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.

Here’s an idea for MPs opposed to that visit

Here’s a thought. It’s protozoic at the moment, but who knows? It could flourish in the strange and pungent primordial soup that is world politics at present.

The so-called President of the United States  has been invited by our very own Theresa May over for a state visit and I, along with (at the time of writing) 1,845,812 other people, am very unhappy about this.  But it is clear that a concerted effort, and some novel protest techniques, will be necessary to overturn this. As she prepares the United Kingdom for its post-Brexit friendlessness, Theresa May is cosying up to quite a litany of odious and authoritarian world leaders, and the tiny-handed sociopath is a friend she dearly needs to prop up the fantasies of a powerful and autonomous Brexit Britain.

It is import to protest Trump, and not just for the benefit of Americans, the environment, or the wider world. As the Tory Party has capitulated to the hard right, we are hurtling towards a horrendous, morally-vacuous UK, establishing itself as a tax haven and friend of the oppressor. To protest against Trump is also to protest this direction for our own country.

The people can take to the streets—I urge you to do so—but what can our MPs—those at least who have a shred of decency, a backbone, and lack a propensity for conveniently-timed migraines—do to try and prevent this insult from happening? They could debate, call him a “wazzock” and a “demagogue.” Or they could take some action. They could attempt to pass an Act of Pains and Penalties.

Parliament is an old institution governed largely by custom rather than explicit rules—this, after all, was the issue at stake in the Article 50 case—and there are many functions and statutes which, though unused for a century or more, nevertheless have never been revoked. One of these is the ability to pass private legislation: acts affecting only specific individuals. An Act of Pains and Penalties is one type thereof which, basically, declares a named individual to be guilty of a crime (bypassing and supervening the courts) and imposes upon them penalties, short of death, as fits Parliament’s pleasure. A more serious type, the Act of Attainder, declares the subject “attainted”—stripped of their property, civil rights, and customarily, though not necessarily, their life. The last Act of Attainder to be passed was in 1798, and it is not clear to me whether Acts of Attainder have been abolished or not.  But Pains and Penalties lie, still, within the powers of Parliament: not that long ago, under the previous Labour administration, Harriet Harman raised the idea of passing such an act to strip the banker Fred Goodwin of his pension and knighthood, and the powers that be are not beyond unearthing antiquated and unrepealed statute and outdated common law when it suits them: especially when it comes to harassing refugees.

The consequence of a Bill of Pains and Penalties (or, going the whole hog, Attainder) against Mr Trump succeeding would be that any land that he personally has rights to in the UK would escheat (oh! these lovely antiquated words) to the Crown; but more importantly should he set foot on British soil he would be subject to any penalty that Parliament saw fit to impose; the traditional attainted penalty being that “you be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck and being alive cut down, your privy members shall be cut off and your bowels taken out and burned before you, your head severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters to be disposed of at the [Queen]’s pleasure.” The pussy-grabber may have pronounced himself a fan of torture and appeared to be at best indifferent to politically-motivated killing, but I think we should probably fall a little short of this and see no need for full attaintion (attaintance? attaintment?): perhaps just a short jail term as a slap on his tiny, tiny wrist. Enough to discourage him from visiting, which would be the real purpose of the action.

It wouldn’t be passed, of course. The bill would have to be introduced to the Commons as a Private Member’s Bill and would therefore require an MP with both principles and backbone to do so—a pairing which the recent Brexit vote shows is in woefully short supply in that chamber—and, without government-appointed time, no Private Member’s Bill stands any real chance of becoming law. But, when the Speaker has already shown himself to be laudably independent-minded and principled on this matter, one has hopes that another MP might have the gumption to put such a bill before the house. Should a hundred of them support it then it could, at least, progress beyond the second reading.

Such an action on the part of those MPs who supported it would be a greater and clearer message to the government than a simple repeat of the talking-shop of (richly deserved) insults that was the last debate on Mr Trump entering these shores. Normally I would shrink at proposing the use of an antiquated mechanism that, were we to have a codified modern constitution, would almost certainly be precluded (as it is in the US itself). But when the gentleman in question is himself in violation of his country’s constitution both in action and mere encumbancy—it somehow doesn’t seem too egregious to attempt a process which is perfectly legitimate, but merely as medieval as his personal views.

So, who’s going to propose it? An MP of courage and conviction, un-leanable-on by the government. Caroline Lucas, perhaps, or the inimitable and awesome Mhairi Black. I suppose some old dinosaur like Ken Clark or Dennis Skinner might do the job too, but personally I would rather not see yet another old white man throwing their weight around, even if in opposition to another, far worse, old white and/or orange man.

Go on, Mhairi, Caroline! Make us proud that some, at least, in our legislature can take positive action to try to derail the government’s shameful and reprehensible cosying up to the vile creature currently squatting in the Oval Office.

  1. If a man who was unanimously elected, and who had thirty years experience in his field prior to his election, merits the epithet “so-called,” then I feel a man with precisely zero experience prior to his election, and whose vote deficit runs to the millions, certainly requires it.
  2. I signed the petition, of course, though its grounds were rather odd. Given that she has been married for seven decades to a man who routinely spouts the exactly kind of bigoted, racist, misogynist bile that Mr Trump does, and that she has never shown a hint of embarrassment at this, one wonders why Mrs Windsor would be expected to find Mr Trump so problematic.
  3. Some of the sources I looked at for this said that Acts of Attainder were discontinued as of 1870; however I think this is an error. The Forteiture Act 1870, which is the source, seems to abolish attainder upon conviction in a court; the whole point of an Act of Attainder is that it bypasses the court system.

The Act of Attainder (1536) against Henry Norris, one of those executed for purportedly conducting an affair with Anne Boleyn. From the Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1536/28H8n43.