In which I revivify this blog to tell you why—appallingly, horrifyingly—Boris Johnson might be the best bet we have

Yes, I know. Boris. He’s the worst politician the UK has seen in a very long time. He’s a hideous stream of self-centred cat’s piss, without a single moral bone in his body. He’s despicable. He’s contemptible. But bear with me on this.

There is no way to force a general election before October. And even if there were a general election, there is no reason to believe that it would result in a more sensible government. It’s unthinkable that any party could form a majority at present, but whereas one can envisage the Tories forming a coalition with Farage’s ragbag of shits and racists, one cannot envisage Corbyn accepting a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, partly because we all know he’s a barely-covert Brexiter himself, and partly because he can’t even compromise within his own party. So the likelihood is there will be a Tory PM in October, when the extension runs out.

May’s deal is obviously dead in the water—it was obviously so six months ago, but hey, let’s offer MPs three chances to change their minds while steadfastly refusing to allow the public the same courtesy. Come October, then, there will be three possible Brexit events: no deal (and always bear in mind: this is the default if nothing else is done), no Brexit, or beg for another extension; these possibilities to be enacted under one of three potential Prime Ministers: still May with no elections, a new Tory PM (through internal election), or a Tory PM—whether May or another—following a general election.

I think it truly foolish to presume another extension. If it’s post-general election then we are lost, because the government will in all likelihood be a Tory government in hock to the Brexit party: the request will not be made. In the alternative scenarios, I think that if the request were made, it would not be granted. There were powerful voices against an extension last time, and their case will be bolstered. If there has been no leadership election and the PM is still May, the narrative within the EU27 will be: we gave her an extension, and she spent it trying to pass exactly the same deal that had failed three times already. Why should we let her try a fifth, sixth, seventh time? And if it’s a new PM following a leadership election, the narrative will be: we gave them an extension, and they spent it perpetuating their internal fights. So I strongly doubt a second extension will be granted. It only takes one to veto. The only circumstances under which I can see a further extension being granted is to give the UK the time to conduct a second referendum, because the level heads in the EU27 will see that this is, really, the only way to close this mess one way or another.

So I think that in October we will inevitably have a Tory PM having to make the final decision between no deal, another referendum, or no Brexit. And that’s why, if May is to be unseated, I think Boris might be the right man. But he’s a venal, dishonest, self-serving shite, I hear you cry. Yes. Yes he is. That is why he supported Brexit in the first place. But that is also why he, of all the potential replacements for May, is the only one who might take the actions that would lead to revocation of Article 50.

All the other potential leaders are True Believers. They will take the no deal option. But Boris is not; Boris is a Brexiter of Convenience. And Boris wants to be loved, and has laughably absurd Churchillian fantasies of Greatness. He is also not stupid, merely intellectually lazy. So when he sits (and yes, I shudder at the thought) at the head of the cabinet table, with the choice between no deal and no Brexit before him, is he going to go for the option that will make him hated within his party but cause a huge sigh of relief throughout the country, or will he go for the option that will make him fêted within his party, but then make him PM over the biggest economic downturn the country has ever seen, and the quite likely breakup of the United Kingdom? Either tine of this fork would be very unsavoury for the man who seeks, above all, public adulation. Would this lazy, venal man take this difficult decision? Or would he take the cop-out route of throwing it back to a second referendum which, whatever the outcome, would allow him plausible denial of responsibility for the consequences? It’s precisely because he’s a feckless opportunist, desperate to be adored, lazy as sin, and eager to remain immune to the consequences of his actions, that I think that this is what he would do. With any of the others, there is no chance of that.

The only surefire way of stopping Brexit now is a second referendum. The preferred option to gain this is May staying on: I think when her deal fails again (unless this as yet unveiled “bold offer” is genuinely something new, which seems unlikely given her view of negotiation seems to be “giving you another chance to agree with me”), she will quite likely enact a second referendum—her rhetoric around this is notably less emphatically opposed than it used to be. But if she goes, then Boris is the only alternative who would also implement this.

The thought of Boris getting what he’s wanted for so long is horrendous, but I can suck that up if it means the disaster of Brexit is ended. He won’t last long, anyway—his incompetence and laziness will see to that. But all the other possible leaders in October would reach, unhesitatingly, for the No Deal button; or have their hand forced over it by dependency upon a different, but equally hideous, shower of shites than those they are currently dependent upon.

That’s why, if there is to be a Tory leadership election, my vote is [retches, chokes] for Boris.

Image of Boris Johnson

The man of the hour?

 

The Great Repeal Bill will become the Great Self-Rewriting Bill

The so-called “Great Repeal Bill”—the proposed legislation to transfer all EU law to UK law, and then create mechanisms for it to be progressively amended—has been published and, as many have pointed out (and expected), it represents a stunning power grab in the powers it grants ministers. Section 9, in particular, is deeply disturbing; and to illustrate this I want to suggest a scenario which I do not think is particularly extreme or unlikely.

Clearly, this bill will not pass without substantial opposition scrutiny and amendments. I want you to imagine that the combined forces of the Remainer MPs and those who desire to leave the EU but realize that to do so in the manner we are currently pursuing is suicidal. I want you to imagine that they force an additional provision that requires the final Brexit deal to be put to a referendum—a binding one, this time. I want you to imagine the wholly foreseeable circumstance that another year of plummeting standards of living, increasing prices, and demonstrations of exactly how utterly unprepared even the most ardent Brexiters have been for the process (EURATOM, anyone?) means that, by the time of the expected referendum, public opinion has turned decisively against Brexit.

And then Brexit Minister David Davis decides to invoke section 9. Here are the crucial parts:

9   Implementing the withdrawal agreement

(1) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day.

(2) Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).

Subsections 9(3) and 9(4) limit the powers: they prohibit the creation of a new criminal offence, changes in taxation, making of retrospective provisions, and changes to application of the Human Rights Act 1998; and they limit the application such that new provisions cannot be made after Brexit day.

Now, it doesn’t have to require a foaming-at-the-mouth reality-denying Brexiter such as Davis to realize that the binding referendum enacted by our additional hypothesized provision would halt Brexit. Davis then, surely, would have a responsibility to issue a new provision, repealing the requirement for a second referendum, or removing the binding nature of it. The bill explicitly allows itself to be modified by arbitrary regulations of a minister, as long as the minister (and only the minister) considers the modification “appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement.” Indeed, any braking, cautionary, or fail-safe provisions inserted to this bill as it progresses through the houses can, quite simply, be removed by the minister once the bill is passed as long as section 9 remains intact.

And it doesn’t stop there. Let us imagine that Theresa May is still Prime Minister (the most unlikely part of my scenario, I know), and has one of her regular hissy fits in which she threatens to tear up the Human Rights Act when it doesn’t let her do exactly as she wishes—in this instance because she foresees challenges to the withdrawal under it. Let us imagine that she realizes that she will never be able to pass a Finance Act implementing her proposed taxation changes to handle the economic disaster of withdrawal—massive reductions in corporation tax and bundling the consequent cost onto ordinary working people—and so decides to instruct the minister to repeal the Human Rights Act, and amend taxation accordingly. Well she can’t, can she? Subsections 9(3) and 9(4) prohibit this.

But they don’t prohibit the repeal of, um, subsections 9(3) and 9(4). And, once again, the bill explicitly allows itself to be amended.

Andrea Leadsom—she for whom “patriotism” is equivalent to “not questioning the government”—wants to criminalize speaking out against withdrawal? No problem: delete the corresponding restriction and then create the offence. Boris Johnson foresees public uprisings against this arbitrary use of power following withdrawal and wants to get out those unusable water cannon he squandered £320,000 on when Mayor of London? Again: no problem, as long as the removal of the sunset clause is done before Brexit. Cancel the Fixed Term Parliaments Act under the specious claim that the country needs a “stable period” following Brexit of one government lasting, let us say, 10 years? Easy as pie.

Anything the Brexit minister wants, as long as they “consider” it necessary for withdrawal, they can have. This is, quite simply, a recipe for arbitrary and unrestricted rule. Far from Brexit returning power to the people as its proponents banged on interminably about when they weren’t simply lying, it appears Brexit is, quite simply, to be enacted by fiat.

There is a word for this: autocracy.

Tim Farron’s religious folly

I was born and brought up in a country where I knew that, on account of my family’s faith, I was barred by law from marrying the sovereign. Not much more than a theoretical hardship, since until recently the law would anyway prevent me as a man from marrying the heirs to the country’s throne because they happen to be male as well. In any case, by the measure of social progress fawningly used at the time of the marriage of Catherine Middleton and William Windsor, I’m still two generations too close to a coal miner.

Nor has any Catholic ever been Prime Minister of the UK. Up to and including Blair’s flirtation with Rome, there was an assumption that, while not strictly illegal, it might be practically difficult or impossible for a Catholic to fulfill the role, given the office’s involvement in church matters.

On the other hand, I grew up knowing that one of America’s greatest presidents was a Catholic, like me. And whether I was first told at primary school or at home, I knew from an early age that John F. Kennedy had given a great and important speech that had persuaded non-Catholic Americans, including Presbyterian and Jewish Americans, that they could safely vote for him without fearing that he was answerable to Rome; or that his decisions in the Oval Office would be made with Catholic doctrine in mind.

In this context, Tim Farron’s stated reasons for resignation are a massive step backwards. There should be no religious disqualification to political office, and Farron’s is self-imposed. If the illiberalism of his church is more important to him than the liberal instinct he claims always to have had, he should have taken some time for private reflection, and in the public sphere worn his religion much more lightly.

I have some sympathy with what seems likeliest to be his position; that whether or not something is a “sin” is a religious rather than a political question, and that he therefore won’t discuss that as a politician. But in how he has, in fact, chosen to answer and not answer the question (as well as in his earliest votes cast on gay rights issues) he has allowed that private religion into his public role.

But it was by using this as justification for his resignation where he did harm. He has explicitly supported the idea that being religious is incompatible with leading a political party with any claim to liberalism. He has projected his own fundamental illiberalism (or at least, his difficulties reconciling his religious and public life) onto others in public life who have personal faith.

We live in a country which has not yet managed fully to reintegrate the Christian sect that I was born into, where the ruling party courts sectarian trouble by seeking the support of the DUP, and where intolerance of Islam is on the march. This is the context in which Tim Farron seems to have confirmed the worst fears of secularists; he has raised the religious bar an inch or two, at least for those who don’t fit the establishment as cosily as do the “sons of the manse” and the “vicars’ daughters.”