The European Council has approved the Brexit settlement. Coming so soon after its members were at the ceremonies marking the anniversary of the end of the Great War, this should cause people to stop and think.
What Madness is this?
Today’s meeting of the European Council (25 November 2018) endorsed the EU withdraw agreement. In the words of European Commission President, Jean Claude Junker:
“To leave the European Union is not a moment of jubilation. It is a moment of deep sadness.”
“There are no smooth divorces.”
It is a day to weep.
With its characteristic professionalism and generosity, the EU has enabled some sort of agreement. Virtuoso work behind the scenes by negotiators means the deal that has been negotiated a lot better than it might be — though still well short of simply staying in the EU.
But it is a day to weep.
It is a fortnight since European leaders gathered to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War — the “Great War”, the “War to end all wars”. The determination to end war in Europe is what called the EU into being.
One of the recurring themes in commentary on support for Brexit is that some of it is “religious”. That offers a way to think about some of the anxieties leading people to support it, even if Brexit itself is not the answer, and would harm more of its supporters than it helps.
From the Leave side, Aaron Banks has spoken of “true Brexit” and Nigel Farrage accused Theresa May of “not believing in Brexit” after the General Election. Jacob Rees Mogg has accused other members of the parlimentary committee on Exciting the European Union of being “high priests of Remain”. From the Remain side Rafael Behr has written of the dangers of following the “scriptures of Rees-moggery”, and it’s not unusual to hear support for Brexit dismissed as “religious” when it seems to ignore economic reality.
There are a range of attitudes among Brexit-supporters I’ve spoken with, but the more strident support for Brexit is coming across as having a religious quality.
Some will want to bracket together religion and support for Brexit as irrational, and leave the argument there, but this short-changes both religion and what the support for Brexit. This matters because winning a “People’s Vote” on the terms of Brexit needs some who voted Leave in 2016 to vote the other way, and avoiding the damage that would come from alienating a substantial minority needs a large number of people to change sides. For people to switch sides means they need to feel that their concerns have been heard.
The Hindu epic the Mahabharata belongs to a different age and a different continent to the saga of Brexit. But there’s something in its timelessness and exploration of the complexity of being human that has powerful echoes.
The Mahabharata is a complex epic. The snag with producing a quick summary is its richness is in the detail, in the complexity of what happens across generations and extended families, and the interplay of virtue and messy human reality.
Reducing The Mahabharata to a story of the conflict of good and evil makes sense in Western terms, but looses much of the point of it. I first read it in an attempt to get a better understanding of the Hindus in Bali soon after reading a book on Jung’s lectures on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Jung makes sense of some of Ignatius’ ideas by talking of the devil as the fourth person of the Christian Trinity. His underlying point is that things seem to come on groups of four for humans, raising the question of what’s missing in the Christian concept of the Trinity (God as father son and Holy Spirit). In practical terms of spiritual direction this is a really useful concept because it holds a space for that of God that’s outside people’s conception of God. With more of a psychoanalytic lens, it shifts the dynamic from pushing things away as “evil” or “the devil” in a crudely-dualistic way. One of the fruits of that is to help people own both their limitedness and their capacity for evil, rather than simply to project it onto others who then get labelled as “bad”. Not doing evil things involves owning one’s ability to do just that and choosing not to go there: assuming that evil is what “bad people” do is a recipe for rationalising one’s way into doing appalling things.
Julian Dunkerton’s donation of £1Million to the People’s Vote campaign is a major boost and will fund some detailed polling work. But trying to find out what people now think has been dismissed by Brexiteers as subverting the will of the people. That speaks volumes for the motivation of the hardline Brexiteers.
Dunkerton’s donation is a major boost for The People’s Vote.
He said: “I will be paying for one of the most detailed polling exercises ever undertaken by a campaign so that more and more people have the confidence to demand the democratic right for their voice to be heard.”
In what now feels an almost-inevitable response, the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen claimed, that the People’s Vote campaign is not about democracy, and is instead an attempt to overturn the referendum.
Harold Wilson once said “a week is a long time in politics”… The weekend after Theresa May’s “agreement” on Brexit at Chequers make that sound like an understatement.
On Sunday 8 July I offered something to Liberal Democrat Voice suggesting that it’s time to switch the language on Brexit into an explicit attack on “Tory Brexit”. The resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson took that a great deal further, and left me wondering what further resignations would happen before it was read on Liberal Democrat Voice, and whether we will be in another Tory leadership contest, or hurtling into a General Election.
There’s been forceful posturing about “getting a good deal” and “how these negotiations work” and “abandonment of Brexit”. On the other side of the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn quipped that May’s Brexit deal took “two years to form and two days to unravel”.
The UK says it wants to continue use of the European Arrest Warrant, but wants out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The snag is that the two go together: Michel Barnier has said he’s happy to respect the UK’s “Red line” but the UK isn’t. What’s going on?
The bare bones are stark.
On the one hand, the European Arrest Warrant has been a remarkable success, enabling the authorities in any EU nation state to issue an arrest warrant which can be used anywhere in the EU. One of the notable success was the arrest of the people involved in the London tube bombings in 2005, and it’s widely seen as important in the fight against terrorism.
But an arrest warrant also needs some sort of judicial context so that it is possible to appeal against its mis-use. There are bi-lateral extradition agreements between countries, which need to specify where which courts have jurisdiction, but rather than the confusion of multiple bilateral agreements, the European Arrest Warrant provides for this through the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Withdrawl from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union is (apparently) one of the British government’s “red lines” in talks over Brexit. Michel Barnier has bluntly pointed out that he is willing to recognise the UK’s “red lines” and wishes the UK would do the same.
Why is it that some of the Brexiteers are acting with the stridency and anger that would be appropriate if the UK were being expelled from the EU? Is this a tacit recognition that what they have got is not, in fact, what they were asking for?
Former Science Minister, David Willetts, was strident on the Today programme, which was picked up with predictable force by The Express. His point is that the UK has already contributed a great deal to this, both in terms of money and technological skill, and would be willing to pay for continued participation.
But there is a rub. Part of Galileo will deliver satellite navigation which is available generally, but part of it will include encrypted resources for military use. After Brexit (if it happens) the UK would be a “third nation”, outside the EU. It would be crazy to think that the EU would be willing to share its defence facilities with a “third nation”, except in the sense tat a nation might share some things with allies in NATO. To give away core defence capabilities would, and should, provoke the same horror and anxiety as if (say) the UK handed over its defence capabilities to the USA.
The news that Trump plans to use trade talks with the UK to force the NHS to pay more for drugs should surpise no-one. But the fact that people thought he would do anything else exposes the fantasy of Britain as an imperial power at the heart of the appeal of Brexit.
This week a story re-appeared about Trump wanting to force the NHS to pay more for drugs, as part of a possible trade deal between the UK and the US.
His argument seems to be that putting “America first” means stopping foreigners “freeloading”. The actual point is that the NHS (via NICE) operates as a single payer, and so has more muscle than the fragmented US system, where payments are made by individual health insurance companies.
That is in stark contrast with Nigel Farage’s attempts to claim that Trump would be a president who would take the UK “to the front of the queue”.
Farage being wrong is hardly news-worthy. But this calls to mind some perceptive comments in the first chapter of Nick Clegg’s How to stop Brexit, where he points up the string of things which have led to the imagination of Britain being an exception — not least the fantasy that we alone won the Second World War (which ignores the fact that we were in deep trouble until the Americans joined in). Continue reading “Trump’s failed promises, and imperialist fantasies around Brexit”
Substantial Labour gains in the local elections in 1995 were the first clear indication of the landslide that brought labour into overnment in 1997. The 2018 Local elections haven’t matched that, despite the mess the Tories are clearly in over Brexit. What’s going on?
Comments since the Local Elections have highlighted the significance of Labour’s failure to make substantial gains on Thursday, which is particularly striking given the savaging that the EU Withdrawl Bill is getting in the upper house.
Lord Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) captured it sharply in a tweet as the result was sinking in:
Labour’s big weakness, & why we did so poorly on Thursday, is being a Vacillation not an Opposition on Brexit. Oppositions never win power as handmaiden of the government’s big policy. If people really want Brexit & think it is/was a success, they will mostly vote Tory
While @tony_nog was even sharper, writing on Election day:
So….will probably regret saying this….
But if Labour don’t make significant gains tonight, they’re are never going to make gains anywhere, ever, under the current leadership & #Brexit stance
Why vote for #brexit lite if Tories are offering full fat over the cliff Brexit?
I have speculated that Labour might be in a careful shift on Brexit, which could enable them to come round and bring at least some of their Leave-voting supporters with them. It’s worth hoping.
But Adonis has a point. The nature of Tory support has been changing for several decades, at least since the cultural shift when Margaret Thatcher succeeded Edward Heath. When the phrase “Basildon man” was coined, it caught a sense of traditional Labour voters switching to the Tories because Thatcherism was speaking to their aspirations. They were voting Tory out of a sense of where they wanted to be, where voting Labour would have reflected where they were.
Recently, an active and experienced Liberal Democrat campaigner challenged me over the party’s messaging on Brexit. He suggested that this was coming across as confused. My first instinct was to defend what we have been doing, but on reflection, I think he has a point. The aim of this article is to ask the question a little more widely.
From the inside
My impression is that the Liberal Democrat parliamentarians and media office have been doing an outstanding job in trying to hold the government to account in the mess over Brexit, and of making people aware of this. I was in the debate at Conference which affirmed the Liberal Democrat policy of seeking a referendum on the deal, and can see the wisdom of this, but can also see that it can need explaining — which is a hostage to fortune.
From the outside
But, I’ve had people on street stalls ask me what our position is before signing a petition for a people’s vote on the final deal. I’ve had people read that text and still want to check that this means they are signing something against Brexit. That comes across as a measure of the anxiety and paralysis Brexit is inducing.