Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘Brexit’

Where are the simple joys of Maidenhead?

Theresa May’s gamble has gone badly wrong. There’s a danger of chaos overwhelming all of us now, but I want to take this moment, with the result  still fresh, to exult.

There is a special joy at seeing a tactically shrewd and wholly cynical and unprincipled scheme fail. The Tories made a principled case back in 2010 for fixed-term parliaments, which they enshrined in law. May made a principled case for not calling a new election last year when she took over the leadership last year. And then she abandoned all those principles as soon as she saw a political advantage in the sky-high poll numbers for herself and her party. There was no other justification than that she thought she was sure to win, because all the press barons loved her, and Jeremy Corbyn dresses badly, and she couldn’t conceive of having to compromise. Just to make it particularly destructive, she lit the 2-year fuse on Brexit before calling the new election, so that time is running out even while they sort out their mess in Westminster.

A reasonable conclusion would be that it was a mistake to try to run the country off the hard Brexit cliff on the basis of a paper-thin referendum majority, and that she should instead seek a broad consensus, at least on the EU negotiations, with all the major parties. That wouldn’t be Theresa May’s conclusion, though. She may not have been in favour of Brexit, but she’s not going to lose the opportunity to knife the perfidious foreigners, even if the price is collaborating with the DUP to undermine abortion rights, climate policy, and peace in Northern Ireland.

By the way, if you don’t recognise the reference in the post title…

More honesty: Migrants and Expats

I was poking around Google for more tabloid reporting on Brexit, and found this headline from The Sun:

Brussels ‘plotted for weeks’ to scupper Theresa May’s deal to secure fate of Brit expats in Europe and EU migrants in the UK

The British in Europe are “expats”, while the Europeans in Britain are migrants. Opinions differ, but to me the word expat is redolent of colonialism. An expat, in British vernacular, resides only temporarily in the benighted country where he labours to construct a simulacrum of civilisation, even if measured by calendar time he has spent most of his life there and never actually returns “home”. A migrant — not even an immigrant, which has a certain nobility to it — is an ethnic and civilisational climber, probably swarthy and reeking of garlic, who can wish nothing more than to leave his degraded origins behind him.

Unusual honesty from the tabloid press

The response to the French election in the nationalist UK press is unusually revealing. The Daily Mail left it off the front page entirely, though it had touted Le Pen after the first round. The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror published headlines that present Macron’s election as a setback for Britain’s Brexit plans. The Telegraph wrote “France’s new hope puts cloud over Brexit”, while the Mirror had “Why the new French leader could be bad for Brexit deal”. (The Daily Mirror, it should be noted, opposed Brexit.)

If the only thing that could be good for Brexit would be for France to elect a fascist president, doesn’t it kind of make you wonder about the wisdom of the whole project?

Fly me to the moon

In a democracy, what should be the relationship between leaders and the people? Last year Michael Gove famously offered a populist defense of Brexit against the dire warnings of economic experts: “people in this country have had enough of experts”. Donald Trump has obviously had great success with his idiosyncratic mix of doomsaying (“American carnage”) and pollyannaism (e.g. “You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost—and it’s going to be so easy”).* The vaguely conspiratorial premise — the spirit of “How to do it!” — is that our problems are all very simple, but elites are attempting to buttress their favoured position by making them seem complicated. (more…)

Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your colonies.

 

So, after Labour made it a point of triple-underlined principle to vote unanimously in favour of Brexit, and to deprive Parliament of any vote on the final deal, and that it wasn’t worth tying the government’s hands about possibly depriving 3 million Europeans in the UK of the rights they had been promised, it turns out the party of social democracy and the working class has found a principle that they feel strongly enough about to want to constrain the government’s freebooting negotiations. This tweet came today from the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union:

The language is appalling: “bargaining chip” is the language of defenders of EU citizen rights. Labour abandoned them, but believes that protecting Britain’s 18th century colonies is a noble cause worth fighting for. Much more important, too, than the right of young Britons to develop their talents and careers across the continent.

Worst mathematics metaphor ever?

I’ve come to accept “growing exponentially” — though I once had to bite my tongue at a cancer researcher claiming that “exponential growth” of cancer rates began at age 50, because earlier the rates were just generally low — and didn’t say anything when someone recently referred to having “lots of circles to square”. But here’s a really new bad mathematics metaphor: the Guardian editorialises that after Brexit

Europe will be less than the sum of its remaining parts.

“More than the sum of its parts” or “less than” is something you say when you’re adding things together, and pointing out either that you don’t actually get as much extra as you’d think or, on the contrary, that you get more. That you get less when you take something away really doesn’t need much explanation and, in any case, it’s not about the sum of the parts. Whether the remains of Europe are more or less than the sum of the other parts seems kind of irrelevant to whatever argument is being suggested.

Tactfully

The Guardian reports on UK government posturing to back out of its financial commitments to the EU, ahead of next week’s formal collapse start of the Brexit negotiations:

The EU scrutiny committee chairman, the Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash, urged the UK negotiators to point out during the talks that the UK wrote off half of Germany debts after the second world war, and as a result did not owe the Germans anything politically or legally. 

Cash said the UK had been “net contributors for many decades” and the “massive contributions” paid to Brussels would offset any divorce fee demanded by officials. He urged the government to remind Europe’s leaders of the 1953 London debt agreement, “where Germany, for all its malfeasance during the second world war” and unprovoked aggression, had half its debt cancelled.

Cash said that given Germany’s dominant role in the EU, it might be worth “tactfully” reminding people “that there is a realistic position here that we really don’t owe anything to the EU, whether it’s legal or political”.

Well, that already sounds pretty tactful to me, backing out on financial commitments to all of Europe because of Germany’s “malfeasance” in the first half of the 20th century. It’s funny that the British didn’t mention how strongly they felt about this back when they were applying for membership in the EU. You would have thought their memories would have been fresher.

Tertium non datur, Brexit negotiation edition

The Brexit Phony War is coming to an end.

Apparently the government is preparing to trigger Article 50 next week. Having trounced the House of Lords, the EU negotiatiors will be a cakewalk.

  • Commons: Give us the precious!
  • Lords: It is too much power. You must consent to some minor restrictions.
  • Commons: Give us the precious!
  • Lords: Okay.

Why do the Lords even bother to go on existing?

One of the more bizarre claims made by the government was to explain its opposition to the House of Lords amendment that mandates a final vote in Parliament on the Brexit deal in two years.

Downing Street has warned Lords that an attempt to give Parliament the final say over Brexit will “incentivise” the EU to give Britain a bad deal.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman argued that guaranteeing Parliament the power to reject Theresa May’s deal would “give strength” to EU negotiators during talks.

What is bizarre is that the usual argument is exactly the opposite: The negotiators are strengthened by being able to argue that their hands are tied by needing to convince skeptical legislators back home. Don’t bother offering us a crappy deal, because even if you dazzle us, it will never get through Parliament.

I understand the difference here — the EU doesn’t actually have much motivation to make any deal at all, and would be happy to have it rejected — but that just underlines how fatally weak the British position is. Supposing the EU negotiators would offer a deal that they are sure Parliament would reject. There are two possibilities:

1) The government would reject it too. In that case, it would never go to Parliament anyway, so Parliament’s right to a final vote is moot.

2) The government would accept it. In that case, what would motivate them to offer a better deal?

Am I missing something?

Deadbeat Britain

My prediction for quite a while has been that the xenophobia is going to heat up here pretty soon, when the UK activates Article 50 and is immediately confronted with immovable demands of the EU that do not comport with the due status of the Snowflake Kingdom — particularly the expected €60bn bill for outstanding financial obligations — and the negotiations stall. The tabloids will go nuclear, and turn their wrath on the European foreigners who are still enjoying her majesty’s hospitality.

But now Britain has just discovered a trick long known to deadbeats everywhere for escaping financial obligations: You flee the country, and so evade the jurisdiction of the courts. Such a simple idea, they wonder why they didn’t think of it sooner:

The EU cannot enforce a penny of a possible €60bn divorce bill if Britain crashes out of the bloc without an agreement, according to a report by a Lords committee…

“We conclude that if agreement is not reached, all EU law — including provisions concerning ongoing financial contributions . . . will cease to apply and the UK would be subject to no enforceable obligation to make any financial contribution at all.”

As part of the scheme, Great Britain will move to the Caribbean in the middle of the night, leaving no forwarding address. Seriously, is this intended to frighten the Europeans into offering better terms? It seems more likely to convince them that there is no use to making any reasonable offer to a UK that can’t be counted on to honour the spirit of any agreement, or even basic norms of decent behaviour. (Recall that before there was Brexit there was Grexit, threatened by the failure of Greece to meet its international financial obligations.)

But now the chancellor tells us

If there is anybody in the European Union who thinks that if we don’t do a deal with the European Union, if we don’t continue to work closely together, Britain will simply slink off as a wounded animal, that is not going to happen.

I can reassure the chancellor that no one else in Europe thinks of Britain with such bathos. In any case,

British people have a great fighting spirit and we will fight back. We will forge new trade deals around the world. We will build our business globally. We will go on from strength to strength and we will do whatever we need to do to make the British economy competitive and to make sure that this country has a great and successful future.

Apparently they’re going to threaten to cut off exports to the continent of tough platitudes, which seems to be the only industry in which this country is still world-leading. (Though if France asserts appellation d’origine controlée to restrict use of the cliché, it could doom the whole British diplomatic effort.)

The government’s negotiating posture reminds me of the famous scene in the film The Usual Suspects, where the gangster Kaiser Sose is confronted with opponents who have taken his family hostage, and he responds by shooting them himself, just to prove that he can’t be pressured.

 


Meeting our Waterloo

From the Guardian:

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative, says the 23 June last year will be remembered as a great day in history. It is comparable with Agincourt and Waterloo, he suggests.

I guess that’s how people talk about it in Britain, but it seems to me everywhere else “Waterloo” is synonymous with a crushing defeat. I imagine the Brexit vote will be the same: Considered a victory in Britain, recognised as a crushing defeat everywhere else.

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