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An appealing plan to defeat Brexit from Lord Heseltine

It is good to see Michael Heseltine still has the spirit to swing the Mace even if today it is a virtual one. His idea is appealing: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage must lead the Brexit negotiations because if others did this the trio would campaign against any outcome as being unsatisfactory.

So they would have to negotiate and present the outcome to the Commons which would inevitably reject it as a big majority of MPs are pro-Remain. Then there would have to be a general election or a second referendum.

Lord Heseltine’s argument is appealing (BBC)  but we could not reach that stage without triggering Article 50. I would prefer it if Article 50 was never invoked.

And what would be the choices if we were outside the EU. It could be exclusion from the European free trade area or accepting something like the arrangement Norway has including membership of Shengen Area and rather larger payments to the EU.

What will happen in the next few months is impossible to predict but I sense that the mood in the country has changed quite a lot since Friday. Politicians are constantly telling us they “respect” the referendum vote. They would not need to say that if the they were bound by the vote. It will take time, but they might just come to exercise the sovereignty of parliament they insisted upon when drawing up the referendum laws.

Will Article 50 ever be triggered?

It is understandable that David Cameron felt he had to announce he would resign after his gamble of appeasing the Left of the Conservative party by calling a referendum had failed. He could not continue to govern with any credibility.

Yet he has also left a country, more divided than at any time since the English Civil War, with a rudderless government without authority for three crucial months in the history of the United Kingdom. That is hard to forgive.

And in making his announcement he reneged on his intention to immediately trigger Article 50 which creates a vacuum in which anything could happen. While in doing this he was accepting what Brexit campaigners wanted, the new prime minister could find that the remainder of the EU has already reached a consensus on the terms of a settlement it is prepared to offer the UK.

It also allows more time for remain campaigners to further question the validity of the referendum vote. As I write 3,167,000 people have signed the petition to parliament calling for a new referendum with more stringent rules. Those signatures come predominantly from England.

There are grounds for the argument that the referendum was neither democratic nor valid because voters were misled by lies and guesses during the campaign. Three months before the possibility of triggering Article 50 is time for these concerns to grow, especially if more businesses shift jobs to Europe and investment in industry and commerce stalls.

The Scottish government is confident that Brexit is an area which requires the Edinburgh parliament to give consent to Westminster legislation. Nicola Sturgeon made this clear talking to Robert Peston on ITV this morning: it would be likely to lead to a constitutional clash.

Another factor will be the Conservatives finding a new leader who can command the confidence of the House of Commons. This may be difficult and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, also on the Peston show, ruled himself out of the race but had a person spec for a new prime minister: it amounted to Brexit-lite. Others in his party have very different ideas. It could be difficult to form a new government.

What will happen is impossible to predict: there are too many variables. But one possibility, opened up by Cameron’s decision not to invoke Article 50 immediately, is that it will never be invoked.

Note: Pure coincidence but this post was published half-an-hour before the Guardian article with an identical headline. John Henley raises the same question but with very different text: well worth reading.

 

 

The media as well as politicians need to reflect before the referendum campaign resumes

Today is a time for reflection by everyone in the UK but particularly those involved in the referendum campaign. The media here today is quiet, rightly not rushing to conclusions, but in mainland Europe  newspapers have been less reticent in linking the murder of Jo Cox to the referendum campaign.

Whatever the outcome of police investigations there is the perception of a link and that for the moment is what matters. As Alex Massie put in the Spectator blog yesterday:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged.

The media as well as the politicians need to reflect. Have editorial decisions to concentrate on the nasty parts of the campaign, the playground shouts of “liar” and the racist undercurrents, contributed to polarisation?

News value is an assessment of what will interest the readers modified by the concept of “public interest”. The question is whether the interests of the readers were subjugated to the interests of journalists living and working in the Westminster bubble?

My impression is that the coverage has inhibited public debate. Where I live in rural Suffolk I have heard no-one talking about the referendum. Is as though everyone is avoiding the subject to avoid being drawn into the nasty debate and falling out with neighbours. There are some “leave” and “remain posters in the countryside but in the village itself few are prepared to declare their allegiance so publicly. There has been no real grassroots debate.

The coverage by political journalists has been so much more like a report of a playground squabble that I have found myself turning first to the financial pages for reasoned information.

Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to get away from the fighting mentality and have a more reasoned and politer political debate have been scorned by political journalists who would rather see blood on the floor. It is not just a tactic of the Labour leader: I sense there are many on both sides of the house, probably the majority, who would be much happier without tribal battles.

The media cannot get away from the fact that they have sustained the most unpleasant aspects of the referendum by providing the publicity which has sustained the nastiness.

 

 

 

Slowly realisation that next week’s referendum is non-binding is growing

The aftermath of next Thursday’s vote could be worse, far worse, than the seemingly interminable campaign of lies, half-truths and unsubstantiated “facts” that we have endured during the campaign.

Slowly the realisation that the result of the EU referendum is non-binding, because to make it binding would infringe the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, is growing. The Guardian reported this exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions today:

Nigel Adams, a [Brexit supporting] Conservative, says there has been “hysterical scaremongering” during the EU referendum. Will Cameron assure people he will follow the results on the referendum.
Yes, says Cameron. He says out means out of the single market too. He says he would say to anyone still in doubt, to anyone uncertain, don’t risk it.

Cameron appears to be saying he will abide by the result of the referendum but it is not entirely clear what he means.

If there is a vote for Brexit when would he seek to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which provides the only legal route to leaving the EU? And if he chose to put the required resolution to the Commons quickly would be able to get the necessary majority.

There are so many scenarios it is fruitless to even think too closely about them. We can be certain this horror story will go on unless there is a decisive victory for Remain.

Would you believe it?: ‘Brexit would end free movement of cabbage moths’

The Sun front page today neatly sums up the Brexit campaign.  Perhaps Boris will explain how the free movement of EU moths would be ended.

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According to the story:

BRITAIN’S cabbages may be annihilated by a ­massive swarm of super-moths from Europe.
Tens of millions of the diamondbacks, said to be resistant to pesticides, have reportedly formed “clouds” two miles wide.

This incredible scare story gets worst by portraying the moths as a greater threat to Britain than the Nazi forces in France after the evacuation of Dunkirk. It does this with an evocation of Dad’s Army, plagiarising the comedy’s opening graphics to suggest they would succeed in overcoming the Home Guard of Warmington on Sea.

Illustration from The Sun, draws on Dad's Army graphics

Illustration from The Sun, draws on Dad’s Army graphics

The question is whether this rubbish is any less credible than the lies the official Brexit campaign has been peddling?

Footnote: It seems even The Sun does not think the story would be acceptable to its Irish and Scottish readers. Media blogger Roy Greenslade points out the paper had different front pages in those parts of the UK.

10 reason to vote “remain” and the question of how we identify ourselves

Ten reasons to vote to stay in the European Union:

  1. To help maintain peace in Europe. The treaty of Rome resolved that by pooling resources they would “preserve and strengthen peace and liberty, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts”. This was signed after two world wars which had engulfed Europe.
  2. Protect the benefits the UK has gained from the free trade area. In addition to easing trade in goods and services this has encouraged investment in the UK by international companies wanting to serve the whole of Europe.
  3. The freedom to live and work in any part of the European Union and cross borders without delay or showing a passport.
  4. The freedom of people to come and live, work or study in the UK benefitting our economy and society in many ways from filling jobs which people here will not do (eg in horticulture) or boosting the standing of our universities.
  5. Law enforcement co-operation including the European Arrest Warrant which has made it much more difficult for British criminals to spend their ill-gotten gains on a Mediterranean beach or elsewhere in Europe.
  6. Structural funds which help more deprived areas including parts of of the UK. £6bn in the next five years for England, Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland.
  7. Retain our influence the rules of trade and social policy by which we would still have to abide even if not a member of the EU.
  8. A stronger voice in the world that comes from part of a larger bloc which can meet and negotiate with China and the United States  as an equal partner.
  9. To safeguard workers’ rights not to be exploited. This includes working hours and holidays.
  10. Maintain a level playing field when British firms bid for contracts in Europe

Those are solid reasons for remaining but above these is the question of identity. Do I feel European: Yes.

For a couple of years I lived in southern Spain. Outside public building three flags flew — those of Andalucia, Spain and the EU — signifying a broader concept of identity than that which seems to drive the Brexit campaigners.

I was born in England and lived most of my life in England, but my mother was Irish and my father identified himself as Scottish. Like many children I wrote my address on the flyleaf of an atlas: New Street, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England, British Isles, Europe, the World.

My father told me not only about the Act of Union but the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France and its continuing influence.

I don’t want my multi-tiered identity torn away by a vote for Brexit by English voters.

I could do something about this. By virtue of my mother’s birth I have dual citizenship and can get an Irish issued European passport. But I would much rather that the vote is to remain in the EU because I believe in ideals of its founding fathers.

 

 

 

If anyone is to blame for Labour not doing better it is the party’s plotters and whingers

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for saying Labour “hung on” in the elections. They did better than that.

In London not only did Sadiq Kahn win handsomely to become mayor, but the party strengthened its hold on the London Assembly by winning Merton and Wandsworth from the Tories and coming close in Havering and Redbridge.

Here in East Anglia, Labour strengthened its hold on three county towns winning more seats in Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge.

If Corbyn has failed to fully define policies is is because he has had to spend too much time trying to placate the rebellious faction of the parliamentary party which has been taking every opportunity to rubbish their own leader. It is time for these people to shut-up and give loyal support or resign.

Scotland was a disaster for Labour and it is a hard problem for even a united party to crack. Simon Jenkins had a suggestion in the Guardian:

The merger of Scottish Labour and Scotland’s nationalists must be on the horizon one day, perhaps when the present generation of former Scottish Labour MPs acknowledges reality. Scotland’s politics must snap out of its tribalism and recover the conventional left-right dichotomy. The success of the impressive Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, can only hasten that day.

That really will not happen, nor would it be a good thing if it did. There is surely space in Scotland for a left-leaning unionist party which would not be achieved by throwing in the towel.

But it also clear that Labour cannot win a Westminster majority alone. Nor would a coalition with small parties work: the only realistic partnership is with the SNP. And that would probably have to be on a confidence and supply basis rather than full coalition.

It is hard for English and Welsh Labour MPs to build a potential governing partnership with the SNP while relationships in Scotland relationships in Scotland are so poor. The solution may well be to cut the ties between the English and Scottish Labour parties and replace it with a relationship more akin to that with the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

If Labour is going to form a Westminster government in the foreseeable future it will have to find a way of working with the SNP and that is a huge challenge for Jeremy Corbyn even if is not having to spend half his time watching his back.

 

Aleppo: two tragedies 100 years apart

In a bright reading room of the National Archives in Kew I learned of another human disaster in Aleppo and the surrounding area nearly a century ago. Deciphering the faint pencil written war diary of my father’s unit, I discovered that the end of the First World War had tipped him into harrowing events.

His job after the armistice was not celebrating victory over the Turks in the Syrian city but getting food to the survivors of the Armenian genocide.

The television pictures of people streaming towards the Turkish border to escape the current assault on Aleppo are not as horrific as photographs of those of survivors forced to walk from Turkey into the desert. But we cannot measure human suffering in degrees of horror — neither event should have happened. They both shame mankind.

The British newspapers of late 1918 have no eye-witness accounts of the aftermath of the victory at Aleppo. It was said simple that the British had taken Aleppo but the truth is that there were few British soldiers there; it was mostly Arab and Indian cavalry and a motorised Australian unit. Capt Pierre Grant-Adamson had returned from South Africa to join a Royal Army Service Corps horse train.

Other documents at Kew showed that in 1919 he was returned to the UK suffering from “recurrent malaria” but I wonder if that is the whole truth. Subsequent medical boards are sparse on detail.

He spoke of Turkish atrocities but as a child I took those to be a part of the war. There are many questions I now wished I has asked. His behaviour after the war was erratic. He left a wife in South Africa, met my mother when she was nursing him in Ireland (only after she died did I discover that her training was as mental health nurse). He moved from place to place unable to settle and was terrible with money.

Only after the late 1930s did he become more settled. I was born in 1942 when he was in his mid 60s.

Lord Curzon, secretary of state for foreign affairs, told the House of Lords in late 1919 that the British were looking after 12,000 Armenia refugees in the immediate neighbourhood of Aleppo.

In the same debate Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, described how these Armenians had arrived in Aleppo:

….”Set out” means, of course, that they were driven from their homes with the express intention of their being taken somewhere to be settled, were driven for the most part into wild regions over roads of such length and under such conditions of hardship that the survival only of the strongest of them was possible. All the young men before that time had in every single case been taken away, and the old men, the women, and the children were the people who survived to be the victims of the deportation— From the village of E 212 individuals set out, of whom 128 (60 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive; 56 men and 11 women were killed on the road, 3 girls and 9 boys were sold or kidnapped, and 5 people were missing. From the same place another party of 696 people were deported; 321 (46 per cent.) reached Aleppo: 206 men and 57 women were killed en route; 70 girls and young women and 19 boys were sold; 23 were missing. From the village of D a party of 128 were deported, of whom 32 (25 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive: 24 men and 12 women were killed en route; 29 girls and young women and 13 boys were sold; and 18 were missing.

Why the horrors of displacement should visit one city twice in a century can be debated endlessly. All we really know is that it is the responsibility of power seeking rulers, not the people who are forced to flee. The effects touch us all.

New Year’s morning and the first fieldfare of winter

I made a New Year resolution to resume blogging, but what to write about first? The answer fame quickly as Lesley looked out from the kitchen window at the first frost for weeks and asked about a bird pecking fallen apples. As she suspected it was a fieldfare.

We feared the numbers were declining, perhaps with global warming pushing their migration range further north. So we were pleased to see one. Last year numbers were well down on the previous winter and we wondered whether we would see any this winter.

Meantime the goldfinches are gorging on the seeds in the feeders. People keep on asking if we put out niger seeds, which are said to attract the bright little birds.

Out experience is that they will only eat the niger in extremis. If I forget to fill feeders with sunflower hearts and seed mixes, the will go to the special niger feeder and take a few pecks before flying away.

Goldfinch numbers in British gardens have been increasing dramatically (British Trust for Ornithology) and I am not surprised given the way they hog the food.

While the tits fly to a feeder, take a seed and go back to a branch, hold it under a foot and eat, the goldfinches sit on the feeder eating away and scaring off other birds. Other finches and the tits sit on branches watching for their opportunity the moment a seeder perch is free.

My view of the birds this year is such better as I had a telescope as a combined wedding anniversary and Christmas present. I am getting better at pointing it at the right place so expect to see much more of the ways they behave.

Expect more post of birds as I strive to keep this New Year resolution.

 

 

Avoiding a Trident debate at Labour conference should allow full discussion

Why the decision that the Labour Party Conference should not debate Trident is such a blow for Corbyn I cannot understand. It is one of those issues which is going to take time to debate and possibly reach a consensus.

If there had been a debate this week, it is unclear what it would have been about. It could have been about the UK abandoning nuclear weapons. That is how it has been framed in much of the media.

But it could also be about how or whether to replace the existing Trident systems. That is not the same as nuclear disarmament.

The existing Trident was designed during the Cold War with Russia, a part of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) deference strategy. The world and the UK’s strategic needs have changed since then but the proposed Trident replacement appears to be a more modern version of the old one.

A full and open debate in the whole county, not only the Labour Party, is needed before a decision is made. We should hear what military experts as well as politicians think. It may be that the conclusion is that the UK needs nuclear weapons but that a Trident replacement does not meet the country’s strategic needs in a much changed world.

Or it could be to continue patching up the existing Trident submarines and kick a replacement decision further into the future.

Corbyn is quite clear that his personal view is there should be full nuclear disarmament and many support that view. Referendum and parliamentary elections in Scotland has made it clear that that is not a fringe position. The SNP wants a Scotland with no nuclear weapons in its arsenal and none stationed there if it gains independence.

Let’s have a full and open debate before there is a vote at Westminster next year.

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