Brexit Refugees

Incidentally, I don’t want to, but if I did want to renounce my British citizenship, the British government would charge me €400 to do so. Extraordinary! In what other walk of life do you have to pay for returning something? ‘Sorry, these trousers don’t fit.’ ‘OK, we’ll take them back, but it will cost you £50.’

And Britain also charges through the nose for getting citizenship. It cost my son- and daughter-in-law (American and Australian) ££ thousands. What is it about the British Home Office? May’s ‘hostile environment’, perhaps? For my Swedish citizenship I paid a small amount up front for administrative costs – less than 1000 kronor (£90) I think – and then no more.

My only complaint against Migrationsverket is that they took so long to process me; but that’s probably because of all the other Brexit refugees clogging up the system. I wonder how many of us there are? And how many in other EU countries? (Sweden isn’t the top destination for Brits.) Someone should make a count of all the Brits fleeing from Britain in order to retain their European citizenship – or just to get away from Boris and the rest. It must be a fairly significant effect of Brexit.

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Superswede

Well, my Swedish citizenship has come through at last. No cost, no exam, no interview, no language test, no ceremony (unfortunately); and I have yet to apply to the Police for my passport. But – so far as I’m concerned (a bit selfish, I know) – Nigel, Boris, Jacob and the rest of the Crazy Gang can do their worst. I’m a European again! – Land of Hope and Glory fades into the background. New strains of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy fill the air…

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s…

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Tusk’s ‘Flextension’

I’m still a Eurosceptic – a doubter, that is, rather than an opponent; as I try to be about more or less everything. (I’m an academic, after all.) The word is often used misleadingly, which is what makes it difficult for the simple-minded press to get Jeremy Corbyn right: ‘is he for or against?’ You don’t need to be either, and shouldn’t be accused of ‘vacillating’ if you stand somewhere in between. In the present debate I’m strongly on the side of those who want Britain to remain in the European Union; but having done so, I’d still want to see the EU reformed. There’s plenty of material to build on here within the EU, especially on the political Left. A ‘hard’ Brexit would almost certainly scupper all Leftward hopes for a Britain standing alone. That’s one of the reasons why the rich leaders of the Brexit side want it: in order to keep their ill-gotten gains – especially their tax havens – safe from Brussels (that is, ‘socialist’) ‘bureaucracy’. I imagine that this, or something like it, is why Jeremy Corbyn (a) campaigned for Remain in 2016, but (b) is also willing to consider a Brexit that keeps us close to the EU in most ways that matter. Especially if it helps to douse the flickering flames of social and political unrest whipped up by the popular press amongst the grossly misled ‘left behind’ in Britain for all those years.

Nothing, however, has boosted my Europhile (that should really be EU-phile) feelings more than the calm, dignified and reasonable way the EU bigwigs have responded to the very rigid and hostile positions taken up by Britain, and by Theresa May in particular, over the last few months of what are loosely called ‘negotiations’. In particular, I’m greatly taken by Donald Tusk’s latest suggestion, that the brief extension of the process that May has been forced to seek (remember that we were supposed to be coming out of the EU last Friday) be lengthened to about a year; which is surely needed in order to enable whichever government is in power in Britain to properly consider and debate the options realistically available to them. A year would also give time for (a) a new ‘people’s vote’ on whatever they come up with, based of course on today’s electorate, not a three-year old one, and with ‘Remain’ being the other option; and (b) an official enquiry into the illegal (not to say immoral) practices that lay behind the ‘Leave’ vote in June 2016, which are already well documented; and which might – you never know – influence that new vote. (Or not. I wouldn’t be at all confident of the outcome of a second referendum, but I would be more likely to accept it than the first.)

Of course this is why the Brexiteers are so much against an extension. They feel that time may be running out for them. That huge million-strong pro-Europe march in London, and the six million who signed a petition calling for a stop to the Brexit process, may be signs that enthusiasm, at any rate, is amassing on the other side of the argument, even if we can’t be sure that the numbers are.

In the meantime, of course, our stock as a nation is collapsing. Nearly everyone on the European continent has lost all respect for us; or – as I’m finding in Sweden – is sorry for us, which is even less dignified. How do the Brexit ‘patriots’ regard this? Perhaps like Millwall FC fans: ‘Nobody likes us and we don’t care’. There’s something Roman and stoical about this. Kipling put it well, in imperial times. ‘Take up the white man’s burden,/And reap his old reward: / The blame of those ye better, / The hate of those ye guard…’ I associate it with skinhead anarchism. I.e., Millwall FC.

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Brexit and the British Empire

Working on a new edition (the 6th!) of The Lion’s Share. A young American historian has been signed up to revise the existing text, but I’ll be contributing a chapter on ‘Brexit and the Empire’. At first glance there seems little to connect them, apart from Boris’s wet dreams about an ‘independent’ Britain being free, together with her white Commonwealth ‘daughters’, to bestride the world again; but of course if you delve beneath the surface there are bound to be more imperial traces there. About half a dozen have already occurred to me. If anyone has any other ideas please let me know. If I haven’t thought of them already, you’ll get an acknowledgment in a footnote. I may pre-publish an early version of the chapter on this site.

You’ll have noticed, non-British readers, that the inmates have finally taken over the asylum here. Just like in the USA. It’s a tricky task for the historian, to take account of the ‘madness’ factor – although of course we can rationalise it. We always do. – And it made a mockery of All Fools’ Day. No-one could think of anything that had happened yesterday that was sillier.

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The Mob

This (if the link works) is what a pro-Brexit demonstration looks like.

https://www.facebook.com/veryBrexitproblems/videos/416953239065093/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDc4Nzg3NTM0MjoyMTI1OTEzNTc0MTExNTUx/?notif_id=1553981741697960&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic.

People have been contrasting it with the entirely peaceful and indeed good-humoured conduct of the million-plus strong pro-Remain march that thronged the streets of London the week before. This contrast can’t be fortuitous. Brexiteers have been the violent ones all along: beating up journalists, spewing abuse on social media, issuing death and rape threats to MPs they disagreed with, and in one shocking instance actually stabbing a young woman Labour MP to death. Remainers are nowhere near as brutal. Indeed, that has been an object of mockery for the other side – characterizing them as a bunch of weakly, middle-class, Guardian-reading, Prosecco-drinking, élitist ‘snowflakes’, or whatever the word is now. – What, all of them? Apparently so.

Brexiteer crowds seem to be drawn from the kind of class in Britain – can it be called a ‘class’? – that has revelled in violence for decades now. It used to be football hooliganism. Then it was blind nativism, bordering on fascism. The typical violent Brexiteer (I’m not including their political leaders here: they’re a more polite and cunning type – vide Moggy) is young or young-ish, male, bulky, paunchy, shaven-headed and covered with tattoos. (Of course not all of them. But look at the pics.) In olden days they would have been characterised as ‘the mob’.

It was the mob, of course, who frightened the Conservative middle classes in Victorian Britain against extending the Parliamentary franchise to them for so long. They would not have been at all surprised by what we see  today – ‘we warned you’. But, more constructively, fear of the mob was also the reason why, when the vote was  given to the plebs (in stages; women last), it was only on the understanding that their potential for harm would be moderated by the conventions that were already in place in Parliament,  to ensure that the ‘people’s will’ was carefully considered and moderated before enshrining it in law. Hence the three ‘readings’ that have to be given to any bill in the Commons, plus one in the Lords, during which every aspect can be fully debated, and amended if necessary. The idea is that the result then should be nearer to what the people really want, than their first reactions – in a one-time popular vote – might indicate. It’s why Britain calls her ‘democracy’, such as it is, a ‘Parliamentary’ one. The qualification is essential.

Referendums (-a?) strike right against this. A popular vote on a vaguely-defined issue is not ‘democratic’ in this sense. It’s called ‘plebiscitary democracy’, which may have an appeal for ‘populists’, but rarely produces good considered  results. This is the underlying reason – there are plenty of others, including the large-scale cheating and deception now being revealed, and indeed shortly to be prosecuted, on the pro-Brexit side, plus people changing their minds – why the result of the June 2016 referendum of should not really be allowed to stand. But if we renege on it, the mob will come and break our heads open. That’s the nervous Remainer’s quandary today.

One more 19thcentury observation. When the parliamentary franchise was extended to include some of the working classes in 1867, the Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made his famous declaration, in support of state education, that ‘we must educate our masters’. That is, working-class voters should be educated out of their mobbery. Unfortunately today that task has been delegated, more or less, to the likes of the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun. I doubt whether that’s what Disraeli was thinking of. How could he be? That low depth  of journalism didn’t exist in his time.

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No Place to Hide

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If I had hoped to get away from Brexit by flying to Sweden, I’d have been disappointed. It has been the major item in the Swedish newspapers and TV News for days now: on the front pages many days (here is an example, from today’s Dagens Nyheter); and with reams of analysis inside. Usually the analysis is accurate and pretty fair – more so, in fact, than in the British press. The Swedes are too polite to laugh at us openly, but I’m sure they’re doing so behind their hands.

Like most Brits in Europe, I imagine, I’m feeling thoroughly demoralised, and even ashamed. I’ve asked Kajsa to be gentle with me. She’s surprised that, as someone claiming to be a cosmopolitan, I’m so sensitive to the reputation of the country I was brought up in. It will be easier when – if? – my Swedish citizenship comes through, and I can laugh with them. Apparently Migrationsverket are now fast-tracking us British refugees. Cross your fingers.

On the issue itself: it looks to me as if the much-abused Corbyn could turn out to have been right all along. After all the Mayhem, we could be in line for a ‘soft’ Brexit, and the general election the country needs. He’s a lot brighter than the public school mob takes him for. It seems that you can learn as much wisdom from an allotment as from the Greeks.

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Theresa’s Nemesis

Thursday 28 March. Well, it looks as if she will be going soon, although she has an odd way of going about it: ‘back my Brexit deal or I stay’. Still, it seems inevitable. Within a few weeks, or even days, she’ll be gone. It will have been a humiliating fall. Enoch Powell once said that all political careers end in failure; but this is something else.

One wonders how she is going to feel, waking up in bed the day after her ousting, with no-one close to comfort her: no children, few friends, apparently, and only that garden-rake of a financier husband by her side; only to be told by nearly everyone that she has been ‘the worst prime minister in British history’ (Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian), and the one who is mainly to blame (together with David Cameron) for the awful mess we’re in just now.

There may be some sympathy for her. Firstly, on the grounds that she’s a woman, and therefore – it’s assumed – a victim of the prejudice and hardship that has been the fate of all women in recent times. And secondly, on the grounds that she was ‘dealt a poor hand’.

Managing Brexit was certainly that. The expectations of the victorious Brexiteers were  always chimerical – the common word for them nowadays is ‘unicorns’ – and the Brexiteers themselves were deeply divided over what those expectations had been in any case. The ‘ultras’ of the ERG (European Research Group) were especially assertive and uncompromising, demanding the severing of all the ties that formally bound Britain to the Continent, so that they could float the country off to become either a profitable off-shore tax haven (Rees-Mogg), or else to start building a great new empire of the kind Boris Johnson had been taught about, we presume, at Eton.

The ‘woman’ thing, however, doesn’t work. Her gender doesn’t seem to have particularly disadvantaged her career-wise, in the wake of Thatcher; and the only way I can think of that it might have affected her – as it did with Thatcher – was in encouraging her to become less conventionally feminine – ‘grow some balls’ – in order to be able to compete with the dominant males in her tribe. That might help explain her stint at the Home Office, where she fashioned herself into the cruellest Secretary of State in modern times. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2018/05/31/our-unhomely-office/.)

Then came her premiership: somewhat accidentally, although she had apparently hankered after it for years. That was when all her other failings came to the fore: again, none of them gender-related, but decidedly personal. She didn’t truly believe in her cause – at the time of the referendum she had supported the Remain side – which may have been one reason for her obduracy: in order to persuade the genuine Brexiteers that she really was one of them. She wouldn’t listen. She triggered Article 50 before she needed to. She called an unnecessary General Election, and lost it. She was a terrible negotiator, in just about every circumstance, foreign and domestic. By all accounts she has no social skills at all: see this recent excoriating verdict, based on personal experience, in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/29/opinion/theresa-may.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article. She never tried to reach out to the Europeans, or to the 48% of ‘Remainers’ at home, being mainly concerned to appease her ultras in the Conservative party. Her speeches and statements were dire: repetitive, nonsensical, ‘robotic’. (Hence her unkind nickname: the Maybot.) The public one she gave on TV about a week ago – blaming ‘Parliament’ for everything, and so further stirring the hostility to politicians that the populist press had been preparing for months – was shockingly ill-judged, and even dangerous. (Attacks on MPs peaked afterwards.) She lacked imagination, depth and empathy; even, I would say, intelligence, beyond what was required to gain her an Oxford Geography degree. OK, the premiership was a poisoned chalice; but others could undoubtedly have done better with it, and she still deserves much of the blame for taking on a job she should have known she was unfitted for. It was a clear case of nemesis following hubris. Serve her right.

Whether the tragedy of the last few days – and years – can be adequately explained in terms of her personal failings, however, is highly doubtful. Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian avers that May’s mishandling of Brexit ‘is a reminder of the extent to which individuals matter in history’, but then goes on list some of the other more impersonal and important factors lurking behind. I hope to come back to these in a later post.

For the present, this one is being written in a plane (a rather bumpy one: I hope it’s not one of those Boeing 737 Max’s) taking me from the toe-curling embarrassment of the British political scene, to the altogether calmer and more rational environment of Sweden. I may not be able to post it from up here: Norwegian Air’s wi-fi is not all it’s cracked up to be; in which case I’ll send it from Sweden, after I’ve landed. (Or crashed, it it’s a Max.) Maybe tomorrow morning, after a sleep which I hope will be less troubled than Theresa’s. I’ve not helped bugger up the country, after all.

(Friday, 4 p.m. CET.) We didn’t crash, so here it is. May’s deal (or part of it) has just been defeated in the Commons at the third time of asking. So, according to the promise she made, she should be carrying on. That’s unlikely to help.

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Parliament

Another exciting week coming up. As a politics junkie, I have ‘Parliament’ on my TV all day. Unfortunately on Thursday, when we might see the climax – (May resigning? Her deal getting through? No deal? The sort of compromise – Corbyn’s, perhaps – she has been unable even to consider hitherto? The Brexit loonies imploding? The promise of a new referendum? Or the calling of a General Election?) – I’ll be up in the sky on my way back to Stockholm. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to get Parliament TV there.

Last night on Newsnight  Steven Baker, May’s Brexit minister, talked of the ‘danger’ of Parliament’s seizing control of Brexit from the government. But isn’t the legislature meant to control the executive? Or was all my 17thcentury British constitutional history at university wasted on me?

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Bright Boys

I’ve been getting some amusing letters – entirely unsolicited – from sixth-formers at a school in Hertfordshire. Here are a few.
From Alex RudinFebruary 25, 2019 at 1:22 pm. Hello Bernard, As a student in Higher Education, I was a big fan of your work on the British Empire. However, I belive you fail to consider the impact of the printing press in this period. In fact, this omission angers me tremendously. I have written to your publisher and expect compensation. I look forward to hearing your justification Mr. Porter, if that even is your name!

Regards, Alex. p.s. I am considering legal action!

Kieran KooksFebruary 25, 2019 at 1:27 pm. As a fellow student, I agree with Mr. Rudin’s insightful comment. Whilst I loved reading ‘The Lion’s Share’, it fills me with rage that a self proclaimed ‘expert in history’ leaves out something so important! I hope you can find it in your heart to remove this book from existence.

I like forward to hearing from you soon.

Harry Philips4 minutes ago. Dear Mr. Porter, I am currently struggling with my A-Level History coursework which includes analysing “The Lion’s Share”. My teacher gave my second draft 3 marks out of 20 so I would love to know if you would be willing to write it for me. It only needs to be around 5000 words and it’s about what drove British imperial policy in Africa so I’m sure you’ll love doing it. We can make a collaborative document if that is more convenient for you. I also work for an hour once a fortnight so you can understand that it may be difficult for me to find time to help. I expect this to be complete by next Tuesday (2/4/19) at the latest. Thanks in advance, Hazza.
(BJP) I’m sure they won’t mind my republishing their letters here. I hope they go far!
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Humour v Violence

Over the past few weeks I’ve been rooting for Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘Common Market Mk 2’ solution to the present impasse – that is, Britain in the single market, a bit like Norway; but only because of my natural penchant for compromise, and my anxiety about the reaction in the country if the ‘people’s will’ (so-called) is seen to be thwarted.

Of course I don’t accept May’s reading of the ‘people’s will’, either as it was in June 2016, when it was distorted by other factors (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/, plus all the revelations that have appeared since then about the gross cheating that was perpetrated on the Brexit side); or in March 2019, when demographic shifts suggest that the vote then isn’t likely to have reflected opinion now. (That is, with old Brexiters dying and being replaced by young pro-Europeans.) I’m also as much repelled by the characters and backgrounds of the current batch of leading Leavers – rich, public school-bred, shady financiers and Tory journalists – as anyone who has closely studied the likes of Farage, Boris, Govey and Moggy is bound to be. Of course this doesn’t mean that these people are necessarily wrong, and as a rational person I realise the dangers of judging an argument by the clothes of the person who is delivering it. Nonetheless, this consideration doesn’t detract from my view that this whole Brexit business is a huge ‘con’, potentially disastrous to almost every aspect of British life – not only our wealth but also our morality and dignity in the eyes of the rest of the world – and really ought to be somehow stopped in its tracks, even this far along the road, with the UK returning, tail between its legs, to the more favourable relations with Europe it has now within the EU.

I’m hoping, deep down, that this might be the outcome of the stupendously popular anti-Brexit ‘People’s Vote’ demonstration that took place yesterday in London – a million strong, they say; backed by more than five million signatories to a petition demanding the same. (Farage’s rival ‘epic march’ down from Sunderland gathered only about 70.) But the problem, still, is the effect of any such reversal on pro-Brexit opinion in the country, and the risk that it might even – as some have predicted – provoke something in the nature of a ‘civil war’. Hence my backing for Jeremy’s clever strategy.

Since yesterday’s demonstration, however, and various other events over the past week or two, I’ve changed my mind. The demo stiffened my backbone. So did the dreadful threats that have been coming from the Brexit side: to prominent Remainers who are threatened with death, torture or rape if they continue, including the woman who started the 5 million-plus petition, who is now afraid to live in her home; and to most MPs since Theresa May identified them, in that quite appalling ‘address to the nation’ the other night, as the ‘enemies of the people’ – as, of course, the gutter press has been doing all along. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2019/03/20/theresa-the-populist/.) After it, MPs were urged to take black cabs home from Parliament to avoid being way-laid. If that speech wasn’t a provocation to violence, I don’t know what is. And of course we’ve already had one young Labour MP, Jo Cox, murdered in the streets by a ‘Britain First’ enthusiast. For pity’s sake: what kind of person believes Brexit is worth killing  for?

So, as a result of all this, I’m now no longer deterred by the threat from the Brexit side. They don’t deserve pandering to. As do none of the other ‘populist’ movements in Europe and the Americas to which Brexit is clearly allied. It’s not an exaggeration to call them proto-fascist. And as our national experience between the wars should have taught us, it’s dangerous to try to appease even proto-fascism.

It’s the violence that has finally put me off the idea of compromise, or a ‘soft Brexit’; together with the Brexiteers’ lack of humour. People are fond of lazily excusing ‘excess’ on one side of an argument by claiming that it’s a characteristic of ‘both extremes’ – Trump did it notoriously after that riot in Charlottesville in August 2017; but it emphatically isn’t  so in this case. So far as I know no-one on the Remain side has threatened to murder or rape any Brexiter. Violence appears – in this context – to be an exclusively right-wing characteristic. (Why is this, I wonder?) The ‘people’s vote’ demonstration yesterday, huge as it was, seems to have been entirely peaceful. It was also good spirited and humorous. Just look at the placards, of which there’s a great selection here: https://inews.co.uk/news/brexit/brexit-march-30-funniest-placards-put-it-to-the-people-demo-london/. (As a Swedophile I’m slightly offended by the IKEA one, but I thought it was funny all the same.) You don’t find that sort of thing on the Brexit side. It seems remarkably humourless. (Unless the laughable eccentricities of its clownish leaders are supposed to compensate for this.)

This is another example, I realise, of judging an argument by its clothes, or the clothes perhaps of only a minority. And of course there are other better reasons for my backing Remain. But other things being equal – which they aren’t in this case – I hope I’d always plump for humour over violence. That’s one of the contests going on here.

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