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The Spectator's Notes

The EU’s hard-border bluff will soon collapse – and then it can get serious about Brexit

2 February 2019

9:00 AM

2 February 2019

9:00 AM

The House of Commons does work better than it seems to, I promise you. When a big subject comes up, it spends weeks, months, even years, posturing and sparring, but it has a way of working out when a choice is truly important. Brexit has taken years, and is truly important. We saw the first signs of this realisation dawning on Parliament when it rejected Mrs May’s original deal so decisively. We saw the second signs on Tuesday night. As that series of covert Remain amendments — most notably Cooper-Boles — fell, a pattern became apparent. Enough MPs now understand that if the institution of parliament is ever to command respect again, Brexit must happen, and the minimally acceptable way in which it must happen is that the permanent Irish backstop goes. The only blot was the vote for the Spelman amendment objecting to ‘no deal’. But this does not bind, and the rest of the dynamic of the evening makes clear for slow learners what has been apparent to sensible people ‘out of doors’ from the beginning — the only way for Britain to win any decent deal is to make no deal a real possibility. When Juncker, Varadkar and co understand that without a deal, their ‘hard border’ bluff collapses, they too might get serious.

Jeremy Corbyn was well characterised by Liam Fox this week as ‘a Leaver in the north and a Remainer in the south’. Given his difficult position just now, this seems prudent, though not edifying. It is a modern political analogue of the rule that the monarch, though Supreme Governor of the Church of England, becomes, when she/he crosses the border, a member of the Church of Scotland. Cuius regio, eius religio (though one must not forget that most bits of the south, outside London, are Leave-supporting too). Unfortunately for Mr Corbyn, though, not everyone in his party is impressed, as the votes on Tuesday night showed.

What to do about the coming shortage of green groceries of which several supermarkets warned yet again this week if there is a no-deal Brexit on 29 March? I am just old enough to remember when fresh fruit and veg were in short supply at this time of year. People used to know how to store things to mitigate the problem: apples would be carefully laid out on straw-strewn shelves. We ate lots of root vegetables and not much greenery. If ever you saw a strawberry out of season it came, for some reason, from Israel. Perhaps it is time for a Brexit recipe book, like those comforting wartime rationing ones full of bright ideas for dull things. In our part of the south coast we have racier ideas. We have a centuries-old tradition of smuggling (‘brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk’), and are ready to set out in our little ships to Dunkirk or wherever and bring back luscious black-market lettuces and French beans, oranges and lemons. Our Sussex and Kent smugglers used to be known as ‘free traders’, which is interesting and — if we have to sneak over an EU tariff wall — entirely appropriate for today.


My thanks to David Dilks, the distinguished historian, who emails me to question Philip Hammond’s recently repeated assertion — to justify his opposition to no deal — that no one in the EU referendum ‘voted to be worse off’. Professor Dilks points out that the Treasury, the department which Mr Hammond now runs, said again and again before the vote that we would be poorer, as did the Bank of England. Therefore, people did vote Leave believing they would be worse off, or did not believe the Treasury and the Bank. Mr Hammond’s Treasury is not telling us anything now that is new, or more believable than what Mr Osborne’s Treasury told us then. Personally, I do not believe that we shall be poorer after Brexit, even without a deal, except in the very short term; but Mr Hammond should consider the fact, almost unimaginable to a man like him, that some people do not put money above everything else.

Police Professional is, in its own words, ‘a weekly printed publication and online resource for UK law enforcement’. Last week, it ran a story about the review of the government’s counter-extremism programme, Prevent. It quoted the view of Cage, which it describes as ‘an independent organisation that campaigns against discriminatory state practices and works with survivors of abuse and mistreatment across the world’. Cage is actually an extreme Islamist organisation. Its research director, Asim Qureshi, famously described ‘Jihadi John’, the British killer who worked for Isis, as ‘a beautiful young man’. Dr Qureshi is still in post more than three years later and is referred to uncritically in Police Professional, as he attacks Prevent. Imagine the uproar if the magazine had accorded such authority to, say, the English Defence League. Yet Cage is actually even more extreme, by some margin, than the EDL. Despite its name, on the subject of counter-extremism, Police Professional is a rank amateur.

Such a sad sight at Davos last week. A 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl called Greta Thunberg gave an eloquent little speech about the perils of global warming. Only 12 years left before it’s too late, she said, invoking the IPCC’s estimate. ‘I don’t want you to be hopeful,’ she went on, ‘I want you to panic.’ Poor girl, that she should have been persuaded by grown-ups of such imminent catastrophe, that this should be blighting her young life, and that she sees the solution as ‘panic’. The people who have inculcated in her these life-destroying thoughts have much to answer for.

Public schoolboys are increasingly speaking ‘mockney’, it is reported. This is not a solely modern phenomenon. There was an accent known as ‘Mayfair cockney’, used by Edward VIII when Prince of Wales (as Duke of Windsor later, he developed American vowels) and therefore fashionable in the 1930s. One symptom was pronouncing the word ‘no’ as ‘neow’. The only surviving practitioners I remember hearing myself were Lord Thorneycroft (Eton) and Bill Deedes (Harrow).


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