Brit living in Belgium and earning an income from building interfaces. Interestes include science, science fiction, technology, and European news and politics
1826 stories
·
13 followers

CASE NIGHTMARE BLONDE, Part 2

1 Share

I'm speechless.

Since the previous blog entry with this title (on August 28th, a scant 8 weeks or so ago) British politics has gone mad. The Prime Minister seized power so enthusiastically, that when he grabbed the levers of power they broke off in his hands. PMs are not supposed to lose Commons votes; in excitingly historic times it maybe happens a couple of times a decade. This guy is losing them weekly; in fact, it makes headlines when he actually gets a vote to go his way. When he arrived he had a narrow majority, but then he sacked 25 or so of his MPs, and now he's gone and pissed off the minor party that was propping his majority up so badly that the DUP has bailed on him (and are rumoured to be backing Labour's call for a second Brexit referendum). This is like having a skunk cross the road to avoid you because you smell bad. After the Scottish courts ruled his first Prorogation illegal on constitutional grounds Johnson has tried playing dog in the manger, culminating in his behaviour last night when, in response to the Benn Act requirement for him to petition the EU27 for a Brexit extension, he sent them an unsigned photocopy of the letter specified in the Act, with a handwritten request to ignore it. (We have a Prime Minister in full Petulant Schoolboy Meltdown Mode right now.) We have ... no, I can't go on.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic Preznit Shitrag (I love him really! No, honestly) tried to schedule the next session of the G7 at one of his own resort hotels, in order to line his own pocket. It's as if he can't spell "emoluments" and doesn't care that he's under investigation for impeachment, or something.

In today's Guardian, Nick Cohen has a column that makes sense of it all. In general, there are two rival schools of history: the Great Man theory (history is manufactured on the fly by very stable geniuses), and the movement of masses theory (aka Marxism, aka Economics, aka it's all about who's got the money). Cohen advances a third, highly plausible, theory, the Great Moron Theory of history, and manages to cite Norman Dixon's classic work, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. Briefly: these political dumpster fires bear striking psychological similarities to the inflexible and incompetent generals who thrive in military institutions until they're challenged by the exigencies of actually having to, er, do war stuff. At which point they break, catastrophically: they confuse war with sport, expect their enemies to mindlessly impale themselves on the ends of their bayonets, and consequently pay more attention to self-advancement than victory. This can work (for a while) when you're not at the top of the greasy pole, but when you're at the top there's no further scope for self-advancement: you have to deal, or else.

Anyway.

I am now waiting with bated breath for the EU27's reaction to BoJo's clowning about. Hopefully, if they've got any sense, they'll grant him a 12 month extension (way more than he asked for); that'd instantly provide us with enough elbow room for a People's Vote and/or a general election. But more likely the pain is likely to drag out until the opposition get bored pulling the wings off the upside-down-and-waggling-its-lets-in-the-air Boris, allow a no confidence motion to pass, and then try to form a government headed by ... who? Jeremy Corbyn? (Forget Jo Swinson.) If we're very lucky it'll turn out that Keir Starmer is running the show behind the curtain and Jezza will obediently do as he's told: but that's probably too much to ask for.

One thing is, however, now glaringly clear: if BoJo manages to push a Brexit through (any Brexit) it's curtains for the Union. Currently polls in Scotland show a 54-56% majority for independence in event of a no-deal Brexit; this rises to 70% or thereabouts among the under-34s. Boris's contempt for Scottish politicians is pretty glaring: he's grown up in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's abandonment of Conservative seats north of the border circa 1980 and doesn't seem to realize that it'll take actual hard work to convince Scotland (and Northern Ireland) not to leave—prevaricating over issuing a Section 30 Order to permit a referendum only makes things worse (for which, see Barcelona). His predecessors are worried, with good reason; it seems likely that Johnson's bumptious Little Englander pose is going to rupture the UK.

So. What next?

Read the whole story
expatpaul
11 hours ago
reply
Belgium
Share this story
Delete

Wardrobe

3 Comments and 6 Shares
If you'd just agree to hold your meetings in here, you'd have PLENTY of time to figure things out before the deadline.
Read the whole story
expatpaul
13 hours ago
reply
Belgium
Share this story
Delete
3 public comments
Covarr
22 hours ago
reply
Time to vote on... uh... Narniexit? Brarnia?
Moses Lake, WA
GaryBIshop
1 day ago
reply
Go Narnia
alt_text_bot
1 day ago
reply
If you'd just agree to hold your meetings in here, you'd have PLENTY of time to figure things out before the deadline.

Nation wondering if Boris Johnson has a particular ditch in mind, or if we should find one for him

1 Share
After Boris Johnson requested a Brexit extension from the EU, despite insisting he'd rather be dead in a ditch than do so, the nation has asked if he has a particular ditch in mind.
Read the whole story
expatpaul
14 hours ago
reply
Belgium
Share this story
Delete

Just a friendly reminder there were no at-the-time classified secrets on Clinton's email server. Yes, the one everyone lost their minds over

1 Share

But, but her emails!

The US State Department has delivered its report [PDF] into Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email system and, amazingly enough, there wasn't anything scandalous nor classified on it at the time.…

Read the whole story
expatpaul
17 hours ago
reply
Belgium
Share this story
Delete

The day that decided nothing

2 Shares
The latest parliamentary dramas can seem perplexingly arcane or, alternatively, as the ‘Super Saturday’ terminology suggests, like some kind of sports tournament. The latter trivialises that the future of country is at stake. The former distracts from what are at heart quite simple issues.

No actual form of Brexit can be agreed on by Brexiters

The first such issue is the familiar one that has been at the core of the entire row over Brexit. As soon as its gets defined in any particular way, some who support it in principle do not support it in that version. As regards Johnson’s deal, predictably, that includes Farage and his Brexit Party followers. For them, not just that deal but any deal will be unacceptable. That is partly because nothing can ever live up to their fantasy, and partly because they are invested in the politics of protest.

The Brexit Party has no MPs, of course, but its views are often closely shadowed by members of the ERG and their sympathisers, principally amongst Tory MPs. That was clear at the time of May’s ill-fated deal. Surprisingly, they are now signed up for Johnson’s deal. Perhaps that is just because they realise that to reject it might well mean ending up with no Brexit at all. Perhaps it is that they recognize that Johnson’s deal takes them to the hardest form of Brexit short of no deal. Still, it is surprising in that it concedes that – not as a backstop but as the definite form Brexit will take – one part of the UK will remain for very many intents and purposes within the EU. That, apparently, is the price worth paying.

As a result, the people who have fallen off the end, of course, are the DUP. Since they sometimes give the impression of being in a permanent state of anger it is easy to miss the fact that they are currently genuinely and deeply angry. And they have good reason to be, in that it is unarguably true that Johnson’s deal constructs a significant border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in clear violation of the DUP’s core principles. Moreover, they have been sacrificed by those with whom they made common cause over Brexit, and who professed to have common cause with them over the union.

Their votes proved crucial in ensuring the passing of the Letwin Amendment on Saturday, which withheld parliamentary agreement to Johnson’s deal in the absence of the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement legislation. This in turn triggered the Benn Act provision, requiring Johnson to apply to the EU for an extension.

So that’s the first part of the story of this Saturday: once Brexit got defined in a particular way, some Brexiters – in this case the DUP – didn’t like it. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, some Tory MPs who would have accepted a soft Brexit have long ago jumped ship because of the hard Brexit nature of May’s deal.

A total breakdown of political trust

The second part of the story relates to the total breakdown of political trust within parliament, and the ongoing battle between Executive and legislature. That, too, has been a feature of the Brexit saga from the outset. It was first manifest in the attempt – blocked by the Supreme Court in the first Gina Miller case – to prevent parliament having a vote on triggering Article 50. But it continued throughout Theresa May’s premiership in all kinds of ways, including literal contempt of parliament and the metaphorical contempt that May showed in, for example, her extraordinary public broadcast last March castigating parliament for not passing her deal.

Such conduct would be ill-advised at the best of times. In the context of having no overall majority it is supremely ill-judged. But Johnson has continued down the same path. It is worth recalling that the Letwin Amendment only arose because of the possibility that the government, or at least some Brexiter MPs, might try to use a loophole in the Benn Act. That is, if the motion to support Johnson’s deal had passed unamended then the extension letter would not need to be sent on 19 October, and the provisions of the Benn Act would lapse. But if the withdrawal legislation were then collapsed – perhaps by the ERG – then no-deal Brexit, which the Benn Act had been designed to prevent, could occur via the back door.

That suspicion was greatly exacerbated by the constant messages from Johnson – including his loutish baiting of other MPs about ‘the Surrender Act’ - that he does not see the Benn Act as legitimate and would do all he could to flout it. Even on Saturday, and despite the most recent Cherry case in the Scottish courts, he spoke as if he might not send the letter (it was later confirmed that he would, so it was a pointless bit of petulance not just to say so, outright). At any event, the seeds of distrust had been sown long before, and MPs had good reason to fear that, absent the Letwin amendment, a way would be found to flout the clearly expressed opposition of parliament to no-deal Brexit.

But, recall, the Benn Act itself was the product of the reckless way that Johnson has conducted himself since coming to office. On the one hand, again, it arose because of his insistence that leaving with no deal at the end of October was a real possibility, despite previous parliamentary votes against it. On the other hand, his ill-fatedplan to suspend parliament was precisely designed to head off the possibility of something like the Benn Act being passed. Yet, because of imminent prorogation, MPs were pushed to act immediately, with the Benn Act the consequence just before prorogation began. Plus, in angrily taking the whip from the 21 Tory MPs who voted for it, Johnson set up at least some of the support for the Letwin Amendment and, possibly, for opposition to passing his deal as well.

So, over and over again, the actions of Johnson – like May before him – have provoked the circumstances of greater mistrust, greater suspicion, and greater acrimony. And how did the government react to Saturday’s defeat? By Rees-Mogg using the device of a point of order (which meant he did not have to answer questions about it) to announce that on Monday there is to be a new ‘meaningful vote’ – that is, a vote on whether to accept Johnson’s deal or not, the same question as the motion that was note voted upon because of the Letwin Amendment. And, as points of order were made in response, he arrogantly walked out of the chamber of the House of Commons.

It was, yet again, contemptuous of parliament and, perhaps most foolishly, of those on his own benches who had just supported the Letwin Amendment. It can also only increase the suspicions that lay beneath that amendment. For, if held and passed the Monday vote would mean the extension letter being withdrawn and the possibility of no-deal Brexit would be reinstated.

The immediate question that arises is whether the Speaker, John Bercow, will allow this vote to occur. It seems to fall foul of his ruling– with respect to May’s repeated meaningful votes – against bringing the same motion back. But there may be some chicanery possible that circumvents that.

There will be no end to uncertainty

So that’s the second party of today's story. The last part is that, somehow or other, there will be debates about and votes on the legislation that would actually implement Johnson’s deal. Then, all the detail of what it really means will get picked over. Some who might currently look like supporting it may not do so. Amendments are possible, including an amendment attaching a confirmatory referendum. At the moment, the numbers are probably just about there for Johnson to get his deal done, and not there to get another referendum. But those numbers are tight, and could change – not least if Johnson, Rees-Mogg and – presumably, behind the scenes – Dominic Cummings continue with their combative and counter-productive tactics.

All that is to come, and there’s no point saying much about Johnson’s deal and the problems with it now. But one thing is worth saying, because it came up repeatedly in Saturday’s debate. The idea that Johnson’s deal should be passed in order to get certainty, including business certainty, is totally bogus.

One aspect of this is that although it is a cliché that ‘business likes certainty’, it doesn’t follow that having certainty will be good for the British economy. Certainty just enables business to make plans more easily. So if the certainty delivered is – as Johnson’s deal means – that there will be greater trade barriers between the UK and the EU than at present, it doesn’t mean that business just shrug and say ‘ok, so now we know’. It means that those affected by this they will divert themselves or their new investments elsewhere. Similarly, individuals with the ability to do so will relocate accordingly. What is needed for economic prosperity is not certainty, per se, but certainty of the conditions that enable economic prosperity.

Beyond that, if Johnson’s deal passes Britain leave the EU at the end of October, there will be just 14 months to negotiate a new trade agreement (not to mention all the non-trade things, including regulatory cooperation) before the end of the transition period. That is clearly not long enough, and so we would very soon be having debates about whether to extend the transition period, application for which would have to be made by July 2020.

Johnson has already ruled out seeking such an extension. Which means that there will be a new business cliff edge looming at the end of 2020. Moreover, it will be a steeper cliff than would have been the case under May’s deal, because the backstop in that deal would have had the whole of the UK in the customs union, whereas under Johnson’s deal it will only be Northern Ireland.

To which should be added this. Not only will there be no certainty even if Johnson’s deal happens, nor will there be any let up in the political and cultural divisions Brexit has caused. For that goes back to the issue with which I began this post, about how no form of Brexit is acceptable to all Brexiters.

The national tragedy this creates is that even if Brexit is done through Johnson’s deal – or any other – the most passionate advocates of Brexit will still be bitterly unhappy. So an entire nation will have deformed its future for something that half – probably now more than half, and their voice was heard loud in demonstration today - the country don’t want, and a sizeable part of the other half, who did, don’t want in this form. We’ll still be just as deeply divided, but also much poorer into the bargain. Underneath all the obscure parliamentary protocols and procedures, it’s this which is at stake.
Read the whole story
expatpaul
1 day ago
reply
Belgium
zippy72
2 days ago
reply
FourSquare, qv
Share this story
Delete

Johnson’s Suez

1 Share

Brexit meant there was always going to be a trade border somewhere between the UK and Ireland. Unless the future relationship was to be so close as to make Brexit pointless, a UK outside the Single Market and Customs Union meant that there would have to be customs and regulatory checks on trade passing between the two. Valuable time was wasted trying to find magical technological or legal solutions to the Brexit trilemma, most of which should never have been taken so seriously by so many people for so long.

The problem is that any kind of border is unacceptable to a lot of people. It doesn’t matter how visible it is, or how unobtrusive the cameras are, how discreet the border patrols are  or how far from the border the searches take place. Simply knowing that the border is there is bad enough. As Matthew O’Toole tried to explain to tone deaf English people, before and after the referendum, this is about identity.

We might wish for a world in which more of Northern Ireland’s people shared a collective identity, but that is not is the world we live in. Nations are imagined communities, to use an old truism. The people of Northern Ireland have, over time, constructed separate psychological spaces for their identities. And part of the reason for enduring political instability is that neither monolithic identity can win. Both are inherently insecure.

People who feel Irish live in the island of Ireland, but not the state called Ireland. People who feel British live in the British state, but not on the island of Great Britain.

The Good Friday Agreement was an inspired and elegant fudge which enabled people with both identities to feel part of the country they believed they belonged to. The Common Travel Area along with the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union enabled people to travel freely for work, trade or leisure. Once the peace process ended the need for security checks it was possible to abolish the border completely. As Matthew O’Toole said, this enabled people to forget the border even existed.

The agreement is fastidious in keeping Northern Ireland within the UK until a majority votes otherwise. But it is expansive when describing the right of people there to be part of the “Irish nation”. To make people who feel Irish relaxed about Ireland being partitioned as a matter of legal fact, the agreement sought to soften the border in people’s minds: to help them imagine it wasn’t there.

Brexit means that is no longer possible. There would either have to be a land border Northern Ireland and the Republic or a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Somebody was always going to end up being disconnected from their own country. If there were a land border, an Irish businessman from Derry would now have to complete paperwork to trade with a company in Dublin, another city in his country. If there were a sea border, a British businessman in Belfast would now have to complete paperwork to trade with a company in Birmingham, another city in his country.

To say that this is all fairly trivial misses the point. Symbolism is important in most cultures but particularly so in Northern Ireland. As Jonathan Powell said, any form of border is a threat to somebody’s identity:

The DUP has a perfectly legitimate complaint against the border between Northern Ireland and Britain because it undermines its identity. The Irish are rightly never going to agree to a border with the EU. And a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would reopen the issue of identity underpinning the Good Friday agreement.

Brexit was always going to destroy the delicate balance achieved by the peace process and the Good Friday agreement. Even if the suggested technological solutions had delivered all they promised it still wouldn’t have been enough. Identity and symbolism can’t be wished away. Even a completely invisible border policed by magic robots would be too much. Just knowing there is a border between you and the rest of your country is enough to rekindle the old hostilities.

Someone, then, was always going to lose out. In the event, it was the unionists. According to the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson there will be a trade border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is an attempt to fudge this by saying that Northern Ireland will be part of the UK for customs purposes but this is a face-saving formula. The customs and regulatory checks will take place in Irish Sea ports not on the Irish border. Our British businessman in Belfast will be the one completing the paperwork to trade with his country. We’ve ended up at Point A on the Brexit Trilemma.

It’s not only Northern Ireland where symbolism matters though. The image of Britain as a world power is bound up with our national identity. Even people who consider themselves progressive or anti-imperialist make assumptions about the UK’s place in the world. For the most part, deft diplomacy enabled the UK to transition from global power to global influence and to maintain its seat at the top table of nations. As the only country to be a member of the Western military alliance, the English speaking world and the European Union, the UK sat at the intersection between powerful groups or countries. This gave it considerable influence. While its military power might not be what it was, the UK was still a global player, ‘punching above its weight’.

As well as deft diplomacy, though, the UK expended a considerable amount of blood and treasure to stay at that top table. At least some of the rationale for maintaining the nuclear deterrent was to keep this country on the UN Security Council. Who knows whether the nuclear deterrent would work in a modern war or even if it did whether it would be any use but we don’t ask such questions because we have to have nukes. It’s simply what world powers do. Likewise, while there was a lot of talk about protecting the rights of the islanders and even some suggestions of oil wealth in the South Atlantic, the real reason we went to war over the Falkland Islands was because we could not be seen to be pushed around by a middle-ranking Latin American countries. World powers don’t have bits of their territory nicked by tinpot dictators.

Yet here we are about to concede a part of our country to be governed by trade rules set in another country. OK, it might not look like a big deal but it is symbolic. When it comes to trade, Northern Ireland will be yanked out of UK jurisdiction. Some aspects of its law will be made elsewhere. Make no mistake, this is a capitulation. The hardliners in the British government would have loved to be able to tell the EU and the rest of the world to shove the Good Friday Agreement and leave the EU with No Deal but they knew they simply didn’t have the power to do so. For all the talk of Blitz Spirit, they knew that, in the end, the people wouldn’t wear it. Sure, many of them don’t really like the EU but they don’t actually care about it that much and certainly not enough to see their living standards hit. There is little tolerance for economic disruption and hardship. Politicians know that and know they will get blamed. Voters have short memories. Many will forget how much they wanted to leave the EU when the factories start closing and the jobs start disappearing. Johnson’s government knew they had to make a deal and the only way they could leave the EU’s trade framework was by leaving Northern Ireland behind. As Tom Mc Tague said, the price of Brexit is Northern Ireland.

This will not be lost on the rest of the world. The decline in Britain’s diplomatic stock and global influence that began under David Cameron has now reached its ignominious conclusion. A country that pretends to be a world power has had to concede partial control of part of its territory because it had no choice. No other major country has a customs border running through it. World powers don’t have parts of their country governed by other countries.

The fact that this has been imposed on the UK severely diminishes the country’s global prestige. Like the man who ostentatiously walks out of his job only to find he can’t even get another one at his previous salary, the UK found that its international clout didn’t carry as much weight as it thought. As Fintan O’Toole said, Brexit is a long overdue reckoning for Britain. The limits of its power have suddenly and clearly become exposed. The UK’s global pretensions have been marked to market.

This has been brought about by a leader who presents himself as a patriot and quotes Churchill. The man who taunted others with the word ‘surrender’ has agreed to split the country. The man who wrapped himself in the Union Jack has pulled the string that may unravel the united Kingdom. The world will see this deal for what it is, another point marking the UK’s long decline. With the same unseemly haste that Britain pulled out of India, fled from Palestine and backed down on Suez, Boris Johnson has cut and run on Brexit, leaving part of the UK behind as he went. The man who said there would never be a border in the Irish Sea has just signed up to one. He didn’t really have much choice. The border in the Irish Sea will be a constant reminder of Britain’s diminished status, forced upon it as the price of its unhappy divorce from its neighbours.




Read the whole story
expatpaul
1 day ago
reply
Belgium
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories