Yesterday, the British Parliament once again ‘took back control’ of the Brexit process from our hapless government. MPs held another round of indicative votes on what Brexit policy might possibly secure a majority in the House of Commons. Once again a set of motions were tabled, and once again our representatives set about voting Aye or No to those selected. Yet again, no motion secured a majority. Other people have commented on how a series of binary votes is probably not the best method for weighing up many competing options. It prompts people to abstain or stick to only their preferred option, in the hopes of hanging-in-there, becoming the last idea standing. A ‘single transferable vote’ option, where MPs rank the proposals in order of preference, would be better. But I’m not here for that. Instead, I want to say this: The ‘People’s Vote’ proposal (put forward by Peter Kyle MP) and the ‘Revoke Article 50’ proposal (tabled by Joanna Cherry MP) should have had no place in the ‘indicative vote’ process. Why? Well, for two reasons. First, MPs are still considering how we might leave. What they need to show (to the European Union, to the government, to their colleagues, and to us) is what could plausibly be written into the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, setting out what we hope the end state relationship with the EU will be. Neither #PeoplesVote or #Revoke are about leaving the EU. Instead, they are about process. The People’s Vote idea is compatible with any of the proposals for leaving the EU. It could be a requirement of Theresa May’s thrice rejected deal, Ken Clarke’s Customs Union, Nick Boles’ Commons Market 2.0, or George Eustice’s EFTA/EEA (which wasn’t voted on again last night). Meanwhile, Joanna Cherry’s proposal is nothing at all to do with the Political Declaration. It is a sensible insurance policy against No Deal Brexit, saying that if we are in danger of crashing out of the EU then we either approve No Deal, or Revoke Article 50. So while I think a People’s Vote and the Insurance Policy are both desirable, it makes no sense to consider them as options alongside proposals about markets, customs and trade. I actually think that the prospects for both proposals have been damaged by being mis-categorised in this way.
I suppose it doesn’t matter now but wasn’t the error to have #PeoplesVote and Revoke options alongside options for a deal? They are conceptually different things. Couldn’t whoever was running the process have separated them out into separate, maybe later considerations?
Hah! Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has told the Prime Minister she cannot bring her Brexit Withdrawl Agreement to a vote for a third time if it’s ‘substantially the same.’ I see the logic behind his position and the parliamentary rule that underpins it. Bringing the same question back time and again is a recipe for political stagnation. But a vote on a motion is not just about the precise wording of that motion. It is also about the context in which that motion is being voted upon. And that context is surely ever-changing. As we get closer to the (original) Brexit day of 29th March, decisions may be made elsewhere (at an EU-27 Council meeting for example) that profoundly alter that context. A vote last month is different to a vote this month because the context has altered. I still think Theresa’s May’s tactics in this regard are rather anti-democratic and to be condemned, they shield the fact that she has failed to do any of the proper political work that a good leader could and should have done, such as the forging of alliances, brokering of compromises and obtaining some kind of ‘losers consent’ that could win the support of a majority in parliament and of the public. But I do not think that anyone who is calling for a second referendum on leaving the EU should cheer for Mr Bercow’s ruling. Surely the entire campaign for a People’s Vote is based on the premise that a new context means that we might get a different answer to the same question, if it were asked again.
The door swings both ways on this argument of course. Brexiteers arguing that they should have another chance to vote on something already decided only reinforces the argument for a #PeoplesVote. https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1107725191986188289 https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1107725191986188289
When the news broke about Shamima Begum wanting to return to the UK, a couple of people said to me, in jest, that they expected I would defend her because I support ‘political correctness’… Well, I do support her right to return and I think that the British Government should facilitate that. But not because of wishy-washy liberal political correctness but because of hard principle about what it means to be British. Or rather, what it means to be a citizen. To recap: Begum left the UK in 2015 with two of her friends, to join ISIS in Iraq. She was 15 years old at the time. In the past few years she has had two babies who have died, and is now pregnant again. She is currently in a refugee camp in Syria. In comments made to The Times, she does not appear to show any remorse for her actions. However, there is something about the interview she gave to Anthony Lloyd that makes me think her words are face-saving bravado, rather than genuine conviction. The knee jerk commentary I’ve seen, heard and read about this seems to be uniformly of the idea that ‘she has made her bed and now she must lie in it.’ By joining ISIS she has effectively declared war on Britain and we should not help her get home. I reject this. I think the British Government should be eager to bring her back.Continue reading “Shamima Begum is British: Bring Her Home”
Well okay, it’s not fine. It is almost certainly not true, it is very rude, it coarsens our political discourse, it widens divisions, and I really really wish people wouldn’t do it. But when pro-Brexit protesters call a Remain-supporting MP a ‘Nazi,’ that most certainly is political speech and should be covered by free speech protections. By contrast, it is not okay to physically intimidate anyone, whether that person is is a man, a woman… or an MP. Continue reading “It’s fine to call an MP a Nazi. But it’s not OK to threaten them”
Happy New Year everyone. I retweeted this earlier. https://twitter.com/SpillerOfTea/status/1079026065958453248 The U.K. spent the dying days of 2018 in a panic about a so-called ‘migrant crisis’ even though the numbers of people involved are dwarfed by those affected by the food bank crisis, the housing crisis… and lots of other crises. And yet the media and politicians were all motivated enough to spend countless column inches and broadcast hours on the issue of a few migrant boats coming to our shores, filled with people who want to contribute to our society because their own is dangerous, dysfunctional and/or non-existent. We are told repeatedly that the Brexit vote of 2016 was ‘about immigration.’ Among those who opposed the vote, many blame the fact that the ‘threat’ from immigration (legal and illegal) was relentlessly touted by vote-seeking, populist politicians, and racist tabloid hacks. This feels true to me. Why then, do we allow the news agenda to be set for us in this way? Why do we allow the manipulation to continue? Why, when the problem was adequately diagnosed so many years ago, cannot it not be countered? Why is our opposition to this pernicious messaging so inadequate? Continue reading “Perpetuation”
Lost in the noise, this tweet from Labour Stephen Doughty MP: https://twitter.com/SDoughtyMP/status/1072550760314007552 Events have over-taken this prospect. The Chair of the 1922 Committee received the required 48 letters on Tuesday, and so on Wednesday Theresa May had to weather a confidence motion from Conservative MPs. The opposition parties are keeping their powder dry on a confidence motion of their own. There is now no vote to avoid by proroguing parliament. Nevertheless, the very thought of such manoeuvring should give us pause for thought. In the case of this Government and this embattled Prime Minister, the tactic would have surely backfired. While proroguing parliament is procedurally allowed, the British public would have considered it somehow ‘cheating’ and taken a dim view. Meanwhile, Members of the House of Commons would have been angry at having been denied the opportunity to censure the Government before Christmas, and would have returned in the New Year smarting for a confrontation. Continue reading “Proroguing Parliament and the Trampling of Tradition”
On Tuesday 11th September, Lucy Powell MP introduced the Online Forums Bill to Parliament. It was a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’, a mechanism by which opposition and backbench members of parliament can introduce legislation. The text of Ms Powell’s speech may be found in Hansard and there is a video on Parliament.tv. The speech makes some challenging points. How is it that Facebook groups can grow to tens of thousands of people in secret, with no oversight or scrutiny? One such group, which discussed autism, recommended that parents give their kids ‘bleach enemas’ to cure the condition. Powell also points out that members of these groups often feel too intimidated to speak out against the most vocal and radical members of the group. This shifts the dynamics of such groups to ever more extreme positions, and is a very particular free speech issue in itself. The bill proposes that online forum operators like Facebook be forced to take greater responsibility for what is published on their platforms. Just after the parliamentary debate concluded, I was invited onto Sky News to discuss the proposals. The segment can be viewed below or on YouTube. Continue reading “Discussing the Online Forums Bill on Sky News”
The ‘we’ in that post were the Remainers. I recommended we refrained from moaning about racist, insular Brexiteers and instead adopted a conciliatory attitude. To accept that a bad decision had been made but then endeavour to make withdrawal from the EU work. None of that happened, of course. Continue reading “Why Are We Following Panic Brexit?”
The propaganda website InfoWars has been banned from Facebook, the Apple iTunes podcasting platform, and Spotify. Most people have welcomed the fact that these technology companies have finally acted to enforce their own terms and conditions, though others (including, obviously, InfoWars itself) says that this is an infringement of free speech. I was invited onto the BBC Victoria Derbyshire TV programme today to discuss the issue, alongside Karin Robinson from Democrats Abroad; and Neil Heslin, whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and who has been taunted and harassed by the InfoWars website and its supporters. Continue reading “Discussing InfoWars and Free Speech on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire Programme”
In the United States, there is growing discussion on social media about the phenomenon of white people calling the police when they see a black person doing something entirely normal, or when they perceive a black person not showing enough ‘respect’. When Yale student Lolade Siyonbola fell asleep in the library while writing an essay, someone called the police. When Tenessee real-estate developer inspected a house in Memphis, someone called the police. When Oakland resident Onsayo Abram set up a barbeque in the park, someone called the police. Today I saw a variation on the theme: someone threatening to call the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when he became annoyed by two women working at a cafe speaking Spanish to each other. Many people have made the point that this is linked to President Donald J. Trump’s unpleasant rhetoric about ethnic minorities (and indeed, everything). He has set a terrible example which incubates racists attitudes and brings out the worst in people. Others say that this kind of racism was always present in the society and it is only thanks to social media that we know these incidents are systemic, not isolated (it is almost a decade since professor Henry Louis Gates Jnr was arrested for breaking into his own home). But these incidents also illustrate something about civil rights that I had not understood until I started working for English PEN, and which I don’t think many other people appreciate, which is that ambiguous laws can erode our civil liberties.Continue reading “Someone called the police”