You’ve seen it all before
The clock is ticking: in just over five months, the UK will depart the European Union. Since the historic vote in June 2016, we’ve witnessed an endless stream of Brexit-related news, covering the claims, counter-claims, recriminations and prognostications of the hard Brexiteers, soft Brexiteers, still-committed remainers (“remoaners”), and – don’t forget – observers from that pesky little continent we’re trying to break away from.
So why does it feel like we haven’t got anywhere? Over the past ten days, the world once again had the pleasure of experiencing a scene from Brexit ground-hog day: Theresa May and her Brexit Secretary jaunt off to Europe to speak to their counterparts; the counterparts give little ground (‘so, what’s your plan on Northern Ireland, Prime Minister?’); May returns to accusations of double-crossery from the Tory right (‘a further extension?! We need to get out!’); the Prime Minister seeks to reassure and reaffirm her love of country; and all sides remain unconvinced but unwilling or unable to depose her.
At this point it is worth considering whether the plot of the 1993 film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as the guy constantly experiencing Groundhog Day, gives us any clues on how to break free from this recurring façade. In a nutshell, the message is to meet a challenging situation by performing good deeds, be honest with your loved ones and make ice sculptures of their faces. I’ve heard there is a cold-snap on the way…
France plans chaos
The latest scare story leak from Cabinet: the Government is preparing plans to charter ships to bring in food and medicines in the event of a “no deal” Brexit. Allegedly the Dover-Calais route for trade could quickly become blocked by new customs controls on the French side that would hold up critical imports of food and medicines.
David Lidington, the de-facto Deputy Prime Minister and long-time close ally of Theresa May warned – again allegedly – that the route could only be running at 12-55% of its capacity for up to six months.
Media on both sides of the debate have decided to further heighten tensions with Leave-leaning papers emphasising their outrage at France. The Sun ran with “France threatens to shut Calais if we refuse to pay Brexit divorce bill”, whilst the Mail went with “France will throw trade into chaos by blocking Calais after Brexit”.
And what are mischievous French authorities saying about this plot?
French politicians have reacted with derision saying that there was no plan for “any suicidal economic mission by French ports” whilst another said of the plan “who could believe such a thing? We have to do everything to guarantee fluidity”. So, crisis averted. Allegedly.
It’s a numbers game
This week in Brexit was given a particular spice by a march through central London on Saturday, where close to 700,000 people gathered calling for a second “people’s vote” on the final Brexit deal. According to the Guardian, the number of marchers “exceeded all expectations” and was the largest peaceful demonstration since the Iraq war protests in 2003 (to clarify: I’m not saying there have been larger unpeaceful demonstrations in that time).
The Government rebuffed the demands from the capital saying “we had a people’s vote in 2016. A second referendum would really be a politicians’ vote – politicians telling the people they got it wrong the first time and should try again.” Nigel Farage agreed but felt as though a figurative statement of intent was needed to match the carefully worded literal statement you’ve just read. The former UKIP leader and Leave means Leave Vice Chair addressed a rally of 1,200 people in Harrowgate, calling the events down south part of a campaign for a “losers vote”.
We’re hearing more about Brexit ‘losers’ this week with the group Our Future Our Choice releasing an analysis showing that millennials are set to lose up to £108,000 should no deal be agreed between the EU and UK in the coming months. Some of the marchers expressed concerns about the impact of Brexit on the young, with one septuagenarian explaining, “I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that at least I tried”. The intergenerational issues involved in Brexit appear to have fallen out of the headlines in recent months, with economic forecasts and analyses generally focusing on how Britain’s departure will affect the economy over the next 5-10 years. Then again, Farage says he’s “quite happy to have another referendum in 20 years or so”, so let’s be careful not to lose sight of that.
Lest we remember
Speaking of that great British ale drinker from Kent, I suspect readers all remember the controversial “Breaking Point” poster the man stood in front of in the days leading up to the Brexit vote, depicting a crowd of ethnic minority migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015. I also suspect most of us want to forget it, but forget it Farage hasn’t. This week the Member of the European Parliament for South East England (yes, that’s still a thing) revisited the use of the image which sparked race hate complaints in an interview with the Yorkshire Post, suggesting it “won the referendum” by keeping voters’ focus “on the danger of open borders”.
The Post article notes figures released this week showing a 17% rise in recorded hate crime between April 2017 and March 2018, with three quarters of the offenses categorised as “race hate”. Farage dismisses the link between this rise and the tone of elements of pro-leave campaigning, arguing that the poster was not racist but instead, “targeted at economic migrants taking the mickey.”
The migrants depicted in this poster, and many like them, know little of “taking the mickey”. Whether fleeing desperately poor living standards or war in their home countries, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in the migrant crisis of 2015 clearly had every reason – and the requisite bravery – to seek better lives for themselves and their families.
The son of a city stock broker and an admirer of Enoch Powell, Farage is clearly well qualified to discuss the intentions of, and circumstanced faced by the migrants depicted in the aforementioned poster. Farage’s circumstances could be set to improve quite nicely as it was confirmed this week that he will be among the UK MEPs entitled to a hefty pension payment from the European Parliament after Brexit. Talk about taking the mickey.
Time for tea in Brussels
Finally, in nationalist news, Belgian politician Mischael Modrikamen has announced that himself and Steve Bannon are set to launch ‘The Movement’ – a radical anti-integration, economic nationalist political group – via an inaugural summit in Brussels in January 2019. Bannon is best known as the man behind the ‘alt-right’ media organisation Breitbart who helped Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States, before falling out with his old chum, getting fired, and subsequently accusing Trump’s team of taking “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” steps to secure the presidency.
Now Bannon is getting set to bring his brand of madness to Europe and hopes to attract several members of the Trump administration and US Tea Party. It has been a stuttering start though, with far-right parties across Europe yet to be convinced it will be worth their while getting involved. There’s also something about the “The Brussels Tea Party” that doesn’t sound quite right. While the Boston Tea Party actually involved American revolutionaries dumping crates of tea into the harbour in protest at colonial taxes, there’s evidence that they actually quite liked the stuff. To the contrary, this study suggests that tea consumption in Belgium is significantly lower than the EU average, so perhaps a change in approach is needed from Bannon et al.
Interesting factoid on the Boston Tea Party: It took over three hours for American revolutionaries to throw 45 tonnes of tea into Boston Harbour, but not one person was hurt or injured.
Interesting factoid on factoids: ‘Factoid’ is just a fancier way of saying ‘fact’ (according to its common use anyway), so there’s really no reason to use the word. Like my colleague Stephen Roberts using ‘whilst’ (twice!) instead of ‘while’ in his submission above. Completely unnecessary.