How dare they?

It seems that, every day, our Boris led government (if you can call it that) is achieving new standards for selective memory. I can’t work out if the ministers and spokespersons who are put front-and-centre to explain away the latest change in policy really believe the utter crap they spout.  Do they really think our memory, and attention span, is so short that we can’t remember who has been in charge for the last 9 years?  It takes a special kind of liar to keep an earnestly  straight face while talking up some patently bankrupt bit of logic.  In fact often there is no logic. However, there is no escaping the conclusion: either they are lying or they simply lack the mental capacity to understand.

The present Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has now got to sound bullish about a policy of more police, zero tolerance of crime, bigger prisons and longer sentences, defending a broken system that her government has been in charge of for 9 years.  Her predecessor, Sajid Javid (now Chancellor of the Exchequer), when Home Secretary, had the brass neck to stand in front of cameras saying that the government will think about and consider all requests from police for additional funding in the face of the crisis of knife crime in our country.  At the same time his predecessor as Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said there was no shortage of funds for the police – they just had to be ‘smarter’ about how they spent what they had!  The then Prime Minister, Theresa May, denied that reduced police manpower has anything to do with the rise in crime. In case you have forgotten she was previously the longest serving Home Secretary, so this was happening on her watch then too.  It would seem, then, that Boris is ‘cracking down’ and spending billions (from where?) to fix a problem that apparently has only just appeared.  Where were you Theresa, Boris, Sajid, Priti when the cabinet were deciding these policies? Down the pub?

It’s true the rise in crime (and criminality as a mindset) has many, many causes.  But do they really think we will forget that they, the Conservatives, have been responsible for policy in every area that bears on these causal factors?

They don’t seem to understand that knife crime (the use of knives in violence) is a symptom of something wider: the police clamping down on that (one type of) crime will only ever be a short term gain unless the underlying causes are dealt with – and that’s not a purely policing issue.  I contend that the underlying causes are almost all rooted in austerity: the deliberate policy of the Conservative party (and governments since 2010) to eviscerate public services, and privatise them, under the guise of restoring the public finances. Where they could they shifted the burden, and responsibility, into the voluntary sector under the grandiose title of “The Big Society”. They want us to forget, too, that the financial crash which preceded austerity was itself the direct result of greedy capitalism.

When young, disadvantaged, people have reduced educational opportunities (because education for many has been stripped of all but the core subjects), when their only sense of belonging is that of a gang member, when rites of passage into their peer group involve crimes from mugging right up to murder, what can we expect? When there are too few police to respond to any but the most urgent and high value crimes, when there aren’t enough doctors and nurses, teachers, youth workers, social workers, meaningful jobs with long term prospects, and access to support and state benefits ever harder to achieve, what do we expect? When we have rising levels of homelessness, what do we expect? When we have the ever increasing use of food banks, what do we expect?

When aggression and violence (verbal or physical) is promoted as an acceptable way to behave, whether in film, music, computer games, sport, employment, personal relationships, why should we be surprised when people reach for violence as the way to express and empower themselves?

How dare they, HOW DARE THEY, say they are listening NOW, as if all these crises are new? Why weren’t they listening last year, the year before, in fact every year since the slash-and-burn Conservatives came to power? They were told. We told them. Common sense told them. How dare they act as if “We didn’t see that coming, but we’re listening now”? In what looks increasingly like a run-up to a snap election they, the government, may not want us to join the dots. I think we’re better than that, at least I hope so.

Trump’s Motivation: ‘Self’ first and last.

Donald Trump makes so many pronouncements, initiates and then stops policies, that it’s hard to know where he’s coming from. But when he interferes in the politics and trade of other nations, while railing against those who would do the same to the US, you have to wonder about his motivation.

It is plain as a pikestaff (to me) that his primary, possibly only, motivation is ‘self’: what’s good for Donald Trump. The economic and political theory of Capitalism is founded on this attitude: what’s good for the individual is also good for society. Margaret Thatcher thought the same – she even said, in effect, there’s no such thing as society’. But I have no doubt that where the mutual interests of individual and society diverge, in the mind of Donald Trump what’s good for Donald Trump will win out.

So, one has to ask why does Donald Trump want the UK to exit from the EU? Is it out of concern for the UK, or because it’s good for the US, and Trump in particular? Would a fractured and fractious EU be good for Donald Trump, and the US economy (and it’s influence)? On the basis of evidence from negotiating deals with China, Canada, Iran, Mexico, etc., it is reasonable to ask how well would the UK fare in a post-Brexit trade negotiation with Donald Trump when a ‘fair’ Free Deal means whatever Donald wants or else? Why would the President of the United States, on the eve of a formal visit to the UK, apparently support two individuals who want to see the UK’s departure from the EU on any terms or none? Why do both Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, merit his support? Is it because they are a) narcisists and b) have a mutual interest in far-right politics? Certainly Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have had regular contact with Steve Bannon, the American far-right creater of ‘Breitbart’, and proponent of denying everything and “It’s all fake news” political campaigning.

Yes, but what about Ireland?

Brexit: Take a step back, breathe, and think

Regular readers of Near Horizon will know where I stand on Brexit, but this post is neither pro nor anti Brexit. Wherever you stand, whatever your political allegiances, if what I’m going to say resonates with you, by all means share it with friends.

The resignation of Theresa May, as leader of the Conservative Party (and Prime Minister), changed very little. It was entirely predictable, ever since her attempt to increase her parliamentary majority in 2017 so spectacularly backfired. We need to ‘wind the clock back’ to find the cause of her downfall: In 2016 David Cameron, then Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, enabled a referendum with no threshold for a result: a simple majority of 1 would have been enough to win either way. Changing a Treaty relationship with the EU (or anyone), built up over 40 years, ought to have had, in my view, a 60% threshold in favour of changing the status quo, but we are where we are.

As a result, a relatively narrow majority to leave the EU (52/48%) when 27% of the electorate failed to vote at all, exposed a faultline in the UK which was not on traditional party lines. Then Cameron resigned and Theresa May took over: a Prime MInister no-one had voted for except her own party. Then she made her first, massive, error of judgement. She invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which set the 2 year clock running to our exit from the EU with no plan in place as to how this would be achieved. The Foreign Office, and other Government civil service departments, had been eviscerated in pursuit of “austerity” after the 2008 financial crash. There were fewer experienced people to support the complex negotiations, once it was known what was being negotiated on.

The following two years showed just how difficult it was going to be, in spite of some Brexit supporting Conservatives saying it would all be easy, “a walk in the park”. It was especially so with a slender (but workable) majority in the House of Commons, but then Theresa May made her second major miscalculation: she called a General election. Only 13 months after taking office, she nearly lost. She did lose her overall majority and had to ally herself with the Northern Irish Unionists, a political disaster, and a disaster for Brexit. An open land border between the EU, in the shape of The Republic of Ireland, and the UK had been a pillar of the “Good Friday Agreement” which brought an end to 30 years of sectarian violence in the island of Ireland. Part of the Good Friday Agreement was devolution of power to a Northern Ireland Assembly, so-called “Power Sharing”, and commitment to keeping the North/South border open. The Northern Ireland Assembly has been moribund for over 2 years due to differences between the main players: Sinn Fein (Nationalists allied to the Republic) and The Unionists (committed to staying in the UK).

Then Theresa May made her next blunder. Instead of reaching out across party lines, to negotiate a Brexit “Deal” which could command support of the whole house, she went her own way. She repeatedly lost votes in Parliament, because large numbers of her own party’s MPs didn’t like some aspect of the “deal” – and especially the status of the so-called “backstop” which sought to square the circle over the EU / UK border – between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland . Despite surviving a vote of no confidence she was finally forced to quit by pressure from her own party “Grandees” – not in the national interest but in party interest.

Then we had the EU Parliament elections, elections which the UK wouldn’t have needed to participate in except the Brexit deadline had been postponed – twice. The results demonstrated yet again how polarised the UK electorate is. The race to replace Theresa May was eventually won by Boris Johnson, voted for by an electorate of 100,000 party members but, almost without exception, those candidates who he faced were from the same cohort of failed (or inexperienced) politicians who supported Theresa May until the ship was irretrievably sinking. A prime choice of PM material in a time of crisis?

A third Brexit deadline, 31 October 2019, was set. Boris Johnson decided that we leave “do or die” but then we had the failed , and illegal, attempt to shut down parliament and force a no-deal Brexit on that date. What is more, parliament forced the passage of a law which is meant to prevent Boris Johnson from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal, and it would appear his tactic is, and has been all along, to push the EU into being “the bad guys” and breaking off negotiations or refusing a further extension to Article 50.

While all this has been going on, the Conservatives have also been trying to goad and bully the opposition parties into calling an early general election. This they don’t want to do because it would create a black hole into which a no-deal Brexit would fall. Boris and his “new” team set about electioneering anyway, promising hundreds of billions of pounds for things which were not Conservative party policy, and had not been agreed by their membership or their conference. However there is no guarantee that an election now, or any time soon, would produce a different mix of opinion in Parliament, unless the Brexit Party won a lot of seats. Whichever way you look at this, we (the UK) are in a mess. Those jubilant Brexit supporters who, in the wake of the Brexit Party’s showing in the EU elections, were chanting that “out means out” and “a clean break ‘no deal’ is fine” cannot answer the simple question: yes, but what about Ireland?

It would appear this is a question that nobody has been able to answer since 2017 as it remains the rock on which the whole Brexit negotiation has been impaled from day 1. Boris Johnson finally tabled proposals to the EU which, he claimed, were reasonable steps towards compromise on the backstop, but which handed the DUP minority a veto over its future operation. It was never going to fly, and the suspicion is that it was never intended to.

Remember, you heard it here first…

Here are my predictions for UK politics in the immediately coming months. I’m not sure about the chronolgy (yet) but:

By Tuesday 19th March the 10 DUP MPs will let it be known they intend to vote for the Brexit deal. Behind the scenes they will have been promised huge additional inward investment from the so-called Brexit Dividend. Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP and defacto First Minister of the moribund Stormont devolved power-sharing administration, will be made a Dame in the 2021 New Year’s Honours list (any sooner would be too obvious). The £480 million she lost in the botched “Cash For Ash” programme will be quietly forgotten.

Mrs May will win round her wavering MPs, and persuade pro-Brexit Labour MPs to back her. The vote will be won.

Mrs May will go to Brussels with a new deal based on the new Northern Ireland reality and secure a delay in Brexit until mid-May.

The day after Brexit it will be announced that the power sharing administration in Stormont is to reconvene, brokered behind the Brexit scenes as part of the deal to get the DUP on-side, under threat of direct rule and pressure on Sinn Fein from the Republic. Sinn Fein will agree that any of their MPs re-elected to Westminster after 2021 will agree to take their seats there.

The UK will leave the EU by 29 May.

Mrs May will depart from Government in June and be made a Dame in the 2019/20 New Year’s Honours list. A ‘caretaker’ leader, until 2021 will emerge and there will be no UK General Election before then.

Pigs will be sen flying in formation along Downing Street.

Donald Trump will become a Buddhist, a Vegan, and ban guns in the US.




The Price of “Democracy”

Over the past 2 years we have heard a lot about “democracy” and “the will of the people”. Here in the UK we are in the final stages of the Brexit process that seals our departure from membership of the EU.

Throughout the process, and negotiations with the EU, much has been said about the risk to democracy if the result of the Brexit referendum is not honoured. Let’s be clear, the “will of the people”, expressed in a first-past-the-post referendum where a sizeable proportion of the electorate failed to vote at all, was at best marginal. 52%/48%.

However, nothing has been said about the risk to democracy posed by a handful of Northern Irish MPs representing the Democratic Unionists (DUP). The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap election in June 2017 because she thought that her opposition, The Labour Party, was in disarray and would lose. She had an overall working majority but wanted a bigger one, and she also wanted to wound the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who was not wholly supported by his own MPs.

She actually lost 13 seats and, with them, her overall majority: we got a ‘hung parliament’ instead. What’s more Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation was enhanced, not diminished. Rather than stand down, Theresa May sought a coalition to prop her up but the only party willing, and with enough MPs, was the Democratic Unionists (DUP). It is worth noting that the DUP is anti-abortion, anti Gay marriage, has questionable views on climate change. The DUP represents a minority of the Ulster electorate: in the 2017 UK election they polled (rounded) 290,000 votes out of a potential electorate of 1,200,000. The turnout was 65%. The consequence of her miscalculation, the importance of which cannot be overstated, is that she handed 10 DUP MPs control of the Brexit process. The island of Ireland is divided by a border between the north (Ulster) and The Republic Of Ireland which, despite its bloody history, was ‘open’ because both parties were in the EU and, critically, an open border is a conrnerstone of the 1998 so-called “Good Friday Agreement” which brought an end to 30 years of open armed conflict between the paramilitary wings of the Nationalists (Catholics) and Unionists (Protestants). When the UK leaves the EU the border will again become a land border between the UK and the EU because The Republic will remain a member of the EU, and without an agreement that border will have to be policed in some way. The answer was to cobble together a so-called “Back Stop”. The “Back Stop” is a process by which (in absence of a Brexit agreement) the EU cannot keep the UK in a relationship with the EU, the North cannot be ceded to the Republic, or separated from the rest of the UK, in thought, in deed or even symbolically.

Ever since the 2017 UK election the DUP tail, headed by Arlene Foster, has wagged the UK dog. Before they even signed the agreement to support the UK government, they were promised £2 billion of investment for Ulster (when the rest of the UK was being starved of funds). It was a massive bribe from one unionist party (The Conservatives) to another.

This distortion of “democracy” has also to be seen in the context of the dysfunctional power sharing politics of Ulster. As part of the post-Good Friday Agreement process, government of Northern Ireland was devolved to a power sharing executive and assembly based in Stormont castle. For the past 2 and a half years there has been no administration in Stormont. In November 2016 a scandal emerged surrounding a Renewable Heat Incentive (also referred to as the RHI scandal or ‘Cash for Ash’), signed off by the then First Minister Arlene Foster (yes, the same Arlene Foster) in 2012. Its mismanagement had cost the Northern Ireland Executive £480m. The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned in protest and that brought the government down. For those unfamiliar with British / UK politics and history, Sinn Fein are Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland (with the Republic), while Unionists want to be part of the UK for ever. They cannot agree to restart government. Furthermore, Sinn Fein has 7 MPs elected to Westminster but they do not sit there as they refuse to recognise the UK Parliament’s right to legislate for any part of Ireland, and they refuse the loyal oath to the Queen of the UK. If they were to take their seats, the balance of power in Westminster might be affected.

Arlene Foster and the DUP has been instrumental in frustrating Brexit, refusing to support the government because it gives them effective control over the “Back Stop”. What is more, since the failure of Theresa May to secure general parliamentary support for her negotiated withdrawal from the EU, and the imminent danger of an exit without an agreement, Arlene Foster has been visibly shuttling between The Republic and The UK government negotiating God knows what further concessions from both. Arlene Foster’s father was a policeman, and wounded in the ‘troubles’ by the IRA, so her background is unlikely to be conducive to conciliation. It’s not hard to imagine the mistrust in the nationalist community over this.

There you have it, the price of upholding the “democracy” of the Brexit referendum result: £2 billion and counting, a handful of votes, smouldering mistrust on the island of Ireland. The so-called “will of the people” held hostage by 10 MPs, who represent a minority in their own land. Never mind the 60 million of us who live “on the mainland” of Britain, never mind the fragile future of power sharing and peace on the trouble island of Ireland, and never mind (definitely) the £480 million of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal. All of this rooted in Theresa May’s personal and political hubris.

So, don’t talk to me about Brexit being a threat to “democracy” or “the will of the people”. If you are worried about either of those you should look west to Ireland, and Ulster.


Deal or No Deal

I couldn’t count the number of times in the last year that I’ve thought about Noel Edmonds’s TV show “Deal of No Deal”. Of course I’m talking about Theresa May’s mantra in relation to Brexit. It has seemed more like a game show than real politik.

In the days leading up to a series of significant decisions in Parliament, which may (or may not) lead to a “No Deal” exit from the EU, I am really puzzled by the Brexiteer MPs saying that an extension to the ‘Article 50’ period risks another referendum and threatens loss of Brexit.

Are those who declare that another referendum is anti-democratic, and that we have already decided, actually afraid that the democratic will of the people may have changed?

I hope there is another referendum, though God knows what the question(s) would be. If there is, I hope we decided to remain in the EU but, most of all I hope the process is transparent, devoid of all the lies that characterised the first referendum, and is set up in such a way that a clear majority of, say, 60% is required to change the status quo i.e. our present membership of the EU. Anything that can turn on a minor majority, either way, will just perpetuate the divisions in the country.

Schools with no toilet paper?

Today we had the unedifying sight of yet another government minister on TV trying to defend the indefensible with the usual, rote-learned, mantras. “Record levels of investment this year and next”, etc.

This time it was a schools minister trying to defend why some schools, in England, are so impoverished by budget cuts that they can’t afford toilet paper (yes, toilet paper) or, in one case, the head Teacher is working in the school canteen, and may have to clean the toilets herself, because she can’t afford to employ staff.

He acknowledged that there are “pressures” but apparently these derive from trying to sort out “the deficit”. There’s that naughty deficit again. Nothing to do with policy then, and no mention of the unanticipated multi-billion hike in tax income announced by the Chancellor last month. Presumably that’s going under the mattress in case we have to fill a Brexit black hole.

He suggested that there was enough money and the problem was, really, one of budget management. He bravely offered to visit any school to help them manage their pennies better. Must be suicidal as well as stupid. It’d be too much to hope for a canteen-applied custard pie in the face – the staff are too polite and, anyway, they probably can’t afford one. Maybe he’d suggest efficiency savings by double use of school writing paper: anything marked ‘B’ or lower goes to the loo? Perhaps in his tiny mind he’d think having to wipe your arse on your work would be an incentive to try harder? How about old copies of the Conservative manifesto? Or maybe it’s just back to slates and chalks, only until “the deficit” is sorted. Tour of the workhouse anyone? Tory twat.

In case you’ve forgotten, Mrs May, I haven’t.

It seems that, every day, our UK government (if you can call it that) is achieving new standards for selective memory. I can’t work out if the ministers and spokespersons who are put front-and-centre to explain away the latest debacle really believe the utter crap they spout. Do they really think our memory, and attention span, is so short that we can’t remember who has been in charge for the last 8 years? It takes a special kind of liar to keep a straight face while talking up some patently bankrupt bit of logic, in fact often there is no logic. However, there is no escaping the conclusion: either they are lying or they simply lack the mental capacity to understand.

The present Home Secretary Sajid Javid has had the brass neck to stand in front of cameras saying that the government will think about and consider all requests from police for additional funding in the face of the crisis of knife crime in our country. The Prime Minister has stood in parliament, this week, to deny that reduced police manpower has anything to do with the rise in crime. In case you have forgotten, our present Prime Minister was previously the longest serving Home Secretary. This was happening on her watch then too. This morning the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, as good as said the police don’t need more money, they just need to be smarter and more efficient. Good grief!

It’s true the rise in crime (and criminality as a mindset) has many causes but they want us to forget that they, the Conservatives, have been responsible for policy in every area that bears on these causal factors. They don’t seem to understand that knife crime (the use of knives in violence) is a symptom of something wider: the police clamping down on that (one type of) crime will only ever be a short term gain unless the underlying causes are dealt with – and that’s not a purely policing issue. The truth is, though, that the underlying causes are almost all rooted in austerity: the deliberate policy of the Conservative party (and this government) to eviscerate public services, and privatise them, under the guise of restoring the public finances. Where they could they shifted the burden and responsibility into the voluntary sector under the grandose title of “The Big Society”. They want us to forget too that the financial crash which preceded austerity was itself the direct result of greedy capitalism.

When young, disadvantaged, people have reduced educational opportunities (because education for many has been stripped of all but the core subjects), when their only sense of belonging is that of a gang member, when rites of passage into their peer group involve crimes up to murder, what can we expect? When there are too few police to respond to any but the most urgent and high value crimes, when there aren’t enough doctors and nurses, teachers, youth workers, social workers, meaningful jobs with long term prospects, and access to support and state benefits ever harder to achieve, what do we expect? Aggression and violence (verbal or physical) is promoted as an acceptable way to behave, whether in film, music, computer games, sport, employment, personal relationships: why should we be surprised when people reach for violence as the way to express and empower themselves?

How dare they, HOW DARE THEY, say they are listening NOW, as if all these crises are new? Why weren’t they listening last year, the year before, in fact every year since the slash-and-burn Conservatives came to power? They were told. We told them. Common sense told them. How dare they act as if “We didn’t see that coming, but we’re listening now”? They, the government, may not want us to join the dots. I think we’re better than that, at least I hope so.

Brexit and the “Backstop”: A naive suggestion?

The problem of the border between the North of Ireland and The Republic, which the so-called “backstop” attempts to address, is not one of managing trade, or even of immigration, but the apparently intractible political one of a “United” Ireland. The paranoia of the Northern Irish Unionist community causes it to react in a Pavlovian way to anything that sounds remotely like untying the Union with the UK. The “Good Friday Agreement”, flawed though it is, is being held hostage through the means of a moribund Stormont, where the Northern Ireland executive is supposed to sit, and a UK government without a majority in the House of Commons. Both of these things are political problems that could be resolved unilaterally by the UK, by a change of government in Westminster, and/or re-opening the Good Friday Agreement. The challenge there is that, by losing her majority in the UK Houses of Parliament Theresa May has handed the Northern Irish Unionists a stranglehold on the Good Friday Agreement, and a lot else besides. If that is correct, then it seems to me that “decoupling” the arrangements for trade and security at the Irish border might be a way forward.

We currently trade across an open border with the Irish Republic, a fellow member of the EU, with whom we happen to have a land border within the island of Ireland. EU member states can, and do, have independent trade relations with non-EU states, both with and without contiguous borders. Fortunately the UK has a benign political relationship with the Republic of Ireland, despite the 100 years of demands for a united Ireland, and paramilitary activity (even open conflict during the so-called “troubles”). If you want to see how difficult a land border, on a island, between two antagonistic neighbours might be, have a look at Cyprus – the Republic of Cyprus is an EU member, the Northern (Turkish) part is not! Turkish Cypriots are treated, by the EU, as EU citizens living outside the EU.

Why can’t the UK, when out of the EU, have a discrete trade arrangement with the Republic of Ireland that exactly replicates the present trading arrangements and regulations? On mainland Britain, we don’t have a land border with Northern Ireland. People and goods arrive in Northern Ireland in exactly the same way as they do in the Republic: by sea and air. The points of entry to the island of Ireland, both north and south of the border, are already limited. Might there be something in the form of , what used to be called, “Free Trade Zones” or “Free Ports” at our ports in Northern Ireland – to handle imports and exports? These ‘enterprise zones’ are used all over the world to facilitate trade and often attract inward investment, and create jobs, which I would think the Northern Irish government (when it has one again) would welcome. It may be hopelessly naive, and may already have been considered and rejected for good reasons, but is it worth a thought?

The issue of security at the border would be exactly as it is now: the Republic would be responsible for policing its borders from non-EU arrivals and departures (as we do now). It’s hard to imagine that the Republic of Ireland would have less stringent security on their borders than we would. People and goods arriving in the Republic from non-EU countries would be subject to the same checks as they are now when passing on to the UK. It would be up to us to decide what we want to inspect, as we do now, mostly led by “intelligence” based customs and security work. We could send goods to the Republic which, if then ‘exported’ to the rest of the EU, would have whatever tariffs had to be applied set there, or in the “free ports”, just as we will have to do if they were going direct to mainland Europe from Dover.

For more than a year, Stormont has failed to deliver devolved government in Northern Ireland.  Perhaps there is a case for Westminster to take direct control again, if only for this one issue. The threat of that alone might force Sinn Feinn and the Unionist communities to wake up to their part in all this mess.  Re-opening the Good Friday Agreement would be difficult, and as part of resolving the Brexit impasse would take time – necessitating an extension to the Article 50 process (which seems increasingly likely anyway). 


If you don’t want to know the score, look away now….

Brexit is sometimes more entetaining than Match of the Day. There are certainly more goals, especially own goals, in the Houses of Parliament. I recall the late manager of Liverpool football club, Bill Shankly, saying that Football was more important than life or death. That was, of course, hyperbole, but I really do think Brexit is that important. We now have the unedifying prospect of PM Theresa May going back to the EU to negotiate the un-negotiable. The prospects for success are so unlikely that former Pro-Hard Brexit Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, is preparing the ground by blaming the EU for the failure before it’s happened!

Let’s remember that we, the UK, signed up to the Lisbon Treaty and all the Ts&Cs in the first place. We, the UK, fired the starting gun on departure by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty; we didn’t have to do that when we did. Our negotiators have spent the best part of 18 months negotiating the terms of our exit while arguing amongst themselves about what they were negotiating on. Negotiation implies both ‘sides’ having a wish list and meeting somewhere in the middle: compromise. In the midst of that process Theresa May called a snap general election because she, mistakenly as it turned out, thought the Labour Party would lose seats and thus secure her position in Parliament. The disastrous consequence of losing her slender, but workable, majority was having to give the 10 Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs a massive influence over the Brexit process. Hence the disaster of the so-called “backstop”, a way to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which is and remains in the EU) open. Doing this in the toxic context of the Good Friday Agreement, the failed devolved Northern Ireland executive, and the simmering unresolved legacy of the “troubles” was nothing short of criminally reckless.

Whatever, a negotiation was concluded and the UK signed. Now, in the face of massive dissent across the House of Commons (never mind the country as a whole) our government is seeking to re-open the negotiation, in the face of explicit and oft repeated statements from the EU (individually and collectively) that there will be no renegotiation. We must remember that word: “compromise”. In order to get to a Brexit agreement at all, both ‘sides’ have compromised. We would do well to remember what the other 27 members of the EU have given up from their wish lists. For example, will Spain want to bring Gibraltar back into play? The EU Parliament is about to have elections too, and we don’t know what the make up of the new legislature will be; perhaps it will be more nationalistic. Poland and Hungary have already ‘lurched’ to the right. Other EU states are former eastern bloc countries with significant ‘rumps’ of pro-nationalist voters. Italy is (habitually) in meltdown and so is Greece. Perhaps the EU Parliament will have a distinctly right wing posture. Perhaps it will want to reopen the negotiations too? So, even though it will impact on the EU overall, the EU cannot afford to delay. It may suit them, overall, to say “We’re done with negotiating – leave”, both to set an example to the others but also to concentrate on the bigger picture of EU stability.

On 29th January 2019 the UK Parliament had opportunities to pass amendments which would have bought more time to conclude an agreement, or even amended the existing agreement, and they passed up the chance. Having spent 18 months taking a negotiating position of saying “No deal is better than a bad deal”,what they have done is tell the EU we will not accept “No Deal” and we have less than 2 months until Brexit Day. The timescale for passing legislation to give effect to our departure is impossible.

It should be no surprise that Parliament is split from top to bottom on this issue. The main parties are split, both for and against Brexit, as is the country as a whole. No amount of negotiating, of renegotiating, of persuading or bullying is going to change that. No new referendum, the so-called “People’s Vote”, will change that. I believe the process of achieving Brexit will prove to have been vastly more damaging to our society than the fact of Brexit. We urgently need, both politically and personally, to prepare for what comes next. We, the UK, as a nation (or collection of nations) need to have a grown up conversation about who we are, and what kind of country and society we want to have. We need to heal. The sight of Nigel Farage laughing out loud at the frustration of the EU Parliament last week was hard to take, but it encapsulated the very real danger we face now. There is a political vacuum forming which is ideal ground for populist and charismatic politicians with extreme views. It’s no use wishing it were otherwise. I believe Brexit is a disaster for the UK, you may agree or disagree, but a fractured Europe is something we should all fear and we cannot afford to look away now.