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 May 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

Thursday 10 September 2020

My new book 'Assassins' Deeds' - 'entertaining and haunting' says an expert on terrorism

Thank you to Dr Tim Wilson, Director, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews, for his comments on my new book:

 ‘Like Shakespeare himself, Assassins’ Deeds offers us a stage memorably strewn with the most distinguished of corpses. ‘Bloody instructions’ (as Macbeth called them) are certainly to be found here in abundance. But there are also wise words about how often incompetence and unintended consequences derail the best laid plans. Assassination, Withington instructs us in entertaining style, is no exact science. A messy tale: and a haunting one.’

Assassins' Deeds. A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day, published by Reaktion, is out on 12 October.

It delves back 4,000 years to seek out the first known assassination, then examines the famous killings - Julius Caesar, Thomas Becket, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, right up to Qasem Soleimani, while also uncovering some less well-known deeds like those of the Turkish sultan who had nineteen of his brothers strangled. 

It examines how motivation has changed, and how methods often altered surprisingly little, in spite of great technological changes. It shows how often assassinations go wrong and how many victims were surprisingly careless. Abraham Lincoln had let his bodyguard go for a drink. Finally it investigates whether assassination works.