Not Normal


Strangeness is a part of the make-up of Brexiters.  Foolish though I am, I read posts that flow from articles on Europe.  Inevitably in the agreement with negative statements and the disagreement with positive statements there’s a “justification” that takes a distorted view of history.  Several themes are common.  One is: Britain stood and stands alone against evil, folly and sloth.  Another is: Collapse, chaos and catastrophe happens on the Continent.  Yet another is: “they” need “us” more than we need them. 

Underlying this are nostalgic fictions, separatism and an exceptionalism that is out of touch with reality.  It’s like Brexiters cover their eyes for the love of a dream state that doesn’t have to address practical day-to-day concerns. 

In this dream state calling for a new Royal Yacht Britannia, blue passports or a return to pounds, ounces, feet and inches when the UK’s health and social care services are straining every sinew, doesn’t seem so crazy.  In this dream state branding any view you disagree with as “project fear” or somehow traitorous is standard.  In this dream state deflecting blame for anything that goes wrong is quite normal. 

The longer that we take to wake up from this hallucination the more harm will be done.  The seeds of change are in the air but we may need a good shaking before our eyes are opened.  Expect a rocky year. 


Weekend Sunstroke

IMG_1076What on earth do most British people make of this sabre rattling?  Within days of declaring a wish to exit the European Union (EU), brash right-wing politicians want to send the gun boats to Spanish waters.  Such talk is the height of insanity. 

Atypically EU Regulations have had statements referencing Ministerial meetings with Spain.  So, the law applicable in the UK has recognised dialogue with Spain on Gibraltar for a long-time.  This is nothing new.  Spain has had a say on the subject during the UK’s membership of the EU. 

So, seeing reference to a dialogue on Gibraltar, in an EU letter should have been a non-event.  However, the UK news media has gone into overdrive this weekend.  It’s the sort of sexy story many editors like to big-up to make the blood boil and kick-off as many angry voices as possible.  This sells newsprint. 

Saner voices will look away from this noisy diversion.  As has been commented; the negotiations ahead are complex enough without making them even more complex. 

I’m not a conspiracy theorist but, if I was, then I might think someone is trying to provoke a crisis.  What the purpose of such provocation may be is open to speculation.  Could it be that May’s Government see failure looming and need an escape path?  How convenient it would be if a major crisis distracted public attention away from the day-to-day ups and downs of complex negotiations. 

Divided Nation

IMG_1582This week Theresa May has invoked the European Article 50 and the formal negotiations to leave the European Union have begun. So, this Prime Minister is now marching her troops out to the battlefield of intense negotiation. However, before even stepping on this turbulent pathway she has effectively given her game plan away. By turning the clocks back towards a Hard Brexit, the amount of wiggle room she has at the table is minimal.

On the other side of the table is a well-prepared and methodical European Union. These extensive negotiations will be some of the most complex to ever take place in a short period. Consequently, it’s likely they will exceed the two year window the Treaties currently allow.

The Conservatives are determined to pull us out of the European Single Market. In my view, it was ludicrous to make this case even before the formal discussions begun. This position has had the impact of dividing a dived Country even more than it need be. There is the real undesirable possibility that this will take the UK down a dangerous path of isolation.

I fervently hope that pragmatic minds will prevail as these negotiations will require compromise, flexibility and skill. The “no deal” scenario cannot be an aim. The simple foolishness of such an approach does not require explanation. Just imagine doing that in any relationship you may cherish.

The UK remains a divided nation. This is not a time to throw salt on the wound. To arrive at a new relationship with Europe the Prime Minister needs to quell the noisy right-wing guns and offer the hand of friendship. Brexit has done nothing to unify a divided country. Great leadership, on all sides, must now act to rise above vitriol and distrust that spewed out during the referendum campaign.

Hand withdrawn


The joining of hands is such a symbolic emblem.  That’s what we did in 1973.  I’ve got one of those 50p coins that celebrates this holding of hands.  I shall put it in a prominent place today.  Pulling our hand away from that European partnership is not just an economic issue, it’s an emotional one too.   

Today, the European Article 50 is to be triggered.  The tearing up of half a century of work will have significant consequences.  Deep rooted consequences spreading across the generations.  

I hope we think about where we, Britain and the EU, want to be in a decade.  Classic British short-termism will be disastrous in this situation.  The discussions and negotiations of the next two years will need visionary thinking.  Looking over the current horizon. 

Control of our borders and sovereignty may be in the public mind.  That said, at the end of this debate this island will be no less or more immune from the ebb and flow of international events than it has ever been.  It’s going to be frustrating for those hard-line isolationists when they wake-up from their dream. 

#Brexit will continue to dominate the domestic news but as a real phenomenon rather than a theoretical concept.  It’s like the difference between seeing a storm on a weather forecast map and the experience of flying into it.  As we emerge out of the other side of the storm there will be a new direction set.  That’s the time that the British people must be given a say.  A second referendum is a basic democratic right. 

If you are planning to vote for a Party with a positive European vision, there’s the Lib Dems, at the local elections on 4th May. 

Not long at all

Remarkable again – yes, it’s less than three and a half years to the year 2020.  It doesn’t seem five minutes ago that the millennium was all the talk.  That strange construction; The Dome was the darling of the newspaper columnists.  At the turn of the Century, I had imagined we would have flying cars by 2020.  Just like that crazy flying taxi driven by Bruce Willis in the 1997 movie The Fifth Element.  Incidentally, his screen character was called Korben – sound familiar?

What I’m getting at is that there aren’t many really big projects that get launched and delivered in only three and a half years.  Hang about, it’s just over three and a half years to the next UK General Election.

One might reasonably suppose that the mechanics of Brexit are going to prove to be massively more complex that even a latter day managerial pessimist might think.  Three and a half years to rewrite a vast catalogue of legislation.  Three and a half years to deploy world class negotiators left, right and centre.  Three and a half years and no other monumental events get in the way?

This could be 42 months of; let’s see how it goes.  There’s a grand number from the book of science fiction humour – 42: The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.  I wonder what Douglas Adams would have thought about the referendum and all its characters?

We are in a period when the ship of State is sailing through a storm that rises and falls in an entirely unpredictable manner.  As the Brexit project gets underway it will be shaped by the frequent storms ahead.  By the time we get to the run-up to the next General Election what we call Brexit is likely to be a very different thing from what it’s imagined to be today.  The public mood will be different too.

I’m hopeful that the reality of this situation is that a new accommodation can be found that doesn’t disconnect the UK from the rest of Europe.  Our shared problems will remain our shared problems.  Our shared solutions may continue to be our shared solutions.  All but the precise shape and form of our international relationships will be different.  Let’s be positive and optimistic.

High Summer

IMG_0485Isn’t it remarkable?  One month has passed, a lot has changed and yet not much has changed.  It feels as if the thick dust that was kicked-up by the European Union referendum might be permanently in the atmosphere.  Gravity just doesn’t want to do its job.  There’s enough hot air rising to counteract anything gravity can do, at least for now.  You could say the debate continues.  The burning issues have not been resolved, it’s more a case of shaken and stirred and then repeated. 

I’ve been driving between Staines and Reigate and there are still plenty of signs of the referendum around us.  Today, I passed a roadside bin with a blue “Stronger IN” board sticking out of the top.  Traveling down the M25 motorway, or up depending how you look at it, there’s a couple of large Union Jacks in the hedge rows.  One or two cars display campaign stickers and the subject is never off the radio as I sit in the endless stream of traffic in the hot weather. 

I can hear someone saying – why don’t you take the train?  There’s one answer to that suggestion and it’s called: Southern Railways.  Everywhere the high summer heat is taking its toll on travellers.  In the South East, there’s a reason for annoyances and short tempers.  Add a whole truck load of uncertainty.  Then see the Pound devalue just before holidaymakers’ rush for the beaches and the mix is bound to produce a sour mood. 

Delay is needed.  The case for saying that little of any sense is going to be said for another month isn’t too far short of the mark.  Some cooling air is needed.  Gravity must do its job and settle the dust too.  Then reasoned arguments for and against courses of action can be heard and properly debated.  Whichever box people put their cross in a month ago they have a right to expect a level of sanity to prevail in cutting the best deal for the Country.  In my mind that means everything is still on the table before any declarations are made with respect to the triggering of the famous Article 50 and beginning the real process of the UK leaving the EU.

Don’t crash

Pride kills a lot of people.  What I mean is the refusal to take advice in the face of overwhelming evidence.  In flying that’s ignoring bad weather and pressing on regardless.  Alternatively, it could be; not seeing the ground rapidly come up to meet you.  Yes, flying into hills or mountains a common way of crashing a plane.  It’s often fatal.  Experience shows that; being too slow to react to an oncoming threat is a sure fire way to crash. 

To try to prevent pilots accidentally flying into terrain of any kind a clever piece of kit was developed that shouts out a warning.  It calls out “pull up” when it thinks the aircraft is in peril.  Even with this stern warning there are still cases where the warning is ignored and an accident happens. 

This goes back to stubborn human pride.  At what point would you admit you’re wrong and turn back or in the case mentioned forcefully “pull up”?  For able and confident people, it’s hard to admit that maybe we made an error.  Being objective, accepting a mistake was made and then correcting it is a successful strategy but it’s not at all easy. 

I’m putting this notion forward as an analogy to Britain’s current situation.  I have difficulty imagining at what point we would say; that’s enough social and economic damage, we were wrong.  Now we are going take a deep breath, step back and fix the problem. 

Political pride can be even more dangerous than professional pride.  There’s a huge set of barriers to being objective and taking the long view.  The recent EU referendum was all about short-term issues.  A hunger for a quick fix overtook a majority of voters and drove us towards danger.  The pending problem of Brexit is like that mountain in front of the aeroplane.  Today we are flying right at a steep mountain cliff.  So, at what point will the British Government say; right that’s enough? 

At what point will the damage done be so great that the signal to turn back is sent?  Surely there must be a point.  If there isn’t one, then a crash is certain. 

Think again

At the time of the vote I said; the Brexit campaign has no plan.  There was a huge chorus that said; the Brexit campaign has no plan.  We now know that there was no plan for Brexit. 

During the EU referendum there was no clear vision as to what constituted Brexit.  Several different views cobbled together in an awkward coalition made-up what became the Brexit protest vote.  There was no coherent vision of a world after Britain left the EU.  Except to say that every economic model that had been run showed a poorer Country after the event. 

Today, it’s unbelievably preposterous to criticise the Government for not having a Brexit plan.  It’s those advocates of Brexit who should have had a basic plan who are the critics.  I find this situation the epitome of hypocrisy.  Instead of getting down to work to save the Country, the Brexit camp are carping on the side-lines. 

In June, the Government of the day firmly backed a Remain vote.  Just imagine a national football team going into Euro 2016 with a game plan to loose.  All efforts were rightly dedicated to remaining in the EU.  Being serious about winning means committing 100% to winning. 

The strength of the Brexit protest vote swung the result by a small margin.  People angry about issues that had little or nothing to do with the EU came out to protest.  If there’s fair criticism of the campaign to Remain it’s that these issues were not adequately addressed. 

However, if the EU referendum was re-run in the coming months there would be a clear win by the Remain vote.  Having tasted just the first part of the chaos to come even the most hardened protest voter is likely to think again. 

Getting it wrong

Firstly, my thoughts are with all those who perished as a result of the war in Iraq.  It’s little consolation to say that the Liberal Democrats were right in opposing this war.  I joined the million that marched the streets of London on a cold day in 2003.  We were roused by stirring speeches that the Government of the day promptly ignored.  As is the tradition, the jingoistic newspapers of the time shouted in their nastiest voice.  Not much has changed in that respect. 

I think the relationship between Britain and America is extremely important.  However, what of Sovereignty, a word used frequently during the referendum campaign, if Britain does whatever an American president asks?  Going with the flow is hardly the act of an independent State.  When “group-think” takes hold there needs to be a powerful counterbalance but we don’t have one. 

Learning the lessons from history is absolutely vital.  It’s shocking that it takes so long for the facts and truth to come out when major events are concerned.  Delay in justice just protects those who are negligent and allows the dangers of reoccurrence of poor decision-making.  We need to redouble our efforts to use proper scrutiny in Government and in Parliament. 

In Britain, we do seem to have the capacity for making the most appallingly poor decisions.  Huge ones that shape our destiny.  For a Country full of so many able, well-educated and talented people it doesn’t stop us from screwing-up big time.  The fault line is not with the people but with our prehistoric manner of governance.  Yet, reform meets a high wall that blocks any attempts at a more progressive approach. 

Looking ahead; I suppose I will be nearly 70 when the report is published on the disastrous choice to leave the European Union.  Maybe they will call it the Cameron report to remind the Country of the gambler who plunged us into an abyss.  It will be those people who are 20 years younger than me who will be carrying the burden on their backs.  Adjusting to being a poorer nation in the world will not be easy.  Now, slowly we are heading towards £1 = 1 euro = $1.  Expect one British industry to succeed in this new world order – tourism.  Time to open a B&B or Tea Shop. 

Our place

IMG_0886The outcome of the EU Referendum has left many of us shocked.  There’s still a sense of disbelief that a small majority is driving such a massive change in this Country.  The emotional bonds that bind Europeans are deep rooted.  That’s a reason why having this terrible divorce forced upon the nation is overwhelmingly depressing.  One foolish gambling British Prime Minister threw the dice and lost his shirt and ours too. 

Every citizen in the European Union is European.  Granted the EU is one part of Europe.  Our European family comes together in different ways and it can be counted as over 50 Countries.  Although Britain sits at the North West corner of the continent its every bit as European as the continental mainland.  There isn’t a moment in our history when our affairs haven’t been intertwined.  Even the builders of Stonehenge traded with tribes beyond these islands. 

It was fascinating to listen to the author Clive James on Channel 4 News, last evening.  Although he edged towards the leave camp his overwhelming reflection was how embedded we are in European culture.  Any view from afar places Britain firmly and squarely in Europe.  Socially, culturally and geographically our place can’t be denied. 

Now, in these uncertain times there are more questions than answers.  Uncertainty isn’t just about numbers it’s about how people feel about the future.  Ironically, prolonged uncertainty may be one of the only certainties in the next couple of years.