by Martin Odoni

You know, despite the mocking assessments of Brexiteer propagandists, the United Kingdom has actually had a pretty good deal as members of the European Union. Under the Treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon, the UK really did have all the best of EU membership, and little of the worst. Whatever one feels about the EU, and there is, as I always concede, plenty to dislike, the simple reality is that the UK has seldom really suffered the sharp end of it.

Due to being members of the old European Economic Community prior to the 1990’s, the UK was allowed to enforce a number of opt-outs when Maastricht was put into effect, which members joining subsequently could not. Two in particular substantially blow most of the case for leaving the EU out of the water.

The first of these opt-outs was joining the Single Currency. There was a long and wobbling debate over it during the Tony Blair administration, in which they generally spoke in favour of joining, but were always teetering back and forth over whether to proceed.

In truth, it was overwhelmingly right that the UK did not join the euro. Painful and unnecessary as Austerity has been for the country since the Global Financial Crisis of a decade ago, it would have been far worse without control of its own currency supply. This is a rule I would apply to any country: A country without control of its own money supply is not an independent country, because any time it embarks on policies that the issuer of its currency disagrees with, the money-tap can simply be turned off. This is the essential process by which Greece in particular was, almost literally, tortured by the EU for ten years. Any time Greece tried to re-stimulate its flatlining economy with new investment, the European Central Bank, which blindly wanted Greek spending pared to the bone at any cost, would simply cut off its access to euros. When money stopped circulating, the Greek economy would revert to cardiac arrest.

This vindictive EU treatment of eurozone countries with a high National Debt is often raised as a key reason to leave. But the UK has been allowed to stay out of the eurozone all along, so it has never been an issue. Avoiding association with a political union that behaves in such a way could be raised as a point of principle, a perfectly respectable argument, but it is long past time people stopped saying, “Look what the EU did to Greece, we could be next!!!!” Because we most certainly will not, at least as things stand.

Similar with immigration controls. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of Brexiteers who cannot be persuaded that the British Government, not the EU, is currently in control of UK borders. It is true that the EU has an ideal of open borders across the continent allowing people to travel where they wish without requiring a passport. And new members joining the EU are compelled to become a part of this vision, by signing up to the “Schengen Area“. But again, the UK joined well before Maastricht, and so was able to reserve the right to opt out. The Schengen Area is not even a specifically EU Agreement anymore, as it has been joined by various non-EU states – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – while various EU states are not part of it – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and, oho, the United Kingdom. Being able to opt out means the UK already has control of its own borders.

Brexiteers are trying to ‘escape’ from an arrangement the UK is not part of.

Both of these complete misunderstandings keep rearing their ignorant heads in public discussion of Brexit, no matter how often they are debunked. But what makes them truly aggravating is not just that they are ‘illnesses’ the UK has never contracted. It is that the proposed ‘cure’ – Brexit itself – will in the long run make it far likelier that the UK will contract them.

This is the aspect too many people miss. If Brexit goes ahead, especially a No Deal Brexit, the UK economy will undoubtedly take a heavy hit. In the very distant future, the country might eventually make a net gain of some description. But for the foreseeable future, life in the UK, already generally less-than-affluent, will become harder for a lot of people. Even allowing for the stubborn, fact-resistant, story-changing arrogance of Brexiteers, there are bound to be at least some of them who will eventually come to regret that Brexit ever went ahead. And given the narrow margin by which Leave won the Referendum in 2016, it would not require too many defecting Brexiteers for there to become a majority to rejoin the EU.

But at that point, with the UK almost certainly in very bad shape and pretty desperate for a change-for-the-better, the EU would effectively have the country over a barrel as never before. So, what terms do people think Brussels would insist on imposing on Westminster as the price for returning to the fold?

Well of course, the UK would have to join the eurozone, and the Schengen Area. As what would be effectively a ‘new member’ of the EU, the UK would be compelled to do so anyway, but any ‘leverage’ to force Brussels to make an exception would be quite non-existent. Under such terms, we really will have to look at the way the EU tortured Greece and say, “We could be next!!!

This, Brexiteers keep insisting, is ‘taking our country back’.

Brexit BS

The narrative put about by anti-EU types is a Brexit Story, not unlike other forms of BS.

 

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by Martin Odoni

On analysis of the proposal mooted by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for a solution to the border problem in Ireland created by Brexit, I can see three possible explanations, and only three. Here they are, in order of likelihood; –

  1. Johnson is ‘tabling a Habsburg ultimatum’.
  2. Johnson is trying to get around the problem by playing word-games, proposing a solution that plainly fails the purpose, but produces an outcome that is not word-for-word the same as what must be avoided.
  3. He really is as incredibly stupid as he looks.

To explain; –

The proposal is inherently absurd. The requirement of the Good Friday Agreement is for there to be no ‘Hard Border’ between Eire and Northern Ireland, which, as is well-recorded, rather clashes with the Brexit aspiration of ‘the UK controlling its own borders’. Johnson therefore wishes to impose a temporary ‘buffer-zone’ from the start of 2021, with its boundaries approximately five miles either side from the border itself. Customs checks would be carried out at these buffer zone boundaries instead of at the border, and this arrangement would carry on until a joint Anglo-Irish council arranges a final settlement in 2025.

So in short, Johnson’s answer to the requirement for there to be no active border between Northern Ireland and Eire is for there to be two active borders between them.

Proposed Irish border-buffer zone

Boris Johnson is proposing a ‘Brexit buffer zone’ around the Irish border for four years. In effect, this will mean TWO borders in Ireland.

This proposal is one of the daftest yet, and not just because it violates the Good Friday Agreement. In the long term it will violate the Act Of Union 1800 as well, which guarantees a Customs Union between Great Britain and all British-held territories on the island of Ireland. This requirement is undermined by the fact that trading conditions in Northern Ireland will quite explicitly cease to be aligned with the rest of the UK, especially after 2025.

Setting the deadline to 2025 is a very long-winded way of saying, “Let’s just kick finding a permanent solution to the problems of the border-in-Ireland into the long grass for five years, by which time, all the people who made this mess will probably have moved on anyway”.

It is a worst-of-all-worlds proposal.

Note the arrogance of putting the ‘buffer zone’ so far into Ireland’s sovereign territory for Brexit’s sake. This is not an Irish policy, it is a British one, so if Johnson wants a buffer zone, he should put it entirely on the UK side of the border. (Even then, it would still be an awful thing to do, as it creates serious freedom-of-movement issues for those living inside it – any buffer zone would in a sense become a third Ireland. But at least it would be the British accepting the price for a needless problem the British have created.)

So reflecting on all of this, here is what I mean by the three possibilities mentioned above; –

  1. Johnson is deliberately putting forward a proposal that is designed to be rejected, so he can claim that he came up with a solution but others are not co-operating with him. (Like the preposterous demands the Austro-Hungarian Empire placed on Serbia after the assassination of the Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 – hence my coining the term “Habsburg Ultimatum”.)
  2. Johnson imagines he has found a loophole in the description of the problem Brexit has created. He is thinking, “Well, they’re saying a Hard Border, which is to say one Hard Border, is unnacceptable, but they said nothing about more than one, so let’s go for two!” as though quibbling over the precise wording of the problem will be enough to make the ‘solution’ acceptable to Republican and Unionist communities alike.
  3. Johnson genuinely means this proposal as a way of reconciling Brexit with the Good Friday Agreement. Because his ‘lovable clownish buffoon’ image is not an act after all, and he really is that much of a congenital moron.

Loopholes are dirty tricks, every time. and they can get people around the letter of an agreement. But the desire to keep the Good Friday Agreement intact is no procedural quibble, trying to keep the paperwork valid merely for the sake of it. There is a purpose behind the attempts to make sure Brexit does not violate the Irish peace process – to prevent a resumption of the civil war known as ‘The Troubles’. The success or failure of that purpose is what will count. Not whether the solution just about fits the wording, but whether it is acceptable to the people whose futures will be most affected by it. To shift blame, to play word games, to mess around with loopholes, or just to behave with reckless, ignorant stupidity over the peace process is absolutely certain to harm it, when lives depend on its continued success.

This is yet another example of Johnson’s manipulative cynicism, of which we have already had too many in just the two months he has been Prime Minister. With his already relentless displays of blustering and deceit, I do not think I am being especially hyperbolic when I suggest that Boris Johnson could be the death of us all.

by Martin Odoni

Tuesday’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court that prorogation of Parliament was unlawful was one of the biggest moment’s in British constitutional history. That is no exaggeration. 24th September 2019 is as huge a moment as the passage of the Bill of Rights of 1689, and for reasons that go far beyond Brexit.

UK sovereignty is with Parliament

The 24th September should be commemorated annually, as it is the date British democracy was brought back from the brink.

I am quite serious when I say that even Brexiteers should be relieved that the judges on the Supreme Court did not take the easy way out and just say, “Well, this is not a matter for the courts, it’s a matter for MPs!” like the High Court had done a couple of weeks earlier.

Supreme Court ruling

The historic ruling of the Supreme Court is that Prorogation of Parliament is unlawful, and that the courts do have jurisdiction over the constitution.

Such a decision being upheld would have had terrifying implications for the future, and Brexiteers need to remove their blinkers and acknowledge that there are other matters in the world beyond their obsessive hatred of the European Union. For this was not really about Brexit as such, no matter how much Boris Johnson, the lamest of Prime Ministerial ducks, and his allies try to claim otherwise, in all their characteristic hypocrisy.

Boris_Johnson_-_prorogation_is_not_about_Brexit_and_it_is[1]

“I’m not saying it was about Brexit, but it was about Brexit.” It’s not about Brexit when it’s going his way, but it’s all about Brexit when it’s going against him.

In truth, it was the other way around. Initially, when Johnson called a prorogation, it was about Brexit. It was simply a cynical way of making sure Parliament could not stop Johnson from handling Brexit in as unilateral a manner as he wished. But the longer-term implications of such a move were not just unilateral but downright totalitarian, and had repercussions that could affect any number of issues in the future. For if Johnson were allowed to establish that he could simply suspend Parliament whenever it suited him, even at a time of severe constitutional disruption, then he could do it in any situation, and so could any subsequent Prime Minister. Prorogation would simply become the tool-of-choice for any Prime Minister who did not like the inconvenience of opposition getting a say, or was just feeling accountability-shy.  So it ceased to be about Brexit specifically, and became about matters of democratic structures, sovereignty and constitutional integrity.

Brexiteers and their tunnel vision

Most Brexiteers, sadly, do not seem to realise this, and in fact they remain unshakeably convinced that it was the opposite, and that the Supreme Court’s decision was about preventing democracy, as it made it almost impossible for Johnson to force through a No Deal Brexit. In truth, the Court’s decision did nothing to delay or advance Brexit, so that assumption is untrue, but even so, the likely third delay to leaving the EU could still be seen as anti-democratic, for the simple reason that it delays delivery of the 2016 Referendum result.

But is it that simple? Well, no.

Firstly, democracy is being interpreted in a very extreme way there. It is assuming that “If it is popular, it must be law.” But that is less ‘democracy’ and more ‘mob-rule’, and it can rapidly look a lot less appealing when applied to other scenarios. Just for instance, if there were a popular vote in favour of the extermination of everyone who voted to Leave, how in favour of ‘democracy’ would Leavers become then?

(And no, I am certainly not arguing for such a vote, I am simply pointing out that a line has to be drawn somewhere, and it is clearly somewhere a long way short of ‘vote-to-kill’.)

Referenda are not legally-binding

“All right,” answer Brexiteers, “so we shouldn’t have votes to break the law, but still, Brexit isn’t against the law!”

Well, that is questionable, given that Brexit’s contradiction of the Good Friday Agreement arguably is illegal under International Law. But equally, it has to be said that ignoring a Referendum result is also not against the law.

No, seriously. Referenda are not defined in British law, and so their results are non-binding. This was even made clear in briefing papers for the Brexit Referendum.

Brexit Briefing paper June 2015

Addressing the urban myth that the 2016 Referendum result has to be binding.

Yes, I know David Cameron claimed that the result would be respected and implemented, but hey, why should we start believing a chancer like him just on this issue? He also swore he would carry the task out personally, but instead he resigned the day after the vote. When was he ever honest about any policy? How often did he keep a promise? So why do we look to his words for the unvarnished truth now?

Now let me be clear; none of this is meant to imply that I am actually calling for Brexit to be reversed completely. It would certainly be the sanest option, given the constitutional quagmire into which it has tipped the country, but I ruefully accept the decision of the British public.

However, this is a response to those who keep claiming that the 2016 Referendum is some kind of unanswerable edict laid down by powers greater than the Gods, and that it somehow even supersedes the rule of law. It does not. There is no legal precedent for a Referendum as binding. It is certainly not as set-in-stone as the UK constitution, which, though uncodified, is not ‘unwritten’ (despite what is so often claimed of it).

Breaking the law does not help enforce it

There is an old saying that “One cannot enforce the law by breaking it, even if it helps catch a criminal.” A similar saying could be coined for democracy. “One cannot uphold democracy by destroying the structures that protect it, just to implement one democratically-reached decision.”

This means that the implementation of the 2016 Referendum result cannot be allowed to happen in any way that actually violates the law or endangers the UK Constitution. If that were allowed, democracy would be far more threatened than it could ever be by the overturning of a single Referendum. The Constitution is what gives us the power to vote, and to have representation in Government, and Parliament is where that representation sits. Sometimes one part of the state can seem to get in the way of other parts. That is just the nature of checks-and-balances though, and it will therefore often require patience on the part of the public before they will see the fruits of legislation. Impatience, such as the impatience displayed by Johnson when trying to prorogue Parliament, will have unintended side-effects. Brexiteers are often among the loudest to accuse politicians of corruption and dirty trickery, and they are seldom wrong on that score, but they need to recognise that the aforementioned checks-and-balances are there precisely to guard against such sleaze. Now they scream out against a critical check on the Prime Minister’s power? They want that check removed. They do not want the Prime Minister to be accountable to even the highest court in the land on constitutional matters. They want the High Court’s pusillanimous cop-out that this is a matter only for Parliament itself to be permanently accepted.

But how can it be, when Parliament was being prorogued without ever agreeing to it or even being consulted on it? The Prime Minister was acting unilaterally, and the High Court was saying, “Nothing to do with us. This is a matter for MPs.” But the MPs were not given any options to do anything about it one way or the other.

Government by prorogation

As mentioned above, if a Prime Minister has absolute control over prorogation, and can suspend Parliament for obviously excessive lengths of time, then he can use it simply to silence formal opposition. Opposition is an integral part of the way the British Constitution and democratic processes work. No Prime Minister can be allowed unchecked control of prorogation, when that gives him the power to limit legitimate opposition, accountability, and debate. Allowing the Prime Minister to be the safeguard of this part of the Constitution is rather like getting the metaphorical wolf to guard the henhouse; the individual with most motivation to attack it is the one expected to defend it. Abuse of such an instrument would be too easy for a psychopath like Johnson, who sees nothing as more valuable than his own narrowest interests, and the more he abuses prorogation, the more he would endanger the Constitution and its credibility.

Endanger the Constitution and you endanger democracy, you do not protect it. You should not retreat into claims of, “Oh, he was only going to do it this once.” You do not know that, and there would have been nothing to stop him doing it again in future if the Supreme Court had not reined him in. Enforcing one badly-under-cooked policy at the cost of our democratic structures is like sacrificing an army of thousands in order to free a hundred soldier-prisoners.

Try and remember in all your short-tempered self-righteousness that Brexit has not been revoked. It is taking far longer to implement than its advocates were hoping, but given the immense difficulties that the very intricate process is creating, it is hardly unreasonable that some delays prove necessary. Any delay in enforcing Brexit is neither illegal nor unconstitutional. A delay that establishes once and for all that Downing Street is not above the law and that the Constitution of the United Kingdom is protected by the Courts is something to celebrate. Had the Supreme Court chosen to say, “Nothing to do with us,” British democracy would have been mortally-wounded.

As it is, it is back from the dead.

by Martin Odoni

With the prorogation of Parliament this week being ruled illegal, there is inevitable discussion of whether it should be reconvened now, or after the appeal in the Supreme Court is heard on Tuesday.

These discussions, however, lead on to an edgier question; precisely what sanction, if any, should be imposed on the Prime Minister to penalise his actions. Boris Johnson has not only imposed a deeply irregular, and clearly excessive, suspension onto Parliament, but he is also talking openly of disobeying the orders Parliament has given him, suggesting that he is only compelled by them “in theory”. Given that the most important instruction – that he must seek a fresh extension to Article 50 if he is unable to secure a new Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union by the 19th of October – was actually made law by the passage of the Benn-Burt Bill, Johnson’s words are an effective declaration that he considers himself to be above the law. (A threat in no way alleviated by Kwasi Kwarteng’s fudging comments on the BBC this week.)

There is a case therefore for arguing that we should forget what penalties to dish out to Johnson for the time being, and instead focus just on how he can be stopped at all. If he is allowed to carry on as he is, then the United Kingdom will have taken the most critical step towards a real dictatorship. For if the precedent is set that the Prime Minister is not bound by the law, or by the sovereignty of Parliament, then, rather by definition, there will be nothing that he/she is not allowed to do.

On prorogation, interesting arguments have been raised that the Court of Session’s ruling is enough alone to make Johnson’s position untenable. On the extension to Article 50, EU expert David Allen Green has warned that Johnson would potentially face a custodial sentence should he fail to implement the Benn-Burt Bill, as he would be guilty of misconduct in a public office.

The question remains however as to who should enforce both Johnson’s removal, and his punishment. It seems unthinkable on present indicators that he will simply step down because someone else told him to, no matter how strong the case they make for him to do so. It is doubtful that Johnson would even hear the case out. As is well-recorded, attention-span is not one of his strong points, and it is clearly vastly exceeded by his ambitiousness.

I would cautiously suggest that the first direction to turn is the Head of the British State, the reigning monarch. She does technically have the power to dismiss a Prime Minister. Now for a constitutional monarchy to work, the Queen must remain politically impartial at all times, intervening in no way in matters of Government policy, so the obvious retort would be that if she tried to step in she may have to abdicate. But there are several reasons why I do not think this is much of a consideration.

Firstly, the reality is that the Queen has been on the throne since 1952, and she is now in her 90s. I therefore suspect that, as a deterrent, the threat of being forced to surrender the crown will probably have lost a lot of its sting by now. After being a voiceless political headpiece for nearly seven decades, she would have every right to feel fed up of the whole business by now, and therefore sacrificing her position for the sake of ridding her kingdom of an over-mighty leader would be a small price to pay.

Secondly, and far more importantly, it may have stemmed from a Government policy, but prorogation in itself is not a political matter. As soon as Johnson moved to prorogue Parliament, he turned it into a constitutional matter instead, and now that he has been found to have lied to the Head of State in order to bring it about, the constitutional and legal grounds are entirely on the Queen’s side. Assuming that the Supreme Court upholds the judgement of the Court of Session next week, then she will have a confirmed legal finding to support her case. The main question mark over her taking action would be whether she has the courage, or the energy, to dare.

This doubt is because, were the Queen to make an attempt to fire Johnson, there will definitely be pushback, especially from Conservative politicians hysterically crying out that she is violating the constitution. The hypocrisy of that would be as aggravating as it would be counter-productive, but it is hard to picture Brexiteer extremists like Michael Gove or Jacob Rees-Mogg accepting it with equanimity. There is also the worry that Johnson might still refuse to go, citing the requirement for Royal impartiality, even though that impartiality is required on political matters, not constitutional ones. At that point, force of some description would have to come into play.

Queen v Boris

Thanks to Boris Johnson’s over-reaching arrogance, different parts of the British state are in conflict in ways not seen since the 17th Century. In that era, they led to a massive series of civil wars.

As a country, the UK really is in murky, unexplored territory. We are already mired in a stand-off between Downing Street and Parliament, and it could lead on to a confrontation between Queen and Prime Minister. I am as uneasy about the consequences of the Queen winning it as I am of Johnson doing so. Either outcome would establish a precedent allowing powers for an individual that, I believe, no one person should ever be allowed to wield.

by Martin Odoni

I must be naive. I genuinely thought throughout the last few days that, at a time of growing and really alarming constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom, even a Prime Minister as greedy and self-obsessed as Boris Johnson would have realised that now was a good time to tread lightly for a bit.

What does Johnson do instead? Having prorogued Parliament, an act that today was ruled unlawful by a the Court of Session in Scotland, he decides to double-down on his undermining of the authority of the House of Commons by violating a legal instruction it gave him by vote.

Court of Session accusation

On the subject of the Court of Session, Number 10 tried to claim its decision had ‘political bias’, and that there is some kind of ‘irregularity’ in using a Scottish court at all. Here is why that is a shameful fiction.

The instruction was to publish correspondence among Government officials and advisors relating to the decision to prorogue, along with the ‘Yellowhammer’ document – the Government’s ‘planning assumptions‘ for a No Deal Brexit.

Instead, Johnson produces a version of Yellowhammer that has been doctored, with an altered title to imply worst-case scenarios rather than expected scenarios, and substantial redactions.

 

More here.

Johnson has also refused to comply fully with the instruction to release correspondence.

Even without the appalling timing of these moves, this would be a terrible look. As it is, it makes a very swift mockery of Tory MPs who were scoffing during Monday’s Parliamentary debates that ‘of course’ the Prime Minister would obey the law at all times. As though that goes without saying and the very question need never have been asked.

But of course it needed to be asked, and now we have our answer. Johnson will bend and break the law when it suits him, so long as he thinks he can get away with it by making it look like he is complying. It took just two days for Johnson to disprove his defenders. Even with the pace of recent events, that is frighteningly fast. Well okay, the instruction was not a Bill and so technically it is not itself in law. But the sovereignty of Parliament is, and so when any MP disobeys Parlament’s express instructions, he/she is quite definitely breaking the law of Parliamentary sovereignty. If a Prime Minister does not accept the sovereignty of Parliament, or the majesty of the law, well, what checks will he accept? Will only the use of force rein him in?

(RELATED THOUGHT: When we have to ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing legal?” that usually means that we know that morally we should not do it, but we want to know precisely how badly we can get away with behaving. So whether Johnson’s redactions and withholding of correspondence are within the law or not makes little difference. The point is he should not be doing either. But Johnson does not care about what he should be doing, he only cares about what he can get away with.)

I have to reiterate that, due to the summer recess, Johnson has effectively been in the job of Prime Minister for all of about three weeks. During that time he has triggered a constitutional crisis, compromised the authority of Parliament, and is now embroiling himself and the country in repeated and increasingly convoluted legal turmoil. He could hardly find a more effective deliberate way to turn chaos into pandemonium than what he is doing now. What can he be thinking with this move? Is he thinking at all?

I have already called him Britain’s worst-ever Prime Minister. It would seem Johnson is determined to prove me right.

by Martin Odoni

The Parliamentary debates over whether to have a General Election have really drawn attention to the disregard for nuance in British politics. This has been driven by rather blatant ‘tactical false accusation’ (read: ‘lying’) on the part of Conservative MPs – a sadly standard strategy of politics more widely.

The Labour Party has been consistently pushing for a new General Election for over two years, as a solution to the unending gridlock of Theresa May’s Hung Parliament. That consistency finally came to an end in recent weeks with the realisation that May’s successor as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the ‘freshly-boiled clown’ according to John Oliver, might manipulate the process to force through a No Deal Brexit. (That is of course the real reason for the Tory decision to prorogue Parliament for a highly irregular five weeks.)

Boris Johnson - a boiled clown

John Oliver, of the popular ‘cookery show’ (honest!) Last Week Tonight, has a handy make-your-own-BoJob guide.

For this reason, Jeremy Corbyn and most of the Shadow Cabinet have suspended their calls for a Snap Election. They have been very clear, up-front, honest and explicit about why they will not support a Dissolution of the present Parliament for the next few weeks: They oppose leaving the European Union without a deal, and they do not trust Johnson – and who can possibly blame them? – not to use the Dissolution to run down the clock and make it impossible to avoid ‘crashing out’. As is well-recorded, such a crash-out would be disastrous, and so opposing it is well merited, and despite the deceitful claims of Brexiteers, it absolutely does not contravene the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.

In circumstances this exceptional – and beyond doubt they are as exceptional as they can get – a suspension of a policy that would run so completely contrary to efforts to mitigate them is entirely reasonable. Quite simply, avoiding No Deal has to be the highest priority. Unfortunately, the aforementioned disregard for nuance means that it is not being interpreted that way.

Essentially, no matter how many times that Labour spokespeople – including Jeremy Corbyn – have stated up-front that they are putting the policy on temporary hold, and their reasons why, Conservative MPs, Brexiteers, and many media figures, claim that it is an ‘extraordinary and inexplicable change-of-heart’ and that it is happening because Labour are ‘scared’ of losing an Election.

Now it is fair to say that in recent months, the opinion polls have not been encouraging for Labour, due to widespread misinterpretations of its Brexit policy and to the boost the Tories got from a new Prime Minister’s inevitable ‘honeymoon period’. However, the polls are not as bad for Labour as they were looking about three weeks ago, as the so-called ‘Boris Bounce’ has been stalled by Johnson’s own anti-constitutional recent behaviour.

Comres Poll 6-8 Sept

A ComRes poll for 6th-to-8th September 2019 suggests Labour are breathing right down the Tories’ necks again, and this was before the chaos of Monday.

Labour are talking quite openly and confidently about a new Election, and it is quite clear that once they are certain that No Deal is off the table until at least Christmas, they will resume pursuit of this Government’s demise. They have stated and re-stated this position, but during recent debates, Conservatives have repeatedly acted like they have either not heard it, or like they are too idiotic to understand it. I am not convinced that the Tories are doing themselves any favours by adopting this approach.

The ‘Labour’s-too-scared’ accusation was stated, by my count, at least six times, several times by the same MP, during the various debates on Monday before Parliament was formally suspended. It seems that the Tories have committed to using a tediously familiar political tactic sometimes known as The Big Lie. This is the habit of just stridently declaring something they know is not true over-and-over, repeating it until everybody starts taking it as a given. This is the tactic Josef Goebbels is wrongly assumed to have ‘codified’, so to speak.

To a greater or lesser extent, Tories can get away with this sort of stubborn insistence outside the House of Commons when there is no one on hand to correct them. The problem with using the tactic in a Parliamentary debate though is that, highly likely, the opponent they are speaking about is on hand to correct them. Labour MPs repeatedly answered the charge on Monday, only for Tory opponents to reiterate the same false claim. The danger to the Tories of doing so when having already been corrected, especially if they keep doing it endlessly, is that it is as likely to backfire as it is to damage Labour. The Tory MPs will look either dishonest and petulant, or worse, they will look like they are so stupid that they genuinely cannot understand the really straightforward and clear-cut explanation for holding back from a new General Election for a few weeks.

Given that the real explanation is so easy-to-understand, and indeed would be pretty easy to figure out even without any helpful nudges from Jeremy Corbyn et al, this Tory dishonesty could even be seen as rather insulting to the intelligence of the public. Regardless, it is unlikely to impress anyone who does not already support the Tories. Being transparently stupid or dishonest or insulting to the public usually pushes the electorate into voting for someone else.

There were other plainly stupid arguments I heard from Tory MPs on Monday – apologies that I am unable to remember most of the names, and I do not consider it a worthy use of time searching through eleven hours of video to look them up. (If you wish to complain about my skimping, feel free to write to your MP. Just do not expect them to send you an honest answer.)

John Redwood argued that the European Union will not re-negotiate Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Quite untrue. They have explicitly stated that they will not renegotiate on Britain’s present terms. But they are open to renegotiate if May’s silly, posturing ‘red lines‘ are removed, and if the UK can come up with a feasible alternative to the ‘Northern Ireland Backstop’. This has again been stated and re-stated continuously, so Redwood is either being (entirely characteristically) disingenuous, or he is just too stupid to understand the very obvious nuance.

A female Tory in a pink cardigan intervened to object that the Liberal Democrats’ desire to renegotiate the Agreement was unrealistic because it would take far more time than would be available before the current deadline of 31st October. I was actually saying, “Duuuhhhhh!” in the direction of the screen when I heard her say this. After all, who was not aware of that? Did she think the LibDems were trying to keep that a secret? It is the whole reason why the LibDems support an extension to Article 50 in the first place. It, again, has been made explicitly clear many times, and so it is quite impossible to imagine what points the Tory MP was expecting to score off of that.

I saw another male MP arguing that, because people are not allowed to pick and choose which laws they are prepared to obey and which they are not, so MPs cannot pick and choose which Referendum results they are prepared to obey. This was below asinine. For one thing, as has (yet agaaaaaaaaaaaaaainnnnnnn-grrrraaaahhhh!) been pointed out relentlessly, a Referendum is not defined in British law at all. Even if it were, that would not necessarily make the actual outcome of one binding. So this is very much a case of an apples-‘n’-oranges analogy, and any MP is in fact well within their rights to ignore the result of a Referendum. This is not to suggest it would be wise or honourable to do so, only to make clear that there is no point invoking the law to pressurise politicians where the law has no place. The implication is also dishonest once more, in that hardly anyone, at least outside the minuscule ranks of the Liberal Democrats, has been trying to ‘ignore’ the result of the Referendum. The great majority of MPs are not trying to terminate Brexit, they are simply trying to stave off a No Deal Brexit, a position that does not contravene the Referendum result. Very obvious nuance ignored again.

If you do not wish to believe that the Tories have underhanded reasons for saying this, well, credit to you for wanting to see the best in people. But if you do not see dishonesty, you must objectively see stupidity. It is one, the other, or even both.

It cannot be neither.

by Martin Odoni

Brexiteers really are fanatics. This is hardly a new observation, but it has to be said.

I do not mean fanatics in the sense of the fond, “they-really-make-the-atmosphere” fanaticism of football supporters on their better days. What I mean is, Brexiteers really are blind to anything except the singular cause into which they sink their individuality. They are almost madly passionate for British exit from the European Union, and so fixated upon it are they that they seldom notice anything else happening in the world that does not directly impact upon it. They are equally blinded to all elements of nuance or ambiguity, which means that the inevitable problems of circumstance never really register with them either. So they just assume that once Brexit has been voted for, that means it will happen, and should be delivered instantly.

Because they are blind to all the very real – possibly irreconcilabledifficulties involved in delivering a complicated constitutional process like Brexit, when the process inevitably hits the occasional buffer, the resulting delay is incomprehensible to them. And due to their Hollywood-movie fantasies that they are an oppressed, downtrodden people rising up to throw off the shackles of an evil,  all-conquering Empire (an evil, all-conquering Empire that apparently allows its ‘colonies’ to leave its control if enough of their oppressed, downtrodden inhabitants vote to do so, that is….), they quickly start dreaming up sinister, underhanded reasons for the delay.

TRAITORS!” they thunder. “The politicians who aren’t giving us everything we want at once are obviously in the pocket of the EU! They’re trying to stop Brexit! They’re selling out our country! They’re colluding with foreigners!!! They’re TRAITOOOOOOORRRRSSSS!!!!

“YOU FOOL, STARSCREAM!!!!”

Am I the only one, when witnessing this behaviour, who is reminded of a rather loud and power-crazed robotic cartoon character from the 1980’s? Not sure which one I mean? Here’s a clue; –

Megatron Starscream TRAITOR!!!

If Brexiteers really believe they are the ‘good guys’ in the current chaos, why are they the ones who always sound like Megatron berating Starscream?

Yes. Brexiteers sound like Megatron, Supreme Leader of the Decepticons (a rather idiotic name to bestow upon an army, as it basically declares in advance that no one can trust them).

Yes… Megatron. As in, the arch-villain and ultra-militaristic would-be “conqueror of the entire Universe” ((c), TM & (R), Really Corny Bad-Guy Dialogue Productions). Brexiteers sound like Megatron from The Transformers.

Let us say that again; Brexiteers sound like an unelected military ruler, who stands for violent, aggressive conquest, cynical and rapacious theft of resources belonging to other peoples, and is tortured by his own insatiable lust for pure power entirely for its own sake. And Brexiteers sound like this while imagining they are the good guys, and that they stand for ‘democracy’.

The key feature of the “You traitor!” antagonism between Megatron and his back-stabbing lieutenant, Starscream, boiled down to Megatron’s fury at anyone behaving towards him as destructively as Megatron behaved towards almost everybody else. That too, for reasons outlined below, is echoed in Brexiteer behaviour today.

An amusing resemblance, but with a very dark edge

In itself, this resemblance is just one more amusing example of how self-unaware and naive a lot of Brexiteers are, scarcely worth more than a passing mention. However, there is a weakness in their argument, stemming from that aforementioned tunnel-vision that so many Brexiteers seem to suffer from. After all, who are Brexiteers to lecture anyone about treachery?

The current hero of the pro-Leave crowd is apparently Boris Johnson, who as the new Prime Minister has promised them that we will leave the EU on 31st October come-what-may, which appears to be the only line a legislator needs to seduce a Brexiteer and bring him/her to the heights of ecstasy. And as is now well-recorded, Johnson chose to support Brexit, in effect out of what could be called treachery. He famously hedged his bets during the Referendum campaign, actually writing two articles, one in support of Brexit, the other opposed to it, before deciding which way the wind would blow most in his own favour, whereupon he submitted only the pro-Leave version for publication. Seeing he clearly knew the dangers and drawbacks of leaving the EU, and the scant advantages to be had from doing so, he has very firmly ‘sold out’ the country for his own political convenience. That is treachery, in the sense Brexiteers use. As is his prorogation of Parliament after previously indicating that he would not do it.

Boris on Prorogation

Boris Johnson carries out a Prorogation he is “not attracted to”.

But moreover, Brexiteers are, initially unknowingly, assisting in a bigger and even more dangerous betrayal, and that is the betrayal of Ireland. I hardy need state all over again the terrible threat to the Northern Irish peace process that Brexit poses, as I have gone into it in some detail before. Quite simply, any resumed enforcement of the old Irish border is bound to imperil the Good Friday Agreement. The GFA was agreed by Nationalist/Republican communities in good faith, following the strict understanding that the British and Irish Governments would always respect the individual right of people within Northern Ireland to choose their own national status, be it British, Irish or Northern Irish, as the individual saw it. Nationalists who see Dublin, not London, as their national capitol, will undoubtedly feel betrayed – and rightly so – if a border is suddenly resurrected between it and them.

This point is frequently being made to Brexiteers, but most of them show scant willingness to listen, or if pressed, offer nonsense solutions to it. They just do not care, they just want to have their own way, and start throwing toys out of the pram when they are denied, even temporarily. Many insist they want a No Deal Brexit, even after the reasons it would be a treaty violation, and illegal under International Law, are made clear to them. So an agreement of two decades’ standing is being disregarded, sneered at, and ultimately violated. What is that, if not treachery?

Brexiteers act like Tudor monarchs too

England/Britain has abused and tormented Ireland for over eight hundred years, since the Angevin King  of England, Henry II, invaded in support of Dermot McMurragh, King of Leinster, in the Twelfth Century. It is long, long, long past time that this abusive, disregarding, colonising attitude towards Ireland was brought to an end, and that the Irish nation was treated as a partner and an equal. Brexit, alas, is demonstrating that there is still some way to go, and possibly even that the process of reconciliation across the Irish Sea is going backwards. That in itself is another hypocrisy; Brexiteers, while decrying the EU as an ‘oppressor’, are perfectly happy to oppress the Irish again in order to escape an imagined tyranny, like a prisoner who thinks he is about to be thrown to the lions, and tries to get another prisoner thrown in in his place. Which is treacherous.

Farage - collaboration whine

Talking to overseas Governments about a scheduling change is “collaboration with a foreign power”, but all Farage’s iffy links with Trump and Putin are not?

Cries of “Traitor!” are cartoonish and hypocritical. They are also blatantly obsolete. As much as they sound like a Decepticon leader, Brexiteers also sound like Tudor monarchs condemning their courtiers for daring to differ from the Royal opinion. Henry VIII’s courtiers lived in perpetual dread of being called a traitor, as the rebuke usually preceded the axe. His daughter, Elizabeth I, one of the most over-rated and tyrannical monarchs in European history (during her reign, she had twice as many subjects executed as her infamous father), was notorious for calling any courtier who displeased her a traitor. Even her favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, got this rebuke with painful frequency. In the end, all it really meant was that a subject deviated from a supposedly ‘divine’ authority. Referendum results may have more of a mandate than Royal commands, but do Brexiteers really think that makes them ‘divine’?

An obsolete concept

The concept behind the word Traitor when used on a national level is that blind loyalty to a country is more important than loyalty to the truth, or to just and intelligent policy. Given Britain’s horrid history as an Imperial power, allegiance to it most certainly does not guarantee allegiance to justice. Therefore, the jingoism that leads to cries of “Traitor!” is deeply flawed, as the historical evidence simply does not tally with it. It is in fact near-religious in its implication, as it attaches superior ‘moral value’ to faith over objectivity i.e. it concludes that the less evidence there is to support a belief, the more ‘virtuous’ the belief. Ergo, the calculation is that the more you believe in ‘our country’ the better a person you must be, which runs so contrary to the evidence in Britain’s case that it is frankly ridiculous.

Like ‘evil’, the word ‘traitor’ is one of limited value in the modern world, and should only really be used in a very few situations. Now, treachery does happen sometimes, when a confidence is broken for malicious reasons, or a promise is left unkept. But a promise delayed by circumstances is not treachery, nor is choosing loyalty to an entity other than the country of one’s birth, at least so long as it is done openly. There is no intrisic reason for instance why ‘Britain’ should command more loyalty from Britons than ‘Europe’, and there is no reason why being part of either should be at odds with being part of the other. By the same measure, as a Jew, I have sometimes been accused by Zionists of being a ‘traitor’ because I condemn Israel rather than meekly toe the line; because I am a Jew and Israel likes to think of itself as ‘The Jewish State’, Zionists think it means I must owe it unquestioning loyalty, even though I have never sworn allegiance to it. The primitive idea behind the treachery accusation is that more is owed than is really due. Much as I want Israel reformed so it ceases to be an ethnocracy, I do not actually want anything bad to happen to it, especially as I have family there. But at the same time, Zionists think I have to want more than just Israel’s continued existence. They think I have to want its supremacy too, that I should be permanently perched on Israel’s bandwaggon, no matter what its Government does, and that I should never demand Palestinian justice.

Same with Brexit. Brexiteers do not just want the Government to try to deliver it. They want them to deliver it, lock-stock-and-barrel, with a cherry on top, immediately, and with a two-fingered salute to Brussels, even though co-operation from Brussels is essential to getting it delivered at all.

Frustrated hopes do not always mean betrayal

It is frustrating when a policy one wants is delayed, but sometimes it is simply too difficult to implement in a hurry. There are good reasons to condemn the Tories for their attempts to deliver Brexit, but those are more a matter of incompetence and inadequate planning. They are almost never deliberate sabotage. The intent to do what was voted for is genuinely there, they just cannot deliver everything all at once, especially given the very obvious intellectual limitations among their MPs.

Attacking the failure to deliver Brexit with accusations of treachery is barking up entirely the wrong tree, and will do nothing to speed up the withdrawal process. Those who use such accusations should perhaps spend less time watching cartoons.