by Martin Odoni

NB: This is an excerpt from another article published by The Prole Star.

A number of delayed inevitables finally happened this week. With Theresa May at last forced to declare publicly which policy to pursue over ‘Brexit‘, her house-of-cards is teetering. The Democratic Unionist Party, predictably furious to learn that the Prime Minister’s ‘backstop’ plan involved treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK, effectively establishing a kind of border in the Irish Sea, have in all-but-words dissolved the alliance agreed after the General Election. A number of May’s own MPs are now in open revolt over Britain not having independent power to end the backstop summarily, with the rumour circulating – perhaps wrongly – that the magic forty-eight letters of no-confidence have already been received by the 1922 Committee, automatically triggering a leadership ballot. Business leaders have expressed unhappiness with the Brexit plan. Opinion polls suggest the Tories have haemorrhaged between 3 and 6 points in around a week due to hardline Brexiteers across the country feeling betrayed by the suggestion that Britain may stay in a Customs Union with the European Union; they appear to be flocking back to UKIP. A ‘Coalition-of-chaos’?

A coalition of conservative chaos

Everything May said Corbyn would be, May has been.

In short, the Government has hit the buffers this week.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

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by Martin Odoni

Remember this?

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Click here for a reminder.

The first action the Conservatives took in the spring of 2017 after activating Article-50 was to threaten war against Spain. This diplomatic masterstroke to precipitate negotiations with neighbouring countries, as the UK prepares to withdraw from the European Union, has rather set the tone subsequently. The Tories have blundered, fumbled, thrashed around, struggled even to come up with a starting framework for creating a new trading agreement, and repeatedly and predictably then tried to blame the repeated logjams on the EU. So much of the eighteen-months-plus since activation of Article-50 has been wasted, and now, alas, we are at the proverbial ‘crunch-point’. Although our official leaving date is 31st March, the effective deadline for completing the broad strokes of negotiations really is this month; the final six months or thereabouts are about fine-tuning the (very, very many) inner details of a new trading arrangement with the EU. We need to get the overall structure of the deal sorted out right now, and I am sure I do not need to tell you that we are clearly not at that point. Workable settlements for the Irish and Gibraltar border problems still have not been found, and negotiations over a new actual trade deal between the UK and the EU have therefore barely got off the ground.

The likelihood is that at some stage over the next six months, the British Government is going to have to ask for an extension to its withdrawal period. I know foam-at-the-mouth Brexiteer fanatics will play merry hell over such a move, insisting it is a cover for cancelling Brexit altogether, but the reality is that we are not going to be ready at the end of March. If we proceed as we are now, the UK will have two options, and both are bad; –

Either the UK crashes out of the EU altogether, and then has to experience the grinding, expensive, bureaucratic frustrations of trading with Europe on World Trade Organisation terms, while having a hard border in Ireland by default, which could trigger a war. Or the UK accepts a bad, under-cooked deal, with an awful lot of kinks and confused minutiae, from the start of April 2019.

The UK really needs to seek an extension, probably at least eight months, before it will be in a position to swallow Brexit without suffering a serious economic ‘choke’. And this, sadly, is where I fear that the UK’s ‘gunboat-diplomacy’ approach to Gibraltar at the outset may come back and bite the Government hard.

If the UK asks for an extension, it can be done, but it needs unanimous approval from the other countries in the EU. Unanimous. As in, agreement by all of them.

Therefore including… Spain.

Now I am not saying that the Spanish Government will definitely be vindictive over the threatening noises made by Michaels Fallon et Howard last year. Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, is arguably more grown up than the average Tory, and may well choose to be magnanimous. He is an experienced economist moreover, and will know that a deal between the EU and Britain will be in his own country’s interests – especially after years of pointless damage caused to Spain by toxic Austerity. But at the same time, Sánchez might also see an opportunity to ‘strong-arm’ the UK over Gibraltar, knowing as he will that the pressure-of-the-clock is heavier on the British than it is on the rest of the EU.”You want an extension? Okay, give us such-and-such over Gibraltar and I shan’t veto it.” And if the British protest at such opportunism, he can simply shrug and say, “Well, you guys started it!” And he would not be altogether off-his-head to say it.

The stupidity of Conservative rhetoric over the last two years has been a constant nagging worry for anybody following Brexit’s progress. Now the Tories may be in danger of reaping what they sowed. For certain, the Tories deserve no better than to be thrown around in the gales of someone else’s anger. But given the way many in this country have behaved over Brexit over the last three years – some Remainers as well as many Leavers – it is hard to argue that the UK more widely deserves any better either.

by Martin Odoni

My earnest hope for today is that the people of the Irish Republic vote to repeal the confounded ‘8th Amendment‘ of their nation’s constitution. It is an oppressive, paternalistic clause that deprives women of the most fundamentally feminine part of their own autonomy – control of their own reproductive abilities. The passing of the Amendment in 1983 was one of the most obsolete, regressive moves of the Irish Government in the modern era, as it places a powerful legal barrier in the path of any Irish woman seeking to abort a pregnancy, no matter the reason why she needs one.

Repeal the 8th Amendment

The Irish Constitution was amended in 1983 to provide an extra legislative barrier preventing abortion.

Now, I need to make clear that I am not a ‘fan’ of abortion, and I will always hope that a woman would only resort to one in dire circumstances. But I am a ‘fan’ of human rights, and I also recognise that, as a man, I will never be in a position truly to understand the emotional impact of being pregnant and having to face such a choice. I cannot accept that any male should have a decisive say on this issue at all, because in the end, it is not about what happens to his body.

Around the world, older generation males, especially of a religious/conservative disposition, seem to think otherwise, and assume women should always do whatever the men decide is best for them. Refreshingly, modern generation males seem to take a less arrogant stance. This includes, according to some media reports, many younger generation men in Ireland itself. According to feedback received by some pro-choice campaigners, many young Irish men have gone as far as to say they will not vote in the Referendum, saying that they want to leave the matter to women to decide.

Now, this wish to concede to the informed perspective is perfectly sound and creditable up to a point, but unfortunately,  it gets matters in the wrong order. The men can only take that step back after abortion is legal, not before. The Referendum is not a consultation on whether a specific woman should have an abortion. It is asking the very question as to whether women should be allowed to make this decision when the circumstances arise. The current position default in Ireland is ‘no, they should not be allowed’. As things stand, the matter is not left to women, so if an Irish man does not vote for repealing the 8th Amendment, he is not leaving the matter to women to decide.

Therefore, if men of Ireland wish to let women decide these matters – as they should – then they must get out today and vote in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment. Women will probably not be able to provide enough votes on their own.

Come on, men of Ireland, help to make this happen. Do not complacently imagine that you can let it happen for itself. When ordinary people assume that, nothing changes for the better.

by Martin Odoni

As I have stated before, I have never been crazy about the European Union. So when the opportunity was presented to vote for the UK to withdraw from it back in 2016, I did give it genuine consideration. Only once it became clear to me that there was no plan among the ‘Brexiteers’ for carrying out what was bound to be a very complicated process did I opt to vote for ‘Remain’. I could see that, even allowing for the uglier features of the EU (if you do not know what they are, just ask the Greeks), the UK would be tying itself in unnecessary knots that it had no idea how to untangle if it went ahead, and to no accurately-defined benefit. We were better off staying in than committing to a leap-into-the-dark.

In short, I did not vote with my heart, I voted with my head.

Therefore, it would be a considerable exaggeration to assume I am a devoted, hardcore, fanatical ‘Remainer’ who is so enraptured by the site of the ring of gold stars on a blue background that it blinds me to the patches of darkness behind it.

EU heart-flag - not really me

I don’t quite regard the EU with this kind of affection, but I know we’re better off inside it than outside it.

The difficulty is, an awful lot of Britons did vote in the Referendum with their hearts, without really engaging their heads enough to understand what the country would be attempting. Therefore, they voted on the basis of what they wanted, not on the basis of what is objectively for the best. They voted against what they hated, not against what is objectively harmful. Or in many cases, they voted for something they loved, not for what is objectively good for them. (Yes, I include voters on both ‘sides’ here.)

“Get over it!!!”

The phenomenon this led to almost immediately was the “Get over it, Remoaner!mantra. I noticed it and commented on it in under a week. This has been the favoured chorus of the triumphant Leave fanatics since the Referendum result was announced, and is almost certain to be sung by at least someone during any online discussion of the many protracted issues raised by Brexit.

I am often given to wonder whether large numbers of Leavers are football fans, as they seem to regard the Referendum result as ‘the end of all discussion’ a little like the final whistle is the end of a match. Their chants of “Get over it!” are barely distinguishable from those of one football team’s supporters jeering at rivals who are upset at a perceived bad refereeing decision.

Now, it is true that there are those who argue quite vociferously for the decision of the Referendum to be overturned. Given what an undiluted dog’s breakfast the Conservatives are making of the Brexit process, there is a lot to be said for that idea. But overturning is not the argument being made by many of the anti-Brexit protesters, and Leave supporters seem to have trouble distinguishing between different groups.

We do actually accept the referendum result, by and large

A great many ‘Remainers’ (if we must deal in name-tags) have, with sadness, accepted the result of the Referendum. Many, if they are like me, cannot bear the thought of going through another one, or of the tidal wave of anger that will spread through anti-EU areas around the country if the whole process is just called off. But that does not mean that the issue is closed off and that there is therefore nothing to discuss. On the contrary, as soon as the country committed to Brexit, it made it compulsory that a number of matters are discussed; they would not have mattered had the Referendum vote gone with Remain. Ireland and Gibraltar are the two most serious of these issues, and also the two most difficult to resolve. But they do not come anywhere near to being all the issues that Brexit has created.

The frustration for people like me is that every time we point out the no-win situation in Ireland, Spanish unhappiness about British sovereignty over Gibraltar, the inevitable and serious economic impact caused by leaving the biggest trading bloc on Earth, the sheer cack-handed bungling of the way the Government is handling the process and their lack of basic diplomatic skills, and all other Brexit-related obstacles that the UK is failing to hurdle, an awful lot of pro-Leavers get the wrong idea as to why we are doing it. They seem to imagine that we are moaning about a penalty being awarded against us when we think our left-back made no contact on their centre-forward before he went to ground. They seem to think we are pointing to television replays showing clear daylight between the players’ legs. And they seem to think that because they love playing the taunting game, Remainers must be trying to taunt them back and devalue their ‘victory’, or even get it overturned.

But this is not the case. This is not about taunting, or even about being competitive as such. It brings us no pleasure whatever to highlight the problems that are piling up. We are not obsessing over a past argument. We are not gloating and opportunistically saying, “Told-ya-so!” We are not demanding the Referendum result be overturned. We are simply pointing out that these problems are critically important, and they need solutions – quickly, given the deadline for Brexit negotiations is effectively October.  The country faces enormous legal and industrial turmoil if the problems are not solved in time. And solutions are a commodity Theresa May’s Government seems powerless to supply, and will also not materialise as a result of silly cries of, “Get over it!!!!” In a manner of speaking, the Referendum result is barely relevant.

This triumphalist shoutdown mentality from so many Leavers is not helpful or constructive. The problems mentioned above, and many others besides, are not going to be solved by just ignoring them, or by casually assuming that everything will just magically become better the instant the UK leaves the EU.  They will not. If the UK does not get a new deal before leaving the EU, British life will become very trying (as if it is not enough so already). That is looking ever-likelier after Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, finally ran out of patience with British non-commitment on the Irish border issue this week.

Brexit platitudes and sound-bites

When Leavers are not telling the concerned to get over it, they retreat into platitudes and sound-bites, either about being able to make our own trade deals, or controlling our borders. While there is at least a semblance of trying to engage in a discussion, these arguments are, alas, nonsense.

Firstly, we are not likely to get more trade as a result of going our own way. The EU has well over five hundred million people in it, making it an enormous market with huge ‘trading gravity’. The UK on its own has about sixty-five million people. Significant, yes, but inevitably it has far less of such a ‘gravitational pull’ in trading markets on its own, due to being only about one-eighth the size. This will immediately make it harder for us to trade with countries farther afield than Europe. Why? Well it really should be obvious. Long-distance trade, even with modern technology, is more expensive and has greater practical difficulties, than short-distance trade i.e. greater fuel costs, huge shipping distances increase the dangers of mechanical failure by either air or sea, or bad weather etc. It is therefore far easier to convince a far-off country to export to you on favourable terms if you can offer it a huge market in which to sell goods, one that guarantees profits that will clearly outweigh the risks.

Saying we ‘can’ make our own trade deals is in fact just a silly bit of spin. The UK will be compelled to make such deals, whether the country likes it or not, and they will be long, slow, complicated, arduous tasks. Given the weakness of our position outside the big trading bloc, many of the longer-distance ones will not be reached on advantageous terms. The UK will have to wait quite some time before it can get any such deals signed too, and literally decades before it has all the deals it would like. During that time, the British people will experience the comparative harshness of operating under World Trade Organisation rules, with high tariffs and heavy customs controls. Other countries will know how desperate the UK will be to escape those rules in a hurry, weakening the British negotiating hand further. The damage WTO conditions could do to the UK economy, moreover, will make it a less attractive trading partner.

Life was easier when we could leave all that to the EU.

As for controlling our borders, as has been pointed out ad nauseam, the UK has never been part of the Schengen Area, and has always decided its own customs and immigration policy. Leaving the EU will therefore have little impact on border controls or immigration levels one way or the other. While arguments about over-population are (arguably) more intelligent – at sixty-five million the UK population has grown rapidly in twenty years and is now getting a little on the high side for an island – they do not appear to be any less xenophobic when challenged for details, as the BBC‘s Nick Robinson has found. When the argument only works as a broad generality, there is clearly some form of prejudice involved.

No, not all Leave arguments are xenophobic, but most are

In any event, while some Leavers get very upset at suggestions that anti-immigration arguments are all racist and xenophobic (I am unconvinced that very many people do suggest that in fact), you would have to be crazy to assume that prejudice against foreigners has not played a big role. The below example of ‘Schrödinger’s Immigrant‘ has been doing the rounds for the last day or so on social media, and it serves as a real question mark against the whole notion of having referendums at all, if the views of someone this ignorant are considered equally valid as those of academics; –

No, I am not suggesting that all Leave voters are this foolish, or even that a particularly large minority of them are. But the fact that it is so evident that this fellow could only be a Leave voter does not say good things about its support base. Too many Leave arguments are based on rumours and delusions, even ones that flatly contradict one another.

Brexiteers do not help themselves

‘Brextremists’, as it is becoming popular to call the most fanatical Leavers, often complain about being insulted and patronised, but study the general level of debate at which they tend to engage, and it is very difficult to sympathise – just ask James O’Brien at LBC Radio. With their mechanical chorus of “Get over it!” Leavers in fact tend to be every bit as patronising, but also more aggressive in manner. They do not help themselves. More important from their perspective, perhaps, is that they also do not help the process of carrying out the policy they have inflicted on the country in the first place.

Intellectual respect is not a right, it must be earned. If Leavers want more of it, they have to try a lot harder. They need to offer fewer ill-defined generalities or platitudes, and they need to construct arguments based on facts in the real world. They need to learn that winning the argument is not an end in itself, and that taunting a counter-position is not enough on its own to de-legitimise it. The problem they have is that the evidence is so overwhelmingly on the side arguing that Brexit will hurt the UK that they cannot analyse and accept facts and remain Leavers at all. Their pride is clearly hurt by the notion that they might be wrong. So their only escape is to carry on thinking with their hearts and not their heads, and that is why they look so foolish to Remainers – at least to the ones who voted on the basis of objective facts.

It is therefore a ‘false-balance’ mistake to argue that Remainers should be ‘less patronising’. The ‘sides’ are not equal, intellectually or in demeanour.

If this sounds patronising to Leavers too, I have only one more thing to say to them.

“Get over it, Brexpostulators.”

I wonder how many of them will now be digging around in dictionaries trying to figure out what that means?