“Just Get On With It” – The Laziest Possible Brexit Intervention

A common intervention in the Brexit debate—made by politicians, celebrities and in hoi polloi vox pops up and down the country—is that the British people want the politicians to ‘just get on with Brexit.’

Recent proponents of the phrase include David Attenborough and Lord Rose, who previously chaired the Remain campaign.

‘Just Get On With It’ has a beguiling charm. It’s a simple, memorable phrase, and it sounds pragmatic, down-to-earth and a little bit bolshy. That’s why so many people repeat it.

But simplicity is not a virtue when we’re talking about leaving the EU. ‘Just Get On With It’ is a solution for those people who either haven’t thought about the problem enough, or who do not care about the consequences of a rushed, half-cocked Brexit.

Either way, its an intellectually lazy argument, for many reasons. Let me count the ways… Continue reading ““Just Get On With It” – The Laziest Possible Brexit Intervention”

The ‘Whether’ and the ‘How’ of Brexit

Earlier this week, the House of Commons seized control of the parliamentary timetable, and passed its own piece of legislation through the chamber. The House of Lords then passed it without amendments, and the European Union Withdrawl Bill (No. 6) will become law early next week.

The law forces Prime Minister Johnson to ask the European Council for an Article 50 extension, if an exit deal has not been agreed by 19th October (a few days before the scheduled departure on the 31st). It is a way of legally binding the government from proceeding with a No Deal Brexit.

Since then, there has been a constant refrain from supporters of the PM’s policy (call them Leavers, or Brexiteers or whatever) that parliament’s actions are thwarting the will of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU. The Prime Minister said:

It is a Bill designed to overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history, the 2016 referendum. It is therefore a Bill without precedent in the history of this House, seeking as it does to force the Prime Minister, with a pre-drafted letter, to surrender in international negotiations

The implication here, parroted by people up and down the country, is that ‘leaving the EU’ is synonymous with the May/Johnson vision of ‘hard Brexit.’ That is, a ‘how’ founded on a sheaf of red lines and the threat of No Deal.

Depending on who says this, it may be an uniformed mistake, a ‘category error’ or a deliberately misleading piece of propaganda. Either way, it’s wrong… and it’s another thing that needs to be debunked succinctly, over and over again. Continue reading “The ‘Whether’ and the ‘How’ of Brexit”

Please Stop Calling Boris ‘Unelected’

Ever since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last month, I’ve seen countless social media posts by my friends, and people with like-minded political views, branding him an ‘unelected’ PM.

It’s true that Mr Johnson was not leader of the Conservative party at the last General Election in 2017. That was Theresa May.

But under our parliamentary system, that doesn’t matter. We don’t directly elect a Prime Minister. We elect members of parliament, and those who can agree on enough come together to form the government. Continue reading “Please Stop Calling Boris ‘Unelected’”

Reviewing PALESTINE +100 on Tor.com

I’m pleased to report that I have written a book review for Tor.com, one of the world’s foremost science fiction / fantasy websites.

The book is Palestine +100, which (according to its publisher, Comma Press) is the first ever anthology of Palestinian science fiction. It features a dozen stories of speculative fiction, all set a century after the establishment of the state of Israel—an event that Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe).

The book’s authors seem to be in dialogue with each other. They ask, first, the extent to which their people must let go of their past in order to secure a future; and second, how much their past defines who they are. Moreover: how does the presence of the Israelis and their nation-building project impact on what it means to be Palestinian?

You can read the entire review on Tor.com, which I hope prompts you to read the book.

Peak Podcast and the Purpose of Online Publishing

Quiet Mics Live On Air
‘On air’ lamp in a studio at BBC New Broadcasting House

Much hilarity on social media about this New York Times article about an aspiring writer who set up a lacklustre podcast.

Each week, the friends, neither of whom had professional experience dispensing advice, met in a free room at the local library and recorded themselves chatting with an iPhone 5.  “We assumed we’d be huge, have affiliate marketing deals and advertisements,” Ms. Mandriota said.

We’ve hit ‘peak podcast,’ apparently and everyone is getting in on the podcasting game – especially anyone who wants to be considered an ‘expert’ in some field or other. Continue reading “Peak Podcast and the Purpose of Online Publishing”

Online Harms: A Few Times When The Algorithms Chilled Freedom of Expression

'Lot and his Daughters' by Oeter Paul Rubens

The consultation to the British government’s Online Harms White Paper closed this week. English PEN and Scottish PEN made a submission, arguing that the government rethink its approach.

The government proposal is that a new ‘duty of care’ is placed upon online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to protect their users. If they expose users to harmful content—ranging from terrorist propaganda and child porn, to hazily defined problems like ‘trolling’ — then a new regulator could sanction them.

This sounds sensible, but it presents a problem for freedom of expression. If the online platforms are threatened with large fines, and their senior management are held personally responsible for the ‘duty of care’ then it’s likely that the online platforms will take a precautionary approach to content moderation. Whenever in doubt, whenever it’s borderline, whenever there is a grey area… the platforms will find it expeditious to remove whatever has been posted. When that happens, it is unlikely that the platforms will offer much of an appeals process, and certainly not one that abides by international free speech standards. A situation will arise where perfectly legal content cannot be posted online. A two tier system for speech. Continue reading “Online Harms: A Few Times When The Algorithms Chilled Freedom of Expression”

Press Gazette op-ed on Lachaux and Press Standards

Following the Lachaux case at the Supreme Court earlier this week, I wrote an op-ed for Press Gazette on its implications for free speech and press standards.

Key paragraph:

After a period of uncertainty, the Lachaux judgment returns the section one standard to that applied in Cooke. The publisher’s response to a complaint can really make a difference to the “serious harm” assessment.

You can read the entire op-ed on the Press Gazette website.

Quoted in the Guardian and the Bookseller discussing the ‘Lachaux’ case at the Supreme Court

I was at the UK Supreme Court yesterday to hear the judgment in Lachaux v. Independent Print Ltd and another. It was a significant challenge to section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013, which long-term readers of this blog will recall was the (successful) end result of English PEN’s Libel Reform Campaign.

Section 1 of the law introduced a test of ‘serious harm’ before a claimant could sue. It was designed to expand the space for free speech by weeding out trivial claims.

A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

The Lachaux case hinged on the semantics of that section of the law.  Do the words “has caused or is likely to cause” refer to real world effects, past or future? Or do they just mean that the words have a tendency to cause serious harm to reputation.

As Bishop Berkeley might have asked: If I call you a domestic abuser in a forest, and no-one hears, have I caused serious harm to your reputation? Continue reading “Quoted in the Guardian and the Bookseller discussing the ‘Lachaux’ case at the Supreme Court”

On Milkshaking

The recent EU parliamentary election campaign saw the birth of a particular form of political expression: milkshaking.

The practice began when a man in Leeds, irate at having to talk to UKIP candidate and race-baiter Tommy Robinson, threw milkshake over him.

Other people started throwing milkshakes at other right wing candidates. Nigel Farage refused to disembark his campaign bus in one location, having been ‘milkshaked’ at a previous stop.

The phenomenon prompted a wave of political discussion, hot-takes ans hang-wringing. Was it akin to ‘punching a Nazi’ or other types of political violence? Or was it in the tradition of that time-honoured tradition of throwing eggs at politicians? Continue reading “On Milkshaking”

Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea

Why don’t monkeys evolve into humans any more?

Because: they never did. We primates all had a common ancestor. And that species evolved into Homo sapiens and others of that genus, as well as, separately, into Pongo pygmaeus and the other great apes.

Monkeys do not become humans because the leap across the branches of the tree of life are too great. Their chance to be something different to what they are came and went a long time ago. Circumstance and geography made monkeys, monkeys and humans, humans.

Why can’t the U.K. be like Switzerland? Or Norway? Or New Zealand? Or Singapore? Or any other country that flourishes outside the European Union?

Because: each of these countries evolved into their current state, just as the U.K. evolved into ours. Continue reading “Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea”