Prime Minister in Name Only

Boris Johnson went into Parliament yesterday with a majority of one. Dr Philip Lee MP, crossed the floor as the Prime Minister rose, joining the Liberal Democrats. Then, carrying out a threat, the Conservative whip was withdrawn from 21 other MPs who voted in favour of last night’s motion. His administration is now 43 votes short of a majority.

Mr Johnson is now calling for an election before the October 31st Brexit deadline, to give him the mandate to get over the line. But, in any near-term election, Tories will be wiped out in Scotland again, and suffer at the hands of the Liberal Democrats in the South and West of the country. This may be offset by gains against Labour in the North of England, but the path to a majority relies on getting the Brexit party out the way. This will only be possible IF the election is before October 31st, and even then, Nigel Farage’s goons will likely stand against any “suspect” Tory MPs. If the election is after 31st October, then I suspect Farage will cry “betrayal” and stand against all Tories, splitting the Brexit vote and delivering the keys to Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn at the head of a coalition. I think no party looks like gaining a majority.

But the date of the election is out of Mr Johnson’s hands. Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, he requires a 2/3rds majority for an election, and so this route is closed. He could repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but he probably lacks the votes for even this.

The leader of the Opposition, who it must be noted is actually behind the Tories in the polls, has been calling for an election for a year, wants an it after the 31st October, for the same reasons Mr. Johnson wants it before. Jeremy Corbyn will win this battle. Let’s assume for a bit Jeremy Corbyn is a competent politician. (Shut up, stop guffawing and bear with me, I know this is a big assumption). He will want the Prime Minister to stew in his own juice for a while. Minority administrations are weak and cannot achieve anything, and in any case Parliament will not, thanks to the Prime Minister’s proroguation, be sitting much. Corbyn may have few qualities, but he is at least patient in the persuit of his goals.

So, election then?

Eventually yes. Minority administrations always end with an election. I no longer expect this parliament to last until 2022. But there is one rabbit the Prime Minister may pull out of his hat before that election which Johnson will struggle to win: a second referendum. This solves most of Mr Johnson’s problems, and I think a lot of the “we might as well stay in the EU rather than that deal” rhetoric coming from Farage and Ress-Mogg is softening up for this. The election talk could be a smokescreen.

The ins and outs of what will or will not happen are less important than something else that changed last night. Never has a Conservative Prime Minister expelled members who include 2 former chancellors and 6 other former cabinet ministers for voting with their consiences. The Brexiters have got control, but such is their overreach, they looked lost. The normally magisterial public performer “Boris” looked rushed, confused and at the mercy of powers outside his control. Which he is.

Prime Minister Johnson behaved like a man with a 100 seat majority, but had his bluff called. Worse though than the Prime Ministers witless pugnacity was the arrogant, entitled and smug performance from the leader of the house, Jacob Rees Mogg as he lounged about on the Government front bench. What story does this image tell: These people think they’re playing a clever parlour game, not wrecking people’s livlihoods.

I met Mr Rees-Mogg in 1997 when he turned up with his nanny to fight a working-class seat in Scotland. I thought then that this man represents everything wrong with the Tory party, and nothing has changed my view since. I will enjoy watching his return to the backbenches and I will never again vote for any party that has him in it.

This mendacious and utterly incompetent government is a necessary step in stopping Brexit. A government of Brexiters, by Brexiters, for Brexiters must fail, and be seen to fail. Brexit is the impossible being delivered by the incompetent for the uninformed. There can then be no further insinuation that the impossible project failed because Government isn’t committed enough. Reality is now smashing the Brexiters’ populist rhetoric. ‘No Deal’ won’t work because we need a deal with the EU, or face being much, much poorer. All that happens on November the First is the UK re-enters negotiation to find the financial settlement, the Irish border and regulatory equivalence demands look much as they did before Mrs May negotiated the withdrawal agreeement. There is no way the EU will offer more favourable terms to a third country than they will to a leaving member. The deal painstakingly negotiated represents the hardest Brexit realistically possible, and the Brexiters who’d thought of nothing else for 30 years, rejected it.

The Brexiters have raised the referndum result to be the perfect embodiment of democracy. They had their chance to deliver on it. Three times. But was Brexiters votes stopping Brexit.

The referendum delivered a narrow mandate to leave the European Union. This is a much harder and more involved process than was sold by either of the ‘Leave’ campaigns, and it certainly wasn’t a mandate to rip the UK out of its principal trading relationship and leave everyone much poorer. At the very least, the Public deserve another referendum on Brexit now we know it isn’t a walk to the pub, on a path lined by flowers and freshly laid tables of cream tea, but rather a dangerous, steep path with long drops either side, surrounded by clowns throwing lego, rollerskates and banana skins in your path. It is not “undemocratic” to call it a day there and revoke Article 50.

Now, battered and confused, the Party that incubated this absurd and poisonous movement has been destroyed by it. I suspect those expelled yesterday from the Tory party will find themselves the eventual winners. The next Tory Government will be formed of a party that has purged the European research group of Europhobic headbangers, or the party will deservedly fade into obscurity and die.

Whether this takes 5 years or 20, I don’t care. Brexito Delanda Est.

Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, Our New Prime Minister.

A friend once described Donald Trump as someone you take “seriously, but not literally”. I disagree with my friend about the first clause, with respect to the US President. But I think this is more aposite to our new Prime Minister.

Unlike the President of the United States, there is much to admire about Johnson. He is fertile. He is physically strong, and can run over small Japanese boys with ease.

I suspect such is Johnson’s Charisma, Toki Sekiguchi will be delighted to have been flattened by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, Johnson does have an exceptional intellect, wide raging interests, and he is a fabulous communicator. And he’s utterly unprincipled, which is also good thing. Principled politicians will sacrifice anything and anybody for their principle which is why I think the best thing to do with a politician of principle is to shoot them in the head at the first available opportunity. Whereas Boris just wants to be loved, and he’ll sacrifice his principles to that end.

I much prefer that in a politician.

Johnson has promised to leave the EU by 31st October, deal or no. And he will make a great show of attempting to do so. However he, and everyone who matters already knows that this isn’t really possible. Parliament has expressed its will, and we will not be leaving without a deal. The Government will be forced to comply, one way or another, or there will be one hell of a constitutional reckoning, up to which Johnson is not. As there is no time to negotiate another deal, another extension will be granted by the EU, subject to a small chance of French President Macron playing De Gaulle with his veto; a veto which if issued, will prompt a revocation of Article 50, not a no-deal Brexit.

Amusing, though that the Brexiters are hoping for help from the French President.

The real question is therefore what Johnson does instead of “no deal” on the 31st. My guess is that he will use the extension to beg the EU for some modification to the Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the Backstop concerning the Irish Border. Perhaps its name will be changed to “Wicketkeeper” instead of “Backstop”, and this (along with the different messenger) might be enough to bring the Brexit headbangers on board. Given the 15 or so Labour rebels who want to deliver Brexit, that should be enough to give the Government a majority. The UK will leave the European Union, but almost certainly not on 31st October.

The EU have said they will not re-open the withdrawal agreement. And unlike most of our politicians, EU panjandrums have to agree between 27 states before they speak, and so mean what they say. There will not be any significant renegotiation of the Withdrawal agreement. Furthermore, the “Spartans” of the ERG have decided they will not vote for any deal if it includes anything like the Backstop. And, like the EU, I think it’s reasonable to take Mark François and his chums at their word. Lying is, after all, one of the higher-level cognitive skills. So ‘the deal’ is out. The only deal on the table is the one negotiated by Theresa May, and it will not pass this parliament.

So the next option is to change the parliament. A general election in September/October risks Johnson being the shortest-serving Prime Minister in History. (George Canning died in office in 1827 after 119 days. That’s the 20th November for Mr. Johnson to beat…), but it does at least give the Prime Minister a possibility of a majority and a mandate to have another go at renegotiating the deal, or indeed to crash out without one.

The country is a four-way marginal at the moment, so this is risky. Another election pre brexit will have Nigel Farage hopping up and down about “betrayal”. The chances of a pact between the Brexit party and the Conservatives is slim, and I suspect the Brexit party will contest the election in enough seats to deny the Conservatives a majority. But If he wins, I think Boris will try to renegotiate from scratch, and secure a good deal. This will take 2 years at least.

Another option is a second referendum. Dominic Cummings, impresario of the leave campaign, and Johnson’s special adviser in Downing Street, was an advocate of a two referendum approach. A vote in principle to leave, and a second one on the deal subsequently negotiated. His logic is impeccable, and might persuade the Prime Minister. It is safer than a general election for Boris, whose support for Brexit was tactical, not strategic. He has got what he wanted, the top job. And I think he’d rather like to have the option to return to Brussels and say “sorry about that misunderstanding, chaps; now where were we?” after a vote to remain.

Here’s the thing: I quite like Johnson. I certainly like him more than the tedious, sanctimonious wet blankets whining about his “letterbox comments” and trying to paint a rather cosmopolitan liberal into a bigot because he uses colourful language and metaphor (read the article). Absent Brexit, I think he could be a great Prime Minister.

Johnson styles himself on Winston Churchill. Johnson ratted on David Cameron when he sided with ‘leave’. “Anyone can rat”, said Winston, “but it takes a certain ingenuity to Re-rat”. To survive a defeat for ‘leave’ would require epic chutzpah and political necromancy on Johnson’s part, but if anyone can pull this off, he can.

I think the probabilities look like this:

‘no deal’ on 31st October, 10%.

not leaving the EU on 31st October 90%. After that, all options re-open, but with each passing day, remaining in the EU permanently becomes more likely.

Drug-Addled Tories.

There’s a Tory leadership contest going on. Some of the candidates have admitted drug use. Yes, even Andrea Leadsom, perhaps believing doing so makes her more normal and interesting. Michael Gove admitted to taking cocaine on a few occasions. Bon-Viveur Boris, on the other hand claims to have “once been offered” cocaine, “but sneezed”. He “Didn’t Inhale”. I don’t believe him. Do you? The exception is Mark Harper (me neither) who said “I don’t get invited to those sort of parties”. Is that really the man you want leading the country? How did we get on last time, with someone who doesn’t get invited to parties, and whose naughtiest memory is running through a field of wheat?

No. Leaders need to understand the country, and I think someone who’s managed to avoid all drugs into their late 40s simply doesn’t know enough about the country and the people in it, to lead it. Nevertheless, right on cue, the authoritarians who are really proud of resisting a temptation they regard as close to original sin, are lining up to suggest that Drug use, any drug use, renders someone unfit for public office.

Being a cabinet minister isn’t everyone’s idea of a successful life, but the fact that most of the candidates standing to lead the Conservative and Unionist party have admitted to prior drug use is a standing retort to the idea that a line of cocaine is the first step on a slippery slope to being a smack-addled self-arguer in an underpass.

I like to start with the facts. Let’s put Heroin aside for a moment and talk about the most widely-taken recreational drugs, Cannabis and Cocaine. Neither’s good for you, but unlike alcohol, or heroin (or indeed, water) there is no lethal dose for either. That is you cannot smoke yourself to death on Weed, nor can you kill yourself by attempting the Bolivian nose pole-vault. It’s true these substances are psychotropic and habit-forming. Both seem to interact with mental health problems, and both do long-term harm with constant use, but the consensus of the literature seems to be the coincidence of psychosis with drug use is mostly one of self-medication, not a causal relationship. People with mental health problems are strongly drawn to chemicals that make them feel much better, very quickly. The idea that “Skunk” is causing an epidemic of psychosis is not, however supported by the data.

I’ve never understood quite why a culture like the UK’s that so celebrates getting pissed, pretends to regard “drug” use as a unique moral evil. “But it’s the hypocrisy” you say? And it’s true, Boris banned boozing on the Bakerloo line, after penning a screed celebrating the joys of getting trollied; and Michael Gove took Cocaine, but subsequently presided over a department of Education edict banning anyone convicted of possession or supply from ever teaching.

Which is absurd. But as almost no-one gets done for possession for personal use, it really doesn’t matter. Legalising drugs just isn’t a priority for any politician because there’s no votes in it. Just risk.

While the arguments for legalising cannabis are finally starting to bear fruit, few are arguing for Heroin’ s legalisation. But even here, the same logic holds. Heroin only became a social problem after the misuse of Drugs act. Prior to that, most heroin addicts came by their addiction via the medical profession. In the nineteenth century, it was known as “the soldier’s disease” as it affected mainly those who’d picked up a habit in a field hospital. The real problem comes when poor users become dealers to fund their supply, creating a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme, and instead of medical grade diamorphine and clean, sterile equipment, you have a dirty spoon and mucky brown. Even heroin’s problems are largely down to an illegal supply chain.

There is simply no basis for the classification of Cannabis a class B substance and Cocaine as A; if the emetic, poisonous, violence facilitating disinhibitor, alcohol is legal. The policy is objectively mad.

I’m with Professor David Nutt, formerly Tony Blair’s Drugs Czar and professor of psycopharmacology at Imperial College London, who puts all these chemicals on a spectrum of harm, and puts our old friend alcohol just behind heroin. And he’s right. My guess is that a properly regulated legal recreational pharmacopia will see less booze and heroin use, more cocaine and cannabis. And as a result of this substitution, we will all be better off.

Drugs ruin lives. Sure. But they also enrich and enliven them. People take drugs, including alcohol, because we derive utility from their effects. We’re all different. It’s easy to imagine someone shy who might prefer cocaine to champagne at parties. It’s easy to imagine an intense and charismatic individual who’s less hard work when he’s toked on a nice fat spliff, and we all find conversation flows easier when we’ve had a few drinks, which is why we lubricate parties with alcohol. But if you’re taking your poison in the morning, whether it’s vodka on your cornflakes or a “bump” to get you going in the morning, then you’ve a problem.

As the world we live in gets more diverse, so too do the ways we all get our jollies. And everything that’s nice is probably bad for you. We’ve known this since Methuselah was a lad. It’s not the government’s job to control what people do with their bodies and their social lives. The vast majority of us can manage that ourselves. There are social and legal constraints on Alcohol. Lets have similar social and legal constraints on all the others too.

Legalise, regulate and tax narcotics. End the hypocrisy.

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Several times in my life, I’ve woken up in a pub. Sadly though, these days lock-ins no longer happen to me. I think part of it is the licensing laws. Since the Licensing Act 2003, landlords kick everyone out at 2am rather than lock the doors at 11 and join in the fun, The authorities, too are more punctilious about enforcing the the new rules. Either that, or I’m no longer 25, and I’m no longer invited. But here we are, I’m in a pub, the estimable Coach and Horses on Greek Street, Soho, and we’ve been locked in with a drink-sodden roué called Jeffrey Bernard (played by Robert Bathurst).

Jeffrey Bernard is unwell

Jeffrey Bernard wrote the Low Life column in the Spectator until his death in 1997. It was “a suicide note in weekly installments”. Weekly, unless he was “unwell” and failed to deliver his copy on time. He chronicled the lives and loves and descent of old Soho, though the adventures of a cast of a few thousand inhabitants of what was then a glamorous but shabby and disreputable part of west central London. Many of the watering holes, where politicians, journalists and whores rubbed shoulders with Luvvies and criminals, are now closed. The Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant just up the road, where lefties plotted revolution, shut last year. Only the Coach and Horses, or “Norman’s” remains a monument to this lost world. It’s interior remains unchanged since the 1970s, and this production a stripped down, solo version of Keith Waterhouse’s play, is being put on in the very place it was set.

The Pub itself is as much as a star in this performance as Robert Bathurst, who delivered his monologue pretty well, but without the cameos, it felt a bit like a string of drinking anecdotes. Bathurst held up tolerably too, to the inevitable comparison to Peter O’Toole, for whom the part was written. But what made the evening special: You cannot recreate the deep atmosphere of a place like that pub. It’s still in touch with a lost community – though cartoons on the wall, to the graffiti in the bogs and the affection many people feel for the place. I’ve made friends here, and this pub is one of my favourite places on earth. The history and the characters keep drawing me back for “just the one”, and I’m not alone. Celebrities have turned out to support this institution. Stephen Fry attended the Premier, to honour the place where Ian Hislop and Peter Cook could once be found propping up the bar, being witty.

But these people aren’t in the Coach and Horses as much recently. These people have either died, or they don’t drink any more. The life of the piss-artist is, like tinker and jester, one soon to be lost to history. Chronicling the lives of interesting drinkers no longer sells papers, because it’s not sexy to die with one leg, suffering the complications of diabetes. And, as Bernard himself observed, the pub’s great characters drift off, and you’re left with the kind of “character” who’s eccentricity is to lose umbrellas. This generation’s piss artists will be found in Camden, not Soho. If there are great piss-artists, they’re not the sort to honour their predecessors by frequenting the same watering hole to bask in the glow of someone else’s genius. True piss-artistry cannot be other than original and singular, otherwise it’s just alcoholism. And these days the kind of people who manage to survive on a few well-turned phrases and the generosity of older sexual partners don’t drink, they take Cocaine.

Cocaine, you see doesn’t put a spare tyre over those beautiful, instagrammable abdominal muscles, and whilst a coke-head will die no older than the drinkers did, they go quickly and aesthetically of a heart attack, not as a doubly incontinent carcass rotting away with a faint whiff of peardrops and urine. Hanging around outside the pub 10 minutes before opening time grey faced and suffering the DTs simply doesn’t look as funny or clever as it once did, because we’ve watched where it leads.

Times change.

Fullers, the Pub’s owners, want to revamp the property, and manage it themselves. It does need some money spent. Pubs these days must get the basics right, or the people will move, whatever history they have. The “characters” these days don’t need a venue to live in. Today’s equivalent of the Bar at the Coach, is Twitter. And unlike at the Coach & Horses in the 1980s, you don’t need to drink your liver away to hear a great wit’s bon mots.

We cannot keep places frozen in aspic, monuments to moments and people who have passed. We all move on, or perish. The current landlord has made the pub a Vegan restaurant, and I wonder what Bernard would have made of that, so he’s trying. But pub laws are so cruel to landlords who make a success of their pub, as they can find the business they built taken from them. I’ve seen too many PubCos rip the heart out of communities with ill-judged renovations and break the heart of Landlords by installing managers. Sign the petition here, if you agree. But I think, like the drinking anecdotes at a bar, we’ve heard this story before.

Sitting just behind Cambridge circus, between Chinatown and Soho, Fuller’s calculate they can make more money than the current tenants. That which will be lost when they do so is only really of value to a dwindling band of romantics, and fans of a 30-year-old play about a journalist who stopped writing in the ’90s. And that isn’t a magic powerful enough to overcome the brute economics of central London property prices.

The Last Few Days Of May

79 years ago, almost to the day, through the last few days of May and into June, a British Expeditionary Force, what was left of it anyway, were trapped on the French coast at Dunkirk, facing bombardment, capture or death. It looked like the end of “our Island story” as Germans closed in on our trapped and defeated armies. Then the Panzers stopped. They’d outrun their supply-lines, so the Luftwaffe took over. But sand dunes are pretty good defence against aerial bombardment. Thanks to the miracle of Dunkirk, the Army, broken and without its kit, was saved. The Battle of France was over, the battle of Britain was about to begin.

Dunkirk is, of course Nigel Farage’s favourite film because he thinks it’s about plucky little Britain standing alone against all those grotty foreigners on the continent. But he misses details. In the opening sequence, the British soldier running through the suburbs of the town, encounters French forces. What were they doing? Fighting the heroic, forlorn and hopeless rearguard action which allowed the British (and a lot of others) to escape. Those french boys fought bravely so that our boys could get home. The film is about the most catastrophic defeat the British Army has experienced in its entire history. “The Miracle of Dunkirk” was a captivating lie. A brilliant piece of propaganda. But because the defeat of the Army, and of the country wasn’t total, we fought on. Although many brexiters are keen students of military history, they often learn the wrong lessons because they pay attention to the people doing the shouting and killing, and not to those doing the planning and logistics.

Those of us who don’t want to leave the EU fought on after the catastrophic, humiliating defeat of 2016. Which brings us to dogged, diligent, dull Theresa May. She has the heroism of Hugh Dowding, who refused to sacrifice any more planes to the defence of France. Which was controversial at the time but with hindsight, probably saved Britain. He too was shuffled off after his victory, in his case to the Ministry of Aircraft Production after the Battle of Britain, and was bitter about it for the rest of his life.

It’s hard to see what Theresa May can realistically achieve by sticking around. Her majority, like her authority is non-existent. Her legacy lies in tatters. But equally, it’s hard to see what replacing her with another Tory, especially one of the Faragist tendency, will achieve. The problems besetting the government will still be there for the next Prime Minister. There will not be a parliamentary majority for any way forward on Brexit, or indeed on anything else. The way to resolve this is through a general election. However thanks to the Fixed term parliament act (a big part of this current malaise, thanks Liberal Democrats…), that requires a vote of no confidence, and that requires that Labour vote for it. Which many of them won’t, not while they’re led by Jeremy Corbyn whom many Labour MPs regard as unfit for office.

There’s a chance this hopeless parliament drags on and on having the same old arguments about Brexit as the rest of the country, with the EU wearily extending and extending until 5th May 2022.

Theresa May will limp on for a while longer yet. But whatever Mrs May’s personal merits, she has run out of road to kick the can down and the Tory party is restless. For those of us who’ve thought that politics today couldn’t get any more farcical, the 1922 Committee has already voted on whether the rules should change to allow Conservative MPs another vote of confidence in their leader, but kept the votes sealed. Sad to say, but I think Gordon Brown Day, when Theresa May takes over from the “clunking fist” as the 35th longest serving prime minister, is the likely target for the Tory machine. Even if they can’t agree on the way forward, Tories can agree to let a powerless prime minister limp on up her own via Dolarosa, in order to spite a former Labour prime minister. By such trivialities are we now being governed.

Clearly someone will have to act as caretaker Prime Minister during the Tory leadership squabble. That could be Mrs May, or it could be someone like Philip Hammond, which would be great because I have him as Next Prime Minister at 50-1. I think Boris will struggle to get to the final two. He’s just not trusted enough by the parliamentary party so I think laying the favourite is a good bet. (Stop sniggering at the back). But if he did get the top job, defections would likely take his majority to below zero. So I think someone from the broad mass of the Tory party – someone who voted remain, but supported the Government loyally will be the final choice. Sajid Javid has long had my money on him, as has Rory Stewart, who also has the advantage of not actually running yet. Tory leadership elections are famously hard to predict.

So what of Mrs May on the eve of her departure from the stage?

I think history will be kinder to her than was the news. Much kinder. When she was selected as Tory leader, I thought she, compared to the alternatives, represented the best hope for liberalism. And she was. She held the line against the onslaught of populist forces. She tried to deliver a Brexit, consistent with the sour, bigoted and miserable mood of the campaign, but failed because of the inherent contradictions within any possible route to leaving the EU. I think Brexit is now nearly over. May was too decent, too reasonable and too diligent to take us out without a deal. Perhaps another Tory leader will waste another couple of years trying to smash an agreement through. Perhaps he or she will be denied a deal, and try to crash the UK out without a deal. But parliament, this one anyway, will not let them.

Mrs May defeat in trying to deliver a reasonable brexit was an honest one, and right now, at the moment of her defeat, she’s probably won. Diligent planning and international co-operation win wars, not bigoted rhetoric and beery farts. That is why we’re still in the EU. Mrs May’s plan was a plan to actually leave the EU and seek our fortune outside, and if we do leave her deal, or something very like it will be the result. But that’s not what Brexiters wanted. Not really. They wanted the war, but without any of the logistics and planning. They wanted revolution. Brexiters gave the order, but without the resources to carry it out. It is the remainers who correctly judged the lesson of Dunkirk. You haven’t lost until the enemy has won.

I can’t see how we actually can leave now. The momentum has gone. Brexiters have no plan and no ideas beyond shouting “democracy” at people who disagree, as if one close, flawed poll three years ago somehow outweighs the fact the Brexiters failed completely and the country can’t really be bothered any more. There simply isn’t the appetite for “Blood, sweat, toil and tears” necessary to leave the EU because, and I really get bored of pointing this out to Brexiters, the EU isn’t Nazi Germany.

Brexito Delanda Est.

Theresa May has written to request an extension to June 30. The EU will suggest a year. I am not going to use the horrible Portmanteau of “Flexible” and “Extension” that’s doing the rounds. But the prime minister will concede, accept Donald Tusk’s plan, but still, for now have June 30 as her target date for Britain to leave the EU. This date will slip. With each slip, Brexit gets even further away.

All this means we’re taking part in the EU parliament elections, which will inevitably become a poll on Brexit. And with each such election, the “mandate” from 2016 gets a little more diluted. Neither party is in a position to fight an election, least of all the Tories, who’re broke, split and utterly demoralised and labouring under a leader of quite exceptional unpopularity. As are the Labour party, who’re a little less broke, a little less split, but too have a leader they can’t get rid of, who is still rated even less favourably than the hapless Prime Minister. It’s up to this parliament therefore to deliver, or not, Britain’s exit from the EU.

And I think everyone’s position in this Parliament is no longer really open for discussion. May doesn’t have the votes to get her deal through. The Labour party, barring a handful of rebels won’t vote for it. The DUP won’t vote for it. A significant number of nutty Tory Brexiters won’t vote for it. The only thing there are the votes for, is against “no deal”. May will either offer a referendum, which Remain will win at a canter, or at some point in the next year, she’ll lose a vote and parliament will make “revoke article 50” the default option, should no deal be agreed by whatever date is chosen. And then all the remainers have to do is run down the clock.

Brexit is over, and the UK now has a large, enthusiastic and well-motivated pro-EU movement, something it never had before. The Brexiters defeat will be overwhelming, complete, total and final. They will be a derided footnote to history, and quickly forgotten.

Is this failure to deliver anti-democratic? No. Parliament is the source of democratic legitimacy in this country, however much brexiters tried to turn the Referendum result into an enabling law, which is why once we’ve stopped Brexit, we should never, ever have another. Brexit failed because its supporters massively overreached their mandate. Their view, Europa Delanda Est, precluded any compromise. In refusing to compromise, they were forced into absurd logical contortions. “No Deal” isn’t a desirable outcome. The idea the UK could secure a better deal with the EU from without than within didn’t stand any serious scrutiny, which is why no grown-ups are seriously considering it. And ultimately, there are no benefits at all to leaving.

Brexit has already cost the UK far more than we’d have paid in “fees”. The “£36bn” wasn’t a bargaining chip, because most of it is the net present value of a great many British Citizen’s pensions, as well as payments to take part in projects to which we’d already agreed. The UK doesn’t default on it obligations. If you think this sum is material to the EU, you’re a twat.

The desire for “our own trade deals” likewise was an exercise in post-hoc rationalisation for an incohate loathing of the EU. The EU is the most valuable and complete trade deal on earth, creating the largest market, a market which is right on our doorstep. We need a deal with the EU, and to pretend otherwise is stupid. The only possible deal that could be worth leaving the EU for is with the USA, but that will be one-sided, will be spun as harming the NHS, and will require a drastic reduction in food standards. And in any case, any deal which created a hard border in Ireland would be vetoed by congress. So to secure a deal with the USA, we’d need to have at least a customs union with the EU. The Irish border was always going to be the problem, but the Brexiters were too blinkered, ignorant and stupid to see it.

All that mindless grunting about immigration was likewise illogical, even on its own, grotesque terms. Are we really going to send Frenchmen home in order to secure a trade deal with India, with its attendant demands for more immigration from the subcontinent, in order to appease racists? Brexit would inevitably increase the black and minority ethnic population of the UK relative to the white, and make the country proportionally MORE muslim. Which is not, I think, what Tommy Robinson and UKIP wanted, is it?


However, we can’t argue against Brexit on logical grounds. That has proven utterly pointless. The Brexiter unicorn has fallen badly at Beacher’s Brook, the curtain has gone up, and a reality is striding towards him wearing a white coat, carrying a rifle under his arm. It is now up to those of us who have kept our logical faculties (even if I’ve at times lost control of my emotional faculties) to diagnose and treat the mania that drove so many otherwise rational people to support with all their soul a project so contemptible, illogical, stupid and self-defeating.

What is wrong with the Brexiters?

First they believed that something was being created: a country called Europe. It isn’t. Some people think there should be a plan to create a “country called Europe”, but they are few in number. And second, the Brexiters mistook the single market for something that prevented, rather than facilitated trade with the Far East, and with other fast-growing countries. And they mistook intragovernmental co-operation on trade and business rules for a loss of sovereignty. Finally, even in a deep and complete union like the UK, Scotland has not surrendered one iota of its identity. The EU isn’t a threat to whatever a Brexiter thinks of “Englishness”.

This sovereignty argument is worth addressing in full. Because it sounds and feels like something fundamental, but it too is revealing of a misunderstanding. Independent nation-states have never existed stably anywhere in the world, ever. Nation states have always needed to be part of empires in one way or another. Look at Ukraine. Is it independent? Not really, it’s still in the Russian sphere of influence. It is not sufficiently sovereign to choose freely to align with the EU. Look at Venezueala who have invited Russian troops. Watch what the USA does in response. Venezuela isn’t truly sovereign either. North Korea? Often cited as the only sovereign country on earth, is just a buffer state for China. The UK itself, formed in 1707 was already an imperial project and has never really been independent either.

The exception is the nations of the EU. The EU is the first time in history that independent nation states could be truly independent. Look at Ireland. Thanks to the EU, little Ireland was able to impose its will, no hard border, on the mighty UK and the UK was forced to concede. Absolutely and on everything. Britain’s humiliation was both total, and absolutely deserved. And the Brexiters will never understand why the EU didn’t throw Ireland under the bus at the behest of German car producers (who were in any case, unanimous from day one that the integrity of the single market was more important to them than the UK automotive market). Everywhere you look you find the corpses of Brexiters unicorns as these animals were driven into a minefield called ‘reality’.

But the EU isn’t a conspiracy against the UK, as Brexiters fervently believe. It enhances the UK’s influence and power too in the great councils of the world. France and the UK run the EU’s foreign policy and stand with the vast resources of a united Europe at their back. The UK and Germany ran the EU’s trade policy, and wrote, by extension much of the world’s trading rules. France got the conciliation prize of setting the agricultural agenda, and they’re happy with it. Bless them. Britain’s status as a world power rested not on our size, or history, but our position, uniquely, at the centre of all the big democratic rich world clubs: Permanent 5 of the UN security council, 5-eyes, G7 and of course the European Union.

Influence, you see is like sovereignty but much more useful.  The UK is big enough to be influential in alliances, but no longer big enough to control them. The Brexiter’s imperial fantasy is just the last unicorn to die. No European country is any more. But ultimately we share a continent, a culture and tradition of democracy with our European friends in an increasingly uncertain world. And the EU offers a model of hope that free peoples can coexist peacefully; one that will, I hope, continue to expand.

A Second Referendum is the Front Runner in a Close Race

Whatever the Brexiters say, we aren’t leaving the EU on the 29th March. There will be an extension of Article 50. The question is whether this is a short technical delay to pass necessary legislation, or a longer one that takes us beyond the European Parliament elections on 23rd May.

You may have thought Theresa May’s deal is dead. I did. But a hand has just burst through the sod by the headstone, so it still needs a stake through the heart. Or maybe a cricket bat to the brain-stem, depending on whether you think the deal is a vampire, zombie, or a monster assembled from corpses. The Prime Minister may yet get the bloody thing passed, in which case, fair play to the old girl. I’ve long admired her resilience. There are a number of ways she might achieve what would be an astonishing feat of necromancy.

Theresa May’s plan ‘A’ relies on the European Research Group of 60-120 MPs, the core of the foaming-at-the-mouth hard brexit nut-baggery to vote for her deal, a deal they previously described as “vasselage”. They aren’t going to get a time-limit on the backstop, and the best they can hope for is some form of intent written into an appendix that the “backstop” isn’t meant to be permanent. A climb-down by them on such a feeble codicil will be utterly humiliating, and I suspect many will abstain rather than abase themselves. Many of this group will follow what the Democratic Unionist Party do. Even if these loonies do vote for it, May’s Majority is, following defections, just one. There will need to be Labour rebels to push the deal in its current or slightly amended form over the line, even if all the Tory brexiters fall into line. Are there enough Labour rebels to counteract the Tory ones? No-one knows, but possibly.

Labour’s wishlist of the softest-of-soft Brexits will not be seriously entertained, so they are effectively on their final fall back position: backing May’s deal, subject to a referendum: Deal, or Remain. Jeremy Corbyn is too busy burning synagogues and glad-handing terrorists to pay much attention to Brexit, but he’s finally been dragged kicking and screaming to back a “people’s vote”. Nevertheless, there is Theresa May’s plan ‘B’. There could very easily be a parliamentary majority for the deal subject to a second referendum. The Independent Group of MPs (TIGgers) will mostly vote for this option. Labour MPs would mostly vote for it, but there are a significant number who don’t want a referendum, who may abstain or vote against. The SNP want a second vote (and not just on Brexit…), as do Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats (remember them?). Sinn Fein will abstain. Jared O’Mara will stop masturbating, pause his game of Fortnite and get his mum to drive him to S̶c̶h̶o̶o̶l̶ Parliament to vote for the referendum.

What the majority of Tory Party MPs will do I don’t know. Many will vote for the deal, subject to a people’s vote, and it’s even possible this Deal or No Brexit referendum becomes the Government position. Between squeaking over the line and offering the refererndum, this deal passing, somehow, is the most likely outcome.

The idea a second, legally binding referendum is “undemocratic” is just absurd, but that won’t stop the Brexiters grunting this nonsense ’till they’re blue in the face. It asks the people, who now know what a dreadful shit-show brexit is, whether they still want to go ahead with it. It looks like it’ll be 52:48 for remain, for the lolz. Many Brexiters will boycott the vote. I don’t think they really want to win any more.

The current score in EU referendums is 1:1 with ‘leave’ ahead on the away goals rule. I’m quite looking forward to the decider.

Here’s what I think the current probabilities are:

  • Leaving with May’s deal before the European elections: 30%
  • Referendum & leaving with May’s deal 25%
  • Referendum & remain 35%
  • No deal 10%

One way or another, Brexit in some form is the most likely outcome. And we’re more likely than not to have a referendum at this stage. Feel free to argue about these probabilities. What have I missed?

What are the Brexiters up to?

There are some British politicians who’re comfortable with the UK leaving the EU without a deal. This is an outcome that most people who know about international trade suggest would cause quite considerable disruption, but according to the UK government, we would have “sufficient calories” to survive. So that’s OK then. It’s not going to cause a famine. The international trade secretary, Dr. Liam Fox goes further suggesting a no deal Brexit would not be “Dunkirk”. So not as bad as the complete destruction of the British and allied French armies as a fighting force for the next two years. Again, I can’t wait. Brexit has an image problem. Even its cheerleaders are no longer talking about the “opportunities” leading to “sunlit uplands”, and everyone’s talking about the looming catastrophe with the resigned fatalism of a Londoner sitting in the tube during the Blitz.

May’s deal, painstakingly negotiated over the last 2 years delivers a UK out of the political structures of the EU eventually, but without a catastrophic break in the country’s trading relationships with its nearest and most important trading partners. Nor, crucially does it expect anyone, now or in the future, to have to man a customs post on the border in South Armagh.

May’s is not a perfect deal, and I imagine a politician with more charm, who didn’t put an end to “free movement” front and centre of her strategy could have got a better deal from Brussels. But I doubt even then, it would look all that much different. This is what brexit looks like, and it stinks as much as everyone who can spell said it would.

Now, were I minded to deliver Brexit, I would take what’s on offer, because outside the EU, parliament can subsequently move the UK into the EU structures where necessary; on Science or Security co-operation, at the same time cutting our sails differently on, for example trade. May’s deal does ultimately deliver the “freedom” the Brexiters crave from the diktats of the EU commission. We can, in time, deliver the regulatory divergence that is apparently so crucial (and yet, so vaguely so) to the Brexiters. And what has also become clear in the last few months is that the alternative to May’s careful compromise isn’t a glorious “clean break” Brexiters claim to want, but remaining in the EU.

Parliamentary brexiters, the people who’ve banged on about nothing else for 30 years, are tomorrow going to vote against the only chance they will ever have to leave the EU.

But I don’t think a reasonable Brexit is what the parliamentary Brexiters are, or ever were after. They wanted chaos, because it fits their self-image as revolutionaries. It’s like someone turning up at a war, expecting bayonet charges, but discovering what it mostly involves is weary trudging hither and thither with an enormous rucksack, while under constant artillery fire. More mud, more fear, more fatigue, much less (if any) glory. Brexiters in parliament never wanted to win, because then they would then have to deliver, a task from which they have habitually fled. But because no man is “Sir Robin” in his own story, they will construct a self-image of a glorious last charge. We are watching a film directed by Daniel Hannan’s ego starring Jacob Rees-Mogg, as the leader of a band of aging but doughty freedom fighters in their final campaign against the mighty forces of the evil EUSSR. The parliamentary Brexit cause is the last charge of stupid old gits who’ve watched Wild Geese too many times.

“Whatever happens”, they reason, “at least we tried”.

But they didn’t. Not really.

These old fools will try to sell you a ‘stab in the back‘ myth next. I’ve seen this film before too, and I don’t like the ending.

The European Union as a Sewer.

The Brexiters ran with the slogan “take back control”. It’s brilliant, utterly unfalsifiable, and optimistic. It appeals to a sense that ‘the people’ have had their independence taken away from them by faceless institutions, of which Brussels is the most distant, and the most distrusted. It’s also a carefully curated lie. Of what are we taking back control?

But the Brexiters are also right. The people have indeed had their freedoms taken away. The movement that eventually delivered Brexit, got off the ground with the smoking ban, which became law 2006. People had their freedom to enjoy a cigarette with their pint removed, and as a result of the accelerated pub closures this legislation brought about, the freedom to enjoy a pint in a pub at all was lost to many. I understand these people. Until 2016, many of them were my friends. Without the wet-led pub, many communities lost an important social venue. It wasn’t the EU that did this to them. It was Westminster, of course. But having been sensitised to intrusive public health measures, the daily news contains stories about sugar taxes, fat shaming and compulsory exercise reinforce the message that “the elites” despise the working class and want to remove or tax any remaining pleasures. That none of these public health measures have really come into law doesn’t change the mood music. They’re being discussed in the news, daily and the direction of travel is clear. If you enjoy it, it will be banned.

There’s the old certainties too, which are being ripped away at a confusing pace. Gay marriage kick-started the country towards brexit by causing the surge in the UKIP vote. UKIP was flatlining around 10% throughout the early 2010s, but won the 2014 European election with 27%. Gay Marriage, which became law in 2014 caused a lot of Tory associations to lose councillors and activists to UKIP, because Gay marriage felt like an assault on the traditional way of life, to people who’d already experienced dislocation as a result of immigration. This feeling was amplified by the noisy and to most, utterly mystifying transatlantic public debate about transgenderism. UKIP abandoned any residual libertarianism and fully embraced the socially conservative, nativist populism then rising across Europe and the broader democratic world. The Tory party lost MPs to UKIP, who thought they had found the key to unlock mass support, and a party became the brexit movement. David Cameron then was panicked into offering the referendum, and the rest is history.

In this environment, where working class communities, suffering from wage compression and struggling with insecure work, low pay, poor prospects, increased housing costs, and weaker social networks were told that the EU allowed in the migrants who are competing with the natives for work in construction and manufacturing, and so they sought to ‘take back control’ of a country they no longer understood, and which they felt had abandoned them. It didn’t matter that the immigrants who most upset them didn’t come from the EU, UKIP was talking the right language to appeal to the white working class. The European migrant crisis of 2015 added a further deep cultural fear of racial and ethnic change to an already febrile atmosphere, which Farage expertly exploited, staying mostly the right side of the line of outright racism, but ‘dogwhistling’ hard over the line. They were aided in this by Russia, which (probably) bankrolled the party, and (probably) leave.EU too; and poured dank memes and targeted adverts behind the Brexit movement. They also bombed the snot out of Syria, to make more migrants.

The freedom of movement that I feel is the single best thing about the EU became its Achilles heel. What is the freedom to move to Paris to someone on the minimum wage, who has no desire or inclination to learn to speak French, and who resents his Polish neighbours, whom he blames (the number of people for whom this is a correct impression is very, very small) for his low wages and poor prospects? None of my arguments get through this wall. It cannot be breached. The harder I try, the more certain the Pub smoker is that Brexit is a well-aimed kick right in the middle class’s bollocks. It doesn’t matter that none of the things above are the fault of the EU, nor that the EU is an important part of dealing with the wave of people pouring out of the Middle East and Africa. It matters not that the UK could, if it chose to, have sought to limit migrants from the Visegrád Group, and could limit freedom of movement right now, should parliament so wish. We’re dealing with a mood. The EU became a cypher for everything confusing and problematic about the modern age.

The working class is pissed off. Old farts are pissed off. The people who didn’t pay attention in school are pissed off. And they’re pissed off with an effete, pampered, university-educated, overwhelmingly urban group of people whom they see as feckless, privileged and arrogant; who in turn see their opponents as stupid, ignorant, lazy, bigoted and just plain wrong. The two tribes of society despise each other, and we’re getting further apart. In previous centuries, someone would have raised a flag, and the two sides would slaughter each other with a viciousness reserved only for civil wars. Thankfully, I don’t think this is possible these days.

How many people see the European Union

But I don’t know how to make positive rational arguments in favour of the EU that won’t simply dash themselves against this wall of hate, ignorance and anger. I expect any appeal to a European identity will be vomited out by a sceptical British people, not least by me. I am British. “Europe” is to many people where we send our young men for an away fixture against the French and Germans (Flanders fields, Football pitches or Spanish beaches, it doesn’t matter). Nor can I make emotional arguments in favour of the EU, which is a mighty hard organisation to love. It’s like loving your bank, or the sewage system. Instead, we must take the heat out of the argument. The EU is just necessary plumbing to make European trade work, albeit a sewer with tediously grandiose rhetoric and ambitions. You don’t want to live without sewers any more do you? If you will indulge my extended metaphor, the Brexit movement is people who can’t get their head round indoor plumbing, believing stories about rats, snakes and crocodiles living just round the U-bend, ready to snap at your dangly bits. We need to remove the fear of the EU. Perhaps, if the EU can stop talking about the crocodiles – ever closer union – then the resistance to doing one’s business inside it will evaporate.

A Worst Case Scenario

Let’s lay out some facts.

Russia has exercised hundreds of thousands of troops in the region near the Baltic states in the last few years. The Russian President is on record as saying the Baltic states, are “not real countries,” and Russian-speaking populations have been used several times recently as a causus belli by Russia in its invasions or annexations of Transnitria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, and the Donbass. The Russian President is a Russian imperialist, who regards the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th Century”, and regards NATO as “aggressively” surrounding Russia by extending the Security Guarantee to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2004. Russia has been very quiet in that part of the world of late. Perhaps they are distracted by Ukraine, the most recent country to have been invaded by Russia in the last decade. Or is ‘Ivan’ planning something?

Let’s assume that Putin is serious when he talks like this about NATO and his aims. It’s also increasingly safe to assume that Russia put enormous effort behind  Scots independence, Brexit, the election of Trump and Le Pen. Why now? Let’s also assume that Trump is indeed what he appears, a Russian asset who has been bankrolled by Putin for a decade. It’s probable Putin has some serious dirt on the American President, and could easily procure Trump’s impeachment, at will.

So, Next spring with the decision-making apparatus of the USA crippled by impeachment, and that of the UK crippled by Brexit, if you were minded to take back the Baltic states, and thereby break NATO’s ‘article V’ guarantee, when would you go?

The NATO deployment to the Baltic states numbers in the 1000’s. The UK has 800 men in theatre at the moment, the core of a battle-group in Estonia, with similar sized formations from many NATO countries. Moscow, by way of comparison could send a quarter of a million men, and overrun all three countries in a matter of days, and present the world with a fait accompli. NATO then faces a dilemma. Do you go to war with a nuclear-armed bear to get these small nations back? Does America have the stomach for the fight? Europe probably has the stomach, but not yet the arms for it.

Do I think war in the Baltic is likely? No. I think the presence of Core NATO “tripwire” troops in theatre will mean Russians will be shooting at, and killing Yanks, Limeys, Krauts, Poles, Cloggies, Cannucks and Danes from day one, making it much more likely the USA and its allies will respond with overwhelming force, against which there’s not a lot Russia could do (apart from going nuclear, but I don’t think Putin is mad: NATO enjoys overwhelming superiority in this regard too). I suspect Putin’s motives are about mainly reaching 2024, and standing down to enjoy his loot, without being dragged through the streets of Moscow and hanged from a lamppost with cheese wire. Invading Ukraine is one thing. But taking on an Article V NATO country is quite another. This is why Georgia and Ukraine want NATO membership so badly. However, intelligence agencies in the west have no eyes in the Kremlin, and we don’t, unlike during the cold war, know.

Something to think about. Merry Christmas.