A visit to Britain reveals growing anxiety that we’re witnessing the Great Brexit Betrayal. One of Twitter’s funniest and most brilliant contributors, social justice warrior Titania McGrath – outed recently as Dr Andrew Doyle (Oxon) – notes presciently that ‘one of the unwritten rules of democracy is that referendums can be overturned if a sufficient number of rich celebrities demand it’. Indeed, Britain’s anti-Brexit establishment, determined to overturn the 2016 referendum result, is in the ascendant with the Remainer MPs’ coup in Parliament rejecting a ‘no deal’ departure – which effectively gives the EU veto powers over the terms of the divorce. And if Theresa May isn’t sure of getting majority support on the third try for her ghastly deal to reduce the UK to an EU province without voting rights, she’ll seek EU agreement to a significant delay in Brexit. A no-deal Brexit still can’t be ruled out – if, for example, an EU member-state vetoes May’s request. But the most likely outcomes now are either May’s deal or that Brexit is killed off. The EU establishment despises Britain’s resistance to European integration but resents more Brexit’s blow to its prestige. It also fears a post-Brexit Britain doing well. So it hopes a second referendum might reverse the result. Delaying the departure date into the distant future provides the strongest chance of that. The EU has been comforted by Labour voices calling for a second referendum – with the choice of just May’s deal or Remain – and hopes parliamentary gridlock might lead to elections and a Labour win. Given that the Conservatives perversely chose the Remainer Theresa May to implement Brexit, and that most MPs are Remainers, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Brexit referendum result should have come to this.
Australians in Britain have been intrigued to see the headline ‘Rudd apologises to Abbott’. This is government minister Amber Rudd’s mea culpa for calling Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott ‘coloured’, rather than the latest PC term, ‘of colour’. Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times, noting that previously approved terms such as ‘black’ and ‘Afro-Carribean’ are now also considered offensive, suggests appointing a nomenclature tsar to send out a daily email update on the latest acceptable terms.
One of the few issues to attract significant media coverage other than Brexit is the knife crime epidemic – 41 murders so far this year. The crisis has raised further questions over Theresa May’s judgment. When she was Home Secretary, she argued that police ‘stop and search’ disproportionately targeted the black community and damaged race relations and so restricted the practice. This, combined with the government’s slashing of 21,000 police, has contributed to the lawlessness. May is said to be resisting Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s pressure to reverse the restrictions on police powers. Chancellor Philip Hammond has responded to criticism that there aren’t enough police on the streets by saying they should reconfigure priorities. The normally awful Hammond has a point given that the police have found time to expand their operations into pursuing ‘non-crime hate incidents’ on social media.
The UK’s net migration figure for 2018 is revealed as 273,000 and May’s detractors also remind us that as Home Secretary and as prime minister she has said repeatedly that the government’s goal is to reduce net migration to the tens rather than the hundreds of thousands – which it’s never achieved. The population of the UK – about the size of Victoria – is now 66.9 million, 3.6 million more than when David Cameron came to power in 2010. So it’s all the more miraculous that large parts of the country are protected by national parks. We revisit one of our favourites, the Yorkshire Dales. Driving from the south, the vast Sheffield-Leeds-Bradford conurbation suddenly gives way to the bucolic loveliness of the dales and their ancient stone-built villages, the setting for the 1970s BBC television series All Creatures Great and Small. We also visit Batemans in Sussex, the 17th century house where Rudyard Kipling lived. His enthusiasm for the British cause in the First World War led him to pull strings so that his only son John, rejected for poor eyesight, could serve in the army. He was killed in action. Devastated, Kipling joined the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission and selected the moving words from Ecclesiastes ‘Their Name Liveth for Evermore’ for Stones of Remembrance. He also suggested ‘Known Unto God’ for the gravestones of unidentified servicemen, words used on the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Australian War Memorial and which the Memorial’s Council bizarrely tried in 2013 to replace with words from a Paul Keating speech – an effort vetoed by then-PM Tony Abbott.
There’s yet further grim evidence that May’s government is Conservative in name only. Cabinet minister Michael Gove appears to be channelling GetUp! in wanting to see the end of private schools and to ban people from using open fires. ‘Refugees’ continue to arrive on the English coast from France, confident they’ll be able to stay. And 400 British jihadists are allowed to return from the Middle East, but only forty are prosecuted. So the main reaction to a rare tough decision – Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s stripping would-be returning Isis volunteer Shamima Begum of her British citizenship – is one of surprise.
And signs accumulate that the Royal Family is also succumbing to the ‘woke’ zeitgeist. ‘Princess PC’ the Duchess of Sussex has backed a campaign by black academics and students to ‘decolonise’ university curricula and is said to be interested in fluid approaches to gender. Meanwhile a former presidential campaign adviser to Hillary Clinton has been chosen to run the Sussexes’ new media team.
Mark Higgie was Australia’s ambassador to the EU 2014 - 17