Does Anything Matter Anymore?

Over the last couple of months, I have continued to campaign against Brexit. I’ve written to my MP, leafleted and attended the People’s Vote march at the end of June – which provided a much-needed boost and sense of community to all of us Remainers. It certainly made me feel like I wasn’t alone, that the feelings I have about what’s happening in this country are shared by others. I’m not going completely insane, after all.

But I had taken a break from writing blogs, a gap which I am herewith trying to fill. This break was partly due to Brexit-related fatigue, depression and anxiety, which affects most campaigners from time to time. But I also found that every time I sat down to write, I felt like I had nothing left to say. Not because Brexit has been uneventful, but because we have moved so far past rational debate and argumentation that everything I could say about how badly Brexit is going felt meaningless.

What I mean by this is that it no longer seems to matter that the referendum campaign was marred by lies, the breaking of electoral law and the online manipulation of voters. It no longer seems to matter that the Brexiters feed us lies every day about the golden lands that await us on the other side of Brexit, but that they can never explain a single tangible benefit to us.

It no longer seems to matter that the government is displaying unprecedented levels of incompetence, hypocrisy and arrogance. They harp on about the non-existent ‘Brexit dividend.’ The PM comes up with a plan to present to Brussels, which she then tears up two days later by caving in to the ERG. The ministers who brought us this mess resign, tails between their legs, so that they can reclaim the status of betrayed victims, although they utterly failed to deliver even in the slightest on any of their promises.

One special cherry on top has been the recent collection of translations of the White Paper. They are embarrassing to the core – I read the German version and wanted to sink into the nearest available hole. It is badly translated, cementing our reputation for isolationism and for being disinterested in understanding other countries and their languages. It is patronising and arrogant – both the content and the assumption that EU parties cannot manage with the English version. A spectacular own goal.

The accelerating slide towards authoritarianism no longer seems to matter either. One of the most reputable papers in the country, The Times, does not see any problem in carrying an opinion piece that suggests the UK could do with a little bit of what the strongmen have. They may be unpalatable in many ways, but hey, at least they get things done. We have pesky parliamentary arithmetic that gets in the way of getting things done. Newsflash: without parliamentary arithmetic we have what is commonly called a dictatorship.

Meanwhile, established conventions are being thrown out at an alarming rate, whether that is our principled opposition to the death penalty or the tradition of vote pairings. A Tory MEP recently called for British citizens with “EU loyalty” to be tried for treason. What the hell is happening, and why is no one being held to account for these outrages?

It no longer seems to matter that we are facing a no deal Brexit, the ramifications of which are unthinkable: everything from throwing five million people and their families into legal limbo to shortages of life-saving medicine to shattering the peace in Northern Ireland to destroying countless small businesses that rely on access to the Single Market to the systematic dismantling of basic rights and protections we had hitherto taken for granted.

I’d be thrilled if it turned out I was being paranoid or overly pessimistic. And hopefully I am. But for now, it’s time we all opened our eyes to the very real dangers we face. To the monsters that the referendum has unleashed: the chipping away at our democratic foundations and the breaking of our electoral laws, the normalisation of racism and bigotry, the debasement of our public discourse and the rise of populism.

I don’t think there is anywhere left to hide, and there is no longer any room for complacency. Anyone who believes in liberal democracy and basic human rights has to fight, and it is a battle that is bigger than Brexit. The fight does not have to be at the high level of politics. In fact, it needs to happen most forcefully in our own communities.

Populists win by dividing us and sowing confusion, mistrust and hatred. As such, even the smallest acts of building bridges between different people undermine their cause. So, stand up to the populist discourse and give people the time and space to reflect. Defend minorities and the vulnerable. Write to your MP and the papers and tell them how you feel. Speak to your neighbours, friends and families.

Most importantly, be kind to people – online and in real life – and do what you can for your community. Do not let these people divide us and take us down this path. We’ve been here before. It doesn’t end well. We all have to come together to turn things around. And if we are united, we can still do it.

The Saboteurs Have Not Been Crushed

Do you remember how this time last year we were told that the Tories were going to win a massive landslide victory in the snap election (which we were promised was not going to happen)? The Daily Mail told us May was going to ‘Crush the Saboteurs’ – by which I think they meant people like you and me. And all those pesky judges and civil servants. And we were told May would be strong and stable.

Well, she didn’t win her landslide, she isn’t strong and she isn’t stable. But more importantly, the saboteurs have not been crushed and we won’t be crushed.

A few months can be a long time in politics. If we persist, we have a chance at securing a People’s Vote on the final deal, and with that, a chance to put an end to this madness.

Let’s remember that leaving the EU means abandoning the many rights and protections that are afforded to each and every person living in this country. And given recent events, I think we can all agree that having another layer of protection is a vital necessity, not just a nice add-on.

The Windrush scandal is a stain on our nation and our conscience. I believe it is the direct result of a racist ‘hostile environment’ policy, enacted by a Home Secretary and now PM who is obsessed with immigration at the expense of reason and humanity. It seems the British government is responsible for wrongfully splitting up families and ruining lives, and so far, no one has been truly held to account.

Meanwhile, Labour is engulfed in an anti-Semitism scandal. Ever more details are emerging of how the Leave campaign and its friends at Cambridge Analytica and related companies reportedly broke our electoral laws and manipulated voters. HMRC is under fire for failing to investigate a company for money laundering, citing its donations to the Tory party. The Brexiters Johnson, Fox and Davis are so far out of their depth the EU has said it is genuinely worried, because we are completely and utterly unprepared for what is to come.

In normal times, any one of these things would have the potential to derail a government, but we are so consumed by Brexit, so confused by what is going on, we are like rabbits caught in the headlights.

The trouble is, if we do nothing, then this slide towards misinformation, populism, xenophobia, hostility and division will only continue. History has taught us that if you do not speak out for others, then by the time they come for you, there is no one left to defend you.

So I will continue to speak out — for my fellow Britons who are victims of this government. For my fellow Britons who are being lied to over Brexit and who will suffer the most if it goes ahead. For my fellow EU citizens and all their loved ones – many Brits included – who have done nothing wrong and who now face intolerable uncertainty and anxiety.

And ultimately, it is important to stress that this is not just about Brexit, it’s about what kind of nation we want the UK to be. Is what we have become now good enough for us? I say, no. It is definitely not.

I want my politicians to be honest and to take responsibility for their mistakes. I want them to lead and shape public opinion for the greater good, to make the case for immigration and diversity. To promote equality and tolerance. I want them to respect the pillars of our democracy and its institutions, to make well-informed decisions based on good information. I want people to cooperate, so politics is not a zero-sum game. I want us to work with our friends and allies in Europe. I want to be free. To travel, to work, to love, to raise a family in the midst of my European family.

I know stopping Brexit is not a simple fix for all the problems we face as a nation, but it is a vital step in that direction. And it will give us the energy, time and focus to confront all the other issues and challenges.

I know sometimes it is hard to stay engaged and to keep fighting. It seems futile in the face of such intransigence from the government, no matter how many facts they are confronted with. In the era of disinformation we now live in, the truth doesn’t seem to matter.

But we can prevail. We have already come a long way – no one was even speaking of another vote a year ago, now it is a topic of conversation, even on the BBC. When Brexiters speak of having to fight back against us, it’s because they are worried and also do not see the argument as being won.

Write to your MP, tweet, join a campaign group, block out 23 June in your diary for the march on Westminster, back the People’s Vote. Keep being a saboteur. We can do this.

Extra Sausage for Britain

One of the most spectacular failings of this Brexiter government has been its inability and unwillingness to understand – even in the slightest – how our European partners (NB: not ‘opponents’ or ‘enemies’) see us. Which partly explains why the negotiations – or rather, capitulation – is going as swimmingly as it is.

Having read a good amount of European press on Brexit, I think I can make a fair assessment of what Europeans think of us Brits at the moment: clueless, arrogant, xenophobic, selfish and whiny.

There is a well-known sketch from a German political satire show which portrays the Brits as always requiring an Extrawurst. This literally translates to ‘extra sausage’ – a concept used in German to convey when someone constantly demands special treatment. We were already known for always wanting an Extrawurst when we were in the EU: no Schengen, no Euro, opt-outs for this, opt-outs for that.

But now we still want Extrawurst as we are leaving the EU: we don’t want your citizens here, we want out of the Single Market and Customs Union, we don’t want your court having jurisdiction here, you cannot tell us what to do ever again about anything, but we’d please like to stay in relevant bodies governing aviation and medicines and also please access to your single market for industries we want, like finance and automotives. But only the stuff we choose, thankyouverymuch, opt-ins for this and opt-ins for that. And ideally we will stop the EU from passing any laws we don’t like, even when we’re not in it anymore.

This behaviour has led to the coining of the phrase “ewige Extrawurst” – endless extra sausage. Basically, the Europeans are fed up with us thinking we deserve this special treatment because we are somehow better than them. They are fed up with us freeloading off the back of the EU and not pulling our weight, of wanting endless opt-outs or opt-ins and never being satisfied.

Brexit provides them with an opportunity to finally be rid of our constant demands for Extrawurst, and they will use it. They will compromise to the extent that it serves Europe’s interests – they want to continue trading with us too and will therefore draw up a good free trade agreement – but that’s it. There will be no cherry-picking, no more englische Kirschen.

I find that these perceptions are most openly and honestly expressed in the political cartoons published in European newspapers. There is the pre-referendum drawing of European leaders in a rowing boat, with Merkel, Hollande and Junker sweating furiously to keep Europe afloat, while Cameron sits at the helm of the boat in a sunlounger, telling them they need to put in more effort for him to stay.

The traditionally Anglophile Dutch have been particularly scathing in their cartoons, one shows May and Corbyn sitting in a little boat labelled ‘Brexit’ on a rough sea, both vomiting profusely, captioned ‘Britannia Rules the Waves.’ A recent one showed May being hit in the face with a tub of Unilever butter, the pack reading ‘Greetings from Holland’.

Other common Brexit cartoon themes in Europe revolve around the fact that the government does not know what it wants and is bitterly divided, and others show Britain engaging in an unbelievable act of self-harm: jumping out of a plane without the parachute the EU is offering, or cutting off various limbs in a show of misguided defiance.

But I recently came across a drawing by cartoonist Ayal Pinkus that made me want to cry, rather than laugh. It depicts a castle tower on a little island surrounded by rough sea. On the tower is a Union Jack, the tower guarded by a member of the Royal Guard. In front is a big sign that says: STAY OUT. Across the sea is the mainland, with some people looking bewilderedly at the tower, the person on top says: “And we want direct access to your free open market too.”

That is how we are viewed now. As closed and xenophobic. As a poor team player. As arrogant and selfish. As haughty. As unreasonable. As uncooperative. As always demanding an Extrawurst. How incredibly sad.


A Brexit-less vision of the future

Can you imagine what we could be achieving as a country if all the energy that is going into Brexit were going into solving the real pressing problems of Britain?

We might have the resources to think of new ways to tackle land reform and the housing crisis.

We might have that badly-needed cross-party panel pouring all their drive and enthusiasm into securing the long-term future of the NHS.

The government might be able to work on eliminating modern slavery. It could overhaul the prison system so that we do not, as a society, allow people to live in utter squalor when they need support to reintegrate into society.

Our education system might be receiving added attention – making conditions better for teachers, so that talented people can go into and stay in teaching. Perhaps we might think of innovative ways to prepare our children for the future, teaching them skills that will enable them to take advantage of the ongoing digital transformation in our society. And we might be discussing ways to enable adults to learn these new skills too, creating a norm of life-long learning that would uplift everyone in Britain.

We could consult on an immigration system that made sense for everyone. Where we apply the rules we need (that were already available to us as EU members), but where common sense prevails. A system that does not boast about creating a ‘hostile environment’, but that is humane and fair. A system based on facts, not ideology, a system that would not break up families and send people away when they are making a positive contribution to Britain.

We could invest in solutions to provide emergency shelters for the homeless and people fleeing domestic abuse. As a society, we must be measured by how we treat those most vulnerable, and at the moment we are failing badly, held hostage by internal strife in the Tory party and a lame opposition.

We might think of new ways to ensure the most vulnerable people in our society can regain a sense of security. Let’s put our minds together and see whether universal basic income could work. Or another system. A way to ensure that people do not need to live day to day or week to week. Where they know they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table the next month and the next.

On the important global issues, we could work in tandem with our European allies in doing good in the world. We could lead and set the European agenda on trade, climate change and fighting poverty. We could continue to punch above our weight in our other global relationships, using our leading position in Europe to magnify our own levels of influence. Perhaps we could help to tackle the crises in places like Syria and Myanmar. We would work with our allies to ensure our citizens remain safe from threats.

All those EU nationals that have left us and are leaving us would stay here, creating jobs, paying taxes, looking after our patients, picking our fruit, making beautiful art, feeding us delicious food, mixing up cocktails, raising their families in our midst. New relationships, whether at work or at home, would be formed between Brits and EU citizens, enriching all our lives.

Instead — a government and civil service consumed by just one task. One task with only downsides. One task that will make us weaker, meaner and poorer. One task that actually risks the integrity of the United Kingdom. One task that will strip every British man, woman and child of hard-won rights. One task that only serves the ultra-rich and will deepen the existing inequality in our society. One task that will damage us in the short and long term.

In moments of intense despair at the current state of affairs, I let that alternative vision of the future spur me on. It is what fuels my ongoing need to act against Brexit – to talk openly to people, especially Leave voters, to write to my MP, to donate to campaigns when I can, to oppose racism and xenophobia, to resist the government’s attempts to divide us, to write this blog. I will continue to resist Brexit with every fibre of my being. I am unsure of success, but I continue because it matters, because nothing less than our country’s future is at stake. And I must believe that the innate goodness, creativity and openness of Britain will eventually prevail.

Brexit has already damaged us irrevocably

It has been eighteen months since the referendum. A fateful, rainy day that has changed the political, social and cultural fabric of this once great nation forever. I think it is important to reflect on what we have already lost and to see these things as harbingers of far worse things to come unless we put a firm stop to all this madness. More people need to say these things out loud, even if they are unpopular, even if it means you are labelled a traitor, simply because they are true.

The inexorable rise of racist and xenophobic attacks is deeply worrying and shameful. I’m sure there was always a significant undercurrent of xenophobia in the country, but Brexit and the resulting descent into politically sanctioned nationalism have given the green light to those people to express their views, not just on social media, but in person. The police statistics confirm this, and I would bet on the fact that official statistics greatly under-represent the real prevalence of this vile behaviour.

What does not help is that our government has also taken an overt anti-foreigner stance. It has repeatedly refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here. It has provided no concrete information on what it will entail to obtain “settled status” and what the process would look like. If it’s anything like existing processes in the Home Office, then that is enough reason to be fearful.

The Home Office makes repeated mistakes and displays a crass lack of judgment, so crass it can easily be interpreted as a conscious policy of driving out non-British nationals. Just look at the recently publicised case of Jennifer Wexler, an American married to a British national. She is an archaeologist who works for the British Museum and has lived here for 11 years. She has been told to leave as her frequent trips abroad for her archaeological work mean she is apparently not entitled to stay, even though those trips were on behalf of a British institution. She and her British husband have been told to go to the US. I can’t begin to understand this decision – how can this be justifiable on any count? And what of the British husband’s right to have his wife with him in his own home country?

I could go on for pages and pages with similar baffling cases where people’s lives are being torn apart by British bureaucracy. Given that EU nationals could become third country citizens in 2019, should they and all their British loved ones be concerned? I, for one, have lain awake during more than one night worrying about my ability to stay with my EU national partner and my British family members who are resident in the EU.

The economic damage inflicted by Brexit is already tangible, even though we haven’t left yet. We are all poorer due to the fall in the value of the pound. Our grocery bills have increased. Some jobs have already been lost. Inflation is growing.

And our credibility is shot. This farce of a government has embarrassed us on the international stage and ripped apart our reputation for making sensible and pragmatic decisions and for being a reliable and steady partner. Our government’s arrogant, childish and nationalistic rhetoric has needlessly and recklessly created enemies where there were long-standing friends. We used to occupy one of the most influential seats in a room filled with our allies, and now we are at their mercy, for we will accept whatever deal they offer us. We have lost so much influence on the global stage, at a time when we need to stand together to deal with threats of nuclear aggression, climate change and much more. Now all we have on the global stage is Boris.

As I have written before, this government has also undermined the fabric of our democracy by rewarding dishonesty in public office and by endorsing the use of dangerous language to describe people holding a different viewpoint: mutineers, traitors, enemies of the people. It is no overstatement to say that this is a move straight out of the fascist playbook.

We have to try to put a stop to all this. We have to keep fighting, so that we do not lose even more. But even if we manage to remain, even if we stay in the Single Market or some other fudge, this damage is done, at least for a generation, if not more.

The inevitable consequence of all this is that people will decide to leave. They are already leaving and they will continue to do so. Brexit and this government have driven out people who contribute so positively to our social and cultural fabric, and we are losing them for good. Even those people who stay here may never be able to look at this country in the same way.

And this does not just apply to EU nationals or other foreigners who had made a home here in the UK. In July 2017, I briefly visited my family living on the continent. When I returned to London, my home of a decade, I noticed that I felt something other than the usual joyful sense of homecoming, for I always loved London and I was proud to be a Londoner. I felt sad, I felt angry, I felt just a bit uncomfortable. I realised it’s because I, a British citizen who is also a committed citizen of Europe, do not feel at home here anymore either. And that realisation breaks my heart.

Brexit is a National Embarrassment

It’s official. We are now living in a real-world episode of The Thick of It, just with extra levels of absurdity. I keep hoping to see Armando Iannucci pop up from behind a big screen somewhere, like Christof in The Truman Show, saying, “Surprise! This was all a big experiment in seeing how far we could push this whole omnishambolic farce!”

Let’s quickly recap the last few days as a case in point:

The FT published a letter from David Davis to the Prime Minister complaining about the EU making preparations for a no-deal scenario. Apparently, he is annoyed that the EU is warning business that the UK may become a third country on 29 March 2019, unless agreement is reached. He says they are treating a member state unfairly (!), and that this is damaging UK interests and he will seek legal advice. The EU responds in the only way possible: “We in the European Commission are surprised that the United Kingdom is surprised that we are preparing for a scenario announced by the UK government itself.” This is what we have come to.

Brexiters turned up in Brussels with a hamper of UK goods to show Brussels how strong we are commercially. What’s in the hamper? PG Tips and Marmite, produced by an Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever. Gin made by a company that has warned of the consequences of the falling pound resulting from the decision to leave the EU. A book on Churchill, who saw the UK’s future as part of Europe. English cheese and sparkling wine. Yes, send more cheese and wine to continental Europe. Those are two things they don’t have much of. I’ve never heard of French cheese or wine, for example. I don’t think the Spaniards or the Italians make either of those products either. Apparently Barnier enjoyed the hamper, especially the goods that currently enjoy EU protected origin status.

Davis and Hammond travelled to Germany and wrote a badly crafted letter in the German press (I am a liberal metropolitan elite British citizen who can speak actual foreign languages, including German), more or less begging the Germans to ensure that financial services and passporting rights are included in any Brexit deal. They have still, still, STILL not understood that this will not happen unless we stay in the Single Market. They Still. Do. Not. Get. It. Besides, why on earth would the Germans help us out on this point when they stand to benefit handsomely from London-based banks relocating to Frankfurt? But more to the point, they still do not understand that the Germans will not undermine the Single Market or the European project, least of all for these half-witted arrogant fools that are currently in charge.

And now for the icing on the cake, which we are both having and eating, obviously. Farage wants a second referendum! To kill off EU membership for a generation! Last time I checked, he had already done that by co-opting the Tory Party into his right-wing, anti-foreigner, populist brand of politics. Could it be that Nige is a closet Remainer? The EU has provided him with lucrative employment over the years, and perhaps he quite likes living in Europe. What other reason could there be for this turn of events? Which really just makes him a bigger shameless hypocrite than I already thought he was.

Brexit has turned us into a laughing stock. Really, a hamper of PG Tips? Like that is going to suddenly make the EU say, oh, yes, of course we will give you a deep and special bespoke deal? It’s definitely worth slaying the Single Market and undermining the entire institution that is the European Union for some mediocre teabags!

And just to end, I want to ask, where is the opposition? Where did it go? I’ve been looking everywhere for it, but every time I think I spot it, its leader says the same things as the Tories, namely some falsehoods about it being impossible to be in the Single Market and the EU at the same time, which seems to imply that the nations of Switzerland and Norway are just fictional entities in my head. All of this staggering ineptitude and the hopeless reshuffle that wasn’t really a reshuffle are providing more open doors for a good kicking from the opposition. But no, it’s doing nothing, just arrogantly sitting there assuming people will vote for them next time around without doing anything to earn those votes.

I have to quote one of my favourite Remainers, James O’Brien, here: “I think we’re moving into a period of British political history that is almost beyond rational analysis.” Because it’s true. None of this makes sense. I am bewildered. No matter what party was in government before, I used to believe that it generally tried to govern in the interest of the country, that there was a rationale to its actions, even if I didn’t agree with all of them. But what’s happening now, it just makes no sense, it cannot be that Davis is this thick, can it? It cannot be that we are heading down this road when it is so clear how devastating it will be for all of us, can it?

In another world all of this would be hilarious. I suppose if I were watching this from the sidelines with a burgundy passport secured, I would laugh at all this nonsense. But this is serious. These people hold our economic futures and our national security in our hands. And even if one supported Brexit, surely no one can think that these people are going to make a success of it at this rate. We absolutely have to redouble our efforts to Exit from Brexit in 2018, this is the year that will make or finally break Brexit. Buckle up, my friends, it’s going to be quite the ride.

Great British Brexit Capitulation

I have recently returned from a blissful two weeks of Brexit-free holiday. The time off from the news cycle worked wonders for my overall levels of happiness, but at the same time left me entirely unprepared for what was to greet me upon my return to Britain, also known as The Post-Brexit Land of Milk and Honey and Unicorns and Fairies and Pots of Gold at the End of Rainbows.

The Brexit lies are now truly coming home to roost. The Brexiters have finally been confronted with the fact that we cannot leave the EU without a deal while maintaining a border-free Ireland. Let’s remind ourselves of Daniel Hannan’s tweet on the matter during the referendum campaign: “of all the scare stories propagated by EU supporters, the idea that the UK and Ireland would reimpose borders … is the silliest.” Hmmmm, yes, Daniel.

Meanwhile, it is also finally becoming clear to them that we cannot stay in the Single Market and not have freedom of movement. When the Prime Minister told parliament that the people voted to leave the Single Market, she was either lying or she is delusional. It wasn’t on the ballot paper. In fact, our friend Daniel was joined by the likes of Boris, Nigel and the official Vote Leave campaign in suggesting we would stay in the Single Market or have unfettered access to it. They conveniently left out the bit about this necessitating freedom of movement, because we all know that foreigners are the actual worst, especially when they come here to treat our patients and pick our fruit and pay our government taxes.

In any case, our Prime Minister managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — since the (completely and utterly predictable) Irish border issue scuppering the entire Brexit process would have been a big win from my perspective — when she agreed a deal with the EU to move things on to the next phase of talks, where we will talk about what the talks should include and what Britain actually wants to talk about, because we still do not know that. And when I say deal, I mean complete capitulation to every single thing the EU said it wanted. And whatever she did not cave on, she fudged so that it can come back and bite her at a later stage.

The Great British Brexit Capitulation Deal is a perfect example of what the government has now signed itself up for in dealing with a much more politically agile and experienced negotiating side. Namely, that we will do exactly as the EU asks, because, surprise, surprise (!) it turns out we actually need them more than they need us. Britain accepting the EU’s terms was completely inevitable, because we could never realistically countenance a no-deal scenario that would have grounded our planes and brought many other aspects of daily life to a screeching halt. So every day that has passed between March 29th and December 9th was a complete waste of precious time in which the negotiation took place within the Tory party, and not with our actual negotiating partners. Not only was it a waste of time, it squandered nearly all of the goodwill we might have had and damaged trust and credibility.

Speaking of breaking trust, it still baffles me that David Davis was still in office after two weeks away. Turns out he misled parliament and the British public about the impact assessments and by his own admission, he doesn’t need to be all that clever to negotiate a deal that will have the most profound implications for every man, woman and child living here and for all British citizens in the EU. Moreover, he thinks it’s perfectly alright to go around undermining the Great British Brexit Capitulation Deal just a mere day after his boss painstakingly agreed/fudged it. It’s a fantastic signal to send all our potential future trade partners (yes, I see them, they are patiently queueing up around the block to buy our Stilton) that we don’t really mean anything that we agree upon.

So where does all this leave us? Well, I suppose somewhere in the middle. I have a feeling a cliff-edge ‘no-deal’ is off the table, because the Great British Brexit Capitulation Deal effectively seems to stipulate that no-deal is by default the equivalent of staying in the Single Market or Customs Union, but without any say about the rules, because that is the only way to avoid a border in Ireland. But I also suspect it means that staying in the EU altogether is also less likely, also because of the receding cliff edge. In any case, it seems increasingly like we are moving towards an endpoint where we are effectively in the SM/CU, but without a voice, without any influence and taking rules. So, all this damage to our credibility, reputation, economy, culture — all for ending up in a worse place than we were. Each and every British citizen stripped of rights that many of us were born with, for nothing. Thanks Brexiters, nicely done.

But the worst is now to come. The government still does not know what Brexit means. It does not know what kind of trade deal it wants. The negotiations are being run by Davis, who has now lost all, and I mean all, credibility in Brussels. EU talent is leaving us. The government has no idea what the economic, social and cultural cost of Brexit will be. There are no systematic impact assessments. There is still no durable solution to the Irish border issue. There is still unacceptable uncertainty on the rights of EU citizens here and British citizens in the EU, regardless of the amount of meaningless spin Theresa May puts on it. The government simply has no clear path forward. And the use of words such as “mutiny”, “treachery” or “enemies of the people”, dishonesty and lies continue to weaken the fabric of British democracy and society, creating an environment where some members of the public feel empowered to issue death threats to MPs voting in accordance with their conscience.

So, as the political horror fest of 2017 recedes and we see the impending horrors of 2018, take a breather, spend the festive period in whatever way gives you joy, and gather strength for the fight ahead. It’s very far from over and it’s going to get even uglier, but we cannot afford to stop. Our country needs us.

It is time for intolerance of incompetence

Another day, another screw-up in government. Aside from the malice and selfishness which characterise many of our current crop of leaders, it is becoming increasingly clear how completely and utterly incompetent they are. We saw pretty stunning levels of incompetence during the election campaign this summer, when our Prime Minister could not muster up anything more creative or interesting than “strong and stable” for weeks on end. But what has been going on over the last few weeks has caused even cynical me to shake her head in disbelief.

The Home Office sends out hundreds of threatening letters to EU citizens in error. Nothing happens. A Tory whip sends out a sinister letter to vice chancellors of universities demanding information on Brexit-related teaching, providing the Daily Mail with yet another enemy of people, those pesky Remoaner Universities. This earns him a half-hearted rebuke, but nothing serious. Boris Johnson condemns a British national to a further five years in an Iranian prison by apparently not bothering to read his brief on the case, by fundamentally not understanding that when dealing with countries like Iran, every single word has to be carefully chosen and weighed up. Nothing happens. Priti Patel engages in arguably treasonous behaviour by embarking upon a series of unofficial meetings with high-level Israeli counterparts without telling Number 10 or the Foreign Office. She is allowed to resign from her cabinet post, but remains an MP.

I find it remarkable that when government ministers display unforgivable levels of incompetence, all that happens is that they resign from cabinet. Michael Fallon has been another case in point — though this was more about immoral behaviour than simply incompetence. Are we not to expect higher standards from our MPs as well? Why should I continue to be represented by someone who has shown themselves to be unfit for public office?

And then to the most absurd display of incompetence of recent weeks: David Davis and his sectoral impact assessments. He first tells us that there are 58 very detailed Brexit impact assessments prepared, which are so sensitive that releasing them to the public would damage our negotiating position in Brussels. Upon being compelled by parliament to release them, because his case for secrecy is about as flimsy as the rest of the Leave campaign’s argumentation, Davis tells us that “it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist.” Again, nothing really happens.

This is despite the fact that Davis is clearly misleading us because the assessments cannot exist and then suddenly not exist, unless they existed and were then forever shredded out of existence — which would make me seriously concerned about the contents. They must be so incendiary and undermining of the Brexit cause that they may no longer be allowed to continue to exist at all. It’s actually a perfect reflection of the way the government handles inconvenient truths these days: any facts that do not fit the Brexiter worldview are simply banished from existence, and if you speak of them then you are either a liar or a traitor to the country.

We are truly living in absurd times. In another pre-referendum world, any one of these displays of incompetence and disloyalty would have been met with a sacking or resignation, preferably from politics altogether. But Brexit has destabilised this government and the nation to such an extent that we must now tolerate this sheer incompetence, because losing half the cabinet in the space of a week really isn’t a good look.

And so Boris continues to embarrass us on the world stage and endanger British lives overseas, hardline Brexiters continue to put party over country, Davis continues to make a shambles of negotiations.

A responsible, competent government would have convened a cross-party panel of experts to establish a Brexit working group soon after the referendum. They would have worked out in detail what the likely impacts would be, what needed to be considered and resolved, and what we wanted from negotiations — if we decided to leave the EU at all. And then, only then, would the government have triggered Article 50.

Instead, the government continues to negotiate with itself instead of the EU, we are facing an EU ultimatum and a possible breakdown of talks, a leave date enshrined in law for no good reason and a growing threat of a no-deal exit with all the misery that will entail.

Davis’ assurances that we will have a “basic deal” on things such as aviation and radiation therapy show that he still does not understand that a deal with the EU is not just based on political will, which is in any case rapidly diminishing thanks to his incompetence and arrogance, it requires legal arrangements that need to be negotiated. The same goes for citizens’ rights and the Irish border, which are not simply mere technicalities that can be quickly resolved if everyone just tries a little harder.

It is time we stop tolerating this incompetence and demand a higher standard of skill and a stronger moral compass from our government and all of our MPs. Because this rot at the heart of Westminster will only make our nation poorer — in every sense of the word.

Recent DexEU response

Like many of you, I suspect, I was a lucky recipient of DexEU’s recent reply to a popular petition demanding a referendum on the final Brexit deal. I signed the petition mainly to register my protest at how the entire process is being handled, and less because I am adamant that there should be a second referendum — I would prefer our politicians to see sense before we ever reach this stage. I wanted to make the point that the way Brexit is being conducted is undermining our democracy and completely ignoring the wishes of those who wanted to remain, and even those who simply wanted a soft Brexit.

And the reply certainly lived up to my expectations of our current government — arrogant, blind, haughty, misinformed and with distinct authoritarian tendencies. What follows is a look at the text all signatories of the petition were sent — my favourite bits and my thoughts on this patronising and anger-inducing piece of garbage.

On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Really? Thanks for reminding me. I temporarily forgot about that.

The UK Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum.

Will you please just stop already with the “will of the people” nonsense?! Firstly, who are the people? Because last time I checked, an awful lot of the people voted to remain, and many others did not vote. Even more people were disenfranchised, especially overseas Britons, casting doubt on the validity of the entire exercise and certainly on the notion that this was the will of the “people.” And if you are referring to that slender majority of people who did vote, well even in that case, the “will of the people” is not an immutable, fixed thing. It changes over time. That’s the entire point of a democracy. Or, dear Tories, should we have a permanent Labour government with Tony Blair at the helm because that was the “will of the people” in 1997?

“… On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union.

You actually just said that a couple sentences ago, but thanks again for reminding me.

The referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history.

This is meaningless twaddle. That is because it was a choice between two things. The vote to remain was the second-largest democratic mandate in UK political history. But as has been made clear, that mandate does not matter to this government, the 48% are irrelevant.

In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

Yet more twaddle. In our wonderfully archaic electoral system, we essentially have a choice between two parties. It so happens that they are both led by anti-Europeans, and many pro-Europeans will have felt forced to vote Labour to keep the Tories from winning in their constituencies. It in no way follows that 85% of people support Brexit, this line of reasoning from DexEU is an obvious logical fallacy.

There must be no attempts to remain inside the European Union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum.

Wait. A. Minute. Is the UK still a democracy? Erm, I think so. So I can bloody well attempt to do anything I like. I can attempt to remain in the EU. I can attempt to rejoin it through the back door — or the front door, for that matter — and I can attempt to lobby for a second referendum. How dare you tell me what I can and cannot attempt to do? As long as my actions are legal, you have no right to stop me attempting anything. And I promise, should you be so foolish as to take us out of the EU, especially without a deal, we will keep attempting to rejoin the EU over the long haul. And that is my right. You can label me “unpatriotic” as much as you like, but you will not take this right away from me.

The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.

Did the country vote to leave the EU? I had just forgotten that so thanks for reminding me.

Rather than second guess the British peoples decision to leave the European Union, the challenge now is to make a success of it – not just for those who voted leave but for every citizen of the United Kingdom, bringing together everyone in a balanced approach which respects the decision to leave the political structure of the EU but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

As parliamentarians, it is your duty to second guess the referendum result. Blindly accepting it and pushing the decision through without any real debate and any proper planning, regardless of the devastating consequences, is a dereliction of this duty.

A balanced approach? You have got to be kidding. Serious talk of a no-deal Brexit is not a balanced approach. You have never taken the concerns of Remainers on board, you have relentlessly made us feel like second-class citizens and traitors of the country. You have referred to our neighbours, allies and partners as “the enemy.” Do not insult my intelligence by pretending you are taking a balanced approach.

Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50 As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the Government is determined to see through that instruction.

Did the people vote to leave the EU? You are right to remind me, because I am very stupid indeed and had forgotten this fact since the last time you mentioned it. The truly frightening thing about this particular section is that it says that no matter what happens, no matter how bad this Brexit thing gets, no matter how devastating the consequences for Britain, we will carry on with it because “the people voted to leave.” We simply no longer have the right to change our minds or ask for a change in direction. That sounds an awful lot like authoritarianism to me.

Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU. We aim to get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people here at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.

Argh! I had again forgotten that the people had voted to leave the EU. Thanks again for reminding me DexEU! You are such a good friend for making sure I don’t forget this important thing. I mean, I am liable to forget the event that this entire omnishambolic mess is based on.

A country that is stronger? The World Bank has predicted that a no-deal Brexit will see UK trade in goods plummet by 50% and by a staggering 62% in services. In this world, how on earth will the UK be stronger? We are already weaker as a result of Brexit, and it hasn’t even happened yet.

A country that is fairer? Being a member of the EU guaranteed our basic rights to things such as paid holiday and maternity leave. It ensured we upheld basic environmental standards. It did not stop the British government from adopting policies that would have helped to reduce inequalities: a failure of domestic politics has made our society unfair. And leaving the EU will only make this worse, as we inevitably end up having to dismantle our system of rights and standards to be able to compete economically.

A country that is more united? I can barely dignify this with a response. We are more divided than ever. Theresa May could have come to power promising to heal the divides caused by the referendum, but every day her government has been in office, their rhetoric has only increased these divides. Hate crimes have soared since the referendum, in the permissive environment that it created. And don’t get me started on the issue of the Irish border.

More outward-looking? Sorry while I step out for a moment to have a good laugh. In my lifetime, we have never been more inward-looking. Major global issues are being debated and resolved without our presence. We no longer speak for Europe on the UN Security Council, as that role has now fallen to France. We have no bandwidth to conduct creative foreign policy because every bit of resource is consumed by mitigating the fallout from Brexit. Foreign talent is leaving the island in droves. Jobs are being relocated to the continent. More outward-looking?!

Department for Exiting the European Union

DexEU, your words are nothing but empty promises and platitudes. Please stop lying to me. Stop patronising me. Stop telling me to shut up and put up. Because I won’t, because you are ruining my country and I won’t sit idly by and let it happen.

Brexit and the manipulation of language

In my last entry, I quoted liberally from Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language in support of my argument that imprecise language is contributing to a debasement of our political discourse and pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Orwell wrote in this essay that a lot of political speech and writing was “in defence of the indefensible.” As a result, political speech was littered with euphemisms, platitudes, metaphors and “sheer cloudy vagueness.” I believe this explains rather a lot of the political language that has emerged from the Brexit camp, most notably the tagline to “take back control.” We still do not know what we are taking control of. Instead, we know that things seem pretty out of control. We also know that there were never £350 million a week to take back, that Turkey is not even remotely close to joining the EU and that the process is not going to be “easy.”

We all know that politics is full of spin, but this campaign and its aftermath have opened up our political discourse not just to imprecision, but above all to dishonesty and outright lies. Language is distorted in a way to make these lies sound truthful. The inevitable pain of Brexit is masked in a rhetoric of glory, triumph and confidence. And if you dare expose these lies, this farce, then you are a Remoaner at best and unpatriotic at worst. The Brexiteers are already setting up the Remainers as the next scapegoat after the EU — it will eventually be our fault that Brexit is not turning out to be a roaring success.

Language is also manipulated to dehumanise anyone who disagrees with the set path or is merely seen to do so — look no further than the Daily Mail front page branding our top judges “enemies of the people.” And let us not forget how language has been used throughout human history to dehumanise “the other”, anyone who differs from the majority. This happens anytime a politician uses the word “swarm” to refer to a group of migrants, when leaders label anyone with a migrant background “foreign” without any consideration for the multitude of reasons and motivations for people to come here and the many positive contributions that migrants make to this country. It happens anytime the media refers to “us” and “them.” History shows us that the gap between dehumanising words and actions is precariously small, and anyone who believes in a liberal, free and tolerant nation needs to counter this language as soon as it emerges, lest we endorse it by our silence or inaction.

All of us have to play our part in reversing this trend of dishonesty and obfuscation and in bringing facts and clarity back into political discourse. Whether you voted Remain or Leave, hold the Brexiteers to account. Ask them constantly where the £350 million a week for NHS is. Ask them why they never told us about the tens of billions we will pay just to exit the Union. Ask them when Turkey is joining. Ask them why your holidays have become so much more expensive. Ask them why there are no longer enough nurses in the NHS, no workers to pick our fruit, no staff available for care homes. Ask them why your wages haven’t gone up. Hold them to account for their lies, so that it no longer pays politically to deceive the British people. Because this deception goes far beyond the issue of Brexit, it threatens to undermine the very fabric of our democracy.