Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Brexitwatch: Kent's Brexit bogs - is Boris Johnson planning his greatest double cross?

There's a story doing the rounds that the UK could rejoin the EU in short order under Article 49. I personally do not give it a lot of credence. Nor do I think we should arrogantly assume that other EU members would want us back after the way we've behaved over the last four years.

Still, it does make you wonder. As I've noted many times, anything you say about Boris Johnson has to be highly speculative because you can't believe a word he says. 

So why is Johnson's government building 'Farage Garages' all over the place to accommodate lorry drivers stranded by Brexit, and why is Kent being turned into a public toilet that you'll need a passport to get in and out of?

Is this just the inevitable result of a no-deal Brexit or whatever lousy bare bones deal Johnson manages to do?

Or is it to ram home to the Brexiters what a disaster leaving the EU is going to be (Kent voted 59% for Brexit in the referendum), and to soften them up for an eventual application to rejoin or at least to agree a relationship that keeps us in the Single Market and the Customs Union? After all, it's quite clear that Johnson knows perfectly well that Brexit is a thoroughly foolish idea for the UK, however much it may have advanced him personally.

I don't believe this is Johnson's game, and I wouldn't put any money on it, but he knows that if he is not to go down in history as the UK's worst ever (and possibly last) prime minister, then at some point he needs to pivot away from disaster.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Brexitwatch: The Level Playing Field Mystery

'Watson. As you know, at the root of the art of detection is observation.'

'Of course, Holmes.'

'So why did I not observe it? Did I not follow the Brexit referendum campaign as closely as any man?'

'You did, Holmes.'

'So why did I not see the Level Playing Field, which we are now being told is the reason we cannot reach agreement with the European Union?'

'Perhaps because it was never there? Perhaps because "We need to leave the EU so we can hand out shedloads of hard-earned taxpayers' cash to 'businesses' run by mates of Dominic Cummings" might not have been an effective slogan?'

'And particularly not on the side of a bus! Capital, Watson!'

'But Holmes do you think the Conservatives had to conceal the fact that they wanted to use your money and mine, and the admirable Mrs Hudson's, to prop up unviable businesses because they have always said that lame ducks must go to the wall, that you can't buck the market. Indeed, wasn't Johnson saying the other day that the private sector always knows better than the state?'

'Though Cummings thinks he knows better than everyone. Watson, you excel yourself.  But there is another hypothesis, or indeed several.' The great detective paused to take a deep draught from his pipe. 'Suppose Johnson knew nothing of any of this during the referendum campaign? Suppose Cummings concealed it from him? Or suppose Cummings himself did not know about it, and that the idea came to him only after he watched 'Dragon's Den', saw the dragons, and thought:"I'd like to do that." Or suppose Cummings could see there was a danger of the EU and the UK reaching a sensible agreement, and decided that must be stopped at all costs, and that the Level Playing Field was just a useful pretext?'

'So what's the answer, Holmes?'

'That, Watson, is the mystery, but I wager the solution will bring no man any good.'

Friday, 2 October 2020

Brexitwatch: why Boris Johnson may go for 'no deal'

On 27 September, I put the case for why Boris Johnson may cave in and make a deal with the EU. Today I look at why he may be forced to settle for 'no deal'.

I was watching a clip from Johnson campaigning before the 2016 Brexit referendum. In the space of about 50 seconds, he promised: 1 Brexit would be 'win-win'. 2. There would be no tariffs. 3. There would be no trade barriers. 4. The City of London would continue to have the same access it has to now to the EU.

No deal that Johnson can achieve could possibly fulfil even these promises. To say nothing of all the others that were made - that we could have our cake and eat it, we could enjoy all the benefits of EU membership without any of the responsibilities, that it would make the UK better off, provide more money for the NHS etc, etc.

So the danger of a deal for Johnson is that it will be measured against the promises he and his acolytes made. And, therefore, perhaps the safest thing is to have 'no deal' and try to put the blame on the EU.

Certainly Johnson's government has been working very hard at that. The UK is reneging on treaties and breaking international law - that's the EU's fault. The UK's doctrinaire refusal to compromise means no progress is being made - that's the EU's fault, etc, etc.

So here is one reason why Johnson may feel 'no deal' is his safest option, and there are others which I will examine in the coming days - always remembering the health warning: because you cannot believe a word Johnson says, it is very hard to predict what he will do. 

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Brexitwatch: Boris Johnson - deal or no deal?

Sam Goldwyn warned: 'Never make predictions, especially about the future', and making predictions about Boris Johnson is especially hazardous because you can't believe a word he says (see my post of 5 January).

According to the crankish game theories of Johnson, or perhaps more important - Cummings, the UK will get a good deal only if the EU believes it is serious about 'walking away' from negotiations and settling for 'no deal'. (Though the consequences of no deal are now so widely recognised to be disastrous that Johnson-Cummings have had to try to rebadge it as an 'Australia-type' deal.)

There is no evidence that the EU are in the slightest degree impressed by this nonsense, but plenty that it keeps the more fanatically anti-EU element among Johnson-Cummings' supporters happy.

Nye Bevan asked: 'Why look in the crystal ball, when you can read the book?' And we have already seen Johnson-Cummings with their backs against the wall during the negotiations. They also threatened to walk away during the Withdrawal Agreement talks, but in the end they signed up to whatever the EU demanded, including things like a border in the Irish Sea that Theresa May had rejected. They and their nodding dogs then claimed this was a great victory.

Johnson-Cummings' attempt to renege on that agreement may mean that an even more humiliating climbdown will be required to get a deal on the future relationship, as the EU is probably unlikely to take much on trust from now on. But with a mendacious right-wing press still highly compliant on Brexit, if not on Covid, Johnson may still be calculating that he can repeat his earlier trick: surrender, then claim victory, while his media accomplices play along.

So, if I was forced to predict an outcome, it would be this one, though I wouldn't bet much on it. I'll be examining other possibilities over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Brexitwatch: this wasn't meant to happen Part 4: inside DUP headquarters

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, people said: 'the Republicans are too clever to admit they've lost, and the Loyalists are too stupid to realise they've won'. This may appear to have been confirmed by the DUP's apparently foolish decision to support Brexit, which has done more damage to the Union in 4 years than the IRA managed in 30. Fortunately, I can reveal that all this is scurrilous nonsense thanks to a recording secretly made at DUP headquarters of a wide-ranging 58 second long debate on the stance the party should take in the Brexit referendum.

'Right. Next business. EU referendum. Leave or Remain?'

'How many Papists are there in the EU?'

'Er, millions, tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions.'

'Hmm. What are the Fenians going to do?'

'Sinn Fein? Oh. They're backing Remain.'

'Right. We back Leave.'

'Hang on, though under the GFA....


'Good Friday Agreement.'

'Oh yes. I've got another name for it. Great Fuc....' 

[Loudly and hastily]. 'Yes thank you. Well the Good Friday Agreement only works if both Northern Ireland and the Republic are in the EU.....'

[Interrupts] So what are they saying on the Shankill?

'They tend to back Leave.'

'So Leave it is. Next business.'

'But hang on. If we leave the EU and "take back control of our borders", there'll have to be a border in Ireland between the UK and the EU. Now we can't have a land border because that would break the GFA, so that means a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.'


'That means the end of the Union! A de facto United Ireland.'

'No it won't.'

'What do you mean: "it won't".'

'It won't, because Leave won't win in a month of Sundays. Remain'll win, but we'll get credit for giving the Papist EU a kicking. Leave it is. Next business.'

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Brexitwatch: this wasn't meant to happen! Part 3 - Boris Johnson's 115th Dream

Boris and Carrie are sitting watching television. Now read on:

 ‘Oh great! Season 4 of ‘The Crown’!’

‘Oh yes. World-beating! But wait a minute, Carrie. That caption says March 3, 2021. None of this has happened yet. How can they know about it?’

‘Shh. I’m trying to watch the programme.’

‘Oh God! I don’t look like that. Surely they could have found somebody better looking! And he’s nearly bald!  Where’s the phone. I’m going to get on to that new head honcho we put in – Davey Somebody – and make him take this off.’

 ‘Boris! It’s not the BBC, it’s Netflix. Now shut up and listen.’

‘Oh. I was expecting to see the Queen.’

A hint of a mirthless smile flickers beneath an impressive moustache. ‘I’m afraid Her Majesty is otherwise engaged. She asked me to see you on her behalf.’

‘Hold on!  I recognise you. You’re Tommy Lascelles. You were in the last series or the one before. You can’t see me, because you’re dead.’

Unlike his interlocutor, the urbane functionary is not in the least nonplussed. ‘Don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia, Mr Johnson. It sometimes…….exaggerates.’

‘You mean “prime minister”’

‘Mr Johnson.’ The mirthless smile was back.

‘Well, the point is that once parliament has passed this ‘Unilateral Cancellation of EU Trade Agreement Bill’, I’ll need HMQ to give the Royal Assent pronto, so we can implement the populi voluntatem without delay and all that.’

‘And, of course, if you ask Her Majesty to take that action, she will have to comply.’


‘Which is precisely why you will not do it.’

‘What do you mean, Lascelles? You can’t obstruct the will of the people.’

‘I have here a few papers for your perusal.’ (The phrase: ‘Restricted. Top Secret. Not for Fatman’s eyes’ are fleetingly visible on one.)

‘Oh. I’ll take them back to number 10. Dom reads that kind of stuff for me.’

‘The papers will not be leaving this room, and, Mr Cummings is (Lascelles consults his watch) as of now, ‘a guest of Her Majesty’, as I think they say in the films. Apparently something about his time in Russia?’

‘There’s no point trying to frighten me about leaking stuff to the press. The ephemerides are all in my pocket and the BBC daren’t sneeze without my say so.’

The immaculately turned out royal servant produces a newspaper and eases it across the table. ‘If the papers I showed you a moment ago are too voluminous, perhaps you might cast your eye over this?’

“‘Bang Up Boris’ call. Gove poised for No 10.” What’s this?

‘The front page of tomorrow morning’s (Lascelles raises his eyebrows and utters the next word as though wiping something nasty off the sole of his Berluti Oxford) Sun. I managed to persuade them to tone it down from ‘string up’ to ‘bang up’.’

‘That bastard Gove! It’s a fake, Rupert would never do this to me.’

‘If you examine the papers I suggested you should read, you will see that some (the pause is followed by the same tone of voice used for ‘Sun’) gentlemen who had hoped to profit from certain actions of yours felt they had not received the degree of forewarning you promised, and so have not profited as much as they had anticipated.’

‘Can I get my mobile?’

‘As you know, these audiences are strictly mobile-free.’

‘Then I need to get back to Number 10 right now.’

‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible. Some kind of security alert. The police say there’s a suspected criminal in the building. However (it’s that mirthless smile again) should you wish to avail yourself of a generous offer from President Putin, you may leave now and take asylum in Krasnoyarsk.’

‘What the hell is that?’

‘A place in Siberia. The president has provided special transport from here to the airport, and your flight leaves in a couple of hours. Aeroflot. I’m afraid he couldn’t get business class.’

‘You can’t do this. I’m the prime minister! I’m the prime minister!’

‘Oh Boris, do shut up! That’s the third time this week. Anyway it’s eleven o’ clock. Time for even you to get up. What are these dreams you keep having? Is it always the same one?

Friday, 11 September 2020

Brexitwatch: Now Johnson is bragging about breaking the law - time to write to the Queen again

Just over a year ago, I wrote to the Queen to warn her of the danger of becoming an accomplice in Boris Johnson's illegal suspension of parliament (see my post of 30 August 2019, and 13 September 2019 for the Queen's reply).

It is likely that very soon now, the Queen will be asked to approve the UK Internal Market Bill, which by the government's own admission ('boast' may be a more accurate word) reneges on the Withdrawal Agreement Johnson signed with the EU, and support for which was the key policy that won him a general election just ten months ago, and breaks international law. Even prominent Brexiters like Lord (Michael) Howard and Lord (Norman) Lamont are unable to stomach this. 

So I have written to the Queen again, suggesting that her previous contention that 'I have to do whatever the prime minister tells me' is inadequate in a situation in which she is being asked to approve the UK breaking the law. Here is my letter:

Your Majesty,

 A year ago, I wrote to you to warn you of the dangers of simply following the orders of your prime minister. The result of following those orders was that you became an accomplice in an illegal prorogation of parliament. Now very soon, it is highly likely that your prime minister will instruct you to endorse the UK government breaking international law.

 I am sorry this crisis should have come upon when you are in your 90s and when you have given your country a long lifetime of devoted service, but you are The Queen.

 Unlike the prorogation, which Mr Johnson’s government at least pretended they believed was legal, with the repudiation of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, your government is actually boasting that it is breaking the law.

 This agreement you will remember was freely agreed to by the prime minister, was approved by Conservative MPs, who refused to allow parliament time to scrutinise it properly, and then became the centrepiece of the Conservative Party’s successful campaign in a general election just ten months ago.

 You very kindly got your deputy correspondence co-ordinator to reply on your behalf to my previous letter, but her assertion that you must always ‘act on the advice of your ministers’ is surely inadequate when they keep telling you to do things that are illegal.

 I would humbly urge you the next time you are instructed to perform or endorse an act that may be illegal to seek your own independent legal advice. Would it not also be wise to seek the views of the leader of the opposition, of the other five living prime ministers, and of previous Lord Chancellors?  

 As I wrote in my first letter: ‘The national interest of our country, and particularly the long-term interest, such as protecting our democracy, is not the same thing as what a particular prime minister or government happens to find convenient at a particular moment. So there needs to be someone in our constitution who plays the role of standing up for the national interest, when necessary, against the prime minister or government of the day.’

 There is no one but you who can do this. These are the most dangerous times the UK has faced since World War Two. Please do not let us down.

 Yours sincerely,


John Withington