republic would become more expensive, as would Continental delicacies and alcohol. In my personal opinion this is not compelling argument against Brexit, but ought to be stated clearly.
Norway has preferential tariff access for its fish into the EU but not zero tariffs. This implies the situation for British fishermen would be substantially worse than now: it is also unclear whether they would get better TAC quotas after Brexit. Haggling over fishing grounds and fisheries craters would be no simple business, and the UK may well sacrifice fisheries as it pushes for continued financial services access.
- Broadly speaking, Flexcit commits a lighter version of Dominic Cummings’ sin in saying Britain can be ‘flexible’ or can make a ‘democratic decision’ whenever there’s a tough question; in this way it avoids answering the most difficult challenges. It also displays a sketchy reliance on the future negotiation abilities of Britain in global bodies without proving that Britain would have such superhuman capability to anything like the required degree.
A problem that is not unique to Flexit is that of uncertainty. Because Vote Leave is not behind the model publicly, and neither are any remain MPs, the fact that eventually the country might end up in an EEA single market situation is probably not enough to reassure the markets after a close Leave vote. The possibility that it would cause a constitutional crisis, or at least continuation of bitter political disputes between British politicians before the issue is even raised with the EU and EFTA states, implies that UK stocks could take a hit.
To reiterate, I think the Norwegian option is the least bad Brexit option and would not be too terrible for the country. It has several advantages which are laid out in my earlier paper. However I personally am unconvinced by the case for leave so far. I do not believe the EU is a ‘prison’, and the Norway option is the best route to take if the EU ever got so bad that I thought Britain should leave it.
In the spirit of constructive criticism a version of these points was sent to Flexit proponents earlier this year.
If anyone is interested in me writing this in a shorter and more digestible form, get in touch on Twitter or by email.
My job for the last 3 years has been EU researcher at a London think tank. My work was mainly on the problems of the EU and the different options for leaving the EU – in short, what might be called Eurosceptic. They can all be accessed here for free.
Over the course of my time there I have become convinced that it is best for Britain to remain within the EU, although it certainly has its problems. I have now left Civitas.
Here are some of my reasons for supporting Remain.
- the EU is good for Britain’s economy and working people
- the EU is not a threat to Parliamentary Sovereignty
- the Vote Leave ‘BMW leverage’ argument for a good Brexit deal is flawed
- the Brexit case is wildly optimistic
- the idea that Brexit would usher in a democratic utopia is undermined by leave leaders’ records
- the EU’s migration rules are good for Britain
- Brexit would be bad for security
- TTIP is not a reason for leftwing voters to support Leave
- All Remain arguments necessarily sound like scaremongering, and that’s fine
- Potential budget savings from Brexit are tiny compared to minor economic fluctuations
- It is insincere to fight the referendum on class lines (complete with rebuttal from my ex-boss)
- The free movement of people is an important lifeline for young Britons
- The least damaging model for exit is still damaging
Here is how I think the government could promote Leave-Remain reconciliation, and try to fix the EU’s problems, after a Remain win:
You could also argue this (by a colleague), which is mildly true but barely relevant:
Here is how the EU would have to develop for me to consider pushing for another referendum and wanting to vote to leave.
I have a few more articles planned, but await people to pay me to write them.
I am happy to discuss my views further.
The Feminist Utopia Project, fifty-seven visions of a wildly better future
edited by Alexandra Brodsky, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
This was a great book. But then, I expected it to be that from the LRB interview I had seen about it. I had to buy it from Amazon USA because, as a modest art-academic project with the Feminist Press, it has not been published in the UK (yet).
The collection is mostly short stories and essays but includes poems, listicles, art, the lot. I’m in the middle of writing fiction about a world with different gender dynamics so I especially wanted to look at these, even more after I saw the contributors included Melissa Gira Grant and a few other writers I already enjoy reading.
This won’t be a particularly thorough review: if you’re the kind of person who thinks they’d like to read a book called the feminist utopia project, yes, this is the kind of book you would like to read. But here are a few observations. Continue reading
The United Kingdom has not possessed a real nuclear deterrent since the early days of the Blair Government, a shocking whistleblower has revealed. The first New Labour administration decided to give up the Trident missile system, which had been run by four Vanguard-class submarines, to save Britain billions of pounds.
Since then, documents seen by the Mendax prove that Britain has kept its lack of actual atomic weaponry a guarded secret. The old submarines were kept in shady docks and occasionally went out with skeleton crews to show they still existed. They never patrolled the world’s deep seas after 1998 though, and they never possessed the power to eradicate Moscow or Samoa.
Our source claims that the conspiracy was a way to save over £30 billion but maintain an effective nuclear deterrent. This was a tactical decision by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who felt that they had to accept the Cold War was over and the missiles useless, but did not want to be seen as weak on defence. Because other countries, including Britain’s allies in Nato, believed that the Royal Navy could still wipe out millions of lives in seconds, no foreign power ever considered invading. Continue reading
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Loathe though I am to spin in favour of David Cameron, here are some disconnected thoughts on the Ashcroft/Mail rumours: Continue reading