It’s all too depressing, but here are some links from the past month about the other Atlantic ship-of-state-wreck. One highlight was Theresa May’s claim that “if you’re a citizen of the world, then you’re a citizen of nowhere”. As an immigrant to the UK, I wonder if that makes me a dual citizen of nowhere.
Brexit blues. “The cod-psychology of self-help and motivational mumbo-jumbo has seeped into the Brexit debate.” Brexiteers are becoming ever more incoherent—could it be they don’t know their own minds? “If this money doesn’t go to the NHS, I will go mad.”
Like it or not, Europe has a say on how Brexit will happen. The EU should offer Britain a binary choice. Liam Fox’s department entertains leaving the single market for the WTO wilderness. Losing single market membership would cost the UK £75 billion. Brexit could see the whole of Whitehall grinding to a halt under its own weight.
A poetic reflection on the man who’s done more than anyone to set back progress in my home and adopted countries, written post-EU-referendum. More than I would ever actually advocate, but it sure was cathartic to write.
I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise. This man voted Leave to spread the pain. Brexit was a con. The great betrayal. Brexit is only the latest proof of the insularity and failure of Western establishment institutions. A disaster decades in the making.
A threaded comment on Twitter highlights another nightmarish aspect of the prospect of being left out in the WTO cold for several years post-Brexit. Not only would WTO tariffs on UK exports kill our markets within the EU (which take almost half of UK exports), but:
In order to enter the EU, goods must conform with EU regulations. As you’d expect. At the moment, this isn’t a problem because the bodies which regulate conformity in this country are recognised by the EU. Upon ejection from the EU, this recognition would cease. Which means that UK goods entering the EU would be held up at every border point, while their conformity to regulations was tested. This would make selling to the EU virtually impossible unless our regulatory bodies could be certified by the EU. And they’ll be in no hurry to do that.
BBC Newsnight staffer Mark Urban is tweeting some terrifying stuff on the prospect of a Brexit Britain striking a trade deal with the EU:
@MalmstromEU tells me EU/UK trade talks won’t start until Art50 exit complete then UK will trade on WTO terms until a deal is done
That’s Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner in charge of trade policy.
Four working days into life in Thethickofitstan, I can’t shake off the fear that all parties need to proceed extremely cautiously or risk Britain becoming a quasi-fascist state; not the full Third Reich, perhaps, but potentially Pinochet’s Chile. The fact that polls are suggesting that Regrexit is a statistical blip suggests that a large population in England and Wales would be perfectly happy if a strongman (or woman) emerged from the political chaos to enact Brexit in Full come hell or high water. And not any soft Brexit that keeps freedom of movement intact: something that closes the borders and sets the timer ticking on when EU citizens who are already here must leave.
If I read the phrase “pour encourager les autres” one more time, I’ll... I’ll... briser mon ordinateur in impotent rage.
The only hope now is that Parliament votes immediately to reject the referendum result as having been secured under false pretenses and ban any PM from triggering Article 50, to take us back to the status quo ante-February. Yes, the UK would never be seen the same way in Europe again, which is true either way. Yes, the UK would have drastically weaker influence over the development of future EU regulations, as opposed to none if we’re in the EEA. Yes, we would lose some businesses to Europe, which is already happening. None of that is worse than what we face if we stay on this path. We’re three working days into this mess, and look at where we are already. Britain’s latent racism has already been unleashed. At least we’ll be fighting it out in the open.
From The Independent site yesterday: ‘I Bregrexit’: I voted for Brexit—and now I realise what a terrible mistake I made.
A crucial part of what tripped up such voters is that they’re used to General Elections fought under first past the post, where again and again their vote makes no difference, and in safe seats they can muck about with protest votes and what have you. They totally misunderstood the nature of a national referendum where every vote towards either side counts.
Brexit has now completely displaced all of the other important stuff that’s supposed to be filling my head right now, and promises to do so for months if not years. The same must be true for countless others in the UK and elsewhere. The opportunity cost will be enormous, and is only going to get worse; other crises don’t stop happening simply because Britain’s voters have self-inflicted the biggest crisis of them all—they compound one another.
Without knowing it, I posted yesterday’s entry around the same time MP Jo Cox was being shot and stabbed in Yorkshire by a right-wing extremist. I first heard the news later in the afternoon, and hoped against hope that she would pull through; it was awful to hear the police announcement of her death on Radio 4, and her colleagues being asked for their reactions moments after they heard that news themselves (they were in the studio to talk about the attack). The presenter sounded just as upset.
A week or so before a referendum seems to be when I finally steel myself to post about it here. As my comments over the years have made clear, I’m as pro-EU as they come, which none of the pro-Brexit arguments I’ve read has changed; most are driven by native-born British or English feelings I don’t share, by stereotypes of the EU that misunderstand or misrepresent how it works, by arguments for democracy that dismiss any evidence of EU democracy and ignore any evidence of problems with British democracy, by notions that saving a few pounds a week per household on EU contributions will give us untold riches to spend elsewhere without making any allowance for what those few pounds buy us, by a misguided sense that the struggles of austerity are the fault of EU immigrants or bureaucrats, or by, in some ugly cases, outright racism. I’ve appended some links that rebut these points better than I have time to do here today.
Hail, Poesie! thou Nymph reserv’d!
In chase o’ thee, what crowds hae swerv’d
Frae common sense, or sunk enerv’d
’Mang heaps o’ clavers:
And och! o’er aft thy joes hae starv’d,
’Mid a’ thy favours!
—Robert Burns, Poem on Pastoral Poetry (excerpt), 1791
A few grumpy tweets by Times journalist Camilla Long, who once tweeted about crying over Michael Jackson’s death but said Bowie fans doing the same should get over it, prompted an article on “grief police” at The Atlantic which led to a Metafilter thread on the whole subject of public grieving, and whether that’s even the right word for it. I pitched in a few thoughts, reproduced in edited form below for the benefit of the all-consuming daily-posting schedule.
A story in Saturday’s Guardian about a Transport for London trial of getting commuters to stand on both sides of the escalators at Holborn tube station, rather than standing on the right and walking on the left, has drawn a pretty predictable response from the British commentariat. “Over my dead body, which I will position at the foot of the escalators just to make my outrage felt” seems to be the gist of it. I kept an eye on this Mefi thread about the trial because I knew that watching London Mefites turn a virtual shade of purple at the very idea would be online entertainment of the first order.
So, we have a trial that demonstrated that this simple change increased peak-hour carrying capacity by almost 30%. We can assume that the only other way to achieve that would be to build 30% more escalators in the affected stations, at a cost of many millions of pounds that we keep being told we don’t have, with endless disruptions to commuters during their contruction, which would more than cancel out a lifetime’s worth of whatever time-savings they get by being able to walk up the left now and again. Even those time-savings must be illusory, though, if the gain in being able to walk up the escalators is more than cancelled out by being stuck in a crowd at the bottom of them first, as it must be if the throughput under current arrangements is 20% less.
But we will now spend that extra money, at enormous cost to the nation and inconvenience to Londoners themselves, because having to stand behind someone when you’re trying to get somewhere is unconscionable. Evidence-based policy meets an unstoppable force, and stands on the right to keep out of its way.
It turns out I’m the perfect target audience for Victorian Bakers, having enjoyed The Great British Bake-Off, become a keen home bread-baker, and once spent a year learning about Victorian Britain (1984, the last year you could take Late British History at higher school certificate level in Tasmania). I quite enjoy a bit of food history, too, and visiting National Trust properties, and watching BBC documentaries. So it all comes together nicely, unlike some of the loaves the four bakers on the programme attempted. I’m looking forward to next week’s instalment where they start adulterating their loaves with chalk and alum.
For the first time, the Street of Light took over a stretch of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in the lead-up to Christmas. It was all taken down before Hogmanay, but here’s a memento of it.