Sir: What James Forsyth calls ‘the EU plan’ to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union after Brexit (‘The Irish problem’, 20 October) would no more ‘ease Northern Ireland away from the UK and push it more towards Dublin’s orbit’ than it has already done itself through numerous legislative differences. With regard to social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Northern Ireland is far closer to the Republic (as it once was) than to the rest of the UK. It would therefore be no great stretch to avoid awkwardness of land border checks (and respect the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement) by having such checks at the sea ports. In addition, a favoured position outside the EU but within the customs union could bring huge economic advantages to Northern Ireland. If not blinded by their ‘Ulster Says No’ ideology, even Arlene Foster’s DUP would probably acknowledge this. It’s high time for Theresa May to call their bluff.
A better solution to the conundrum would, of course, be Irexit (with all of Ireland in a customs union with Britain), but since this is not likely to happen, the suggested plan would be the next best thing. It could even be seen as keeping the Republic within the economic orbit of the UK, with advantages on both sides. So why not simply ask them? A referendum within Northern Ireland on this issue would be far less contentious than the re-run of the Brexit referendum that many are calling for.
Noreen O’Donovan Hage
Desert Island narcissists
Sir: Norman Wisdom’s choosing five of his own records on Desert Island Discs (Letters, October 20) was a classic example of narcissism; Sue Lawley was prompted to ask drily what he would do on the desert island when he wasn’t listening to himself singing. But he was only following a tradition in which the bar was set by Dame Moura Lympany, who selected eight of her own performances. The great Englebert Humperdinck limited himself to one, but made up for it by asking for his autobiography as his book choice.
Sir: Your leader praising the royals as being in tune with the times avoids mentioning the real reason behind the success of this strategy (‘Modern family’, 20 October). The ‘bad soap opera’ of recent history has been cleverly replaced by the adoption of celebrity culture. One only has to browse the guest list of the Cambridges’ and Sussexes’ weddings to see how this new role has been embraced in order to enhance the Firm’s popularity. A PR masterstroke, maybe. But is it dignified?
Sir: If Raymond Keene’s powers of chess analysis were as weak as his comments about the recent election of the World Chess Federation president (Chess, 13 October), he would not have become a grandmaster. He argues that the English Chess Federation ‘wasted’ its vote by backing Georgios Makropoulos, the Greek candidate, rather than England’s Nigel Short. But as everyone knew, Makropolous was the only candidate with a chance of beating Arkady Dvorkovich, a former deputy prime minister of Russia and close associate of Vladimir Putin. Even Short realised his candidacy stood no chance, which is why he withdrew at the last minute — in favour of Dvorkovich, whom he had previously described ‘an agent of the Russian government’. So any vote for Short would have been truly wasted. Dvorkovich won, keeping the federation under Russian control to Keene’s apparent satisfaction. Keene also suggests that the decision to back Makropolous had gone down badly with members of the English Chess Federation. Yet those members later voted nearly unanimously to re-elect their own chief executive, president and chair of governance.
Stuart Skelsey (ECF Member)
Whitley Bay, North Tyneside
Mais ils fument
Sir: A quick word on ‘Why French kids aren’t fat’, as Gavin Mortimer writes (‘Grosse negligence’, 20 October). The answer is that they smoke. I’m 55, I live in Paris and I have a house full of teenagers. The western world in general doesn’t smoke any more, but the French youth are smoking like a 19th-century coal-fired power plant. Stop by any French lycée and you’ll see hundreds of smokers outside, both boys and girls. As parents we just don’t know what to do anymore.
But yes, mind you, they’re not fat.
Unfair to Furtwängler
Sir: Norman Lebrecht claims to have found proof that Wilhelm Furtwängler — director of the Berlin Philharmonic during the Third Reich and, to many, the greatest conductor of the 20th century — was a secret enthusiast for Nazism (Music, 20 October). This is despite the fact that he refused to join the Nazi party, declined to give the Hitler salute, and helped Jews escape the Gestapo.
Lebrecht has two main pieces of evidence. The first is a photograph of Furtwängler extending his hand to Hitler. Yet this is not a gesture of ingratiation, but one of defiance. Hitler had greeted Furtwängler with the Nazi salute, which civilians were legally obliged to return. Furtwängler refused to comply.
Lebrecht’s reading of a letter from the pianist Artur Schnabel in 1947 is equally misleading. Far from being Lebrecht’s ‘impeccable source with no axe to grind’, the Austrian-born Schnabel spent the war in the security of the United States, took out American citizenship in 1944, and in 1947 had every reason to play up his anti-Germanness. And, far from this letter appearing ‘now, out of the blue’, as Lebrecht claims, it has been in print for half a decade.