The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The UK's reputation in Europe

Whether you prefer "shooting oneself in the foot" or "circular firing squad" as your metaphor, the UK's flailing with just a week left to go before crashing out of the EU has disappointed many people in Europe:

For politicians, diplomats and officials across the continent, the past two-and-a-half years of the Britain’s fraught, seemingly interminable and increasingly shambolic departure from the EU have proved an eye-opener.

Some have responded with humour. Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said recently that if she had one, she would call her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.”

Others have found it harder to laugh. To the shock of many, ;Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years, and unrealistic.

Only, Britain has been here so many times before. Crashing out of India so hard that the country hasn't had a day of peace in 70 years? Check. Getting rolled by the Soviets after putting a Soviet spy in charge of rooting out Soviet spies? Check. Appeasing a fascist regime bent on European hegemony? Check.

And now, it seems, Russia has rolled them again, as no country stands to gain more from Brexit than they. And still they're flailing about, going through the worst Constitutional crisis (self-inflicted!) since the 17th Century.

It's really sad.

UK government commits to not banging out of the EU unilaterally

In her speech to the House of Commons this afternoon, PM Theresa May promised a vote on March 13th to avoid a calamitous withdrawal from the European Union less than two weeks later:

Here's the relevant bit from Hansard:

As the Government committed to the House last week, we are today publishing the paper assessing our readiness for no deal. I believe that if we have to, we will ultimately make a success of a no deal. But this paper provides an honest assessment of the very serious challenges it would bring in the short term and further reinforces why the best way for this House to honour the referendum result is to leave with a deal. 

As I committed to the House, the Government will today table an amendable motion for debate tomorrow. But I know Members across the House are genuinely worried that time is running out—that if the Government do not come back with a further meaningful vote, or they lose that vote, Parliament will not have time to make its voice heard on the next steps. I know too that Members across the House are deeply concerned by the effect of the current uncertainty on businesses. So today I want to reassure the House by making three further commitments. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Secondly, if the Government have not won a meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March, then they will, in addition to their obligations to table a neutral, amendable motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, table a motion to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March, at the latest, asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. So the United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome.

Thirdly, if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50, and, if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. ... They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister, and I will stick by them, as I have previous commitments to make statements and table amendable motions by specific dates.

But let me be clear—I do not want to see article 50 extended. Our absolute focus should be on working to get a deal and leaving on 29 March.

The video includes all the derisive laughter from both sides of the house.

This, along with Jeremy Corbyn's about-face yesterday, means that there could actually be a second Brexit referendum:

There is now a real prospect of another referendum. Labour has committed to several parliamentary manoeuvres including one final stab at its own Brexit, which will certainly fail; another to support Yvette Cooper’s attempt to push no deal further into the realm of destructive fantasy, where it belongs; and a vote on an amendment demanding that any Brexit deal approved by the Commons must be ratified in a public referendum. In that public vote, Labour will campaign to remain in the EU.

“Sources” within Labour continue to deny this new reality, even as its senior frontbenchers have announced it. “It’s a disgrace,” one told me, “that unelected, unsourced voices are briefing against Labour’s frontbench.” “If they want to speak for the Labour party,” a staffer said, “they should stand for the Labour party.” The position as it stands now is not the seismic shift some suggest. It is a continuation of the policy adopted at Labour’s party conference last September. And credit for it belongs with the grassroots of the Labour party.

So, will the UK come back from the brink on Brexit? We'll find out in the next four weeks. 

Labour backs new Brexit referendum

In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Corbyn announced at a Labour party conference today that he supports a "people's vote" on the Brexit deal the UK Government worked out with the EU, and that hardly anyone in the UK agrees with:

In a statement, the party said it would “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.

Corbyn will tell MPs the party “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. He will say EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid found Labour’s alternative Brexit plan “serious and credible” and it could win support across the House of Commons.

“One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Other news sources suggest that Corbyn's volte face came about after the resignations of 9 MPs from Labour last week.

The next Commons vote on Brexit will take place March 12th, according to sources in Parliament, giving the Government only two weeks to react to another rejection before crashing out of Europe. With both Corbyn and May playing chicken with the British public, I can only wonder when the next election will happen.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

Everyone's talking about John Bercow

As I noted last week, John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has exercised more control over the Brexit debate in Parliament than previous speakers would have dared. Today, Parliament votes on amendments to the Brexit deal that could radically change its outcome, and Bercow is the one choosing which amendments, and which MPs, get heard. The Guardian has a podcast going even more into the details. And yesterday, the New Yorker brought the issue to the smart set:

On Thursday, I spoke to Vernon Bogdanor, a visiting professor of government at King’s College London, who is one of Britain’s leading constitutional scholars, about Bercow. “I think he has damaged the role of the Speaker,” Bogdanor told me. “Every other Speaker in living memory has been scrupulously neutral, never been accused of any partisanship. He is the first.” Next week, the pressure will increase further. Bercow’s every call will be scrutinized. On Tuesday—the next big day in Brexit—the Speaker has to choose six amendments from M.P.s, which will set the course of the drama for the coming weeks. Another plot among rebel M.P.s, who are searching for a cross-party solution to Brexit, is to suspend the rule that gives the government’s agenda priority in the House of Commons. If Bercow allows that, it would probably be the most dramatic act by a Speaker since William Lenthall defied King Charles I, who was trying to arrest five M.P.s, in January, 1642—and that helped set off the First English Civil War.

One of the saddest, and most maddening, aspects of Brexit has been the timidity of many British politicians to speak their mind about what is happening to the country. Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn has ever said—or is likely to say—that leaving the E.U. will be positive for Britain’s health, wealth, culture, or well-being. It is both shocking and not surprising that one of the only people who really isn’t allowed to have a point of view about Brexit seems determined to express it—and that isn’t helping, either.

The votes are underway at this writing. I'll have more later today or early tomorrow, and some analysis of tomorrow's PMQs.

Go home, Theresa. You're done.

The much-anticipated vote in the UK House of Commons on Theresa May's Brexit deal failed by a spectacular 432-202 vote. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a vote of no confidence, which could lead to elections before the end of February:

In her final appeal in Parliament, Mrs. May impressed on the lawmakers the importance of the vote facing them. “The responsibility on each and every one of us at this moment is profound,” she said, “for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.”

Like most others, though, the prime minister has no easy answers about the way forward. She has signaled that she will appeal to the European Union in Brussels for concessions and try again to win parliamentary approval, but the bloc is unlikely to grant her any.

With no consensus behind any one pathway, and a vanishing window for further negotiation, more radical solutions are rising to the fore.

One group of lawmakers is campaigning for a repeat referendum, which could overturn the mandate to leave, and another favors leaving the European Union on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement, a move that experts warn could lead to shortages of some foods and an economic downturn.

“This is probably the most important piece of legislation for decades, and the executive can’t get it through,” said Tim Stanley, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph. “It’s a very dramatic moment.”

The problem, of course, is that almost no one has told the British public the complete truth about Brexit. Some British believe that crashing out of the EU will solve all their problems; of course, none of those people is an economist.

I can't see how the Tories, let alone May, survive this. But no one has an idea that can pass Commons right now. If Britain just leaves the EU without a deal...whoo boy. But that horrific possibility just became significantly more likely today.

Confidence

After lying to nearly everyone about how easy the UK leaving the EU would be, pro-Brexit members of the Conservative Party have forced a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Theresa May for negotiating a realistic deal with Brussels. She'll win; but as Conservative MP Simon Hart has said, "I think it’s a really strange time to be trying to depose somebody right at the final stages of the most complicated negotiations the country’s ever been involved with."

The Guardian has more:

Downing Street has dropped a heavy hint that Theresa May would not seek to lead her party into the next general election, even if she wins Wednesday night’s confidence vote.

As May embarked on a series of face-to-face meetings with her backbench colleagues in a bid to secure their backing, a spokesman said: “She does not believe that this vote, today, is about who leads the Conservative party into the next election – it is about whether it is sensible to change the leader at this point in the Brexit process.”

In a statement outside No 10 on Wednesday morning, May vowed to fight for her colleagues’ support “with everything I’ve got” – and warned that overthrowing her could hand the keys of Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn.

“A change of leadership in the Conservative party now would put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it,” she said. “A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21 January legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament.”

The next general election is not formally due until 2022, under the Fixed Term Parliament Act; but with MPs deadlocked over the best way forward for Brexit, the likelihood of a fresh general election is increasing.

That's one of the best things about the UK constitution, in my book: they can change governments any time they need to. That said, from my perch 6,000 km from Westminster I have even less confidence in Jeremy Corbyn than in May, which is sad because I generally support Labour over the Tories.

Someday we're going to have much more solid evidence of outside (read: Russian) interference in Western politics. Today, though, we have to deal with half the Tories and half of Labour living in alternate realities from each other and from the majority of Britons.

Where are the feminists for May?

Why is a white, gay, male, naturalized American the only journalist I have come across saying Theresa May deserves a lot more credit for persisting in the face of unrelenting male hostility? Sullivan:

I don’t know how else to describe Theresa May’s grueling slog toward the least worst Brexit possible.

The awkward prime minister is still standing upright, though maybe not for much longer. In this respect, I’m surprised more feminists haven’t come to May’s defense. May’s bourgeois Toryism, like Margaret Thatcher’s, doubtless disqualifies her from any respect from the left. But her tenacity in the midst of male obloquy is emblematic of many themes American feminists focus on.

May, after all, is taking responsibility while her male colleagues posture and preen and complain or resign; she gets almost no credit for negotiating one of the more complex international deals in British history for two demoralizing years; she works harder than anyone else in her government; and the deal she has struck is almost certainly the only one the E.U. will ever accept. A woman, in other words, got the toughest job in government in decades, did the best that could be done, has been pilloried for it, but still plowed on, and even now, won’t surrender. Her pragmatism and resilience — along with remarkably good cheer in public — are a wonder to behold. I guess May’s feminism, like Thatcher’s, requires no labeling.

Yes. Brexit is pathologically stupid; yet May has to make it work. She'll probably be out of office by March, of course, leaving the hard work up to someone who hasn't got the tools to get it done. Oh, England.

Boris Johnson has ruined Britain

So says British journalist Jenni Russell:

Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers — led largely by Mr. Johnson — sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. They did so because neither Mr. Johnson nor his fellow leader of the Leave campaign, Michael Gove, intended, wanted or expected to win.

Because Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gove were confident that the Leave campaign was a hopeless cause, they were free to make ridiculous claims that they had no expectation of ever having to fulfill. They said that Brexit would make Britain both richer and more independent, with more money for the National Health Service, much greater control of immigration and continued friction-free trade with Europe.

Every earnest warning from the other side — about how any Brexit would damage trade, business and jobs — was dismissed airily by the Brexiteers. There were no costs or downsides in this vision of the future.

This casual dishonesty has had devastating consequences.

Russell goes on to list those devastating consequences, with devastating effect.

I'm baffled by how so many people can believe someone so obviously full of shit as Johnson. Maybe now that he's out of the Cabinet (but, tellingly, not out of Parliament) he won't be as effective in his destructive tendencies.

Labour wins...Kensington?

A few minutes ago, the Central London constituency of Kensington was declared for Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad, who defeated incumbent MP Lady Victoria Borwick by 20 votes.

Imagine Bernie Sanders winning Kenilworth, Ill., or Beverly Hills, Calif., and you have a good idea how weird this is. Citylab explains:

[T]he richest cluster of neighborhoods in Europe has just for the first time in its history voted in an MP from the center-left Labour Party.

It may be understandably hard for an American reader to understand how seismic this shift is. The U.K.’s Labour Party, which first rose to prominence as an explicitly socialist party in the 1920s, has never had much of a foothold with the old guard that Kensington is associated with. It’s historically been to the left of U.S. Democrats, a position it has returned to under current leader Jeremy Corbyn, who's stood on a platform of nationalizing railways and postal services and abolishing university fees. This isn’t like citizens of the Upper East Side or Bel Air cheerleading for Hillary. It’s like raising the red flag over Downton Abbey.

That’s because, despite its wealth, Kensington is one of the most drastically unequal areas in all of Britain.

The residents behind the doors of Kensington’s rows of lavish Victorians may not have voted Conservative because they are not eligible to vote in Britain or are too disconnected from British politics by wealth and habit to care overly about who represents a place they merely breeze through. That means that Kensington’s electoral decisions are increasingly being made by those who remain in the district full-time, who might as well be living on a completely different planet.

In the area’s northern reaches, it’s a different story. A place where pretty Victorian streets give way densely populated public housing (including Brutalist icon the Trellick Tower) this area doesn’t look at all bad, and is even somewhat chi-chi in patches. Much of it is still populated by an ethnically diverse range of residents who, in austerity-hit Britain, are having a very tough time indeed. Their homes may be located within 15 minutes walk of some of the world’s wealthiest citizens, but poorer residents’ access to good jobs and (beyond public housing tenancies guarded like Fabergé eggs) affordable housing is limited and getting worse.

The political storm that flipped Kensington is happening on a wider scale across the U.K.

Last night was such an embarrassment for Teresa May it's just hard to wrap my head around it. She's made a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to form a coalition, so she'll hang on to her job. But the DUP's 10 seats plus the Tories' 318 give her a two-vote majority in the 650-seat House of Commons—not exactly a mandate. So when's the next election? On an over-under, I'd bet on before the end of 2018.