Nice continent you’ve got here…

Not content with using the livelihoods of four million Europeans living in the UK as a bargaining chip, Theresa May appears to have upped the ante and decided to threaten withdrawal of security co-operation with the EU as a negotiating stance in her Article 50 letter. It brings to mind an image of an inept gangster, wandering through the EU, saying in loaded terms and a dodgy fake Italian accent: “Nice-a continent you got-a here. Would-a be a shame if anything were to happen to it…” [“Accidentally” pushes Luxembourg off a cliff.]

Just as with her refusal to guarantee the position of EU citizens in the UK, Theresa May was attempting the posture that she is negotiating from a position of strength. The threat has also spectacularly backfired: partly because, of course, we are not negotiating from a position of strength at all: the EU will offer us terms and we will accept them or face the economic suicide of trading solely under WTO rules; and partly because it is a staggeringly callous threat to make: to endanger not just the livelihoods but the actual lives of the entire EU—and of course her own citizens, as a withdrawal of co-operation would be mutually imperilling.

For the record, here is the relevant passage of the Article 50 letter:

The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.

David Davis has been rolled out to claim that this was not a threat, but the Sun certainly thought it was, triumphantly declaring YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES—the Sun, it would appear, approves of threatening the lives of Europeans, though imagine the raging indignation they would have manufactured should the threat have been the other way round.

Here’s the thing though. That certainly looks like trade-with-menaces. It certainly sounds like Donna May is accidentally-not-accidentally nudging Luxembourg towards that cliff-edge. If that wasn’t the intention—and given the nine months that the government has had to draft the letter—then one despairs at the skill of our negotiators, carelessly making assertions that read, for all the world, like a direct threat. If a simple six-page letter can contain such a thoughtlessly worded passage, what hope for the detail of the negotiations? And what hope for the many, many further negotiations that Great Global Britain will have to make?

In which Theresa May lies to the folk of Stoke

Here is a letter, signed by the Prime Minister, to constitutents of Stoke-on-Trent Central—the massively pro-Brexit constituency shortly to have a by-election:

Letter from Theresa May to voters in Stoke-on-Trent Central (from @LabourEoin’s Twitter)

It states:

Last week, Stoke’s two other Labour MPs and the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme all voted against my plan to deliver Brexit …

And here, from PublicWhip, are the votes:

  • Rob Flello, Stoke-on-Trent South, Labour: aye.
  • Ruth Meeth, Stoke-on-Trent North, Labour: aye.
  • Paul Farrelly, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour: no.

So, one out of three.

I suppose the question that remains is whether, when this direct lie has been exposed, the defence will be of the Paul Nuttalls “my girlfriend/press officer/aide done it” variety, or of the Kellyanne Conway “alternative facts” variety.

Either way, she has clearly learned a lesson from her new friend across the water: lie, lie, and lie again. By the time the reckoning comes, the seed you have planted will have already taken root.

A lengthy and complex judgement …

Well today there was a glimmer of good news from the clusterfuck that is British politics at the moment: the High Court has found for the claimants in the Article 50 action, meaning that (pending Supreme Court appeal), Parliament’s approval is required to invoke Article 50. Cue, of course, all those who foamed at the mouth about “the sovereignty of Parliament” now foaming at the mouth because, um, Parliament has been held to be sovereign. This action was never about stopping Brexit—though I live in hope that will happen, and this is certainly an aid along the way—but about ensuring Parliamentary oversight of it.

No need to rehearse all of that here: but there is a piece of fallout from today that I think is worth noting: the statement made to the House of Commons by David Lidington, the Leader of the House, concerning the result. It is, he said, “a lengthy and complex judgement.”

I urge you to go and read this lengthy and complex judgement. It runs to 32 pages and 111 numbered paragraphs (probably about 150 in total). I read it in about ten minutes. Most of it is setting out the background and context: the findings themselves are a mere ten pages. Far from being complex, the judgement is remarkably pellucid (© Robert Jay, 2012): constitutional precedent and laws indicate that the royal prerogative (the government’s authority to take executive action) cannot overrule primary legislation regarding domestic law; that the European Communities Act 1972 is primary legislation that, by incorporating EU law within UK law, has granted UK citizens a range of rights under law; that invoking Article 50 would start an “irrevocable” process that would result in withdrawal from the EU and consequent loss of those rights (a point agreed on by the government prior to the judgement); that the government’s claim that it would replicate those rights in UK law was not germane and, anyway, there are some rights (such as appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and the right to elect MEPs) that UK domestic law could not replicate; and that the government therefore lacks the authority to invoke Article 50.

I have published case law. This is a concise and clear judgement: try wading your way through the various company law test cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s. To claim that the judgement is “lengthy and complex” is, quite simply, not true. What depresses me is how unnecessary Lidington’s lie was, and what it shows about the “post-truth” state of our politics, where a government minister can blithely misinform the House simply for the convenience of not being asked awkward questions (such as: “this is a pretty unambiguous finding, isn’t it?”) and not an eyebrow is raised.